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Advances in Laundry Equipment Technology (Part 1)

Customer convenience, ease of use, efficiency still driving improvement efforts

CHICAGO — Doing laundry is the third most time-consuming household activity for Americans, trailing only food preparation and cleanup, and interior cleaning, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey.

Millions of Americans wash and dry their clothes at Laundromats every year. The self-service laundry industry has certainly come a long way since C.A. Tannahill opened the first one, called a Washateria, in Fort Worth, Texas, in April 1934. He purchased and installed four electric washing machines in the same building and charged people by the hour to clean their clothes.

Through the decades since, laundry equipment has leapt forward in its labor-saving capability. The commercial washers and dryers of today are engineered and built for high performance, durability and ease of use. Payment necessary to operate them that once was limited to coins or tokens now includes card, contactless and mobile options. Available technology combines equipment controls and programming into full-store management systems.

As the devices and systems used within the laundry industry continue to evolve, customers gain greater service flexibility while store owners can more easily program, monitor and audit their operations.

Laundry is not a task that everyone loves doing, so it makes sense that a store offering the most seamless laundering experience stands to do very well. Customers who don’t have laundry equipment at home want access to reliable machines that will clean and dry their clothes well for an affordable vend price and in a reasonable amount of time.

While washers and dryers in the 20- to 40-pound range still make up a significant share of equipment in Laundromats today, it’s not unusual to see a few machines twice that size or larger in the same equipment mix. Offering customers the ability to do big loads using large-capacity equipment helps decrease turnover and reduces the number of loads each has to do.

When time is at a premium, there’s something very attractive about having the ability to do one’s entire laundry in one big machine instead of a bunch of smaller ones.

Water and energy conservation is also important to cost-conscious store owners, and equipment manufacturers are doing their part to help. Without focusing on any one brand’s offerings, some of the features available in washers and/or dryers on the market include:

  • Automatic weighing within a washer determines the actual weight of a soiled load and adds precisely the right amount of water, thus lowering water consumption and energy costs.
  • High-speed extraction removes more water from clothes, shortening dryer time and lowering gas consumption.
  • Sump-less washer design reduces the amount of water used with each fill.
  • Customizable wash programs that include water level, temperature and drum action.
  • Stronger machine frames and leak detection reduce preventive maintenance and repairs as well as lower utility expenses.
  • A dryer sensor determines when laundry is dry and lowers the operating temperature or stops the drum altogether.

While many washer brands offer controls allowing for various levels of programmability, some laundry operators default to factory settings and miss out on opportunities to cut utility costs, generate additional revenue and fuel store profits, Continental Girbau’s Tod Sorensen wrote in an American Coin-Op column last year.

Most washer controls integrate networking, remote programming and payment system interface to make quick programming possible, he says. Owners can program washers directly from the keypad, or in combination with an alternative payment/management system using a computer, tablet or cellphone.

A highly flexible washer control will allow programmability at the smallest levels, according to Sorensen. For instance, a high-quality control will allow owners to configure pricing and specials, run reports, monitor revenue and schedule routine maintenance flushes; adjust water levels, mechanical action, cycle times, extract speeds and water temperatures by degree; and add or delete baths, rinses and spins; among other things.

Check back Thursday for the conclusion!