I have completed my coverage of the Clean Show 2022 and baba bing, baba boom, just like that it is the holiday season once again and that means that it is time for me to write my Christmas Wish List to Santa Claus. For those of you who have been following my columns for a couple of decades, you know that in December, I write a tongue-in-cheek letter to fictional St. Nick with my list of things that I want for drycleaners and shirt launderers. These are products that do not yet exist, but I wish that they did because I believe that they would help plant owners and managers run a better and more profitable operation.
Over the years, some of my wishes have come true. Each of my ideas, I believe, are technically possible, although perhaps in some cases cost prohibitive. Be that as it may, I leave the engineering and development to someone else. I am only playing the role of the imagineer. Several times over the years, readers have called me to order a product that I was merely fantasizing about, or asked where they could buy one, but sadly, I had to break to them the bad news.
As a youngster, when I wrote to Santa for real, I surely sent along a long tedious laundry list (I couldn’t resist the pun) of toys and things that I wanted for Christmas. As I got older, the list shortened, but was more desperate and insistent.
- I want a mini-bike. Period.
- I want a car. That’s all. (Neither worked, by the way)
So, this year, I really do have only one ask. And it’s a big ask. And I’ll give you some extra time too.
A few months ago, I drove a Tesla. The self-driving function was wild! How was this all possible, I thought? The more I thought about it, the more I understood. But when I say “understood”, I don’t mean that I understand how it works, it means that I understand how it has evolved. There is a good chance that the car that you drove today has some components of a self-driving car.
- blind spot indicators
- Proximity sensors
- Cruise control
- Radar cruise control
- Emergency braking
- Lane departure assistance
- I’m sure that there are more that I’m not thinking of…
It seemed like the leap to a self-driving car was enormous. You would think that maybe the first evolution of the autonomous car would drive like a teenager and hit trash cans and speed and then eventually, as they became more advanced, perhaps they would roll through stop signs and not fully understand a yield sign. But, of course, in order for the self-driving car to fly, so to speak, it would have to be a very good driver. Better than we are.
What am I getting at? Hang on.
Over the years, I have joked and wondered if I will still be around when there is a machine into which we can toss in a soiled shirt at one end and at the other end, out it comes, all cleaned, pressed, on a hanger, invoiced, bagged and ready to go. Far-fetched? Hmmm. Maybe not that far.
Garments can be identified by computer, either by bar-code or RF, so the need for someone to look at a tag isn’t necessary.
There is plenty of robotic manipulation that moves fabric around and completed garments from here to there. Consider how a shirt press will grab a cuff, pull it tightly, adjust the sleeve so that the pleats will press perfectly and then release everything once everything is done. This happens all the time nowadays.
Colmac has had a shirt buck with a hanger in it for many years. Once the press cycle is complete, the garment is already on a hanger. Similarly, Y.A.C. has a shirt press that automatically unloads the shirt from a body buck without a hanger. Although this never came to the USA, they also have a device that unloads the collar/cuff machine and drops the shirt onto a sleeve press. I saw the video years ago and watched in amazement.
In the industrial laundry business, washers and dryers that load and unload themselves have been around for a long time.
There is a company in Maine that makes a machine for the garment manufacturing industry that automatically buttons all the buttons on a shirt in the blink of an eye.
It’s probably too complicated to think about this for a load of drycleaning due to the great number of different types of garments that will be in a typical load, but let’s think about a load of shirts for a few minutes.
Maybe the loading end looks like a high-tech washing machine. You fill it as you normally would. Chemicals are automatically dispensed, of course. It washes, rinses and extracts and then unloads itself through the back of the machine into a large tumbler. An arm catches one shirt and senses the collar due to its weight and thickness. The shirt is raised up high and shaken to assure that no other shirt is tangled. The shirt is lowered onto a collar and cuff machine. Passive tension is applied to the fabric to assure a quality finish. After this press cycle is completed, the shirt is lifted off the collar and cuff machine and lowered onto a fully automatic body press. The hanger is already inserted in the buck. The shirt is positioned with the help of electric eyes, cameras, puffs of air, vacuum and robotic arms and hands as well as the current day passive assistance such as back pull downs and collar stretchers.
Once this shirt is pressed, it can be bagged and invoiced and sent on its way or it can be set aside is a self-contained holding area for the remaining pieces in that order, just like any modern-day assembly conveyor.
These days, it is difficult to find employees. This eliminates virtually all of them. The premium version of this probably has a batch-feed washer that has mini tunnel washer. It does 1 shirt per minute, day and night. That’s 10,000 shirts per week. Good thing, because this contraption will set you back $500,000. But that’s ok. You can easily be doing all the shirts in your city or county while your competitors are trying to figure out how to press the 200 shirts that they have to do today. On top of all that, you can charge less because your costs are less. Imagine being able to charge less than a dollar and making more profit than you do now.
This is going to take some thought, but this is going to happen.
Ring! Ring! Time to wake up! There goes my alarm clock.
Happy New Year everyone!