As featured in Executive Housekeeping Today
Automated systems that quietly whisk waste and soiled linens out of view and even off-site for easy removal, recycling or laundering should be very attractive to the architects, specifiers and administrators funding the current boom in healthcare, hotel and resort construction, as well as to the executive housekeepers and facility managers who are ultimately responsible for waste and linen handling. These pneumatic vacuum systems promote a clean visual aesthetic and ease the workload for housekeeping staffers while upgrading and supporting infection and pest control measures. In a climate where hygiene is paramount, recruiting workers is tough at best and the value of visual appeal among upscale customers translates to real dollars, why isn’t every new facility being designed with just such a system?
“They stopped working,” says Eddie Gandy, a consultant to the industry with several decades of hands-on experience. Back in the 1970’s, a handful of companies developed systems to automatically convey bagged waste and soiled linens from each floor of a facility through a network of ductwork hidden behind the walls directly to a single point for collection, recycling or laundering. At a time when large, urban healthcare facilities were being designed and built, streamlining these housekeeping functions made a lot of sense. More than 100 hospitals, hotels, apartment buildings and other facilities in the United States were built with what was then considered an advanced technology that promised to boost worker productivity, promote cleanliness and support the environment. The concept took off in Europe and Asia but soon fell out of favor in the United States. “It worked well at first but then a number of installations seemed plagued with unexpected problems,” says Gandy. Clogs, for example, were the nightmare scenario. If too many bundles of laundry or refuse were loaded at one time, or if any of the bundles were overstuffed, then they would get stuck inside the ductwork. Back then, there was no way to know exactly where the clog was located nor was there an immediate way to find out if there was a problem at all. In fact, workers could continue loading more bundles into the system while completely unaware of the blockage behind the wall until somebody would notice the system had stopped operating. The lack of security measures to prevent unauthorized access and the inability to coordinate loading among multiple load stations did little to prevent clogs and unplanned outages. The ongoing maintenance, inspection and part replacement to help prevent such outages constantly challenged engineering teams. Then some of the leading suppliers went bankrupt. With no outside support, many systems – even some that had operated as anticipated – fell into disrepair and disuse. In some of the most devastating cases, facility managers had to turn to traditional waste and laundry handling anyway, hauling tilt trucks and linen carts up and down elevators to dumpsters and/or laundry departments as the hefty investments lay dormant and unseen. Engineers, housekeepers and maintenance managers who dealt with the systems on a day-to-day basis grew frustrated and even disgusted while the architects and construction specifiers who recommended them and the trustees who funded them were left feeling burned. “There was so much money at stake that once a few of them failed to deliver, nobody felt confident specifying a system like that for a long time,” says Gandy. “But now it’s clear that the concept was on target. It was the technology, the implementation and the service where the early players failed.”
The latest in automated waste and linen handling technology features a series of high-tech advances that addresses and solves the issues that plagued the prior generation of systems. Developed by Precision AirConvey Corp. (www.AutomatedRemoval.com), Newark, Del, a manufacturer with 40 years of worldwide experience in manufacturing, installing and servicing pneumatic conveying systems for companies such as DuPont, 3M, JPMorgan Chase and W.L. Gore, the new system includes computerized control technology to speed loading into the system, prevent and detect obstructions, strengthen security, reduce maintenance needs, protect the environment and virtually guarantee performance.
How It Works
Housekeeping staffers continue to collect refuse and soiled linens in tilt trucks or carts only instead of hauling them down the elevator, through the facility to a dumpster or laundry room and/or across multiple climate zones, staffers stay on the floor and bring their cartloads to strategically located load stations. One load station is for bundles of refuse and the other is for soiled linens. Using a secure, easy-to-use touch-screen display (available programmed in several languages), staffers enter their PIN number or swipe an existing employee ID card for access. The proprietary, computer-controlled technology, which monitors system activity throughout the entire building or campus, informs the staffer exactly when the bundles may be loaded into the system and how much time there is to do so – down to the second. This regimented system regulates the flow of refuse and laundryto help ensure the system conveys each bundle as quickly and efficiently as possible while also promoting worker efficiency and productivity. “Nobody has to stand around waiting to dump their cartloads,” says Gandy, “and no one has to exit the building.” Once access is granted, staffers place their bundles either by the cartload or one at a time into the PAC Q-ChuteTM, where they are staged for entry into the ductwork. The state-of-the-art PAC Q-Chute uses a computer-controlled operating system to automatically orchestrate the release of bundles into the ductwork for transport from literally dozens of load stations that can be located in several different towers or buildings. By ensuring that only a precise number of bundles enters the system at any given time, reliable, clog-free performance is virtually guaranteed.
Once bundles enter the ductwork, the PAC system’s powerful pneumatic conveying action quietly pulls them down the shaft as in a vacuum en route to an on-site laundry room, remote outbuilding for laundry service pickup or to a compactor for refuse, all the while traveling behind the walls, underground and hidden from view. This precision-engineered ductwork may extend thousands of feet from the initial starting point at the load station. As the bundles approach the end of the line, the conveying air and its momentum are removed by a slant screen separator. The air may then be directed to an air scrubber for filtering before being returned to the atmosphere as safe, clean air. Meanwhile, the bundles are allowed to fall into a staging bin set above a compactor (for refuse) or above the laundry collector bin. To prevent odors from the compactor from infiltrating up into the system, this staging bin features computer controlled bomb bay doors that open when refuse is to be deposited into the compactor while simultaneously
sealing the entry point from the ductwork into the staging bin. One set of doors is always sealed while the other is opening. Then the company’s new screw compactor efficiently densifies and readies the bundles for disposal or recycling. When the compactor approaches its fill limit, the computerized control system automatically alerts the maintenance team to contact the refuse company for pickup. Since the pickup location may be set near or far away from the facility, the new system makes it possible to streamline refuse and/or linen collection by consolidating multiple pickup and delivery locations into a single point while eliminating the need for their unsightly trucks and vans to share a parking lot with guests, patients, residents and/or others.
While this impressive ballet of advanced logistics is continuously performed 24/7, the show is witnessed only by the operating personnel and the computer control system. Constantly monitoring every facet of the system, the computer control system includes an array of sensors placed throughout the system that tracks every bundle from its point of entry to its arrival in the compactor or laundry collector. If a blockage were ever to occur, its built-in clog detection system would immediately and automatically shut down the system to prevent the continued loading of bundles and alert maintenance or engineering personnel. The monitoring system is also available as a secure Web-based system to enable operating personnel to get performance reports and/or alerts from all over the world by computer or cell phone. Using a Web-based system also enables facility, engineering and/or operations managers to outsource the maintenance function to the manufacturer, who can monitor and track operational performance and conduct preventative maintenance checks on a planned schedule. The few components that wear over time can be replaced either by the in-house engineering team or by the manufacturer’s trained service technicians before a breakdown occurs. Smooth operation over the long term is assured. “With all of these computer-controlled upgrades and engineering improvements, the flaws in the original installations have been overcome to the point that the performance everyone anticipated and hoped for in the 1970’s can now be delivered as reality,” says Gandy.
For more information, contact Precision AirConvey Laundry and Waste Group, a manufacturer of automated, pneumatic conveying systems. The company may be reached at 302.999.8000; www.AutomatedRemoval.com; Contact@AutomatedRemoval.com.