The on-premise laundry market offers a wide choice of high performing ironers and making the right decision can be difficult. Nicholas Marshall looks at the options.
The recent Texcare 2000 exhibition showed clearly that ironers for on-premise laundries have evolved considerably over the past few years.
An array of basic models is still available to satisfy modest production requirements. However, the sector now includes an increasing number of ruggedly-built machines which produce results comparable to those offered by large industrial ironers.
The greater variety of machines makes the OPL equipment buyer’s task of sifting through spec sheets and comparing machines substantially harder. Making the right choice is tremendously important.
Ironers for OPLs generally fall into three main groupings: small, electrically-heated machines for low-volume work; medium-sized ironers, usually gas heated, for producing good quality with larger volumes; and heated-chest machines which give first-rate quality with an attractively high flatwork throughput.
Gas-heating technology has become notably more advanced and is now being applied to some smaller equipment. This means that modestly-sized OPLs can begin to enjoy the energy-savings that gas heating brings. Take expert advice, though, if any gas-heated equipment is to be used in an area where drycleaning takes place.
In chest ironers, thermal-fluid heat-transfer has been developed to provide efficient ironer running and has proved a significant step forward. This has also helped to ensure that the set temperature is maintained right across the ironer bed.
Most on-premise laundries, apart from the smallest, are upgrading both their ironing standards and their equipment. Often managers are looking for machines which have a roll diameter of a sufficient size to guarantee first-rate results with large and small flatwork.
Hotel OPLs are finding that an ironer with heated bed and a 500mm diameter roll fulfils their needs best. This kind of machine should produce consistently good quality on both large and small pieces, provided the machine is well set-up and properly maintained and that staff are thoroughly trained in its operation.
Hotel ironers usually have to be fully productive with just one operator. At Texcare manufacturers focussed on well-engineered ironers with feed-assistance, folding and stacking features built-in. These allow one operator to achieve good production rates.
For any OPL, the choice of ironer will largely depend on the type of work to be done, both now and in the foreseeable future. A hotel may upgrade its ironers as a preliminary to changing from polycotton to 100% cotton. Any operation handling duvet covers will need to give special consideration to its choice of ironers.
Ironer speed may be less of an issue in the OPL than in the commercial laundry. However, every laundry operation has its peaks and troughs. OPLs need to avoid being caught out by these. They should always be able to deliver adequate stocks of clean items.
An improvement in a hotel’s occupancy rate may cause the establishment’s OPL to struggle. A large number of guests checking-out and checking-in on one day may cause problems. An ironer which has feeder assistance and which accepts sheets on an end-to-end basis can substantially reduce the strain when the going gets tough.
Heart of the laundry
In some ways, the ironer is the heart of the on-premises laundry. Both ironers and washer-extractors need to operate in a balanced way and have the ability to meet volume peaks as they arise. If washer-extractors have the correct capacity and high extraction speeds, the flatwork will come out in ideal condition and achieving the optimum feed rate to the ironer should not be too much of a problem.
Most of the OPL ironers now on the market have been designed to be reasonably simple to use and to be completely safe. However prospective buyers should look at the ergonomics of any ironer they are considering. They should also check safety points carefully.
For safety, ironers should have comprehensive finger guarding that cannot be tampered with, plus one or more emergency-stop buttons.
Extra thermal- and noise-insulation on side and top panels can improve operators’ working conditions, especially in a closely confined finishing area.
Some of the latest ironers require much less bending when feeding work. Presenting sheet corners to clamps, which automatically pull out the sheet’s leading edge and direct it under tension to the feeding table, makes the task of feeding more straightforward. Ironing systems which do everything from accepting sheets on clamps to delivering neat stacks of linen back to the operator produce significant labour savings.
However, with fewer operators in the OPL, staff may become “stuck” at a particular work-station and this often has an adverse effect on productivity. Introducing variety is advisable. Each member of staff carries out a number of different tasks, work sorting, loading and unloading the washer-extractors, presenting work to the ironer, and assembling work batches for dispatch.
The build-quality of any ironer chosen should be at a level to ensure that mechanical stresses do not, eventually, lead to component strain and distortion, machine unreliability and reductions in running performance and finished piece quality standards.
It is essential that the ironer provides the right temperature for the work being handled. The temperature must also be even across the working surface. Hot-spots and cool-spots tend to ruin flatwork quality. Equipment manufacturers have addressed the temperature question and meeting this requirement is not difficult.
Careful thought needs to be given as to how an ironer will fit into an OPL. Staff must have enough space to work efficiently with the machine. Determining the space required can be more complicated if the ironer has a linked folding and stacking system.
Finding the right supplier is also important. The supplier should not only be able to deliver the best machine for the job but must also be capable of providing excellent after-sales care.
A laundry usually has several washer-extractors, so a breakdown will disrupt production rather than stop it. However, the breakdown of the sole ironer can potentially lead to a very large problem. If the after-sales agreement ensures prompt service in the event of a breakdown, will minimise problems.