Examining factors that will influence sales7 May 2015
Tunnel washer manufacturers and suppliers talk to Janet Taylor about factors that will drive demand worldwide, in both mature and emerging markets
Over the last decade, developed markets such as the USA, much of mainland Europe and the UK, have seen a growing awareness and acceptance that the tunnel washer is a core machine for both flatwork and workwear production.
It holds the key to productivity and to greater efficiencies in consumption and other operational costs. The introduction of a wider range of sizes has opened up sales to laundries handling medium to small volumes. So in many respects, tunnel washers can be described as a mature sector.
However, over all the picture is a little more complex.
Jordi Compte product manager, for the Girbau Group's industrial division, says that the market is mature in some countries, mainly those in which the development and evolution is greater and where utility prices are higher.
The tunnel washer is a tool for laundries to achieve maximum productivity and there is no limit to continuous improvement aimed at achieving an excellent quality with the lowest consumption.
In these mature markets, Compte believes the tunnel washer market is entering a replacement phase that has been encouraged by technological advances that have increased programming options and thus the possibility of raising efficiency in terms of production and consumption.
Compte stresses that it is not just the tunnel washer itself that customers are interested in. Girbau backs its sales with the added value of its customer service, supporting customers and ensuring that the tunnel functions correctly from the start and is maintained correctly.
Thierry Lambermont, managing director of Milnor International, the European arm of Pellerin Milnor Corporation in the USA, takes a slightly different approach.
He believes that the tunnel washer market has been mature for a couple of years but adds that increasingly it is being seen as the machine of choice when washer-extractor laundries decide to replace their old machines. Such laundries believe that tunnel washers will reduce labour and other operational costs, resulting in a better return on investment. Numerous private [healthcare] and hospitality laundries are having to contain the amounts of water they discharge and this is another reason for investing in a tunnel washer.
Wolf-Peter Graeser is the owner of Lavatec Laundry Technology, based in Germany but serving an increasingly international market in partnership with its subsidiary Lavatec Laundry Technology Inc in the USA. He acknowledges that in the developed markets we have seen increased use of tunnel washers in industrial/uniform laundries as they work to reduce labour costs and improve efficiency..
However, the developed markets are still recovering from the economic downturn and so many laundries have attempted to stretch the life-cycle of their tunnel washers.
In the USA there are many plants operating with tunnel washers that are over 20 years old. The cost of keeping these operational is rising and so an improving economy will mean that the number of replacement projects will increase.
Alongside sales in the more established markets, laundries in emerging markets are beginning to seek the kind of savings in consumption and labour and improved productivity that tunnel washers can bring.
Lambermont at Milnor says that the Indian market is seeing an emerging tunnel washer sector. Although local labour costs are affordable, other operating costs, such as those for water, energy and sewage must be contained and reduced considerably. Similar factors are encouraging laundries in the Middle East to convert to tunnel washing says Lambermont
Graeser at Lavatec points to predictions that over the next decade the Chinese market will require 1,000 tunnels.
He also identifies the Far East, Africa and Eastern Europe as areas with potential. Until recently the laundries in many of these countries have been able to keep labour costs low, so the return on investment did not justify tunnel washer purchase. But these regions are now seeing both labour and utility costs rising, so the tunnel washer, with its ability to reduce and control these costs, is becoming an attractive proposition. In addition the increasing availability of skilled engineering support has made it a viable in terms of maintenance as well as operational costs.
However, the initial purchase price may still be a restraining factor in some cases. Graeser says that in areas such as Central and South America, customers have been considering pre-used/ reconditioned machines to keep the price down.
Lavatec has been working to persuade potential customers that lifetime operational costs are much more important than purchase-price.
Vega Systems the Netherlands based equipment manufacturer/supplier was a relatively late entrant to the tunnel washer market. Bernd Thielen director of washing technology, Germany, says that although the market is mature, particularly in the US, and some customers are on their third or fourth generation machine, there is still room for innovation and product differentiation. In developing its machine, the company was able to consider the available technologies and the company believes its SmartLine range provides the most flexible solution.
The company is keen to tap into the rapidly growing markets in the Far East and has developed machines that are specific to that market. It is actively developing its sales network and installed user base. It has established factories in Asia to be closer to this market as Vega believes that local service and support is the way to success here.
The past decade or so has seen considerable technical development, with a particular focus on sustainability and utility savings.. For example, in general terms water use can be as low as 2.5litres/kg of light to medium soiled work.
At Milnor International,Thierry Lambermont says that the emerging markets need to quantize and measure the operating costs as these will influence the rate of profitability from the investment. Therefore manufacturers must look at reducing the wash process time by improving the efficiency of washing extracting and drying. In the latest developments, represented by its PulseFlow Technology, improved washing efficiency has led to better use of chemicals, which in turn, makes rinsing more efficient.
By re-using water it has reduced the energy and time needed to heat the water to required temperature. Washing time is reduced by a combination of successive re-use of pre-heated water, high flow-rate filling and intermittent counterflow. The ratio of water, to cylinder volume and kg of linen in each chamber, plus the new filling and bath exchanges increase dilution, resulting in higher production in a shorter wash time.
Jensen-Group has considerably developed both the economy and efficiency of its Senking tunnels and is now addressing the area of process control. The EcoTune system goes even further in controllability and allows more processes to adapt to the requirements of individual linen categories with "astute software comprising a rotary encoder for the drive motor as well as a new level control with pressure sensors o double drums.
The rotary encoder allows the mechanical action to be adjusted for each wash program by adapting the angle of the drum. At the same time the bath levels for each individual load can be controlled more precisely, thanks to the pressure sensors on the drums. The bath level also influences the mechanical action.
As a result of these two measures, delicate linen can be processed with a precisely controlled higher bath level, shorter swivel action and lower drum speed, producing the can get the gentler action it needs without affecting the quality of cleaning.
The EcoTune system can also meet the requirements of heavily soiled-loads of more robust fabrics with increased mechanical action, a lower bath level higher swivel angle, and higher drum speed.
This very precise process control brings wider benefits. There is less wear and tear on the drive system and the operation is smoother, prolonging machine life.
Energy consumption is reduced as the drive motor uses exactly the energy needed for each individual process - so over time bills will reduce. The pressure sensors, which control bath levels, also contribute to energy savings, as again energy is not used unnecessarily.
In EcoTune the amount of water that is drained at each stage is metered precisely so refills are very accurate and water wastage is avoided.
Eco Tune also simplifies programming as simply setting the bath level adjusts all other parameters accordingly.
Thielen at Vega says that the future of the tunnel washer lies in integration. Customers are looking at the whole laundering process. The tunnel is part of that system. "A new tunnel has to give feedback; it has to monitor every detail of that process. It must be integrated into management systems and energy recovery systems and work with the latest washing processes.
Vega is looking closely at the healthcare sector as it expects to see growth both here and in emerging markets. Healthcare laundries will need tunnel washers with monitoring and validation systems. The tunnel will need to "communicate" with other systems and it must achieve the lowest energy and utility consumptions.
Bearing these requirements in mind Vega is exploring ways of developing a tunnel washer specifically for healthcare markets.
At Girbau, Jordi Compte says that the most recent development for the company's tunnel washer offering came with the announcement of a partnership with Lavatec Laundry Technology to fill gaps in each company's range.
For Girbau this means that it now has access to Lavatec's tunnel washer range and so can offer machines that suit a broader customer base. It can now provide tunnel washers with up to 20 compartments and top or bottom transfer as preferred so that it can meet individual requirements of different laundry types and different countries.
At Lavatec, Graeser says that he sees a great opportunity in supplying laundries that have to date avoided tunnel washers because they handled both flatwork and uniforms and felt they needed more flexibility. Lavatec says it can help by providing custom-built tunnels with creative water flows, and centrifugal extractors that increase productivity.
TUNING IN TO PROCESS CONTROL: Jensen's Senking tunnel washers now incorporate the EcoTune system that takes process control a stage further by adapting to the individual needs of each linen category that is being handled