What the manufacturers say…

31 May 2022

Kathy Bowry has been talking to leading suppliers to the USA to get their take on the situation there

Robotics and AI

According to David Netusil,manager-sales support and marketing, Jensen USA: “Undoubtably, future focus will remain on robotics and automation, which is why the Jensen-Group, for the past few years, has invested heavily in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). We have made great strides in implementing current available technology, as well as creating the necessary technology, to improve the functionality of such systems.

He believes the main challenges are: “By far, a reliable and consistent labour force, as well as the rising minimum wage rate, dominates our customer’s daily challenges. Emerging automation will relieve some of this strain, but not all. We believe labour issues will be the main issue, which circles us back around to our heavy investment into robotics and AI.”

On rocketing energy prices, Netusil says: “It is likely that the cost of resources will fall once again, however that does not mean we should not still apply an emphasis on continuing the betterment of our equipment to reduce the use of those resources. The reduction of required resources has always been, and will always be, a major priority for the Jensen-Group.”

So, what can Jensen-Group do to help laundries become more sustainable? “As an equipment manufacturer, it is our responsibility to strive daily to design and build the most energy efficient equipment possible. By doing so, we are ultimately inherently sustainable.

“The totally automated laundry is not likely to become a reality for several more years. The cost of such technology would make it impractical, plus there are too many tasks that require human intervention, however I think a 90% automated facility could arrive within the next decade or so.

“The Jensen-Group and Inwatec are way ahead of this curve with our robotic and AI solutions. With over 50 systems installed globally and running incredibly well, we are well on our way towards that 90% automated facility.” Jensen USA has installed an automated robotic and AI soil sort system in an industrial laundry application, as well as an automated clean linen distribution system in a healthcare laundry. “Both are very forward-thinking customers who immediately realised the short-term and long-term benefits of this automation,” says Netusil

Taking a look at the main laundry sectors, Netusil opines: “In the USA, the hospitality sector has been very active and business and personal travel has steadily grown back to pre-Covid levels. This was the better part of our 2021 business.

“Healthcare facilities continue to perform well. With the number of Covid cases dramatically lower than in past months, many of the Covid-specific garments and linens, as well as practices, have been reduced or eliminated.

“Most healthcare laundries were already operating with Covid friendly procedures, with the exception of the wearing of face masks in the clean areas and offices, and the physical barriers between operators in the clean processing areas. However, for those laundries that were not operating with those practices, they very quickly brought themselves into compliance.

Smart is the way forward

Gemma Colomer of Domus, celebrating its centenary this year, part of the Onnera Group which includes the Danube brand, says the laundry industry is modernising its strategy to meet consumers’ needs while staying on top of innovation.

“On the one hand, consumers increasingly value enjoying quality time. More people are looking for options to spend less time on tedious yet necessary routine tasks like laundry. On the other hand, consumers want the convenience of apps and smartphones. The industry must redouble its efforts to develop smart laundry technology that provides customers with a simple user interface and connectivity via apps.

“Soon, the laundry industry should be able to reach customers or users in different areas. New equipment must provide real-time tracking, service status display, and easy payment options, making the laundry business more convenient.

“The Covid-19 outbreak restricted the laundry industry market in 2020 as services offered and equipment manufacturing decreased due to lockdowns globally. As the demand for cleaning and laundry services grows strong, the manufacturing industry is still struggling to build up stock due to the global supply disruption,” says Colomer.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine is making gas prices hit record levels. Soon, it might cost (even) more to run your laundry equipment, hurting businesses’ profits. The current inflation rate impacts the industry as the wages and price of equipment and supplies are up. Raising the price of laundry services too fast and too high might discourage the demand.

Colomer points to changes made since President Joe Biden took over at the top. “In 2021, President Biden delivered critical relief to medium and small laundry businesses by signing the PPP Extension Act and the American Rescue Plan Act into law. In December 2021, Biden issued an executive order titled “Catalyzing Clean Energy Industries and Jobs Through Federal Sustainability.” This order regulates how federal agencies build, buy, and manage energy and water use of appliances, including dryers and washing machines.

“The President’s Build Back Better agenda will further boost clean manufacturing. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is boosting the ENERGY STAR program. By partnering with manufacturers, the EPA will challenge and support industrial plants in improving energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Even though the Federal Reserve is taking action to deliver the 2% inflation committed, Colomer believes that it looks as though the laundry industry will have to deal with a high rate of inflation this year and well into 2023. The increase in labour cost is causing pain in the laundry industry, both in labour rates and labour availability. More than 90% of owners hiring employees reported few or no qualified applicants for their open positions. Also, the wages they have to pay to workers to charm them to work are going up.

“One of the post-Covid effects on the laundry and linen services has been increasing fuel costs. Then in February, Russia invaded Ukraine, which caused a dramatic spike in prices. High fuel costs are causing all companies to evaluate new strategies and look for efficiencies, no matter how small.

“Some experts expect a decrease in oil prices by the second half of 2022. However, there is a great deal of uncertainty due to the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the White House has taken some actions with short-term effects to minimise the impact on the economy.

“On a positive note, the current situation should lead to long-term improvement for the companies most engaged in being more environmentally friendly and cost-effective. At Onnera Group, we know how important efficiency is, and we are very aware of our commitment to the environment. That is why we have developed new technologically advanced equipment and solutions with low energy consumption and high production efficiency.

“Many companies are rethinking their laundry operation to relieve the labour and inflationary pressures. We are noticing more laundry facilities automate processes when there is a proven return on investment.

As the digitalised economy grows, smart laundry equipment is widening the automation opportunity within the laundry industry. Onnera Group has always been at the vanguard of IoT technology. We are making laundry machines more connected than ever, with real-time data and updates, easy payment options, remote control, and service reports making it easier to automate operations. However, as the demand for convenient laundry services remains high, consumers require services that are not easy to automate, like pick-up, wash-and-fold, and delivery.

“According to the site IoT For All, ‘Within the United States, 81% of businesses are combining AI with IoT, which is slightly ahead of the global average (79%). Of the organisations leveraging AI with IoT, 67% cite predictive maintenance as the top reason followed closely by prescriptive maintenance.”

This year, a gradual optimistic shift in customer spending in tourism is positively impacting the hospitality sector. The boosted tourists’ demands increase the number of times hotels and restaurants change their linen. This recovery of the hospitality industry to the pre-pandemic level is driving higher demand for laundry services.

“Covid-19 put the spotlight on the hygiene-focused cleaning procedures. Healthcare systems and their outsourced service providers have been reengineering their laundry practices to handle disasters and emergencies.On the one hand, health care facilities have built or improved their in-house laundry installations to have total control of the process and avoid risks of external contamination.”

On the other hand, she explains, healthcare-focused laundries have grown in certain areas and decreased in others. Reusable PPE demand increased considerably, while other laundry services decreased due to low demand for surgeries and other healthcare-related sectors, such as physical therapy. “The agility of healthcare laundries in finding opportunities and making changes to add value has taken on additional importance in the new post- Covid-19 world,” says Colomer. Having a proactive, agile, and concrete plan is one of the main takeaways learned from the pandemic.”

Many laundry businesses adjusted their operations, implemented more extensive cleaning practices, and changed hours of operation. Now, they offer new services that add even more convenience to consumers.

A new concept of ‘clean’

Marco Niccolini, general sales and marketing manager for Renzacci, says drycleaners in USA are becoming more aware of the benefits of the alternative solvents related to a new concept of ‘clean’, when this word is closely linked to wellness and health.

“In fact, the sustainable economy and climate changes are more and more producing a demand where ‘clean’ means not only absence of stains and dirt, but also a treatment where biodegradability, biocompatibility, hypoallergenicity and health represent the pillars of the service offered to the customer.

“Witness to this market trend is the success recorded by the exclusive Sentinel trade-marked range of drycleaning machines, which takes advantage in a simple and innovative way of the natural power of the ultraviolet rays for a deep and effective action against virus and bacteria,” says Niccolini. “We can certainly say that due to new alternative solvents, there has been an increase in the overall amount of garments treated with drycleaning machines.”

He continues: “Until around five to six years ago, there was a massive use of perc so people preferred to have their clothes treated with water, as perc couldn’t treat a lot of materials. Now they are coming back to drycleaning.

“There is also growing awareness of the benefits of wetcleaning – not as a way to substitute drycleaning treatments, but instead as a professional way to carry out cleaning treatments with a professional washer extractor combined with professional chemical products. A message which unfortunately is not yet sufficiently disseminated in our industry.

“At Renzacci we also see a remarkable increase in the interest in the coin-op laundries in USA, with a strong demand on interactive service not only in the electronic payment systems, but also in the possibility for the owner to make a real time cost and revenues analysis and a remote control of the entire laundry,” concludes Niccolini.

SMART OPPS: Smart laundry equipment is widening the automation opportunity, says Domus
FORWARD THINKING: The Jensen-Group and Inwatec are way ahead of this curve with robotic and AI solutions
CLEAN SWEEP: Renzacci has seen a remarkable increase in interest in coin-op laundries in the USA

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