How robotics make laundries more sustainable26 October 2022
From prolonging the garment lifespan to saving resources, cutting-edge AI solutions lead the way towards a more sustainable laundry industry, says global laundry solutions provider Jensen-Group
Whether scalpels, pens, or even live ammunition, professional laundries deal with a wide array of items accidentally left in pockets. While some of them are downright dangerous, others can have costly consequences – like that tiny bottle of bright red nail polish giving hundreds of white spa robes a sparkly new look. It’s not just about garments, but also laundry items and linen pieces.
This is why the sorting process is a crucial first step in any laundry setting. And it is also where the world’s first AI-driven solution for professional soil sorting steps in.
Introducing soil sorting 4.0
An automated soil sorting system using intelligent machines minimises the need for human interaction, guarantees consistence and quality, and can reduce overall costs. And this is how it works:
Robots pick up laundry pieces from a conveyor belt and transport them to an X-ray scanner. If the scanner identifies an unexpected item, the piece will be sorted out and handed over to quality control. Here, human eyes and hands identify the object and either remove it, or – in the case of a novel zip or button – give the system a green light for further processing. If a garment is already marked, an RFID chip reader identifies the linen piece or garment and determines further sorting in the system. For all other garments, the system works with visual sorting.
Using an automatic sorting process has positive impacts on almost all aspects of professional laundries:
1. Increased productivity
Machines can work 24/7, don’t need regular breaks, and are not prone to human error. All of this increases overall productivity of a laundry system, and creates greater profit for the business.
2. Even better hygiene
Removing humans from the processing equation also means less possibility for contamination and even better hygiene from the get-go. This is of special essence in the hospitality and healthcare sector.
3. Keeps workers safe
When it comes to keeping your staff safe, laundries should not compromise. Using an automatic sorting process improves occupational safety by automatically identifying possibly hazardous objects – and thus reducing risk of accidents and infections to zero.
4. Creates more sustainability
By automatically detecting foreign objects and identifying garments, laundries prolong the lifespan of both machines and textiles.
Learning by data processing
The challenge with every AI project is to empower machines with enough learning capacity that they can deal with a variety of tasks and objects effectively. While human minds have the amazing ability to adapt more or less effortlessly to new problems, robots have to be programmed to do so. The way to get a machine learning is through the right algorithms – and a large amount of data. This is why any intelligent laundry revolution is linked to smart data management solutions. While traditionally, identifying garments has been one of the last steps in the laundry process, the new solutions capture the data from the beginning. Solutions like GeniusFlow identify garments already in the soil sorting area, leveraging the data from the sorting process to make better use of storage space on the rail, improve route allocation, and increase the effective number of sorted garments.
Robots, also for the clean side
Automatic soil sorting is just one of several AI solutions with which the Jensen-Group empowers laundries all over the globe. As early as 2008, the Jensen- Group automated towel folders using robotics. What seemed like a revolutionary move at the time has now become an international standard for forward-thinking laundries.
Automated towel folding has been followed by another innovation: automatic storage for stacked items. The solution works with modules that can be used to create unique configurations to meet any specific application. It serves as a buffer between the folding machine and the logistics area, automatically storing and transporting stacked laundry items. One of the key benefits is greater hygiene – an especially crucial requirement in the healthcare sector. Because the solution reduces human interaction to a minimum, the individual textiles have fewer points of contact thus reducing the risk for contamination. Another benefit is transparency: stock levels can be tracked and monitored at any time.
More bang for your buck
There’s no sugar-coating it: moving from manual soil sorting to an automated process is an investment many laundries shy away from. Yet, the return of investment is manifold, from enhanced workplace safety to more sustainability. Laundry managers will also be relieved to learn that the automated soil sorting system is as fast to install as it is easy to maintain: It requires the same maintenance and cleaning regime as any other machine used in professional laundries. Also good to know: Laundry owners don’t need to hire a robot whisperer to run the AI successfully. The system requires no special software or coding knowledge.
Another big plus is the sustainability aspect that comes with employing artificial intelligence. Sustainability is all about maximizing the output and using less resources – and smart innovation is a key ingredient to achieve this. An AI-driven laundry process works for the people by keeping them safe; it works for the planet by prolonging garment lifespans and saving energy and water; and, last but not least, it works for businesses on the financial side by creating more efficiency, and thus more profit.
What will the future bring?
We can’t predict the future, but one thing is fairly certain: the marriage of technology and data is going to be a long and fruitful one. For the years to come, the Jensen-Group will focus on leveraging data in all areas of the laundry.
What was once the topic of sci-fi novels and seemed like a far-fetched speculation has become a reality: robots are doing laundry in dozens of professional laundries around the globe. Robotics and automation are already an essential part of the laundry industry.But there is no doubt that robotics, including modern logistics solutions and digitisation, will continue to evolve.
One big challenge remains: The technological requirements and the legal framework differ greatly from region to region, from country to country. That is why the Jensen-Group translates its global automation vision into local approaches, working closely with our partners on site. As much as we promote automation and AI, we know: Nothing can replace human interaction and personal advice. Creating successful automation projects requires human specialists with in-depth industry knowledge. Just like our local sales and service teams, who work out sustainable solutions on their customer’s premises.
Thank you, #laundrynerds
These and many other laundry innovations are being made possible by a collaboration of the Jensen-Group and Inwatec, a maturing start-up from Denmark. While the Jensen-Group has been active in the laundry industry since 1960 and employs around 1500 people, Inwatec benefits from a lean start-up culture and futuristic drive.
Inwatec’s #laundrynerds and Jensen’s established laundry experts collaborate closely in a very constructive and inspiring way. This cross-fertilisation has already resulted in profitable solutions like robotic sorting in conjunction with the Futurail bag storage system: robots sort the laundry which is then conveyed to the proven bag storage system.
Another offspring is GeniusFlow: Using the information collected from tag reading in Inwatec’s automatic soiled side sorting solution, Jensen Metricon Software combines various customers and routes into lots and sub-lots and then allocates the exact space needed in the primary storage.
This reduces the need for extra rails and prevents a high recycling rate which decreases sorter efficiency. The interface allows a simpler management of garment batches and reduces the number of late garments to be processed manually.
Talk to us at EXPODetergo in Milano
You can learn more about upcoming AI innovations state-of-the art laundry technology at the ExpoDetergo in Milano. These are a few of the solutions we’ll unveil:
- The new Blizz towel feeding robot feeding towels of various sizes into a Jensen Butterfly towel folder: Sorting, feeding, folding and stacking of towels can be done completely hands-free, and thus highly productive at highest hygiene standards.
- Inwatec‘s automated soil sort system is now an all-in-one solution: THOR can handle both garments and flatwork in one system.
- Our new XR Dryer sets new benchmarks in productivity with its extra airflow for greater air exchange and up to 15% higher evaporation capacity. The bigger drum volumes and the wider door openings enable laundries to handle large volumes with less driers.
- Thanks to its unique buttons-to-the-front feature, the new MetriQ loading station enables laundries to efficiently load garments with openings on the back, such as patient gowns and scrubs. It’s the most productive and ergonomic loading station in the industry, presented in Europe for the first time.
These are just some of the innovations the Jensen-Group is working on – for laundries that want to increase their productivity and ecological efficiency.