Wheely clever – trolleys and cages for laundry

Janice Raycroft reports on the features and engineering detail behind the latest trolleys and cages on the market

It’s easy to think that the most ingenious solutions to laundry operation are hidden inside the computerised and increasingly sophisticated machinery, taking the strain and reducing labour demands as large amounts of linen are processed in washers, feeders and folders. While all this technology is impressive, keeping everything moving like clockwork or neatly stored until dispatched still relies on the far humbler, and often overlooked, trolleys, pallets and cages on site.

Look a little closer and this is often where you find some real ingenuity and first class engineering. It’s a result of some of those bright sparks serving the industry coming up with bespoke solutions to fit the individual needs of not just commercial laundries and in-house operations in the likes of hospitals, but right down to the smallest drycleaning shop seeking that individual something which could solve a problem for staff if only someone had an answer.

In this feature we’ll meet some of the materials handling people who listen to the ‘if onlys’ coming in over the phone, by email and at gatherings such as CleanEx, and know the solution or will not be satisfied until they’ve found it. In fact, we are blessed with a host of experienced specialists who often work together – or recommend each other – even though they are officially rivals for business.

A good example is AR Materials Handling, led by Andy Robinson in Rossendale, Lancashire, where they design, manufacture and supply a host of items including racking, containers, trolleys, castors and much more, right down to anti-fatigue matting, artwork, stickers and labels. Robinson’s career began in metal and plastic fabrication and he feels that he’s been working with commercial laundries “one way or another since leaving school.” After an enjoyable stint with another industry stalwart, Bryant Plastics, he launched his own business.

“I started on my own on 1 January 2000 with the aim of producing the likes of bespoke trolleys and racking, mainly in metal, and am pleased to have kept up my relationship with Bryant Plastic to the present day.” Robinson has particularly enjoyed coming up with unique materials handling solutions for hospitals, and says the best compliment he’s ever been paid was when a hospital laundry manager he had helped with tricky problems over many years said he was determined to retire before he did! Interesting projects have included designing trolleys with stainless steel wheels that can be easily cleaned for sterile areas like operating theatres.

All things bright and beautiful: storage units like these ‘mini highbacks’ from Bryant Plastics can be colour coded to identify laundry area, linen type, the stage it’s reached in the cycle… or simply to match your branding.

Bryant Plastics

As it happens Robinson is a big fan of the NHS. By 2013 his business had grown to the stage where he was “getting up at daft o’clock” each day to travel the length and breadth of the country. He collapsed, told those with him he was fine, but then had five cardiac arrests in 90 minutes, including in the ambulance that rushed him to hospital.

“Since then I’ve cut back on the mileage,” he says. But it was also a lesson in how accumulated physical stress can take effect, on both the equipment we operate as well as ourselves. He’s also just as happy working on small projects for drycleaners: “I love calls where the cleaner asks ‘Do you make these?’ because it’s a chance to engineer solutions on a daily basis.”

While working with metals provides opportunities to design bespoke equipment, Robinson is also a big fan of plastic, both for its lengthy ‘life cycle’ and that virgin plastic can then be recycled for further use.

Naturally, this view is shared by the team at Bryant Plastics in Keighley, West Yorkshire, a long-established family business currently led by managing director Yvonne Bryant, daughter of its founder.

Jackie Smith, their quality and improvement manager, says Bryant’s long-lasting cages are produced from virgin plastic which could still be working hard for us perhaps 60 to 80 years from now: “Our cages have changed so much from the original ones because we worked with our customers, and now have better, stronger products that can service the industry and last a long time. “We try to work with our customers to get the right product for them. It’s not uncommon that someone calls looking for a particular product, and they then buy a different one, because we want to get the right product for them. It’s not just about selling, it’s about having that relationship.

Handling the load: make life easier with equipment from Bryant Plastics.

While Bryant Plastics supply a host of equipment to some of the big names in the commercial laundry world, they enjoy “looking after the little guys”, right down to individual drycleaners. In some cases, they are able to offer very good prices on brand new equipment which might have blemishes such as a small scratch on the outside but is as technically functional as unmarked ones.

The company is scrupulous when it comes to recycling possibilities – right down to its own production operation. Manufacturing of some equipment involves punching out small pieces to create holes. Each tiny punched out piece is collected up and passed on to a recycling company so that nothing goes to waste. And those who purchase the finished item can rest assured that it can be safely recycled when coming to the end of its own useful life.

The latest Bryant Plastics product, introduced in the summer, is a new self-levelling linen cage trolley, developed after a hospital approached them about back problems experienced by a staff member. It’s turned out to be a real success and you’ll find a video demonstrating it in action on the Bryant Plastic Ltd YouTube channel, alongside ones showing linen exchange trolleys and cages easily coping with uneven ground.

JFC Trolleys

You’ll find some of the top suppliers of cages and trolleys specifically designed for the laundry industry at CleanEx2020 in April, including once again the range produced from impact resistant polythene to provide superior strength, durability and hence a long life by JFC Material Handling. With headquarters in Galway and production sites and offices in the UK and mainland Europe, this family-owned business was set up by entrepreneur and philanthropist John F. Concannon with his wife Patricia, brother Colm and business partner Brendan Morrin over 30 years ago.

Their trolleys tick all the boxes on manoeuvrability, even with heavy loads, from the single moulded unit economy model through to curtain trolleys (available in very smart full zip and half zip options), shelved versions, production and sorting trolleys which are handily stackable when not in use, and a good selection of spring lift trolleys with swivel/ braked caster wheels. The SLT04 spring lift trolley, for instance, operates via a fixed tension with a mechanism which ensures the operator can remain upright, reducing the risk of back strain.

It’s not surprising that divisional sales manager Cathal Fitzpatrick sings the praises of their spring-loaded trolleys: “Beyond the advantage of alleviating repetitive strain injury, there is the ability to easily adjust the tension on site,” he explains. “If your weight loading changes because of the work being handled, it’s a simple task for the maintenance team.

JFC Manufacturing’s distribution trolleys offer customers a safe and hygienic way of storing and transporting fresh and soiled linen to and from their laundries

Bespoke and customised options include colour-coding, a variety of caster sizes and types and those best suited to for use with detergents and chemicals. As they manufacture all their trolleys JFC are able to swiftly supply exactly the right part if spares are required. Fitzpatrick also points out that the trolleys are made with a ‘bull-nosed’ top (think of it like the bevelled, rounded top of a stair banister). “This makes the trolley much stronger if there is an impact with machinery when moving around the site. It’s far less likely to crack or fracture.”

The company operates an ingenious scheme for when even the toughest of their trolleys come to the end of their useful life in laundries. As they are made of industrial grade polyethylene they can be collected from customers and are then fully recycled for use in the construction division of the JFC group. Their manufacturing site at Stratford-upon-Avon turns them into the large pipes which collect surface water draining from roads. It’s a fine example of the recycling initiatives our industry is developing to support environmental concerns.

DRM

The long-lasting and very special relationships in this sector of our industry are undoubtedly demonstrated by DRM Industrial Fabrics of Bury as they gear up to celebrate 50 years of business in 2020, continuing to ensure that they meet our customers individual requirements when it comes to working with laundry trolleys used within many areas of our industry. Claire Morris of DRM tells us: “Covers and liners for roll cages can be designed to the customer’s requirements. These can be made in PVC, polyester or nylon, depending on where the trolley is being used. In addition to these traditional covers, we can also supply fire retardant covers. After the Grenfell Tower tragedy, people have become more aware of cage covers as a fire suppressor, and this is especially true for the NHS.

There is a similar demand when it comes to safeguarding instruments – and we recently made some for a foundry.” Over the years, Claire Morris and Jean Meadowcroft have assisted customers in designing the right cover/liner to meet their needs – ensuring the linen is delivered safely and kept clean – rather than struggling with ‘off the shelf’ products.

DRM are happy to supply standard hampers and spring-loaded bag frames, and when a customer has that extra requirement (e.g. needs them in bright orange) they are happy to go the extra mile. The hamper trolley was designed for the packing and distribution of flatwork, sheets, pillowcases, duvet covers and whenever flatwork has to be folded and needs to be kept flat and remain crease free. The four non marking castors allows ease of movement around the packing room. The hamper stand can also be useful in the customers’ linen room where used and soiled linen can be placed back into the fabric hamper and then returned to the laundry in the same bag. DRM’s spring-loaded bag stands can hold multiple designs of bags without a need for extra eyelets or fittings.

These can range from the polyester sack, net bags and plastic bags. The specially designed spring mechanism self supports the bags on the frame, with the stand allowing the bag to be kept open for ease of filling. Morris adds: “These frames can also hold open a bag for an operator to pack up clean linen that does not need to be kept crease free, including non-iron items such as socks, t-shirts and underwear.” The spring-loaded frames can also be manufactured to customers’ own designs, including the double frame model. Again, the castors the frame to easily move around the laundry and this design can also be stacked for storage when not in use.

The DRM self-levelling trolley was originally developed around 20 years ago to assist with repetitive lifting and bending operators experienced while using the plastic trucks with a solid fixed base. The mechanism within the self-levelling trolley moves the base down when the trolley is full, and then slowly lifts as it is emptied. This ensures the operative works at a uniform height.

This self-levelling trolley is individually designed to suit the end user’s specific requirements and can have diamond pattern or square wheels; the diamond pattern is ideal when the trolley is being used in tight spaces. A raised base is recommended if it will be used on uneven surfaces or up hills. Morris says: “We would suggest heavy duty springs if the trolley is to be used for handling wet/damp linen. The trolleys can also be finished in a selection of colours, allowing each trolley to be used in a specific area where needed.”

G Force Europe

G-Force Europe may have only been founded as a manufacturer of storage solutions and handling equipment in 2013, but since then it’s grown to supply an impressive range of products from the site.

in Wellingborough, Northants, of fer ing everything from workbenches and shelving systems through to laundry trolleys for both commercial operations and on-premise laundries in the likes of hotels and care homes.

They have their own brand of heavy duty and durable moulded plastic products, Supertuff Europe, all made in their production facility, produced using rotational moulding to ensure a very strong and durable finish. Their laundry trolleys with removable bags (choose from space for one to four bags) have become a popular choice for the healthcare sector, with detachable laundry sacks and storage sections. They are available in standard or foldable formats, the latter are very useful where storage space is at a premium, and sit alongside a selection of durable plastic container for handling large loads of linen or garments.

G Force also manufacture industrial quality plastic trucks produced in six sizes from recycled polyethylene, using moulding process which meets ISO9001 standards. They come in a range of colours with an optional plastic drop-on lid. The three largest sizes include a plywood baseboard as standard. It’s a fine example of practising what you preach. While G-Force use virgin food-grade plastic for the majority of their products, this inevitably creates waste bits and pieces on site. All of this is collected up, separated into the various colour groups and then passed through a granulator which chops it up into smaller, much more manageable flakes. The result is sent back to the company’s polymer supplier for processing so that it can be used to produce the recycled range.

A plastic fabricated trough from ARM H providing a useful role alongside Jensen equipment

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