Private customers subscribe to clothing in China

As technology evolves, business opportunities arise for industrial laundries.

An example of the development is found a mere two-hour drive outside of Shanghai in the city of Nantong, where Fornet Laundry Service has a production facility for an unusual customer who runs an internet clothing rental service.

The rental company addresses private customers who can choose which clothes they want to wear in the coming days with an internet-based subscription solution. When the garments need to be washed, they are returned to the rental company, and then the customer can choose another dress, a different pair of other trousers, or something else.

Production Manager at Fornet, Shanghai

 

To make the solution profitable and to keep the stock as low as possible, the returned items must be registered, quality assured, sorted, washed and pressed, so everything is ready for the next customer who has ordered it.

This is where Fornet Laundry Services comes into the picture, and in order to secure a fully integrated process the Fornet laundry is located in a building between two warehouses of the rental company.

Simple workstations provide high quality

Among the early investments was an Inwatec RFID sorting system that ensures that the clothes are sorted correctly before washing.

“It is a fascinating challenge when we have to handle so many different types of clothes. We have over 30,000 different garments in the database, and we have them mapped with different sorting logic, so we separate items for dry cleaning and get the right colors and textile types in the right washing machines,” explains Lei Pai, Manager at Fornet.

In the unpacking area, the operator unpacks the returned parcel, checks for defects and wear, scans the barcode to update the system, and then attaches the RFID chip with a rubber band. The chip and barcode are then paired in the system database and that way all relevant data on the individual piece of clothing is preserved and processed correctly.

Fornet is using HF-RFID chips, as it is the most suitable in terms of workstations spacing to avoid reading the wrong chip as it could happen with UHF.

Inwatec’s Software Engineer Tudor at the installation

“The customer has focused on keeping the workstations as ergonomic as possible, and also the HF-RFID solution made it economically viable to put scanners up at all tables in the unpacking department. That way everything is checked, scanned and marked correctly when the units are put on the conveyor belt that leads to the sorting for further processing, and we can maintain high production capacity without sacrificing quality,” Lei Pai states further.

 

Manual handling with an automatic twist

The initial quality control is carried out by employees, who will, among other things, handle damaged garments. There are no plans to do alternate that part of the setup, but when it comes to the rest of the process, Fornet will automate as much as possible.

“Sorting is very labour intensive, so it’s a big win that we can handle it automatically. We have 13 bins with static sorting to ensure that the same type of garments ends in the same place. If we move the positions we risk more human errors,” says Lei Pai, who in early September had a trouble-free grand opening of the laundry with a lot of interested guests.

“We have launched production with an existing inventory, where all garments were not mapped optimally in relation to how it should be washed. However, we are well prepared to adjust that on the run and with all the new garments that come in, we know how to get all parameters correctly set up, and our logic in the sorting can also be optimised accordingly,” Lei Pai tells.

 

Good service and openness

Fornet Laundry Services operates several laundries around China, and since the company previously purchased a larger Inwatec system with x-ray and RFID sorting to a department in Shanghai, there was no hesitation in sending a new order to Denmark when the project in Nantong was to be implemented:

“We were in Denmark to see a system in a hospital, and we realised that it was a great idea for the laundry in Shanghai. The solution has worked as we wanted, and we also had an excellent dialogue about this project too,” says Lei Pai, stressing that the distance from Nantong to Inwatec in Odense is irrelevant.

“When we need support for the technology or software, it’s always on time, and we were completely confident in choosing Inwatec again. There was no doubt,” says Lei Pai.


Automation provides a better working environment in a hospital laundry

A new plant with an increased focus on effective automation solutions and staff safety was put to the test to the utmost when a fire put a sister company out of service. From one day to another, the number of uniforms for washing increased by 60%.

In 2017, Koncernservice Vask in Nykøbing F., Denmark, a laundry servicing three regional hospitals in Sjælland, decided to focus on automated handling of garments where it is possible. The solution was implemented following a public tender, including a combination of Inwatecs Robot Separator, X-ray scanner, and an UHF-RWS sorting system.

The installation was finally implemented in spring 2018, and according to Thomas Petersen, Production Manager, no one has regretted the choices that released labor for other tasks in the laundry, while at the same time doing the work with the soiled site laundry more efficiently and less risky for the employees.

“The working environment has become more comfortable because we have a simpler workstation where the dirty clothes enter the system. One person can actually manage all the handling, but sometimes we have two on the job because some of the jerseys have to be reversed, “says Thomas Petersen.

Involuntary test of capacity

The plant is designed for a capacity of around 1400 uniforms per hour, and with 10 hours of daily operation, it met the requirements for production. However, the requirements were soon to change significantly.

Shortly after the installation, the plant at Nykøbing F. Hospital came for an involuntary test when a hospital laundry in Holbæk burned down and went out of service. This meant that the laundry from Holbæk laundry had to be handled and washed in Nykøbing F.

Instead of the usual three hospitals, the list of clients grew to 6 hospitals, and from one day to another 60%, more uniforms had to be handled. The challenge was solved by extending the opening hours of the plant.

“Usually we work from 6:00 to 16:00, but after the fire, we’re working from 6 am to 11 pm, and with that setup, the production of uniforms for all six hospitals can be handled thanks to the Inwatec solution,” says Thomas Petersen.

Automation and X-ray provide speed and security

In addition to proving that the system could also handle unforeseen problems, Thomas Petersen is above all pleased that the original designs are resolved as expected. Not at least, his employees no longer have to have their hands in all the pockets.

“The X-ray solution finds almost everything, and we do not have to fear any cut injuries, so we have hardly any challenges in that area. Previously, we had four people who checked and emptied the pockets on the dirty laundry, but now we can do with one and a half, where one also helps to turn the shirts. That station is right next to it, so it’s easy to switch between tasks, “says Thomas Petersen.

“The robot separates about 1,400 units per hour, after which they are passed through the chip reader and X-ray before they are automatically sorted into eight categories. One bin is reserved for uniforms with items in the pockets. They are rejected in the first bin, after which they can be reviewed further before they are returned to the system with empty pockets,” says the production manager who display a whole bucket of pens, scissors, name tags and a lot of other unwanted items as proof of the daily catch.

In addition to sorting the laundry so that it is ready for washing, the handling also ensures a higher quality in production, as the number of errors is the sorting is kept to a minimum.

“We have allocated a bin to the readings where the chip is not recognised or where two chips from different washing categories have been registered together, so we do not mix the laundry. Therefore, in our plant, we have six divisions for uniforms. We sort all white pants together, all dark clothes collectively and so on, but it is not something we are bound to if we need to change our production,” says Thomas Petersen.

Smart tracking reduces loss of articles

Mads Andresen, Kent Pettersson (CEO of KåPI Tvätt), and Morgan Olsson (KåPI Tvätt Production Manager)

At the family-owned Swedish laundry KåPI Tvätt in Bengtsfors, management has been actively investing in the fight against lost inventory. The chosen solution is to chip mark all current garments, and as part of that process, KåPI Tvätt has just invested in an Inwatec setup, which includes an X-ray scanner, a UHF Chip reader, and a sorting line.

“We continue to lose 20-30 percent of our inventory every year, and considering that we spend between 7 and 10 million Swedish kroner (680,000-970,000 €) to on the purchase of new fabrics, it goes without saying that it is a fairly large amount, we can save when we get the systems up and running. We expect the ROI to happen in a few years,” says director Kent Pettersson.

The system will initially be set up in such a way that all pieces without an existing chip are rejected and only returned to the circulation when they are equipped with chips and registered in the system. This way it is expected that the process can be completed in a relatively short time span, and from the first day there will be significantly better control of all inventory in use.

Fewer employees in production – better quality
At KåPI Tvätt, there are currently between six and ten people working to sort the dirty laundry, which includes towels, sheets, tablecloths and working uniforms from hotels, restaurants and conference centers.

Part of the explanation for the many employees is that KåPI Tvätt manages many smaller pieces of garments and that handling requires many hands. The expectation is that this part of the workforce in the laundry will be minimized significantly.

“We will only need 3-4 people with the new equipment. Fundamentally, it is expensive to have so many employees in production, and we are very aware of the efficiency as much as possible. For a while, we have been convinced that more automation and more robots are the way forward, and this is a logical next step for us,” says Production Manager Morgan Olsson, who, together with Kent Pettersson, went to Inwatec’s headquarters in Odense to have a closer look at the selected machines.

New technology is popular among the employees
Some of the tasks in the sorting disappear with the new investment, but according to Morgan Olsson, the employees look forward to the changes:

“They get a simpler working day, and they eliminate some of the dirty features. It’s not popular to be the one to check and empty the pockets. Especially in workwear, there are lots of screws, pens and similar items which have to be sorted out. It takes too much time, but that task will be improved with the new X-ray system,” he says, while Kent Pettersson agrees:

“We see ourselves as an innovative company, and we are leaders in the private sector in Sweden. It also means that we are following the progress, and our employees expect that,” says the director.

The future is getting closer to Whangarei

The future of the industrial laundry depends on robots and automation, and eventually, all the players on the market will need to go in that direction. So is the prediction from Steve Baker, General Manager of Apparelmaster Whangarei from the New Zealand city of the same name.

“We have to think of a business model that supports the investments, but I’m sure that the next important steps in our business are to reduce physical labor and automate internal logistics in the industrial laundries, pushing bins and trolleys around all day and carrying stacks of laundry from one place to another isn’t a great use of staff skills,” Steve Baker says.

Recently he traveled Germany, Belgium, Norway and Denmark together with a group of like-minded colleagues and representatives from JENSEN and Inwatec to watch how the newest equipment is being implemented in other laundries right now, and Steve Baker is confident that there is a place for improvement in his business as well.

“For us traveling from New Zealand to Europe to look at the large-scale operations is just like looking into the future and helps us to define and clarify our business decisions with confidence. It would be easy to become insular and miss out on maximizing our business opportunities if we stayed at home in the South Pacific and didn’t look to learn something from the finest laundries in the world,” Steve Baker tells.

New machinery gives new possibilities

“I have been following the development of the new technology with x-ray-scanners, robots, and automatic sorting at Inwatec for a couple of years now. In the perfect world, we would invest in a fully automated production line straight away, but we still need to make some calculations before doing so and measure the cost benefits equation for our size and scale of operation,” the general manager admits.

Apparelmaster Whangarei is located in the northernmost part of New Zealand, serving the area from the top of the island “Cape Reinga” to the northern edge of Auckland city and the customers are offered different solutions for workwear and hospitality linen rental services.

The 80 employees care for everything in the rental service that includes sorting, washing, cleaning and repairing as well as a door-to-door collection and delivery of the laundry to the customers. Steve Baker believes that he can use the available hands in better ways with the use of new technologies:

“Our company isn’t that big, as we produce 65 tons a week. But today we are working 10 hours a day, seven days a week, so an upgrade in our production facility will make it easier for us to take in new projects without doing costly nightshifts,” he says.

Physical tasks will be phased out

Apart from the possible upgrade in efficiency, Steve Baker is also very interested in how to make the working conditions at Apparelmaster Whangarei more attractive for the employees.

“The regulations in Europe are stricter than in New Zealand, but I think that we all have to find solutions on how to get rid of all the heavy manual tasks in the future. Fortunately, I think that the technology is coming to a point where it is possible.”

“We have a lot of physical work in our laundry, and it is hard and fatiguing. It’s not dangerous, but it wears people out, and automation and robots will be needed to make the laundry a better place to work,” he says.

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.

MåtteXpressen: Investments were necessary to continue growth

Find the detailed interview and videos of the setup at MåtteXpressen at the end of this article.

CEO Benjamin Rasmussen

In the late autumn 2017, the Danish Mat Service-company MåtteXpressen in the town of Køge made a complete renewal of the production. The former equipment was changed with a brand-new and highly automated production line.

The reason for this move was simple: Big success from the sales department forced CEO Benjamin Rasmussen to take a close look at the machinery.

“After 14 years of constant growth, we reached a maximum for our production, so we had to think in new solutions. We were working 24 hours a day and four days a week, one day with two shifts and then we had weekend work. There was no way to continue our growth if we did not start thinking about solutions where we could make it more efficient and wash more in less time,” Benjamin Rasmussen tells of the thoughts he had before investing in his new setup.

Tripled production volume per hour

“When we washed with the old system, we had two employees on our laundry side at a time. They worked both with in-sorting, sorting and rolling the mats. They washed about 500-600 kilos per hour, today we also have two employees on the team, but they can handle 1500-1600 kilos per hour,” Benjamin Rasmussen explains.

“That means that we wash around three times as many kilos of mats with the same labour. In that way, instead of producing 24 hours a day, we can do it within eight hours. Because of that, we could save two-thirds of our staff on the laundry side.”

The new system includes an Inwatec setup with an Inlet Buffer and a Mat Carousel that buffers the mats on the dirty and the clean site respectively, and finally, MåtteXpressen has a Hurricane Mat Roller with a sorting system added for the finishing of the mats before they are placed in the storage.

The Inlet Buffer for Mat Laundry helps to sort mats by e.g. material, such as nylon and cotton. The buffer can store up to 16 wash batches of soiled mats of each 100 kg.

Fast amortization and new growth perspectives

In total, the entire process is now run by two persons at a time, and Benjamin Rasmussen is sure that the investment will make new growth possible and payback in a short time span.

“We have cautiously calculated that we have a payback time of eight years, but I'm sure it's a little faster. We have set the payback relative to the current turnover, and as we expect a growth of 4-5 percent a year, we will have faster payback time,” he reckons.

The savings are found in gas, electricity and water because of the shortened work day, and as savings on the crew.

“We have had to say goodbye to some of our laundry staff, which can, of course, be a challenge, but those still here are looking forward to the fact that they do not have as many wearying procedures anymore. I can’t see the effect yet, but I'm sure we do not need the same replacements in our staff as we have it less laborious work today," Benjamin Rasmussen tells.


Watch the full interview with MåtteXpressen's CEO Benjamin Rasmussen:

The complete setup at the mat laundry MåtteXpressen:

Introduction to the Inlet Buffer for Mat Laundry and its functions:


View product details on the various parts of MåtteXpressen's production line:

Inlet Buffer for Mat Laundry - Mat Carousel - Hurricane Mat Roller - Mat Sorting Conveyor - Mat Trolley

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.

Mat laundry Leko Matter continues to focus on automation

The Norwegian company Leko Matter, based in Oslo, decided to automate its mat laundry as much as possible in 2015. The result is a production where one employee alone handles 3.6 tons of mats each day. The mats are washed, rolled and sorted for about 3,000 customers.

“In the past, our drivers helped for more or less one hour to roll the mats. Luckily there’s no need for this anymore. The truck drivers deliver the dirty mats directly on a conveyor belt. Hence everything proceeds automatically from the washing and drying until the rolling of mats on our Inwatec Hurricane machine,” says Bjørn Leine, son of Leko Matters founder Bergtor Leine, and thus the second generation in the family business, founded in 1989.

Bjørn Leine has not doubt that the automation has been a success for Leko Matter, and for the same reason, the company is now thinking about further expansion of the system. “Our system can sort by six criteria, but we are in dialogue with Inwatec to invest in an additional sorting module so we can sort the mats into nine carts at a time,” says Bjørn Leine about the solution he and his colleagues have done in collaboration with Inwatec.

“The alternative had been to employ more people to keep up with the growth. Instead, we are saving a full-time job now, and I assess that the investment has paid back within two years,” Bjørn Leine continues.

Innovative partnership

“The projects we have with Leko Matter over the years gave us a lot of beneficial knowledge of the mat handling business and our company’s relationship has been a success from the very beginning”, Claes Stanley, Chief Technology Officer at Inwatec explains. “Leko Matter came to us with some specific requests”, says Claes Stanley. “Together we developed a modular sorting system that fits into their setup, and at the same time allows their business to grow even bigger.”

Emphasis on efficiency

“Leko Matter had a keen eye for the efficiency from the very beginning, and we are happy, that we have been able to meet their requests with our machines. Their setup is almost entirely automated. Only one person is needed to place the mats at the Hurricane Matroller. This process also allows to include a quality control of the washed mats,” Claes Stanley adds.

Where the original setup at Leko Matter allowed the Norwegian company to sort in six criteria, there is no upper limit on the number of how many sorting modules can be added. In the same way, it is possible to add RFID-scanner and a mat binding system to the mat rolling machine. “Today we have customers with similar setups all over Europe, in the United States and Canada. For Inwatec the partnership with Leko Matter proved that the value of understanding the customer is essential to ensure mutual success,” Claes Stanley states.


Find out more about our Hurricane Mat Rolling Machine and the Mat Sorting Conveyor on their detailed product pages.