Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Meet Matt Harris

I remember when Kevin hired Matt (pictured in the middle), who was just 19 at the time, back in 1999, to be in charge of Preventative Maintenance.  The office staff, myself included, quickly took a liking to him, and we all not only went out of our way to mother him, but we also peppered him with our sage wisdom.  Over the years, we watched Matt grow into a responsible man, a talented mechanic, a devoted husband, and a doting dad.  Those last two are especially important given that he married the boss’s daughter!

Matt spent about two years doing Preventative Maintenance before Kevin transitioned him to repairs and then ultimately installation.  While Matt has attended a few training sessions, most of his training has been on-the-job with some of the best in the industry.  Today, Matt likes nothing better than to walk into a job, having no clue what to do, face the challenge head on, and then ultimately figure it out.  And the bigger the job, the better.  Here are a few recent examples of big jobs with challenges that he, of course, solved:
  • In 2015, a dry cleaner in Raleigh experienced a devastating fire, so Tri-State installed an entire plant’s worth of new dry cleaning equipment in a temporary location.  Just a short time later their new facility was completed, so Tri-State then moved and reinstalled the equipment at the new store.  He spent about a year practically living in Raleigh.
  • Then there was the time a broken-down boiler installed in a boiler room was too large to take out through the doorway, so Tri-State had to bring in a crane to remove the old one through the exhaust hole in the roof as well as bring in the new boiler the same way.
  • “And it’s always fun,” explained Matt, “When the dry cleaning machine won’t fit through the door.”  But these are the problems Matt enjoys solving.  “No two jobs are ever the same,” he went on, “and each one always teaches me something.”
  • Lately, Tri-State has been doing equipment work in Maine with a few linen and uniform companies in dealing with massive washing machines that are 80 feet long.  Matt said it is hard and heavy work, and I hope to share more about that in our next post. 
Of course, even when you love what you do, there are tasks that aren’t so much fun, and for Matt it’s installing conveyors.  Why?  “It is labor intense, there are lots of parts, and everything is overhead,” he shared.  “My arms get really tired.”

With 18 years in this industry, I wondered what sorts of changes he’s experienced.  “Laundry equipment is definitely more computerized than it used to be,” Matt explained.  “A few years ago, washing machines lasted longer and could be repaired with a $30 part.  Today when there’s a problem, it’s usually computer-related and costs significantly more to repair.”

Lastly, I asked him if he had any parting words of wisdom to share.  “I guess to remind folks to always take care of their equipment and to follow the manufacturer’s suggestions on proper care and maintenance,” said Matt.  “Typically equipment that’s really well taken care of doesn’t require nearly as much attention as equipment that’s neglected.”

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Condensate Return

Over the last couple months, we’ve been focusing on boilers; specifically, we’ve talked about boilers based on fuel options, and we’ve also discussed determining capacity needed.  Today I want to talk about improving your boiler’s efficiency, and one way to do that is to monitor the condensate returned to the boiler with a goal of maintaining a return temperature of around 180 degrees.

Let’s dive into specifics.  One type of energy steam contains is latent energy or latent heat.  According to mobile-dictionary.reverso.net, latent heat is the heat evolved or absorbed by unit mass or unit amount of substance when it changes phase without change of temperature.  In a dry cleaning plant, when steam is supplied to a process, the steam releases latent energy to supply the piece of equipment with the steam it needs to function and then condenses to a liquid condensate.  That condensate still has energy, and if pumped back into the boiler, makes the boiler run more efficiently.  How?  First, less new make-up water is required, which helps keep water costs down.  Second, that water is already hot, so less energy is required to heat the water.  Third, most of the corrosive dissolved Oxygen has been removed from the water, reducing system corrosion.

Do these three things to make sure your plant is set up properly:
  • Always T upwards off of the supply and return header to the equipment connections
  • Always put a check valve after every steam trap
  • Confirm that all steam traps are in good working condition
This last point is exceptionally important as equipment will not work properly without steam supply and as a result, it’s constantly blowing steam by heating the condensate return system above the 180 degree target temperature.  Then the pump can’t pump water into the boiler at over around 200 degrees so it takes longer to fill the boiler which equals more cost to run the pump longer. Also, remember that increased return water temperature equals malfunctioning steam traps that allow steam to blow through the trap and heat the return water.  This can result in more than 14% flash steam loss.  It’s basically like you’re putting a brick on the steam pedal of a puff iron, and its blowing steam all the time the boiler is up to pressure.  Double utility cost hit when the steam is blowing by heating the return water which causes the pump to run longer using more electricity and the boiler to cycle more often because the pressure is being lost through the malfunctioning steam trap. All this can be detected by checking the return tank water temperature, if you are regularly running over 185 degrees.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What Size Boiler Do I Need?

Last month we discussed the different fuel source options for commercial boilers, showing the cost savings and other benefits of choosing natural gas or propane over other options.  Obviously based on last month’s post, Tri-State Laundry Equipment prefers natural gas boilers, and we want to continue the boiler conversation focusing on what size natural gas boiler best fits your business.  To determine this, we’re going to talk in terms of BHP (boiler horsepower), which is a boiler’s capacity to produce steam.  One BHP is the amount of energy required to produce 34.5 pounds of steam per hour at pressure and temperature of 0 psig and 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

When I try to determine boiler need, I use two sources: first, a spec sheet from Unipress that provides finishing equipment technical specifications (all pieces of dry cleaning and laundry equipment have a BHP number), and second, years of experience.  For instance, I know that a dry cleaning utility press is rated at 1 BHP as is a dry cleaning legger or any other dry cleaning press that uses steam to heat and steam emitted for finishing.  Pants toppers with a form and emit steam to condition are rated at ¾ BHP, where form finishers which are any bag form that finishes dresses and tops and blows air and steam are rated at 2 BHP.  I tend to rate puff irons at ¼ BHP regardless of whether they are single or triples because they don’t emit steam all the time, and they consume a very small amount when at rest.

We all have our own unique set of talents, and mine is knowing all these numbers off the top of my head.  But for the remainder of the population, pressing equipment manufacturers provide a BHP number for all their laundry, shirt laundry, and dry cleaning pressing equipment as well as for dry cleaning machines and washers and dryers.  Sometimes a little digging might be required, but this is an important number to know when outfitting a new plant or when purchasing a single piece of equipment simply for an upgrade.  Once you have all your BHP numbers, figure in about 5% for header heat loss but be careful not to oversize unless the customer demands it.  And when it’s time to replace your boiler, don’t simply replace it with your current size.  Instead, run through this exercise to see if a larger size is necessary.

Determining your required boiler size can feel a bit complicated and overwhelming, but an experienced boiler system sales and design person can come up with a really close calculation.  And of course, Tri-State Laundry Equipment is always here to help whether is it’s dry cleaning or laundry boilers or dry cleaning or laundry equipment.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Choosing the Right Boiler Based on Fuel Type

While there are a number of fuel options for boilers, with some of them being quite unusual or messy (think biomass or coal), we’re going to focus on three for several practical reasons.  First, the last thing you want is an employee shoveling pulverized coal into your boiler and then heading over to press white shirts.  Second, it can be difficult to round up burnable plant material and debris from wood construction.  You get the idea.  For our purposes, let’s talk about the following three:
  • Gas Fired – Gas fired boilers burn Natural Gas.  Natural Gas is chiefly Methane, but when it is removed from the ground, it may also contain Butane, Ethane, Pentane, and Propane.  These other products are stripped out before the Natural Gas is sent down the pipeline.  Natural Gas is one of the most efficient fuels to use for boiler operations because it is relatively inexpensive, energy efficient, dependable, and environmentally friendly.  While Propane is used in similar ways, it is quite different from Methane.  For instance, a smaller amount of Propane is required to produce the same amount of heat.  The good news is that it is easy to compare costs because both are done based on BTU ratings.  To learn more on how to compare costs, click here.  There is a down side to installing gas – the initial investment can be rather costly depending on your current set up.  We suggest bringing in a qualified technician to provide an accurate estimate of what is involved so that you can take the initial cost into consideration. 
  • Oil Fired – Oil fired boilers are particularly popular for homes and businesses that are not connected to gas mains.  There are several downsides to going with oil.  For instance, the cost of oil can vary greatly.  You need to have an oil tank onsite or nearby and have oil delivered.  Finally, oil fired boilers require more maintenance and attention because of dirt and soot buildup.
  • Electric – Compared to gas or oil boilers, electric boilers are more efficient because there’s no need for an exhaust flue for waste; therefore, no heat escapes from the system.  They also tend to take up less room than other boilers and can be more cost effective to install.   Plus on top of all of that, they are quiet.  On the downside, electricity is more expensive in most parts of the United States. 
Let’s do some cost comparing.  Our benchmark is Natural Gas which will give us 1,075,000 BTU’s per 1,000 cubic feet at a cost of approximately $3.87.  Propane will give us 91,000 BTU’s per gallon at approximately $.86 per gallon, which calculates to 11.8 gallons of Propane for a cost of $10.14.  Oil is our next fuel choice at 138,500 BTU’s per gallon priced currently at $1.59 per gallon, which translates to 7.8 gallons of fuel oil at a cost of $12.40.  Our last option of electricity requires 1-KW to produce 3,413 BTU’s at an average cost of $.1031 per KW and that translates to $37.80.

Summary:

To create the same quantity of steam, it costs

Natural Gas    $3.87

Propane    $10.14

Oil        $12.40

Electricity    $37.80

When you take a look at all the factors, not only is there a big difference when it comes to costs, keep in mind that Natural Gas is clean burning, and oil requires burner adjustments and maintenance to keep it in proper tune.  While there are some positives to electricity, the high cost makes it impractical.  Even though everyone doesn’t have access to Natural Gas, it would be beneficial to find a location that has it or petition your local gas company to expand into your area. 

If you need help choosing a boiler, feel free to contact Tri-State Laundry Equipment Company.  We are always glad to help.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Solving Compressed Air Leaks

When running a dry cleaning plant, we seem to come up with all kinds of work-arounds to temporarily resolve machine issues just so we can get through production.  Compressed air issues are no exception – we simply solve this problem by increasing the regulator pressure, but doing this should not be a long-term fix.  If you are having compressed air issues, here’s what Tri-State Laundry Equipment recommends:

  1. Check each machine’s air connection, which is typically into a coalescent filter and an air pressure regulator.  Ninety percent of the time, the filters we see are leaking air from the drain.  This is easily solved by either disassembling and cleaning or by a kit from the maker for a rebuild.  These kits contain the needed seals which have gone bad; the same applies to the regulator.
  2. Examine each machine by closing off the air supply to the machines then opening only the air to the machine you are checking for leaks.  This will make it easier to pinpoint the location of the leak.  If the machine has vacuum or blower motor, you’ll need to either turn them off or disconnect the power to the motor so the machine can function, and you can hear and find the leaks more easily.  Specifically check fittings and cylinders as they are the most common locations for leaks.  Once they’ve been located, you’ll need fittings, air tubing, and cylinder repair kits to make the repairs.  Repeat the process on every machine until they’ve all been thoroughly examined, identified as leak-free, or all repairs have been made.
We realize this is quite a process.  I’ve been guilty of letting this kind of issue go in order to complete production, but I promise that the effort is worth it.  In the long run, having a properly operating machine with constant air pressure at the right pressure will reduce wear and tear on your air compressor, help reduce your utility costs, increase the quality of your product, and improve overall productivity.

If your business is struggling with air pressure issues, contact Tri-State Laundry Equipment at 1.866.885.5218.  We are glad to help.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Caring for Your Air Compressor

Good quality dry cleaning is part science and part art.  Over the years, dry cleaners have become more and more reliant on compressors, in part for the role they play in the proper function of a plant’s equipment but also for precise amounts of air on demand for things like specialized, detailed work.  So if your goal is to provide customers with bright, clean, crisply finished garments, but you are using dirty air, then you are fighting an uphill battle.  Luckily, it’s not difficult to use clean compressed air to run your equipment and to clean customer’s clothes. 

Below are some simple steps to keep your air compressor operating at peak efficiency:
  • Intake Vents: If your intake vent is dirty or clogged, it will force your air compressor to work harder.  Regularly check and clean your vents, especially if you’re in a dusty environment. 
  • Belts: Inspect them for excessive wear and damage, replacing them as needed.  Also be sure to check the tension, ensuring the belt can travel freely.
  • Air filters: Exceptionally dirty or blocked air filters allow dirt from outside in, requiring your compressor to work harder to intake air.  Check your filters often and change them if they have a buildup of dust and dirt.  
  • Oil: Consult the manufacturer’s guide to make sure you are using the proper oil.  Some manufacturers recommend non-detergent oil or synthetic oil.  Check the oil level on a daily basis to make sure it isn’t running low.  Finally, change out the oil every 500-1,000 hours to keep your compressor functioning properly.
  • Separator:  If you allow water to accumulate, it will eventually get pulled back into the system.  Check and empty your separator regularly, and replace the element every 2,000 hours of operation.
  • Heat Exchangers: Dirty heat exchangers won’t function at their max potential.  Cleaning them regularly will make it easier for them to keep temps down. 
Being proactive and properly maintaining your air compressor translates to money saved in the end because you reduce your chance of down time, will produce a quality product consistently, and your equipment will last longer.  But maintenance isn’t the only air compressor related topic we need to discuss.  It’s also important, especially important, to detect and solve air compressor leaks immediately.  Next month we’ll tackle that issue.  In the meantime, if you have an air compressor issue and need help, just contact Tri-State at 1.866.885.5218

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Coin-Operated Laundry Equipment

I’ve never really liked doing laundry, but I particularly disliked doing laundry while I was in college.  It was so incredibly inconvenient to lug a week’s worth of laundry to the laundromat, along with a pile of quarters, and then spend the next several hours babysitting my laundry while trying to study too.  I think my biggest frustration, though, was how long it took for my clothes to dry.  Many times, I had to put a second round of quarters in, so between the time and the expense, I really began to dread laundry day.

It’s funny that I have such vivid memories of college laundry.  I could describe the place in great detail, though I couldn’t tell you what brand the washers and dryers were.  Of course, I had no idea I would be writing about coin-operated washers and dryers twenty-five years later.  But as you think about your coin-operated laundry facility, what do you want your customers to remember?  Do you want them to dread laundry day, or would you rather they have memories of how quickly and efficiently they were able to get that weekly chore completed so they could move on to other things?

When it comes to coin-operated laundry equipment, Tri-State Laundry Equipment looks for brands that will provide customers with easy, convenient, quick, and reliable service, and that’s why Tri-State features American Dryer Corporation and Wascomat coin-operated equipment.  Dryers come in heavy duty double-stack or single-stack options, and washers come in a single-stack front-loading style.  Both washers and dryers have a coin pay or card pay option.

While your customers will appreciate the easy pay, easy use, and quick washing and drying results, you’ll appreciate the energy efficiency, low maintenance, and access to interchangeable parts.  If you are in the market for either new or used coin-operated washers or dryers, contact Tri-State Laundry Equipment at 866.885.5218.  We’ll be glad to answer any questions and help you determine which products will work best for you and your customers.