Every Executive Housekeeper that sends their laundry off-site to be laundered has faced a situation like this: they get their laundry shipment for the day, and there's just one problem: all the pillowcases are missing. While these mistakes are rare, they can cause a lot of stress on housekeeping teams when they happen. In our view, mistakes like this result from the combination of high employee turnover and increasing automation in the wrong parts of the laundry.
There's a huge push towards automation in the commercial laundry industry, and some of the newest automated plants are truly amazing. We've linked to a video of Stalbridge Linens, a hospitality-focused laundry service in the United Kingdom, which shows some of the types of automation you can see in the highest production laundries. High quality commercial laundry operators are able to handle a lot of laundry in plants like this, and the best operators (like Stalbridge appears to be) have great training to ensure their employees can keep one customer's laundry separate from another's.
While facilities like these are great for throughput and increasing "pounds per operator hour," they present a lot of challenges for keeping each client's laundry separate from another's: relying heavily on automated material conveyance (like the overhead sling systems) means that the entire responsibility for tagging one customer's laundry is held by the "soil sort" team at the beginning of the process and the reliability of their data entry into the computer system. Even more challenging, each station along the way has a "work in process" queue of a bunch of bins that likely include laundry from several different properties at the same time (see minute 1:38 in the video above, where you have wet sheets waiting to be pressed and dry towels waiting to be folded). One quick mistake -- for example a time-pressured operator pulling a queued-up bin from Hotel B before s/he has finished with all the bins from Hotel A -- and it's entirely possible that all of Hotel B's pillowcases get sent to Hotel A, especially if Hotel B is a 180-room limited service hotel that only has one bin full of pillowcases in the first place. Seasoned operators won't make this mistake, but if your commercial laundry vendor has high employee turnover, it's a really easy rookie mistake to make.
Here at Wash Cycle Laundry, we're taking a different approach to building out our plants to best service mid-sized hotels -- up to about 400 rooms. It's built along a concept that we're calling "single hotel batch washing." Here are some the key elements of the concept:
- A manual soil-sort operation, where our staff split laundry into six categories (flat sheets, fitted sheets, duvet covers, pillowcases, towels, and other). We find that automated soil sort operations, like conveyors, can drive sorting mistakes, which are the biggest source of mixed laundry later on down the line.
- Equipment capacities topping out at 275 pounds per washing machine, with plenty of 80-100 lb machines. We also don't use split-pocket washers. This means that it's never hard to find a washing machine to handle they 80 pounds of pillowcases that a smaller hotel might send on a slow day. It also makes it a lot less likely to mix linen during the loading and unloading process.
- Significant automation on our finishing side. For example, we use triple sort towel folders that handle sorting large bath towels from small hand towels automatically, meaning that our staff don't have to do that separately. The less we handle linen once it's loose, the fewer opportunities there are for mistakes.