From Denmark to Down Under: La Nuova’s journey to becoming New Zealand’s most automated laundry

All the way in New Zealand, amidst the picturesque landscapes of Taranaki, lies a third-generation family business that has become a cornerstone in the region’s laundry industry. It all began with a trip to Denmark in 2018, exploring new laundry technologies, recalls Brad Craig, Managing Director at La Nuova, about his first time seeing the Inwatec Soiled Side Sorting system live and in action. Today, La Nuova is the most automated laundry in all New Zealand – thanks to the help of Inwatec’s sorting systems.

Following the pandemic, the staff shortages around the world heavily impacted the laundry business – also the one in New Zealand. The plan for La Nuova was to be able to operate the plant with less staff and take away some of the “not-so-nice jobs” within the laundry. “For us, it wasn’t purely looking at the ROI in terms of equipment. When you get an accountant looking at the spreadsheets, certain figures pop out at the bottom, but it certainly doesn’t show the whole picture. For us, it was those other advantages that stood out.”

What Craig describes here as “not-so-nice jobs” refers to the heavy manual tasks to which workers in a laundry without automated systems are normally exposed. Not only are these tasks tedious, repetitive and simply unpleasant – they can also be dangerous and put a severe strain on the employees’ health and well-being. With automated separation of laundry items, X-ray modules that detect potentially harmful foreign objects, as well as a camera system able to sort based on RFID technology and visual appearance, these tasks can be left in the past.

Despite the early development phase of the automated laundry sorting system at the time of his visit, Brad and his team saw the potential this technology could have for their own laundry and its employees: “we sort of watched that with interest and kept an eye on how things have developed and kept in touch.”

Continued growth and the laundry’s commitment to leading the industry with the latest technology led the business to upgrade its equipment to an Inwatec system in 2022. Besides that, La Nuova dedicated a sufficient amount of time to carefully prepare their team for the upcoming changes and make sure the process and the reasons behind it were understood. “Our team really blew me away, because they were so positive through the whole thing. Even now, after everything is up and running, the feedback from the team was hugely positive. We have taken out those aspects of their role that they didn’t necessarily enjoy as much, so the feedback was really good”, Craig recalls.

During the automation process, redundancies could be avoided through natural fluctuation of team members – at no point has a robot “taken away” a human’s job, it has just made it easier. Craig stresses that “we were keen to ensure that it wasn’t a case of spending a whole lot of money to get rid of a whole lot of people. We managed to do that quite successfully”. For him, it was important to keep the team updated on what was happening, to prevent them from having a constant “Am I losing my job?”– thought in the back of their minds. While certain roles have changed slightly during the automation process, others simply don’t exist anymore. “We still have to hang garments on the hanger and the like, but it was all the bits in between that nobody liked doing that we got rid of.”

La Nuova proves to be the perfect example, that smaller, family-owned laundries do not have to be afraid of automation in any way. Currently, the plant is processing around 50 tonnes of laundry a week. We are aware that what might be seen as a “small” laundry in New Zealand might not be the case in other countries. However, at Inwatec we have vast experience with systems that fit laundries of many different sizes. Our tailored solutions ensure that every business can benefit from automation, without feeling overwhelmed by the process of getting there. It is important to mention that the automation process can be approached gradually, there is no need to change everything overnight. All you have to do is to start – Inwatec will be there to guide you every step of the way. Helping laundries automate their business while getting rid of tedious manual tasks and creating a better and safer working environment is what their heart truly beats for.

Today, as laundry flows seamlessly through their automated plant, Craig reflects on the lessons learned and the road ahead. When he asked the team where they wanted to go, they would opt for anything that didn’t have to do with manual sorting: “It’s (the automation system) taking that part out, and automating that part was just amazing.” The family business keeps growing constantly, however, without any changes to the team numbers. Automating a laundry business enables just that – saving money on operators having to deal with tedious manual tasks, while providing a more efficient, and most importantly, more enjoyable work environment.

As Craig prepares to welcome laundry owners from across the country for the upcoming Apparelmaster conference, he knows his journey toward automation is not just about staying ahead – it is about shaping the future of an entire industry, one innovation at a time. In 2023, La Nuova was awarded not one, but five (!) prestigious awards at the Taranaki Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards, among other things in the categories “Technology Excellence” and “Innovation Excellence”. Moving his family-owned laundry towards an automated laundry system Craig became a true pioneer in New Zealand – and his success proves him right.

Taking the current employee shortage into consideration, keeping skilled employees in the company should be given utmost priority. In his role as Managing Director, Brad Craig demonstrates a profound appreciation for his team by actively engaging them at every stage and fostering a work environment that they genuinely enjoy. La Nuova proves to be an excellent example of how a laundry business can be future-proofed, while motivating employees to stay, and even collaborate with them to adjust the processes. This way automation enables better, safer and more enjoyable work, while avoiding constant retraining.

No matter how big or small your laundry business may be – automation is your friend, not your enemy. La Nuova’s story shows that even modest beginnings can lead to remarkable outcomes. From streamlining operations to enhancing productivity, the journey toward a more efficient laundry business is achievable at any scale.