Conveyor systems for laundry and dry cleaning operations

Great conveyor systems can be designed to fit perfectly into any laundry or dry cleaning operation, maximising the use of space as well as increasing productivity. Janice Raycroft lines up the specialist suppliers.

The Standard, London’s new hotel, is definitely the talk of the town, and well beyond the capital. With its distinctive ‘futuristic-retro’ styling (yes, it sounds weird, but this is where the ultimate in 21st century boutique hotel ambience meets 1970s brutalist design and quirky interiors) the laid-back version of a five-star experience is bringing in the world’s trendiest people.

Located in the heart of London’s King’s Cross, and formerly a Camden Council office block, the 266-room hotel this year became The Standard brand’s first hotel to open outside of America. You can see why the site appealed to the US’s hippest of hip hotel groups, sitting within a distinctive portfolio including renowned properties on iconic Sunset Strip, Hollywood, in East Village, New York and at Miami Beach.

Whether its guests, diners and cocktail aficionados have arrived from across the planet via Heathrow or simply hopped a few Tube stops, they will want to absorb as much of The Standard atmosphere as possible. What they won’t see, of course, is the behind the scenes magic that makes all this tick, including the little extras which, for those in our industry might be as much a sight to view as guestrooms, look as though Austin Powers and his crowd would feel at home.

For instance, while Standard aficionados might be wowed by the Sound studio or executive chef Adam Rawson’s menu, we might also want a peep at the hotel’s new best-in-class, state-of-the-art uniform conveyor system, designed, developed and installed by leading garment handling manufacturer, Metalprogetti UK. As The Standard’s operators got into the final detail of what they would need to open this year, Jason Alexander from Metalprogetti UK met with the hotel’s director of engineering, to gain a deeper understanding of their requirements.

He recommended a U-shape conveyor with 310 x 49.5mm slots, explaining: “The automated conveyor option is a perfect fit for The Standard. They wanted a system that was easy to operate, could manage a large number of garments and was compact in size, so it didn’t take up too much space in their laundry department.

“This bespoke design has, in fact, maximised their laundry area, which has allowed them to add additional storage units for bed linen. They even have enough room to install workstations to offer an in-house tailoring service, which is fantastic.” Utilising the latest technology, hotel staff operate the conveyor using a simple computerised screen. A uniform is selected from the options on-screen and the conveyor rotates until the selected garment reaches the collection point. Staff members are then able to retrieve their uniform.

Options for these types of conveyors are almost limitless, ranging from fully-automated delivery systems using staff ID cards, to simple storage conveyors. All have been proven to increase productivity and help a hotel’s bottom line.

Metalprogetti UK are also used to finding solutions in tricky spaces. They came up with a bespoke conveyor for InterContinental London Park Lane, that could handle around 3,000 items in the uniform room, whilst also creating more space for garment sorting. Metalprogetti redesigned the motor control system of their conveyor to achieve this.

A particular requirement was to reduce the amount of time staff spent looking for their uniforms, so Metalprogetti introduced a delivery point on the conveying system to make it easier.

The manufacturers, suppliers and fitters of conveyor systems are constantly faced with customers requiring bespoke answers, whether it’s a luxury hotel, small drycleaning shop with space issues or a large commercial laundry looking to speed up production with a system criss-crossing the premises. Indeed, they seem to relish solving the trickiest problems.

As Sheila Higgs of Dane Realstar says: “Drawings are prepared from a simple design to the almost impossible: we can work it out! The design process starts with a visit to the customer to discuss exactly what they would like to achieve with the space available and, of course, keeping a close eye on budgets.”

A conveyor not only cuts space requirements with its modules of various shapes and sizes which can be manufactured to incorporate storage on one or more floor levels. It stores hundreds of garments in a minimum area, reducing the time for finding individual articles.

Perhaps best of all for small businesses, it can be operated by one person. The staff member doesn’t have to leave the customer service counter but can find a garment quickly and easily with either manual controls or an automatic computerised locating system with keyboard for calling for the desired articles and positioning them at a pre-set point.

This ensures that the customer is not left unattended at the counter while the operator is searching for the garment, something which has turned out to be a real boon for many Dane Realstar clients. This auto-research system can also be linked to an EPoS till system, barcoding, RFID and auto dispense facilities.

Dane Realstar can install conveyors as ‘one-off’s’ within existing shops or as part of a full refit which can transform an operation, such as that carried out in Angora Besco’s premises at Les Quennevais on Jersey, where over nearly a century the business has built a popular ‘family chain’ across the islands, including a commercial laundry. Here Dane Realstar installed a large ‘L’ shaped conveyor alongside equipment including a drycleaning machine and ironing table.

angora besco clothing commercial laundry rail from dane realstar

A smart new addition for one of the Angora Besco clothes care shops – a chain and commercial laundry serving the Channel Islands – courtesy of this conveyor system installed by Dane Realstar.

They offer the Pamilas-ACS bespoke conveyors, which are manufactured with top quality materials and produce a perfect operation from a unique aerial steel continuous-rack system for storing garments. These start with a basic ‘I’ shape conveyor systems and run to far more complicated and intricate systems to suit all customers’ requirements.

Standard models include a slotted conveyor system with pre-set spaces for the garments, and a continuous band system without predetermined positions. The slotted conveyor system is also made in a spiral model on two or more levels for a more functional and convenient use of the space in height, while always allowing the operator to work at eye level. The aerial or suspended design also leaves work areas free and wall mounted supports reduce interruption to the working space.

For industrial laundries, computerised operation is possible with reading of garment barcodes, automatic transfer unit and sorting and make-up of customer’s laundry. Included in Dane Realstar installations are bespoke figure of eight Pamilas conveyor systems, the intricate twists and turns being achieved by technologically advanced manufacturing ability, G-shaped descending conveyors in factory environments, L-shape shop units and multi-level conveyors in a variety of situations.

Vega Systems UK

For larger commercial laundries seeking to improve their operating system and save time first thoughts often focus on replacing machinery but, as Steve Childs of Vega Systems reveals, the conversation can move in a different and innovative direction: “Sometimes when customers approach us about a new machine to increase productivity, our discussions will often turn to transport and conveying solutions.

“In some cases the laundry logistics is the thing that is holding a machine back; not having the linen available at the right time. In most cases our logistics solutions offer a good return on investment by removing the need for operators to move linen around and allowing them to focus on their primary value adding function.

“Logistics and automation can undoubtedly improve productivity in a laundry and often our designs exploit space that would otherwise be unused such as roof space or the space over existing plant. Innovative use of materials handling and storage solutions can maximise the production in an available space; a value creation tool that Vega are very keen to share with our customers.”

Vega Systems manufacture a full range of materials handling solutions such as bulk linen conveyors, storage conveyors, monorail systems, air transport systems, lifts and shuttles, separating and sorting systems. Vega systems are made in their own factories to bespoke design for clients. Childs recalls: “We have designed systems for transporting laundry trucks and cages, we’ve designed storage silos for towels, we have vertical conveyor solutions, carousels and weighing conveyors amongst others.

“We’re currently in the production of a batch of ATEX conveyors with cleaning in place and batch tracking software. Tracking and software is a big part of logistics and it is an area that Vega Systems are investing in to heavily.”

The ‘Vega Perform’ productivity system is being developed to give customers a real-time overview of employee output; but any system like this depends on operators being at their workstations doing their intended job rather than looking for work or walking the floor with trucks of linen.

This is where the Vega Systems range of logistics solutions comes in to its own, Childs believes. Their monorail systems can store and distribute work around the laundry in a logical, controlled way, delivering the right work at the right time. Vega distribution conveyors can separate work and deliver it to the operators in manageable quantities and all of this can be tracked and recorded.

In addition to systems for delivering linen to the operators, Vega Systems provide solutions after the finishing machines to manage and transport packs of linen. This is another area where savings can be made. With the correct control of quality and sorting, it is possible to automate the logistics of finished packs of linen, transporting them from the folding machines to their final destination.

Childs concludes: “With Vega Systems controls and conveyors, we can collect packs from all kinds of machine, we can track them, we can turn them, we can detect and prevent collisions; we can identify packs by print and apply codes or with RFID tags. Vega Systems logistics, materials handling and software solutions can generate significant savings in resources and increases in productivity in many industrial laundry applications.”

A monorail system installed by Vega Systems can store and distribute work around the laundry in a logical, controlled way.

Jensen

Whether you’re moving linen garments or mats around, the key to success in exploiting the full potential of laundry machines is having a constant flow of goods to be processed and at Jensen they consider the entire material flow throughout the installation, from arrival to despatch. As Jensen’s Gerda Jank says: “Essentially, it is about making sure that the linen is always at the right place at the right time to continuously feed high-capacity machines – be it a tunnel washer, a flatwork finishing line, or a tunnel finisher. Conveying the linen and the garments is a key aspect, both on the soil and on the clean side.”

Their Futurail modular system is suited to both current and future laundry needs, so is capable of being expanded to grow with the business. Linen can enter Futurail systems in many ways; through primary bags, through plastic bags, through carts, or by hand. Once soiled linen enters a classified system, it is sorted and weighed into batches.

These batches are then stored by category, route, or customer, prior to being delivered to the washroom for processing. By eliminating double handling and elevating sorted soiled and clean linen into the air, Futurail increases overall laundry capacity using an overhead storage to free up valuable floor space for more production machinery. When Futurail handles the linen traffic, laundries can reach production and performance targets by optimising linen flow to avoid bottlenecks.

On the clean side, the high performance Metricon sorting systems, from small compact systems, to some of the fastest and largest ones available, have a long life and are now represented in some 50 countries worldwide. This continued success has resulted in Jensen developing expansion plans, product development and doubling of the factory area.

jensen laundry machinery monorail systems

Jensen’s Jenway: a freestanding transport, sorting and storage system for all types of folded linen

The ‘last mile’ as such in the complete automation of a laundry is the interface between the folding machine and the packing area. As a transport and sorting system for folded flatwork, Jenway provides a complete automation system with regard to the quality of the finished linen transported to the dispatch area. Jenway collects and manages stacked linen and is made up of standardised modules that can be installed and configured on site depending on the conditions and the existing features.

It’s a freestanding transport, sorting and storage system for all types of folded linen. The collection system prevents individual stacks from colliding during transport and ensures that a distance is maintained between the stacks so that they reach their destination intact.

Jank explains: “The controls enable flexible customisation to the production requirement as the stop and start function for each transport and storage section can be controlled individually. The function can be compared to a signal light on a busy crossroad. This system is usually installed at the end of the process lines and guarantees a maximum flow of production without operating personnel, enabling the system to lead the way in terms of ergonomic solutions. The sorting operator simply moves the stacks to the dispatch or storage area and the system refills the already collected stacks fully automatically.”

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