Robots greatly improve laundry sustainability

After generations of focusing on optimizing earnings laundries have focused more on the overall sustainability of their production over the past few years. Today, the well-being of the employees and concern for the environment are oftentimes entirely in line with the desire for better earnings.

The ODIN X-ray automatically scans every garment for foreign objects like pens, scissors, lipsticks, or similar.

This development is also being observed by Inwatec. CEO Mads Andresen in the past 10 years has visited laundries of all types around the world to identify their concerns and challenges.

“The laundries have always been interested in how robots, automation solutions, and artificial intelligence can improve efficiency and thereby the economy. But the trend of thinking sustainably is seriously reflected now. Today, the focus is also on creating good conditions for the employees and on protecting the environment,” says Mads Andresen.

Fewer washes save resources and reduce the impact on the environment
While robots are ideal for performing for the many unilateral movements and the heavy, dirty work in the sorting, technology can also help the laundries to avoid fault washing due to incorrect sorting or hidden foreign elements in the pockets of the garments.

Ink stains like these are prevented by using the ODIN X-ray system

That argument weighed heavily at Victor Vask in Denmark, where CEO Kenn Ivan Kjellberg has invested in an X-ray solution to avoid damaged garments.

“Our investment is primarily done for economic and labor law reasons. But there is also an environmental aspect to it as the X-ray machine can save us from throwing out 100 kilos of damaged clothing when we avoid pens in the machines. And that part is equally important to us,” Kenn Ivan Kjellberg emphasizes.

The same conclusion has been reached in Norway, where the dominant laundry player, Nor Tekstil, has focused on X-ray detection to ensure sustainability.

“Besides the obvious fact that we can free several employees from doing the hard work, there is the environmental component. The textiles are significantly more durable when we reduce the number of error washes. The production of cotton has a large economic impact; therefore, it is essential that we can use the clothes until they are worn out instead of replacing 80 kg because of an overlooked pen in a pocket,” says Ove Belsvik, director at Nor Tekstil.

The use of technology increases the quality of sorting
While the X-ray solution help removing unwanted items before the washing machine, automatic sorting with RFID scanners ensures that the individual piece of garment is washed correctly.

This solution is used at ALSCO Padova, where customers demand that the clothing be tracked through the process. This way, ALSCO can handle and sort 20,000 pieces of clothing daily in many different washing programs without the risk of operator error.

Automatic sorting enables a higher number of sorting categories with fewer errors.

“We sort in the clothes in a system with 24 silos, and currently we run with 14 different programs for colored clothes and six various washing programs for white garments. With our new setup, where the clothes are automatically sorted with RFID chips, we ensure that the clothes get the right treatment required by the specific customer,” Production Manager Marco De Grandis explains.

At Fornet in Nantong, the desire was the same as at ALSCO, and here the machines also deal with different types of clothing.

“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 mapped them with different sorting logic, so we have separate items for dry cleaning and get the right colors and textile types in the right washing machines,” explains Lei Pai, Manager at Fornet.

Faster approach to new technologies
The increased focus on sustainability has also made it easier for businesses to embrace technology in production plans. Several laundry organizations have introduced new technology in stages to get started quickly and to test the hypotheses in practice.

A THOR robot separator can be added as an extension to a stand-alone ODIN X-ray scanner at any time to fully automate soiled handling.

“Our solutions are modular, meaning that the laundries can begin with a stand-alone X-ray machine, and then add sorting, upscale with multiple lines or anything that is needed. The laundries can act quickly, and it fits well with the market today”, says Mads Andresen, who is attracting interest in Inwatec solutions all over the world.

“The industry has traditionally been quite reluctant to apply new technology, but today we feel that there is a great desire to act. There are global challenges in finding labor, the environmental problems are apparent to all of us, and finally, of course, companies like to make money. That equation is difficult to solve without automation,” concludes the Inwatec founder.


Read more about how automation optimized processes and improved the laundry’s environmental impact at:

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.

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.

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.