How to run a single buck shirt unit for maximum productivity

There is a rhythm to running a single buck shirt unit that seems to have gotten lost in the soup somehow.  Most pressers do something that is close, but not close enough to make for good productivity.  You may have heard statements that suggest that fast pressing breeds poor quality.  Not knowing how to run your single buck shirt unit is the root of beliefs such as these. 

A certain method of running the equipment will yield a particular productivity rate.  What that rate is, exactly, is randomized by the abilities of individual employees.  But a fast presser won’t give you 50-60 per hour if their method is wrong.  Fix their method, and you will improve productivity, perhaps dramatically. 

If your presser is producing 25-30 shirts per hour, there is more wrong there than method.  If you train them to press with a more efficient method, you may get a 20% – 30% increase in productivity, but that is nowhere near good enough.  Something else is wrong.  Perhaps a bad attitude, slow metabolism or carelessness.  I am not going to be able to help you with this.  Still, getting pressers to do things the right way can only be a good thing.  It is an important first move that can’t be sidestepped. 

I remember meeting a presser in Illinois 5-6 years ago who had a great attitude, but had no idea how to run the single buck shirt unit that was assigned to her.  It was actually a double-buck unit, but with one operator.  She was (pardon the metaphor) like a fly on garbage.  She landed on one machine and it was anybody’s guess which direction she would be off on next.  After, for example, lowering the press head on the collar and cuff machine, she was liable to move to the sleeve press next, or the body press, or the collar cone.  Who knew?  It was painful to watch.  And she worked way too hard.  I spent 30 minutes with her and she soon said that she was having the best day that she ever had at work! 

The reason is simple:  She didn’t need to think.  I don’t want employees to think.  I hope that doesn’t sound gross.  It isn’t meant to be disrespectful.  I am paid to think.  Managers are paid to think.  Employees are paid to do.  Again, no disrespect intended.  Henry Ford said: “thinking is the hardest job of all.”  It’s true, you know.  If a presser constantly thinks, “Ok, what next?”, that person’s job becomes very stressful.  Remove that, and they become a “pressing machine.”

For this script, we will use as an example, a conventional, three piece, single buck unit. The first thing to understand about a single buck shirt unit is that there are 7 steps; 7 stations on the track.  Each shirt moving through the pressing unit moves through it, one “station” at a time. The stations are: The damp box, the sleeve press, the collar and cuff press, the hook, the body press buck, the collar cone and finally, whatever sort of conveyance is used after the collar cone.  This could be a screw conveyor or a slick rail or whatever.  We’ll simply call this the “rail”.  Remember, it may be that the “rail” is actually a dispatch conveyor at your shop.

We will get to how to begin the entire cycle, but for now, let’s visualize one singular shirt, pending at each station.

  1. The Damp Box – you have a damp box stocked with shirts that await pressing.
  2. The Sleeve Press – a shirt on this press.  The sleeves have been pressed and are awaiting transfer to the next station
  3. The Triple-head press – On this machine is a shirt that has pressed sleeves and now, a pressed collar and cuffs.  The head has released.
  4. The hook – this is the hook on the side of the body press cabinet.  A shirt that has a pressed collar, cuffs and sleeve hangs here awaiting the final step.  If you are concerned about shirts drying out here, it’s probably because you’ve seen it happen.  If shirts dry out here, it is either because productivity is too slow and as a direct result the shirt hung here too long or because shirts are being “stockpiled” or one shirt has, for one reason or another lingered at the bottom for far too long.  Lingering shirts on this hook leads to terrible productivity because it brings about the need for spraying which drastically cuts productivity.  This hook is not for handbags, employee clothing or ornamentation.  This is the most often overlooked step in the process, but for some reason that I can not really put into words, much less type into a keyboard, is the most likely cause of reduced production.  Of all of the plants that I have ever visited in 7 countries and 3 continents, the ones that have good production use the hook for the purpose that it was intended and those that get poor production don’t use the hook at all and they theorize that the hook will slow them down (still more).  All the while they struggle just to achieve marginally below average productivity.  In fact, fast pressing productivity is only one roadblock away; their own stubbornness.   My best guess as to why it makes a difference is the saving of ½ to 2 ½ steps combined with the reduction in twisting of the torso which breeds fatigue and therefore lower productivity.  I can’t do much better than that other than to say “believe me, it makes a difference!”  I spend a bit of time here, discussing the hook that some of you may have removed or not even knew existed because when you finish reading this and head out to your shirt laundry, this is the fault that you are most likely to find.  Further, you will get an argument about it from the presser.  Hold your ground.  It’s just a new habit that needs breaking in.  You will get better productivity and the presser will ache a lot less at the end of the day.
  5. The Body buck – Here a shirt awaits removal now that it has gone through its last pressing operation.
  6. The collar cone – The fact that your collar cone probably isn’t being used correctly is a subject for another day.  We’ll assume that it is.  A completely pressed shirt hangs on the cone awaiting delivery to inspection now that all of the pressing and curing processes are complete.
  7. The Rail – There may or may not be a shirt here, as a conveyor will, of course, move a shirt away from here, but the rail itself is an important cog in the wheel.

Ok, so there you have it.  One shirt at each station.  This is what you need to start this smooth rhythm that is good pressing productivity. To help explain this smooth rhythm, I will describe the processes at each station as simply “load sleever” and “unload sleever” rather than repeatedly describing each step.

  1. Unload the collar cone
  2. Load the Rail
  3. Unload the Body press
  4. Load the collar cone
  5. Unload the Hook
  6. Load the Body press
  7. Unload the Collar and cuff press
  8. Load the hook
  9. Unload the Sleever
  10. Load the Collar and cuff press
  11. Load the Sleever with a shirt from the Damp Box
  12. Re-start the process by unloading the collar cone

Each shirt moves up one “notch” to the next station.  It’s simple really.  Often, though, this happens by accident, not by force.  It takes an effort to make this happen.  In order to establish this rhythm, you must begin like this:

  1. Load the sleever and wait.  That’s easy.  There isn’t anything else to do at the moment
  2. When the sleever’s cycle ends, unload the sleever and load that shirt on the Collar machine.
  3. Reload the sleever.  There will be a wait until the shirt on the collar machine’s cycle finishes.
  4. When the collar machine releases, that shirt must be placed on the hook.  That is the next station on the track.  Here is where most pressers “jump the track.”  They immediately dress the body buck.  This is wrong.
  5. Remove the shirt from the sleever and load the collar machine.
  6. Now, reload the sleever.
  7. Dress the body buck with the shirt that was just placed on the hook.
  8. Unload the Collar and cuff press
  9. Load the hook
  10. Unload the Sleever
  11. Load the Collar and cuff press
  12. Load the Sleever with a shirt from the Damp Box
  13. You’re almost there – load the collar cone
  14. Now you have a shirt on every station (except the rail)

With a shirt on each station, the presser can begin the rhythm described earlier.  Rhythm is the key to good productivity.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.”

Donald Desrosiers

Donald Desrosiers

Don Desrosiers has been in the laundry and drycleaning industry for over 30 years.  As a management consultant, work-flow systems engineer and efficiency expert, he has created the highly acclaimed Tailwind Shirt System, the Tailwind System for Drycleaning and Firestorm for Restoration.  He owns and operates Tailwind Systems, a management consulting and work-flow engineering firm.  Desrosiers is a monthly columnist for The National Clothesline, Korean Cleaners Monthly, The Golomb Group Newsletter and Australia's The National Drycleaner and Launderer.   He is the 2001 winner of IFI's Commitment to Professionalism Award.  He has a website at and can be reached at or my telephone at 508.965.3163

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