Volume Business: Enhancing Laundry Efficiency and Sustainability

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All commercial laundries are challenged to achieve the labor and utility efficiency needed to reduce expenses. The smaller the volume, the higher the cost of many key supplies per pound produced.

By contrast, economies of scale reduce the possibility that a laundry will become more expensive and less environmentally friendly. A decision to build volume by adding sister facilities' laundry work or outsourcing maximizes potential to increase efficiency.

But it restricts the flexibility to wash whatever goods you want when you want them. Environmental services professionals are challenged to judge whether the more supple approach justifies continuing to invest in a dedicated on-premises laundry (OPL).

Alternative arrangements

As scarcity of supplies that are dependent on harvesting natural resources such as energy, water and natural textile fibers fluctuates and their pricing varies accordingly, the stability of alternative health care laundry arrangements often becomes more attractive.

Renting linens instead of owning them as part of a laundry contract with an outside provider greatly simplifies the function and often is the most efficient choice. Rental laundry operators organize the laundry work from hospitals and health care facilities so they can share textile product inventory. Huge washloads make for economies and high efficiency in operating washing, drying and finishing equipment. On a per piece basis, these savings could be one-third to one-half the energy requirement of a small OPL and one-fourth to one-third of the water needed.

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Of course, machinery efficiencies can be achieved through outsourcing techniques other than rental. A commercial facility that contracts its laundry work for hospital-owned goods delivers these. A co-op laundry sized properly to handle at least several hospitals with outpatient facilities providing additional work can produce enough volume to return the joint investment in high-capacity equipment and associated infrastructure. The latter offers the option of the co-op hiring its own management or contracting the facility's operation to a commercial launderer.

A third possibility is for a hospital to continue to wash some items in-house, but outsource specialty items with other hospitals to a commercial operation. This strategy is focused less on laundry efficiency and more on providing economic benefits and maintaining a positive relationship with the community.

Making the decision

Every operation in every business steadily revisits whether to leave the current operation relatively intact but improve its endurance or change to another option. The most efficient choice is usually the one found to produce better, faster and cheaper results due to an evaluation that looks broadly and objectively at the end-to-end cost and relative impact of all options.

High-quality service provided on time is the most popular argument for keeping a small-volume OPL. However, underloaded equipment sometimes jeopardizes this quality and raises labor and supply costs. In addition, measures of textile appearance, cleanliness and timeliness such as rewash, reclaim and discard rates that impact the quality of goods in service are sometimes not tracked.

The case for perpetuating any laundry is strongest when plant costs are tracked to prove they are not rising dramatically per pound produced. This starts with separately metering the laundry's utilities to ensure an accurate reading of its water and energy use. It's important to gauge equipment efficiency to reveal whether washing machines are using more water than they should or a boiler is as efficient as it used to be.

Likewise, an equipment life forecast should be conducted, including an assessment of the financial capability to replace and upgrade it. Better machinery almost always translates to better cost control by providing for less water and energy depletion per pound of laundry. …