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.

Artificial Intelligence and robots make laundries smarter and safer

The sophisticated picker of Inwatec’s Robot Separator calculates the best picking-point of the garments.

Many routines and procedures in the industrial laundries are both heavy, filthy and potentially dangerous, and on top of that, employees risk making mistakes when executing repetitive tasks.

That is why the now mature solutions combining robots, artificial intelligence and automation come into the picture.

Among the tasks which are most obvious to get rid of is the sorting and handling of soiled side garments. With modern technology it is entirely possible to obtain a setup where an absolute minimum of human interaction is needed:

The soiled garments can be dumped on conveyors where robots pick the items one by one to feed an X-ray scanner that detects unwanted items hidden in the pockets. At the same time, an RFID chip reader is registering the individual garment to decide how it should be sorted for proper handling further on in the system.

All those tasks can be achieved with employees only needed to empty the pockets on the garments that are rejected by the x-ray – and to ensure that the system is running as it is supposed to.

The X-ray system’s Artificial Intelligence automatically detects foreign items (e.g. pens)  and rejects the respective laundry article.

Endless opportunities

The challenge recently has been to make those robots smart enough to replace all these the human functions, but with artificial intelligence, it is now possible to let the computer analyze massive amounts of data and then find patterns that open new possibilities for the laundry business.

An example could be systems based on vision sorting alone. This is very useful in laundry businesses where the garments aren’t tagged because the items represent such a low value that the tagging doesn’t make sense as a business case.

Read more: The future is getting closer to Whangarei in New Zealand

The potential business cases in the laundry world that can be done with the help from automation, robots and AI today are practically endless.

As a rule of thumb, you can say, that if a typical person can perform a mental task with less than one second of thought, we can probably automate it using AI either now or shortly.

There is no doubt that the human employees at the industrial laundries will perform jobs that are not as hard or fatiguing as today, and more focused on servicing the end users or creating value to the company in another way.

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.

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.

Installing our new Bag Machine in a laundry in Norway

With the Bag Machine the process of packing and counting of laundry items, e.g. mops, is improved significantly:

  • The machine counts the laundry items fast due to RFID-technology or weight.
  • Laundry items without the correct RFID-chip or weight are automatically rejected.
  • The machine packs the desired amount of laundry items in one bag. Time consuming counting is not necessary anymore.
  • An integrated printer puts an individual barcode on the packed bags.

Please find more information under products on our homepage or contact us directly if you have any questions.