Towel feeding robot by Inwatec


We have now started development of a fully automated towel feeding robot. Building on the excellent work done by JENSEN. First robot prototype with use of artificial intelligence expected in 2018.

Feeding towels are hard and repetitive work. JENSEN has made a significant development work to automate this job with the JENSEN Evolution Cube. Inwatec will now add the newest robot technology and artificial intelligence to the solution, to make it more robust. This project moves the partnership between the JENSEN-GROUP and Inwatec to the next level.

“We are busy building the future in laundry automation. From day one it has been the idea that the engineers of Inwatec together with the engineering departments within JENSEN shall develop new solutions and services to automate all processes in heavy-duty laundries. We are sure that our next edition of the Evolution Cube will be a real game-changer that proves it,” says JENSEN-GROUP CEO Jesper Jensen.

“I see almost daily our LaundryNerds playing with towels, to see how we can find the corners, and feed the towels robust to a folding machine. There is no doubt that we need speedy robots, and 2D and 3D computer vision to solve this challenge. We see a breakthrough in using artificial intelligence in our machines today, with improved performance and reliability,” says Inwatec CEO Mads Andresen.

“Our Robot Separator is working better and better. We made the first prototype two years ago, and we have already five robots working every day in laundries. It has been a real challenge, and we thought that it was just a matter of finding the optimal pick point, and then grasp with an ordinary robot gripper. We could only achieve 60-70% success rate with this method! But even worse, too many double picks (5-10%). We also got the feedback from laundries, that traditional grippers destroy too many garments. The result was too low throughput. We realised that we had to develop a new gripper. We have been working on this since January, and the most recent test has shown pick rates of 97-99%, with way less double picks. We can’t wait to upgrade our existing robots with this new tool. We also have a pending patent on this new method, that is also more gentle to the textile.” says Mads Andresen.

“We will continue with our learnings from that process, and we have some pretty good ideas of how to develop a fast and reliable fully automated system that both separates and feeds. Towels come in all kinds of sizes and fabrics, and obviously, it isn’t a straightforward job to feed the folding machines, but the JENSEN team have got much experience also, and I think we are a long way down the road. So much I dare promise that the first prototypes will be assembled in our workshop in 2018,”

Inwatec’s firsts move into the laundries happened with the X-Ray Sorting System, and later a Robot Separator to further automatize the handling of the soiled textiles. More recently Inwatec has also produced a Stack Storage System for clean linen, and Mads Andresen reveals that Inwatec has many more innovations in the pipeline.

“Our motto has always been “We remove the dirty work”, and this is the first time we really remove the dirty work together with JENSEN,” says Mads Andresen.

Vraa Dampvaskeri focuses on innovation and automation

Robot technology, lots of automation and innovative use of all state-of-the-art technology in the market. Those are the ingredients in the recipe, which has secured the family-owned Vraa Dampvaskeri a position as one of the leading industrial laundries in Denmark. The headquarters locates in the northernmost part of Denmark in the town Vrå, but with branches in Aarhus, Fredericia, and Køge, Vraa Dampvaskeri services customers throughout the country as well as northern Germany and the southern part of Sweden.

According to CEO Jørgen Rasmussen, much of the explanation for the success of the company is that since the establishment in 1956, there has always been a strong will to invest in new technologies to make production as efficient as possible.

“Innovation and automation are in our blood at Vraa Dampvaskeri. For example, we have had our clothing tagged with chips since 1991, and in 1997 we took our automated sorting system into use. We have always been looking for improvements to our production line in general and especially in the field of automation,” says Jørgen Rasmussen, who recently invested in an Inwatec system, which will further improve the handling of the dirty laundry.

“The new automation options with a robot and an X-ray scanner have made us able to reduce the number of employees in the soiled site sorting, and it has enabled us to release some hands that we can use for something else. Regardless of how much we have automated over time, we have just become more people – now it’s just some other tasks they perform, “says Jørgen Rasmussen, who runs the family business with his two sons Thomas and Martin Rasmussen as well as daughter Stina Rasmussen who is CSR-manager.

Empty pockets a requirement in the food industry

With the new Inwatec-setup that connects to the existing sorting system, a robot separates the garments piece by piece before an X-ray machine checks for foreign elements hidden in the garments. If anything is found, the garment is automatically rejected for further inspection. This solution contributes to the fact that Vraa Dampvaskeri can also maintain its position as Denmark’s largest supplier of clothing to the food industry.

“We have a lot of customers in the food industry, where there is a strong focus on avoiding foreign objects in the clothes, and in this context, it was obvious for us to invest in an X-ray system that will enable us to meet that demand,” says Jørgen Rasmussen, who also has other gains by avoiding foreign elements in the laundry.

“When using the X-ray solution, we can reduce the administrative costs that come when undiscovered pens and the like ruins clothes. At the same time, it is important for our working environment to minimize the contact with the laundry, “explains the director about the solution.

 

Future solutions require data

Jørgen Rasmussen and his sons in Vraa Dampvaskeri are far from finished with the development. One of the next steps will be to utilize the possibilities for tracking the individual piece of laundry.

“Recently, we have started working on UHF-chipping the garments, which we do to get as much data as we can in the clothes cycle, and because it helps us to keep track of our inventory. This way we only need to invest in what we need,” says Jørgen Rasmussen, who see that the tracking gives further economic opportunities.

“Concerning the economy, collection and use of data is also an important part of the future laundry. When we make agreements with the customers that they should roll down the sleeves and empty their pockets, it is not always they remember it. When we track the individual piece of clothing, we can detect who’s forgetting this and, for example, send them a message that they’ll have to do better if they don’t want to pay for this service,” Jørgen Rasmussen adds.

The family behind Vraa Dampvaskeri: Martin, Stina, Thomas and Jørgen Rasmussen

Interested in the X-ray machine? Find more information about the ‘ODIN’ here

Huebsch wants the best service for their customers

Jim Vaudreuil – President and CEO at Huebsch Services

In the 126-year-old company Huebsch Services, located in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, USA, ongoing efforts are being made to update the processes to ensure satisfied customers. In this interest, President and CEO Jim Vaudreuil visited Inwatec in Denmark.

“I think the technology is accelerating and creating a lot of opportunities. I see a lot of the problems that we face today can be solved with the technology that’s available: The UHF RF-chips are promising. I’m looking at one of the new mat rollers that we already have, and we’re going to be modifying it with UHF readers so that we can do additional sorting,” Jim Vaudreuil says.

Huebsch Services already uses tracking in several ways, and for that reason, the implementation of an advanced chip reader-system is high on the priority list:

“We track every garment as a unique asset. We use the chip to keep track of our inventory; we use it to ensure the quality that we’re promising. Is the customer getting exactly what they’re supposed to get, and when? And it helps us keep track of our costs,” he explains.

 

Jim Vaudreuil with their HURRICANE mat roller

Continuously aiming for improvements

Even though Huebsch Services has a long history and a lot of clients going decades back in time, Jim Vaudreuil is sure that it is necessary to always keep an eye on the development of the machines used in the production.

“We like to think of ourselves as innovators. I’m not sure that we really are, as much as that we’re never happy with what we have, and we know that we could improve, so we’re continuously trying to improve. I think the innovation is using technologies that are available, and it’s how we use it.  Almost all the technologies could be had by every one of our competitors, so it’s how do you use it that gives you the competitive advantage,” he continues.

Huebsch Services takes great care of having a high service level, and that is why Jim Vaudreuil visited Denmark; In search of the best ways to support the customers varying needs.

“I think we have certain advantages; we’re a smaller company; we’re very hands-on, and we do most of our development work. I think we have an advantage in that. We’re maybe a little bit closer to the customer and closer to their problem. The company of the future has to be specialised, and I think it has to embrace some of the technologies. That’s why I am here. We’ve been partnering with Inwatec in I don’t know how many years. We really like the Inwatec products, and we are able to partner with a company that’s really leading in the technology – and so what if we’re you know a 10-hour flight away,” he smiles.

Watch the full interview with Jim Vaudreuil:

Find more information on Inwatec’s machines for mat handling here.

Fully automatic sorting of Soiled Workwear

Inwatec's sorting lines are build to fulfill each customers' needs. Thanks to modular design, the single machines can be added to a whole system according to specific wishes. In this case, the requested line consists of a Robot Separator, an X-ray machine and a vision based sorting system. 

The robot is fed by a conveyor and performs a separation of the garments. These separated garments are directly transferred to the X-ray machine, which detects foreign items like pens and scissors in the garment and automatically rejects these clothing items.

Accepted garments are forwarded to a vision based sorting, which, in this special case, sorts into either bright or dark.


Watch the full setup here:

The system's main components:

The Robot Separator has a high efficiency in separating textiles. It works fully automatic and therefore reduces the risk of cuts and needle injuries for your staff. We use modern 3D cameras and advanced software to find the best gripping points on the garments. 

All details about the Robot Separator. 

Inwatec's X-ray machine automatically detects foreign items such as pens, needles, lipsticks and more. It can handle up to 2,200 items per hour and rejects garments which contain foreign items. These rejected garments are forwarded to a special bin, where the detected foreign items can be removed from the garment's pockets.

Find more information on the X-ray Machine here.


You would like to automate soiled side sorting processes in your laundry as well? Contact us!

Separates more than 1,500 garments per hour: Inwatec’s Robot Separator

Inwatec’s Robot Separator has been under development since mid of 2015. In June 2015, we started with the idea of creating a robot that automatically separates garment to load it into our X-ray and sorting systems individually. While developing the robot over the past years, we especially had to overcome issues such as the relatively low speed of traditional robot arms and determining the best gripping points of modifiable objects like garments.

End of March 2017, we finally delivered the first Robot Separator to a Norwegian laundry. This first project was a development project, which we performed together. The robot can handle all kinds of garments such as white wear, linen, mops, rags, and more.


Find out more about the past development and watch videos of the different stages on our small Progress Blog of our Robot Separator.


Even though we already presented a fully functioning machine, we did not stop working and improving on the speed, accuracy, and therefore efficiency of our Robot Separator. Over the past months, we have made several additional tests, adjustments, and changes to be now presenting a smooth working, fast, and precise Robot Separator for laundries. Our own delta robot system, together with 3D-cameras detecting the garment and determine the best picking-points for the textiles, now make it possible to deliver about 1500 separated pieces an hour. This throughput is comparable to most human operators and fits nicely into the flow of many setups.

We recently installed our second robot in Switzerland and are currently building number three and four.


Check out the product details of the Robot Separator.


“I think we’ve made a good progress but we are still aiming for a higher throughput. It’s a long process to develop such a system from scratch but we are confident that now we have a system that really does the job,” explains Martin, one of the responsible software engineers for the development of the Robot Separator.


What does Inwatec’s Robot Separator do, which challenges did we overcome in the developing process and how can the robot contribute to your business? Martin answers these questions and more in this video:

X-ray: soon easier to buy on the French market

We are happy to announce, that the Inwatec X-ray system is now a huge step closer to the French customers, and we are now taking orders for expected delivery in Q2 2018.

“Syringes, scalpels, scissors, pens, markers, name tags and other items that could either harm the operator or damage the garments, courses the same problem in France as in the rest of the world. We are delighted that we soon can help solving these issues in France with our X-Ray-machine,” Inwatec Project Engineer Raphaël Baetens tells.

Raphaël Baetens with his certification for X-ray installation and usage in France

The French regulations on the X-ray equipment demand that the operator passes a thorough test on safety procedures and radiation, and to remove that hurdle for our customers; Raphaël Baetens has completed the training, and he has now received the certificate that proves he is allowed to work with and install x-ray equipment in France.

The next step is to finalise the papers to have the exemption of authorisation and declaration that mean that French owners of the machine will NOT need to have their employees to take the courses.

“We met a lot of interest from the French hospital laundry industry who saw the machine in action at the recent JetExpo 2017 in Paris, and we look forward to starting work on these projects with our French business partners,” Raphaël Baetens continues.

“The X-ray system is CE-marked and approved for the European market. It has proven its worth for years in both European and Asian laundries, so we are pleased, that we have come so far in the process of getting the machines approved for the French market too.”

 

Facts about the Inwatec X-ray machine:

  • PCR (Person Competent in Radioactivity) Certified by APAVE
  • CE-marked
  • Certified by TÜV (for the German market)
  • Certified by Force Technology (for the Danish market)

Technical specifications:

  • Running at 30 KeV
  • 0 µSv emission around the machine

Find more information about the X-ray machine on the product page here.

No more washing machines damaged by nails at Liebhardt

Nails, screws, and tools have caused considerable damage to the washing machines in the German laundry Textilservice Liebhardt GmbH & Co. KG, Biberach in the past years. The investment in an Inwatec X-ray system dramatically changed that, and recently, Liebhardt’s machine was upgraded with new AI software to further reduce the error rate.

For managing director Eva Löffelhardt, there is no doubt that future laundry needs an increased degree of automation to keep pace with the market and to ensure the best working conditions for the employees.

“We have 85 employees in the company, and our primary focus is on workwear, blue and white workwear, but we also serve hotels and health clinics. New technology like Inwatec’s X-ray machine, helps our company to be competitive on the market,” explains Eva Löffelhardt. “By investing further in new technology, we expect the work to be easier for our employees, while continuing to deliver high quality to our customers.”

Since 2015, Eva Löffelhardt has been running the family business, founded in 1936, and is sure that the laundries of the future will change a lot: “The laundry industry desperately needs innovation. We can achieve that with modern and innovative robot solutions.The industry has been very reluctant so far.”

Eva Löffelhardt especially welcomes the fact that the loose screws, nails and tools hidden in the pockets no longer stop their washing machines. In addition, the garments can not be made unusable due to forgotten ball-point pens anymore. Equally valuable is the fact that the working conditions of the employees of the family business have improved:

“I also think a lot about the health of the employees. There are many repetitive movements in a laundry, and I have been incredibly happy to lessen these tasks. Employees are also unconditionally excited about the new technology, and they are proud to be in a company investing in modern technology. I do not doubt that the future offers solutions and opportunities that I have never thought about.”


Interested in the X-Ray Machine Liebhardt uses? Find details here.

Textilservice Liebhardt welcomes the future (video)

Nails, screws, and tools have caused considerable damage to the washing machines in the German laundry Textilservice Liebhardt GmbH & Co. KG, Biberach in the past years. The investment in an Inwatec X-ray system dramatically changed that, and recently, Liebhardt’s machine was upgraded with new AI software to further reduce the error rate.


Interested in the X-Ray Machine Liebhardt uses? Find details here.

How to empty +10,000 pockets a day

In Shanghai, China, the laundry company Fornet in 2015 established one of Asia’s most modern laundries where more than 10,000 pieces of garments are handled each day for both laundry and cleaning.

 

Such a significant volume needed extra attention from the beginning, and for that reason general manager Zhu Lijun was aware, that automation could play a part of the solution.

 

“We had identified the problem of emptying the pockets of 10,000 pieces of garments a day, and we realised that it was a hurdle that we needed to solve. I had read about Inwatec’s x-ray machine on the internet, and after a short dialogue, I went to Denmark to see the x-ray scanner in action on a Denmark laundry facility,” Zhu Lijun tells about the process.

 

Automation gives stability and efficiency

The setup in Shanghai that includes both x-ray scan of the garment and RFID-based sorting has now been running for more than a year, and Ms Zhu Lijun is certain, that she and her colleagues made the right choices from the beginning.

 

“Everything works excellent. It is a new laundry, and we have no historical data to compare with, but we’re sure that the automation is more efficient than a manual solution,” Ms Zhu Lijun reveals.

 

“Apart from helping us emptying the pockets, the setup also sorts the garments into nine different categories to pick the right washing or cleaning processes.  In that part of the equation, there is no doubt that the machine makes fewer errors than a human would do, and the speed is also higher and with fewer stops than a person could handle.”

 

Long distance service via the Internet

Ms Zhu Lijun had no worries choosing a Danish setup for the laundry in Shanghai, and time has proved, that she did not have to worry about having a service department 8,300 kilometres away.

 

“We have had very few issues so far, and when the line stops for some reason, we have solved it online without problems. It hasn’t been that complicated,” Ms Zhu Lijun tells.


Click to find out more about the X-Ray Machine and our Automatic Sorting Machine.

British food industry demands empty pockets

Garments ruined because of forgotten pens and markers have been a big issue in the laundry industry for decades. More recently the demand of empty pockets has come from the food industry where the tiniest pieces can become significant problems.

“The recent years we have had more and more potential customers asking us specifically if we can offer them X-ray scanning of the laundry. It’s dominantly from the food industry, where even a small paper clip can be a huge expense if it drops from a rolled-up sleeve or a pocket into the production area,” tells Carl Heeley, General Manager at Johnsons Apparelmasters Hinckley office.

”These companies will do anything to minimise that risk, and when they ask for the possibility of scanning the garments for foreign elements. Of course, we would like to offer that shortly,” Carl Heeley added when visiting Inwatec in Odense to watch how an X-ray system could help solving the issues.

Fewer expenses to ruined garments

Apart from getting rid of unwanted elements in the washed clothes, Apparelmasters also wish to minimise the costs that occur because of garment destroyed when pens or markers are forgotten in pockets and not found until after washing the clothing.

“We have huge issues and expenses because of ruined garment. Every week we must replace 200 pieces of clothing. While the garments themselves obviously has a price, we also have expenses and a lot of frustration in the administration when we must search for replacements,” Carl Heeley admits before underlining that direct costs have less focus than giving the costumers the optimal product:

“Even though we expect huge savings if we introduce X-ray systems in our laundry, the main focus is actually on delivering better service to our customers, and this could be a game changer in a rather traditional business. If we can reduce the number of ruined garments, we will also be able to deliver the cleaned clothes as promised, and that would be a unique selling point for Johnsons Apparelmasters. We are not the only laundry that faces problems with ruined garments,” Carl Heeley says.