IntWash

Full order books, but wasted growth opportunities: Laundries on the difficult path towards digitalisation

Female worker in a laundry with white sheets
The necessary digitalisation of industrial laundries should improve occupational safety and environmental protection.

The IntWash research network has launched a global initiative to tackle the digitalisation challenges of commercial laundries. This includes easy access to industry knowledge, transparent concepts and international best practice examples for intelligent laundries.

Sound growth opportunities for sophisticated textile services

There are good reasons why hotels, factories, retirement homes and hospitals in Germany no longer wash their dirty laundry themselves but have it cleaned by external laundry services. This is due to a shortage of skilled workers, but also to a lack of experience, skills and special machinery: The demands on modern workwear and protective clothing are extremely demanding and complex that non-specialists can hardly satisfy them effectively. Once the cleaning process is completed, chemical protective clothing must not only be clean but must also protect staff if they get in contact with liquid chemicals such as corrosive acids. The clothing has a special water-repellent functional layer which must be preserved in the cleaning process or re-applied if necessary.

Cleaning of workwear will no longer be a hassle

When it comes to workwear, there is yet another trend in Germany: leasing. More and more often, hospitals, factories and hotel chains no longer purchase staff clothing themselves. External textile service providers offer comprehensive solutions. They purchase the workwear and protective gear used by the companies, brand them according to the client’s needs, for example by adding their logo, and lease them including cleaning, maintenance and delivery.

Why, then, is the industry not considered attractive, despite new business areas and full order books? And why is it growing more slowly than the high demand and economic strength might suggest?

Shortage of skilled staff and lack of digital innovation

As Dr Igor Kogut from the Hohenstein research institute explains, the industry lacks “strategies for the effective management of the digital transformation”. This prevents good growth opportunities from being exploited to their full potential.

In addition, the jobs are not considered attractive: “Some processes in the laundries are still not hygienic and safe enough. Workers often execute strenuous and monotonous activities for hours at increased room temperatures and with unpleasant odours. Young people in particular have little interest in coming into contact with possible contamination, germs and dangerous objects in dirty laundry. IntWash helps to make use of the opportunities offered by digitalisation and to change the trend by means of new technology and continuing training schemes.”

visual represenation of artificial intelligence against laundry backdrop
Artificial intelligence will help to extract hazardous materials from dirty laundry in future.

Digitalisation opens up many opportunities

The digital transformation and new technologies, for example based on Artificial Intelligence (AI), provide industrial laundries and providers of textile services with new opportunities to develop their services in a more sustainable and modern way. For example, smart image processing and sensor-controlled grippers can extract scalpels from dirty hospital laundry to improve work safety and prevent damage to machinery. Virtual reality will help to provide better and quicker training for staff. Customers can use a tracking system to access important data about their laundry online. But small and medium-sized enterprises in particular lack the information and resources to implement this.

Global search for facts and partners

Remedy provides the new IntWash initiative led by Dr Igor Kogut from testing service provider and research partner Hohenstein in Bönnigheim: “We are currently setting up an internet platform where we can pool independent and transparent information on intelligent laundries worldwide and on strategies for the transformation of the industry along the textile value added chain.” It is his intention that “the entire international laundry industry, including suppliers, associations and staff organisations, will come together on this internet platform and exchange ideas about the lasting and sustainable establishment of intelligent laundries.”

Until the end of 2020, the IntWash network will travel around the world to network with partners from research and development. The first stop on the tour will take Dr Kogut and his networking partners to the Transatlantic Sync Conference in the US from 27 to 31 October 2019.

If you want to learn more about the IntWash project and how to get involved, you can get in touch directly with:

Hohenstein Institut für Textilinnovation gGmbH
Dr Igor Kogut
Schlosssteige 1
74357 Bönnigheim
Germany
+49 7143 - 271 546
i.kogut@hohenstein.de
www.hohenstein.com/en
Twitter: @Hohenstein_1946