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Development In this issue of Laundry & Cleaning Today, which publishes the latest Cost Indices compiled by the TSA, it was very informative for representatives of this journal to be invited to Claremorris, County Mayo close to the far west coast of Ireland to attend the ‘Open House’ day at OCL laundry. Interesting as well as informative because this plant, owned by Alan O’Connor and his other board members, lays claim to be the first laundry in Europe to accept the challenge to find a radical and cost-effective alternative to the traditional steam-driven laundry operation.

The people who made it happen. L to R: Walton Dunlop (Dunlop Design Engineering Ltd), Dennis Rutland (general manager, Jensen UK SSC), Beverly Flynn (TD, Independent Member of Parliament for Co. Mayo), Alan O’Connor (managing director OCL Laundry, Claremorris, Co. Mayo), Declan McAteer (director, Ecolab, Ireland)

IRISH AND STEAMLESS Irish laundry becomes first plant in Europe to be a ‘Steam Free’ zone. t the sharp end all the washing, drying, and ironing in the plant is heated by gas and there is no steam generated at all. Alan O’Connor has completed the conversion of the entire collection of 18-stage CBW, five tumblers and two ironer lines, to ‘steamless’ efficiency and in so doing has achieved major savings in fuel costs. For not only is there no steam, and no boiler, there is no oil fuel

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store either. This is a truly remarkable story for another reason, which tends to sharpen the debate among laundry people who have perhaps tended to accept the received wisdom of the ages with regard to steam as a power source derived from oil burning. Alan O’Connor is not a second, third or even fourth generation of an ‘old’ laundry family, he is first generation and has been in the business for a mere six

Beverly Flynn starts her training for feeding gas-fired ironers watched by Alan O’Connor

22 LCT July 2006

Report by Irving Scott years, starting from scratch. The O’Connor family, then headed by Alan’s father, Tommy O’Connor, used to own one of the largest bakeries in Ireland and having decided to sell and move on Alan started in the drycleaning business in a unit shop. Rapidly perceiving that rental laundry at a high quality was a fast expanding market, which was not being adequately serviced in the far west of the country, the move to premises in Claremorris took place and the OCL business began in earnest in 2000. The booming Celtic ‘Tiger’ economy had resulted in a massive development in tourism and the growth in hotels created the demand for quality laundered flatwork products, this demand OCL set out to fill. Coming as they did from an equally ferocious consumer of energy - the bakery business the O’Connors, father and son, set about researching the European and UK market for the most efficient and economic machinery to cater for the growing requirements of the new business. A visit to the Frankfurt Texcare show resulted in Walton Dunlop of Dunlop Design Engineering, being asked to install an energy saving system for heating water in the plant and this system uses the marketleading Direct Contact Water Heating System from Kemco in Florida. This system is the fastest water heating system on the market and delivers a guaranteed, 99.7 per cent energy efficiency in operation compared to the 65 per cent - 75 per cent efficiency performance of conventional boilers for water heating or steam generation. Demand led, the direct contact heater reacts to calls for heated water instantly and thus delivers much reduced fuel consumption as there is no ‘build up’ delay in producing at the correct temperature. Experience of the

system in use has resulted in significant savings and total savings of up to 50 per cent in energy costs are set to be achieved over the first year in operation. The heat exchangers installed as part of the Direct Contact water heating system are effectively returning heat from effluent waste water to the incoming feed water to the CBW and this too adds significantly to the cost effectiveness of the system. The OCL Laundry delivers performance figures which at least one or two laundry managers would be pleased to report were being achieved in their plants, for example: 270K pieces per month representing 190K kgs of work per four week month. This uses 28K litres of gas per month and this at 6.56 kW/hr per litre delivers a .995 kW per kg produced performance ratio, or for a quick definition, one kilowatt of energy per one kilogram processed. In terms of water usage from the CBW fed by the Direct Contact system and Dunlop heat exchangers the figures are: CBW 35kg loads, 18 stages, on a 95 second cycle. This gives a production figure of 1326 kg/hr using 6 cubic metres of water per hour. The final ratio being 3.77 litres of water per kilogram of work processed. For those of a questing mind these are actual figures that Walton Dunlop and Alan O’Connor would be pleased to confirm. As Alan O’Connor says, “The traditional oil-fired steam boiler is the most inefficient way of heating water in industrial processes. We have now disconnected our original boiler house and all our energy needs are provided by gas-driven systems. Having solved the CBW energy efficient water supply problem, we then commissioned the conversion of our five tumbler dryers to gas

operation. We did this on site and after that week our drying time is reduced, our energy consumption is down and the need for steam lines has disappeared. This left only the ironers and from our Frankfurt visit we were taken by Jensen to a user of their new gas-fired JenRoll, EXPG ironers based in Dijon, France. As a result of that visit and in confirmation of our faith in the Jensen support team in the UK, we ordered two new gas-fired ironers, feeders and folders and these are now producing dry, crisply folded sheets, at the excellent rate of 44 lineal metres per minute. We were sadly disappointed by the attitude of other suppliers to the business where it seems that tradition and status quo in operational matters is the normal response to the sort of requests we made in our quest for the efficiency levels we have now achieved - without any steam and all the costs that go with steam supply. “Our energy costs across the plant and over the past full year of operation are six per cent and that includes everything you see here. We had faith in our suppliers’ ability to design good, effective solutions and apart from the anticipated teething and start up hitches, everything promised has been delivered and we are very happy with Dunlop, Jensen and Ecolab for their support and assistance over the time we spent researching and commissioning our plant. “We also have no boiler insurance costs, no annual certification costs, no leaking joints from hundreds of metres of pipe, no corrosion and deposits, reduced maintenance costs, no steam generation costs and consequent start up delays each day. We can run part of the plant as necessary without worrying about the boiler and most of all we have reduced our operating costs to the absolute minimum. There is no gas in Ireland, as yet it is all imported, but the future for us, is contracted for and although there

will be price rises, the use of gas in our plant gives so much saving overall that any other considerations are relatively unimportant at this point in time. We have a profitable and expanding business and we are confident of our ability to expand into other areas as business opportunities arise.” Our visit to Claremorris clearly demonstrated that the ‘steamless’ laundry is a viable solution to a set of problems that have been with industry since men first wrestled with the high pressure devices of James Watt, and the Stephensons, 200 years ago. In the 21st century surely the current climate change and energy costs debate can be given a working, engineered solution, which achieves a best-fit answer to an age-old problem. If a newcomer to this very traditional industry can see that the Emperor has no clothes others might just follow. As Jensen UK’s Dennis Rutland said to us after the event, “We are very pleased with the results which Alan O’Connor has achieved which are obviously going to cause serious debate in our industry where novelty and technical innovation are too often disregarded. Steam generation has been the driving force of the business for so long that people seem unable to accept that an alternative is possible. A ‘steamless’ laundry is a major technical advance and the effects it will have on investment plans in the future will be significant as directors and managers come to realise that the age of steam is perhaps a nostalgic vision which has been superseded by an energy released from within another natural resource.” Editor’s note: T his report clearly dem ands f urther inv estigation by the laundry industry. If you have views on the report then write to Laundry & Cleaning Today and we will publish your letters for further discussion.


Steam Free in Ireland