Maintenance – Your Key to Continuous Improvement

Posted January 19, 2024 at 11:41 am

Among the many challenges facing today’s linen, uniform and facility services operators, few would rate the need to upgrade their maintenance program as a top issue. But some undoubtedly should. Because without effective upkeep, companies are at risk of entering a downward spiral, according to an article in January’s Textile Services.

TRSA’s monthly magazine recently arrived at most operators’ facilities. The cover article for January, dubbed “Maintenance – The Heart of Our Business,” examines the challenges and opportunities associated with making maintenance a priority for commercial and institutional laundries. “There is really nothing more important than predictive/preventive maintenance in maintaining the maximum effectiveness of an operation,” said Jim Curiale, director of engineering for Unitex Healthcare Laundry Services, Elmsford, NY, in the article. “Once you remove those components from the equation, all you are doing is ‘run to fail.’ Fixing a machine that has failed due to lack of maintenance is not really ‘maintenance’ – it is a band-aid fix to allow you to keep running at reduced effectiveness and allow the machine to continue to deteriorate.”

Unitex is one of North America’s largest independent family-owned textile service companies. It has 13 plants and 1,900 employees serving more than 7,000 customers across the northeast U.S. One would expect that a company of that size would have the resources necessary to run a first-rate preventive-maintenance program. But consultant Kirby Wagg of Performance Matters, Columbia, SC, noted that having an effective maintenance program is a vital goal for companies of all sizes. “It’s so important to have your maintenance book/software up to date,” he said. “Scheduled (weekly, EOW/E4 weeks) maintenance must be done to properly operate a laundry, no matter how small or large.” Wagg’s background includes extensive experience as an operator, having overseen Wagg’s Linen and Uniform, Orillia, ON, Canada, for many years (Click here to see a related article on pg. 34 in January’s Textile Services).

Another industry veteran, Paul Jewison, wears multiple hats as general manager of Textile Care Services (TCS), Rochester, MN, and as vice president of engineering for its parent company, Healthcare Linen Services Group (HLSG), St. Charles, IL. He is one of many operators who’ve leveraged technology to upgrade their maintenance program. Specifically, the use of a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software program allows staff to get regular maintenance alerts via text or email. This goes a long way toward eliminating human error if staff fail to complete regular maintenance work on systems and machinery, he says. But he adds that implementing this software does require some legwork in registering machinery and systems into the program. TCS got around this hurdle by bringing in an outside contractor. “That all was part of the program,” Jewison said. “They subcontracted a company to come out and name all of our equipment. So it all has a number and a name.”

As regular maintenance has improved, Jewison says the plant has experienced a virtuous circle of enhanced performance, reduced downtime and fewer quality problems associated with equipment issues. In that sense, proactive maintenance has evolved into a predictive system that helps control costs and boost customer satisfaction. Better maintenance – leading to fewer breakdowns – has helped boost staff morale as well. That, in turn, aids with retention of staff in this area that are difficult to replace.

A smoother-running laundry operation assists companies with recruiting maintenance staff as well, said Jewison, who’s partnered extensively with the local Rochester Technical Community College to bring in interns, several of whom have come back to TCS on a full- or part-time basis.

The article notes that while competition is fierce for maintenance staff at all levels, laundries can enhance their competitiveness in this area by ensuring effective upkeep of systems. Staff also must keep the plant clean and well organized, Jewison said. Companies like Unitex have taken this idea to a higher level that positions maintenance as a critical vehicle for continuous improvement. “In every Unitex plant, we employ a fully staffed shift of preventive-maintenance technicians who work each day when the plants have completed their production day, doing nothing but predictive/preventive maintenance,” Curiale said. “The staffing is equivalent to or greater than the technical staff that is in the plants during the normal production day. The philosophy we live by is that when the production shift comes in the next morning, they have a ‘new plant’ every day.” Click here to read a PDF version of the full articleClick here for information on subscribing to TRSA’s award-winning Textile Services magazine.