Everything, or almost everything, has changed in the last two years: the structure of the machines is completely different, the need to build specific structures to withstand the loads has disappeared, as has the need for constant monitoring of installations. Complexities and costs have often hindered the uptake of these products in many establishments, particularly with regards to the hospitality and catering sector.
Laundry equipment, and in particular Suspended Supercentrifugal washing machines, obviously key machines in the system, have also been able to embrace the tremendous technological development of applied mechanics and electronics in recent years.
At the same time, we have witnessed a growing need for increasingly complex and customised types of washing, as well as a significant change in demand from many points of view, the first of which is undoubtedly environmental and health protection, particularly in terms of hygiene.
This explains why the great crisis that has hit most industrial sectors over the last year, and particularly the accommodation and catering sector, has on the whole had a limited impact on this industry.
But before analysing the behaviour of the different market segments served by professional laundries, I think it is interesting to focus on the most recent technological developments of this equipment.
There are five areas of interest:
- Reliability – after-sales service and assistance
- Ergonomic and safety aspects
A complex and, unfortunately, overused term.
For manufacturing companies, sustainability means a commitment that often goes beyond pure business management and is also, and sometimes above all, ethical.
In reality, it becomes a vision that aims to protect the environment and people, from the structure of the factory to the management of suppliers, product design, production and its life cycle, right up to its re-processing into raw materials.
The other area of particular interest and on particular attention should be paid when choosing a purchase is that of consumption.
Electricity, water and soaps are significant parts of the operating costs of a laundry facility. This issue has been the subject of a significant commitment by manufacturers, and the machines offered to the market today guarantee much lower consumption than in the past.
In order to offer the most objective tool possible for assessing these performances, our association Efcem Italia has called upon the manufacturers of textile washing machines who are members of the association, to the definition of parameters for the energy labelling of ‘professional’ washing machines, similar to what is already in place for domestic appliances, albeit with the significant differences in requirements and consistent use and performance between professional and domestic machines.
The purpose of a textile washing and treatment plant is obviously to ensure that textiles and laundry are washed and sanitised correctly. This, however, must be achieved by ensuring the correct balance between cost, time and expected outcome for each need.
One of the important elements to consider when purchasing is therefore the possibility of adapting the washing cycles to changing needs, even if unforeseen. This issue became highly relevant during the recent crisis, which has imposed an immediate increase in hygiene safety levels and the need to create specific cycles for the elimination of viruses and bacteria from treated fabrics. Interventions are now also possible online, as we will discuss later.
Connectivity is certainly one of the most important innovations that technology has brought to the equipment world. It provides connection via a computer network for:
- equipment with other equipment
- equipment with external monitoring, control and command devices
- equipment with the manufacturer
- equipment with external service centres.
The networking of equipment in the same plant allows, for example, the operating of several machines in a time sequence, or avoiding costly and unmanageable peaks in energy consumption.
Connection with external command and control devices guarantees the possibility of managing the entire system via PC or Smartphone, reducing the presence of personnel to loading, unloading and ironing phases only.
The possibility of creating temporary connections with the manufacturer or its points of sale allows new programmes or new functions to be uploaded to the machines, thus keeping them up to date.
Connection to the user’s chosen after-sales service centre allows constant monitoring of machine efficiency, targeted intervention in the event of technical problems, and the possibility of automatic reordering detergent before it runs out.
Connectivity radically changes the way in which machines are used, but it also significantly changes the role of technical assistance centres and, to a significant extent, the vision of manufacturers who, if until recently could ‘forget’ about the product after it was placed on the market, will, in the future, be required to maintain constant contact with the installed fleet well beyond the present routine warranty periods. This is certainly not a simple cultural and operational change. In this context, the issue of connectivity will become one of the basic parameters for assessing purchase decisions.
Reliability – after-sales service and assistance
It is therefore clear, in the aforementioned framework, that the issue of the long-term reliability of machines is crucial. There are, unfortunately, no specific regulations and no assessment elements. Previous experience, in some cases information deducible from social networks …..? Service contracts / extended warranties. In this context, there is an evident need for an evolution regarding technical service centres.
Ergonomic and safety aspects
Let’s finish this technical part with two topics that often overlap and certainly deserve attention when deciding on a purchase.
Ergonomics in this sector mainly concern the height and diameter of the loading inlets for centrifugal washing machines and ironers, but even more so with working positions and the hooking devices for ironers and calanders.
Last but not least, all machines are also subject to the “Machinery Directive”, the set of rules and regulations that must be complied with to ensure their correct and safe use. Efcem Italia has drawn up guidelines to support manufacturers and users with the main indications concerning safety.
The Italian market
We can conclude this quick overview with a few notes about the Italian market in this sector.
Equipment and/or machines for washing textiles and garments are present, according to a study, in about 15% of Italian restaurants. On the contrary, we can find them, although not always fully operational, in most accommodation facilities. The average service life of installed equipment is quite high, 7-8 years and more. The crisis has led to a sharp slowdown in refurbishment activities, with a drop in volumes of just under 40%.
The trend in other strategic sectors for the industry was very different: Hospitals and Clinics, Nursing Homes and Retirement Homes, as well as medical institutions in general, have immediately focused on upgrading their technology to provide a structured response to new requirements, resulting in significant growth in demand.
The same cannot be said for the self-service sector, while all sectors linked in some way to the catering and leisure industry have experienced difficulties.
According to the quarterly economic survey carried out by Efcem Italia to monitor the crisis, a significant strengthening of the market in all its components is expected starting from the second quarter of 2021.
A more detailed analysis of the situation will be possible after the upcoming trade fairs:
Pulire – VR (from Tuesday 7 to Thursday 9 September)
Host – MI (from Friday 22 to Tuesday 26 October)
Texcare Frankfurt (from Saturday 27 November to Wednesday 01 December) CANCELLED