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The efficient laundry purchase: don't let equipment upgrades become a wash.

As everyone in the long-term care industry knows, resident comfort starts on the floor with a caring, professional staff. Overlooked, however, may be the important role a facility's laundry system plays in resident satisfaction.

Every resident has the right to clean linens, fresh towels, and prompt service.

Because the volume of laundry in a nursing home rarely, if ever, decreases, it is paramount that managers choose durable, efficient equipment to ensure that their staff and residents are never left waiting for linens.

Of equal importance is learning how to maximize staff productivity to meet this goal, and the number-one issue that slows laundry productivity is your laundry equipment. Washer extractors and drying tumblers must be up to the challenge of your facility's laundry load. Read on to determine whether your current laundry setup is keeping your operation from running at 100%.

Assessing your equipment

Determining when a washer extractor or drying tumbler needs replacement can be difficult, says Craig Dakauskas, national sales manager of Speed Queen. "Age is a very nebulous factor in establishing whether to replace laundry equipment," he explains. "Managers should compare age along with service calls on machines"

An older machine with a history of racking up service and repair bills could serve as a warning of larger problems ahead. "Motor, shaft, bearings, and trunion repairs are much more costly repairs than a water pump, boot, or belt," Dakauskas says, adding that such expensive repairs likely are not worth the expense for 10- to 15-year-old machines. Water leaks, a broken basket, or grease coming out of the bearing assembly are other red flags of troublesome repairs ahead.

Service calls, however, are only one component in considering an equipment upgrade. Managers should also look at process times and utility expenditures. "A large, 15-year-old drying tumbler, though owning a stellar repair history, may actually be a huge drain on your laundry due to its inefficiency," says Dakauskas.

Likewise, modern, microprocessor-controlled washer extractors can help laundries realize better finished quality results through their programmable cycles, and their higher extraction speeds trim drying times. "Look at your operation as a whole. Are loads stalling at the dryer? This might be a sign of an inefficient dryer or just an indication you need extra drying capacity," Dakauskas says.

Often, the best means of getting an assessment of your laundry needs is through a discussion with your laundry equipment distributor.

"These professionals will be able to offer a clear review of your current equipment and even run through calculations on savings you might realize by upgrading" Dakauskas offers.

Selecting a distributor

Choosing the right distributor will be almost as important as the equipment itself: Dakauskas recommends "interviewing" them for the job.

"Purchasing new equipment is only part of the equation," he says. "You need to make sure you are well taken care of after the sale"

When evaluating a potential distributor, remember to ask about the following:

* Its references, specifically satisfied customers within the long-term care industry

* How long the company has been in the business

* How large its service department is--that will give you an indication of how long you'll have to wait on a service call

"Parts supply is a huge consideration," Dakauskas says. "You want to make sure [the distributor] has an extensive parts department, as this may be the difference between service being performed immediately or having to wait for a part to be ordered."

Sizing it up

Having selected a full-service distributor, you then get to choose equipment. Again, rely about your distributor to offer suggestions on the best size and type of washer extractor and drying tumbler to meet your needs.

The general rule means sizing your dryer larger than your washer extractor. For example, you'll likely pair a 60-lb washer with a 75-lb tumbler. The reason for upsizing with the tumbler is to prevent a bottleneck in the dryer.

Evaluating features

Although managers won't use it every day, if they ever need it, the warranty could be one of the machine's more important features.

"You want to look for a minimum of a three-year warranty, and perhaps longer on key parts of the machine's assembly," Dakauskas says, adding that a strong warranty should give a manager peace of mind about the company's level of commitment to quality.

A high G-force extraction speed is another washer extractor feature that can pay dividends for laundries in terms of both throughput and utility costs. Upgrading from an extraction speed of 86 G-force to 140 removes significantly more water from loads. This, in turn, shortens drying time, and ultimately, trims utility consumption.

Dakauskas also ranks programmability as a major consideration in purchasing a new washer-extractor or drying tumbler. "Versatility is a key trait laundries should require in their equipment selection," he said. "Having the ability to tailor the wash and dry process helps ensure operations are able to adapt to new linens or additional pieces added to the wash volume."

Linens are a consideration, Dakauskas says, from not only a comfort standpoint but a competition one as well. "As the baby boomer population ages and the long-term care industry continues to grow, competition will increase that means facilities seeking an advantage through higher quality amenities such as high--thread count linens," he explains. "Having programming flexibility to adapt to such linen changes is a feature managers will definitely want"

An additional consideration, however, should be the simplicity of the controls. Laundries frequently see high employee turnover rates. As a result, managers need to examine whether it will be easy for new employees to learn to operate the machines' controls.

"Training should take no longer than 30 minutes," Dakauskas says.

Order and delivery

Once you've decided on laundry equipment to suit your needs, delivery shouldn't take longer than four to six weeks.

Installation of new equipment will take a minimal amount of time, but managers also will need to prepare the laundry schedule to anticipate down time as the machines are installed. "Depending on whether it is a replacement or a total rehabilitation, installation can usually be completed in a day or two," Dakauskas says.

Make sure you ask your distributor about removing old laundry equipment, as well. These companies can do everything for you--usually for a small fee--and turn old equipment into scrap.

Divide and conquer

Although it may seem counterintuitive at first, don't assume that your heavy volumes of laundry are best handled by buying one large machine to do the job of two smaller ones.

Having one big machine is actually a time-waster' explains Craig Dakauskas, national sales manager of Speed Queen, because you're slowing down operations to wait for enough laundry to fill the washer. "A smaller washer extractor and drying tumbler enable your operation to [have a series of] continually moving loads," he adds.

In addition, underloading a commercial washer does a lot more damage than overloading it. Operations that don't properly use the full capacity of a large washer extractor put excess stress on the washer's bearing assembly.

Multiple smaller machines also offer a built-in form of insurance, Dakauskas points out--if one breaks, you always have another immediately on hand to keep things going. "Decreased productivity is a lot better than halted productivity," he says.--Randy F. Radtke

U-niversal layout

A full-service distributor is a good source for helping managers lay out their laundry. If you can give a distributor the exact specifications of the space you have, he or she will be able to provide the proper equipment mix to fit the space.

The best laundry room designs are U-shaped, with doors on each side. In this design, soiled linens arrive through one door, and clean items leave through the other.

However, in facilities without the luxury of adequate space for this design, color-coding laundry carts to ensure that certain carts are used only for soiled linens, and others only for clean linens, will aid in infection control.--Randy F. Radtke

Randy F. Radtke is a public relations specialist at Alliance Laundry Systems, a world leader in the manufacturing of commercial laundry equipment. An award-winning journalist, Radtke also spent more than 10 years in the newspaper industry as both a writer and editor. E-mail Randy at
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Author:Radtke, Randy F.
Publication:Contemporary Long Term Care
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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