Demanding more flexibility, efficiency and automation1 April 2016
Development in technology are opening up new opportunities for tunnel washer manufacturers. Kathleen Armstrong examines the significant growth in key global markets
As more and more laundries look for ways to cut costs and make production more efficient, they look to products that save them time, energy and labour. In this climate, the tunnel washer market continues to grow.
Keith Ware, vice president of sales for Lavatec Laundry Technology, says the tunnel market is healthy, with many laundries searching for water reduction and labour savings. "All sectors of the market are growing, with healthcare being the bright spot," he says.
In addition, developments in tunnel technology have opened up new opportunities for tunnel washer manufacturers, Ware believes.
"Industrial and food and beverage work can now be as successful in a tunnel as in washer-extractors," he says. "The push into uniforms and the industrial sector will be a trend that will continue to grow."
Martin Sukop, sales and service manager for Jensen Germany, agrees that while the need to be more cost and energy efficient is driving market growth, there is more to it than that. "In general, we see a higher demand for more laundry automation over the next few years ," he says. "This is mainly driven by the increase in linen for processing (resulting from growth in travel and tourism), by high labour costs in the laundry industry and higher utility costs (water and energy)."
Tunnel washers are not just strong in Europe and North America, Ware says, rising demand in Asia means that it will soon be one of the largest markets globally. Latin America and the Middle East are also slowly expanding.
"There is significant activity in Saudi Arabia as hotel development to accommodate pilgrimage has led to new laundry activity," Ware explains.
However, he adds: "The projected low oil prices could temper these markets as governments that were once flush with capital pull back on large investments in hotels and healthcare."
On the other side of the world, there is growing demand for used and reconditioned equipment in Latin America, although wages here are lower.
Jensen has also seen considerable growth in all its business regions - and it expects that to continue through 2016. "With higher economic wealth in these regions, increasing labour costs will create a demand for more automation in laundries," Sukop suggests. "The emerging markets will lead to more travel and thus to more hotel accommodation and more linen to be washed. Higher hygiene requirements will lead to a demand for more automated and fully controlled processes."
Within the more established markets, there are also regional differences in the types of tunnel washers sold. Bernd Thielen, director of Vega Systems Wash Technology, Germany, says that in North America the company is receiving requests for larger and larger systems to meet the volume of work, while in western Europe, and in particular central Europe, flexibility is important. Laundries here want a tunnel washer that can process a wide range of linen categories and minimise water and energy consumption.
Emerging markets, such as the Middle East and India, want more washing capacity."They are starting to realise that they cannot get the work done in washer-extractors, so they need to switch to tunnel washers," Thielen says. "They do not really care about the energy and water consumption - they need more capacity."
Price has been holding these markets back from investing in tunnel washer systems, according to Thielen. "They do not calculate the running costs; they just calculate the investment cost," he says. "In these countries laundries still use tunnel washers that are 20 to 25 years old, with consumption that is significantly higher than in a new modern machine."
Thielen thinks that future developments in the field will include smaller, more flexible machines that will enable laundries to switch from washer-extractors to tunnel washers.
Vega has put the spotlight on water and energy saving in the development of its machines and at Texcare in June it will unveil a "unique and revolutionary rinsing concept" for the Vega Smartline tunnel washer.
"It will have a lot of benefits for our customers in terms of washing quality and consumption," he promises.
Jensen's Sukop thinks sustainability will continue to be one of the most important subjects for the laundry industry in the future.
"To meet these demands, we have always developed machines with a very high efficiency. The target specification for our R&D team for the development of new-generation machines has always been to achieve a considerable reduction in utility consumption compared to the previous generation," he says, citing Jensen's Universal BlueEdition tunnel washer as an example. This promises water consumption of less than 2litres per kg of linen. Its latest generation of dryers, the WR series, has an energy consumption below 1.0 kWh per litre of evaporated water.
Around a year ago, the company also launched its P60 tunnel washer with a capacity of 60kg of linen per batch. It now has two 60kg machines in its portfolio, each with different drum geometry to meet the demands for different applications.
Ware at Lavatec agrees that sustainability and water and energy consumption will continue to be high on the agenda. "Water will continue to be a driving factor due to its scarcity or the increasing cost of the commodity or to sewer costs," he explains. "In emerging markets, as local populations push for conservation, these projects should generate more interest."
He says that many companies look to be environmentally friendly, but lower gas and electricity costs mean it takes longer to achieve a return on investment. "Operators often see a lower cost on the profit and loss sheet and do not notice that consumption has not changed," he comments.
Lavatec is working to develop more creative water flows that will lead to improvements in wash quality. Ware predicts there will be further developments in this area in future. These could include tunnel washers that can operate separate wash modules, and have the ability to drain and fill multiple times in a module.
In addition, Ware says: "Press technology continues to improve in terms of speed and pressure. We have developed a faster press to improve extraction times, and we are continuing to evolve our dryer systems with improved energy management."
However, he thinks the race for higher pressures will lead to diminishing returns, since the limit to which water can be removed is finite. "There was a trend to go bigger, but many users are not seeing a benefit from larger sizes" he adds. "Often cost and linen quality can suffer as systems get larger. Bigger is not always better."
Girbau's TBS-50 batch washer system promises flexibility in addition to efficiency for large-scale laundry production. Each module in the batch washer can be configured independently to suit the type of load in each bath.
In addition water can be re-used up to three times with Girbau's integrated recirculation and recycling system. The drain intercooler uses thermal energy from the drain water to pre-heat the water coming in from the main supply, helping to lower energy costs. To reduce consumption even further, Girbau's ECO+ option adds an electronic flow control system to all water inputs, including those from the main supply and from recirculation systems.
Kannegiesser's PowerTrans batch washer comes in six sizes, ranging from 40 - 130kg, and boasts a drum design that maximises performance output and transfer, promising to eliminate roping and tangling.
The company says that, overall, linen volumes are increasing and include a diverse range of categories and materials. A variety of finishing processes are in use. Customers are becoming more demanding and costs for energy, water and textiles are increasing. Customers want a reliable batch washer that has safeguards against overloading. It should cover both general and specific requirements and work with lowest consumption values. The PowerTrans sets the benchmark for minimisation of utility consumption (water, heat energy, chemicals and electricity)."
Milnor's PulseFlow Technology CBW batch washers control the counterflow in every process module, which helps to reduce water and energy consumption and optimise chemical performance. They can be adapted to meet customer needs and come in three different sizes: 50kg, 68kg and 118kg.
One thing is clear: flexibility, efficiency and sustainability are key to success in the tunnel washer sector. This will certainly be a trend at Texcare International in Frankfurt.
Another issue is the potential entry of Asian manufacturers into the tunnel washing market. Ware at Lavatec says this is something that is on the mind of many laundry equipment manufacturers. " The technology from China is not on par with established manufacturers, but 10 - 15 years down the road, they could become a major player," he suggests.
With that in mind, as competition and demand increase in the global market, developing machines that meet customers' needs for flexibility, efficiency and automation across diverse regions becomes even more important.