- Written by Staff
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — When West Michigan Shared Hospital Laundry decided they needed the capacity to process more goods, they were faced with a challenge – build a new facility or enlarge the existing laundry. But that wasn’t the only important decision the hospital laundry made. They were also the first large healthcare laundry facility in North America to go ‘steamless’.
“Our original facility was built in 1975 to accommodate the laundry needs of 13 members with 15 million pounds capacity,” says Duane Houvener, the laundry’s Executive Director. “Because we continued to add members and pounds externally, and our membership continued to grow internally as well, we had to do something to maintain our operations and service level with our customers.”
Houvener knew that they needed to increase the capacity of the laundry but he wasn’t sure if they should expand and retrofit the existing facility or build a new facility from scratch. Facing a variety of important decisions, he requested a peer review from three colleagues from the International Association for Healthcare Textile Management (IAHTM).
The members of IAHTM, a healthcare laundry organization, provide service to approximately 3,000 healthcare facilities in U.S. and Canada and process 700 million pounds of clean linen yearly. The review conducted for Houvener included an analysis of the current state of the laundry, its equipment and the financial aspects of building a new laundry vs. updating the existing laundry.
IAHTM members Charles Olin from Virginia, Ed McCauley from Indianapolis and Rocco Romeo from Ottawa, Ontario, worked with Houvener. “Between us all, we have decades of laundry experience and millions of pounds of laundry,” said Houvener. “So it helped expedite our process.” Their findings, which validated the need for a new laundry, were
presented to the Board of Directors. When all was said and done, the existing laundry was set to expand from 55 thousand-square-feet to 88- thousand-square-feet.
“As we started examining all the possibilities, the issue of having the laundry go steamless became part of that decision making process,” said Houvener. “When we looked at the potential cost savings and utility savings going steamless was an attractive alternative for us.”
Houvener credits the steamless design to a brainstorming session with Gerard O’Neill, President/CEO of American Laundry Systems (ALS). ALS provides laundry construction and project management services. “Gerard and I were going over different layouts of retrofitting our potential plant and the more we looked into a steamless design, the more attractive it became.”
Ultimately it was the utility savings that made Houvener want to create a steamless laundry. “Knowing that utilities costs are going to continue to rise in the future, everything we could do to reduce our consumption and carbon footprint put the idea in a favorable light.”
But what did going steamless mean to Houvener’s laundry? “We are not using boilers to heat water for the wash system and not using boilers to heat up and drive the ironers. We installed self contained thermal fluid ironers so each iron is powered and driven independently of each other. And now in the wash process we’re using closed loop indirect contact water heaters,” he said.
“From the ironer side it was quite simple for installation,” Houvener continued. “From the wash side it meant a new infrastructure and system. We needed new water heaters and a new delivery method to get the hot water to the washer where you need it. In a boiler setup you inject steam into the washers, but in our steamless laundry, we inject hot water into the washers, same goal – different delivery method.”
The WMSHL maintained their laundry operations through the expansion process. “We didn’t miss one production day as a result of the expansion and retrofit,” says Houvener. “After all, we couldn’t tell the hospitals that we couldn’t deliver sheets so we changed four tires while driving at highway speed.”
The new laundry has 120 fulltime team members that work on one 10-hour shift Monday through Saturday, 4:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. The facility processes all types of goods
including bed linens, patient linens, surgical linen and housekeeping linens for their member facilities. In the last fiscal year they processed just over 30 million pounds for 36 healthcare facilities. They have the capacity to grow to process 60 million pounds.
Houvener adds that the cost to go steamless was estimated to be less than it would have been to retrofit and purchase new boilers.
Since the rededication of the facility they have had the opportunity to see just how much they have been saving – financially and in energy consumption.
“We’ve reduced our overall energy consumption upwards of 35-40 percent and we’ve reduced our water consumption as well just under 40 percent yearly while cutting 2.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide from going into our environment,” said Houvener. “And when you consider the increase in the amount of goods we now process – it’s more of a savings.”
“I’m not saying that going steamless is the only way for every laundry, but for us it was the obvious choice,” says Houvener. “We’re very happy with the decision we made and the fact that we’re saving money and energy while decreasing our carbon footprint.”
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