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Laundering on the High Seas

Operating a laundry at sea poses similar, but also very different considerations than those of laundries operated here on the mainland. Two key components to a successful ocean operation are the right equipment and operational efficiency.

"On board laundry equipment must meet the operational rigors as well as tight accommodations that are part of Navy life," explains David Powell, Associate Director for Habitability for the U.S. Navy. Powell oversees teams in Norfolk, Virginia and San Diego, California, that evaluate equipment and train operators and maintenance personnel for the Navy's 190 ships with laundries on board.

Powell notes certain machinery requirements for his on-board laundries can be very different than an on-shore site, unless of course, you are in an earthquake area, due to the constant rocking motion of the sea. Machine requirements include durability since machines are routinely bolted to the deck to withstand 14-degree rolls from side to side, a modular design to allow machine parts to pass through openings as small as a 26-inch hatch, and a large capacity / small size ratio. Manufacturers authorized by the Navy are Cissell and Hoyt for tumble dryers and Edro Corporation which supplies 98 percent of the Navy's washer extractors due to their unique size and configuration, according to Powell.

Ship installations pose some interesting dilemmas. During an installation aboard the USS Leyte Gulf, one of the Navy's CG 55 cruiser class ships, the Navy and Edro collaborated on a washer extractor design that allowed the machine parts to be unbolted and then bolted back together. "This meant they didn't have to dry-dock the ship (raise it out of the water) to install the equipment because the machines could be broken into components and reassembled in the laundry room," said Ed Kirejczyk, vp of sales and marketing, Edro. It also avoided that other age old installation method of cutting a hole in the side of the ship, added Powell.

At 450-square feet the Leyte Gulf's laundry is medium-sized and handles 8,000 pounds a week for a crew of 380. Larger laundries aboard aircraft carriers process up to 21,000 pounds (350 bags) of laundry per day, every day. Each ship class may have a different size laundry based on the equipment needed to meet Navy habitability and sanitation standards, i.e. the ability to process a set weight of clothing per person per week. Those standards drive the equipment and space needed to process crew clothing in a given period of time.

The Leyte Gulf's laundry runs with the help of two large EDRO washer-extractors, two large tumbler dryers (Cissell or Hoyt), three Forenta laundry presses and one or two laundry workers. When the ship is sailing the high seas, the operation runs six days a week for approximately eight to ten hours a day. Like all Navy ships, the Leyte Gulf has evaporators that convert salt water to fresh water through the distillation process for use in the laundry.

All Navy laundries are considered institutional laundries and while some of the larger Navy laundries continue to use steam as a heating media, most, like the Leyte Gulf, have converted to electric heated laundry equipment within the last five years. "Production rates aren't as high but the maintenance and reliability are key," said Powell referring to this switchover. “While efficient as a heating medium, the maintenance of the equipment was very labor intensive to maintain in an afloat operational status. So the Navy replaced the steam equipment with electric equipment in order to decrease maintenance and increase operational reliability.”

The Navy gains another operational advantage from EDRO's three pocket washer extractors. "We can put each division's laundry (which range from 100 pounds on larger vessels to as little as 20 pounds on smaller ones) in a compartment, clean or process it but never mix the different divisional laundry up and still utilize the washer extractor to full capacity to save energy, time and chemicals," said Powell.

With the three-pocket configuration, laundry can be dumped in a compartment without any sorting, counting or handling by laundry personnel. That batch of laundry, including the bag is then washed and dried before being placed back in the bag and transported to the berthing compartment. The laundry is then passed out to the individual it belongs to. All uniform items are stenciled with the crew member’s name.

Finally, the Navy utilizes Programmable Logic Controls (PLC), or microprocessors, to regulate their wash and chemical formulas for additional efficiency. We have three formulas that we process all uniform and organizational items with. All items processed have been tested in laboratories with the appropriate formula to prove results,” explains Powell. “We developed a PLC for our washer extractors so the operator only has to select and push a button for the formula desired. We also selected a chemical dispenser that is controlled by a PLC for chemical dispensing and predetermined chemical amounts. The chemicals are not time dispensed but product amount dispensed. When the operator pushes the formula button desired, depending on item being processed, the washer PLC communicates with the chemical PLC and all functions are performed precisely when they are suppose to and in exact amounts.”

“We feel we have state of the art equipment, controls and chemicals producing a top quality clean uniform or item for our sailors,” said Powell. “Living in very close quarters on board Naval ships makes laundry a very large quality of life issue, not to mention the sanitary requirement necessary for shipboard living. We provide all those requirements with the best and most modern equipment available, our men and women in uniform deserve nothing less.”

Quick Rinse - News From Around The World

Man Freed From Laundry Machine

ENGLAND — Firefighters freed a man trapped in a laundry after he tried to pull some sheets that were stuck from a folding machine. The machine had not been turned off when he began trying the free the sheets. The employee’s arm became trapped in the machine but the firefighters worked quickly cutting the machine’s belt to free the man. He was rushed to the hospital where he was stabilized.