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Out & About

Out & About

Goods inwards from the unloading dock - trolleys of mixed work await transfer up the elevator to the sorting deck and then to the Supertrack monorail system

Engineering strength in depth: apprentice engineer Kyle Pearson with his mentor for the day, engineer Steve Marley, at work servicing one of the 10 Kannegiesser 85kg PowerDry dryers at Dunstable

The loading starts here - two Kannegiesser, PowerTrans 75kg/16 CTWs awaiting loading from the Supertrack monorail storage lines

Loading stations for the two automatic sheet feeders taking work to the feeders and folders across the aisle

Control centre for the CTWs with warning ‘traffic light’ indicators showing press status

Assembly area for finished, packed, trolleys in specific loading sections awaiting despatch

Final folding station for staff uniforms, with Kannegiesser FAX garment folder in foreground

Trolley loads of clean work awaiting despatch covered with custom-fitted, heavy-duty protective polyethylene covers

Garment sorting section showing staff loading the system en route to the drying tunnel

Derek Isles, managing director of Synergy Health, UK Laundry Division, since 2000

Some of the storage racking holding scrub-suits ready for despatch when ordered

SYNERGY HEALTH – MORE THAN JUST A LAUNDRY SERVICE

S

ynergy Health (UK) Ltd, Laundry, on the Woodside Industrial Estate in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, is the largest of the three laundry plants operated by Synergy Health (UK) Ltd. in England. These plants produce in excess of 1.8 million pieces of clean, finished and packed linen for the hospital and general healthcare market in England. From the high-care unit based in the Sheffield plant, some 50 thousand pieces of sterile theatre gowns, and drapes, for the operating theatre contracts serviced by Synergy Health (UK) Ltd operations, are in weekly production. Production figures are, at best, raw statistics and they are only part of the Synergy Health laundry story, behind them lies a truly remarkable development story – a story of rapid growth, which has more usually been seen in recent business history in the electronics sector of business. The astonishing fact in the Synergy Health history is that it is just over twenty years since Dr Richard Steeves founded the business in Corby, Northamptonshire. More surprising still is the fact that this enterprise was not founded as a dedicated laundry, servicing the textile hygiene requirements of healthcare clients. Synergy was created to be a specialist provider of sterile surgical packs as well as drapes and gowns, to meet the needs of the growing problems of HIV infection in UK hospitals. The seeds of the future growth of Synergy into a global company trading in fifteen countries, across four continents, selling outsourced sterilisation services, with annual

14 LCT November 2012

total group revenues of more than £312 million, can be traced back to the formation of that single, highly specialised, supply business. Synergy Health today is focused on expanding its presence in specialist sterilisation services to the healthcare world market. Its early strong growth in laundry services continues as an efficient, profitable and quality conscious part of the whole Synergy Health group with operations in England and, through the acquisition of the LIPS Textile Services business based in Holland in 2004, providing high quality linens and sterile, surgical textiles to the English and European healthcare market. With more than 1.8 million pieces of linen processed every week in England, Synergy is not a small laundry business by any objective standard and the fact that the first laundry acquired by the company was as recently as 1996, illustrates the growth achieved in 16 years. That first laundry processing plant was in Ascot Road, Derby, which at that time was processing 50,000 textile pieces per week as a former NHS Trust facility. The Healthtex laundries in Bristol and Sheffield, previously owned by Wim Gizeman, a Dutch, laundry business entrepreneur, were acquired in 2000 and the Synergy laundry enterprise really began to make its mark in outsourced NHS laundry service and supply from that date. Rapid growth in the provision of outsourced linen and sterile services to the NHS and private hospitals followed and in 2001 Synergy Health was listed on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange. The Healthtex acquisition

increased the laundry division’s size in revenues and volumes processed and in 2004 the decision was made to commission a specialist laundry on a suitable new site. In 2004 also, Synergy acquired the laundry service business of LIPS Textile Services in Holland. This decision resulted in Synergy Group controlling a service business which processed more than 40 per cent of the Dutch Healthcare and hospital laundry market linen including processing of uniforms for a large supermarket group. The new laundry for English expansion was opened in 2005, in Dunstable, a development that once again more than doubled the potential production capacity of the Synergy English Laundry Division. Growth continued apace after the Dunstable plant opening, only for disaster to strike in February 2007 when a major fire destroyed the entire ‘clean’ side of the plant. The majority of the ‘clean’ side equipment from Kannegiesser and all of the support services, had been installed less than 16 months prior to the fire and all had to be written off or considered fit only for total re-furbishment at the Kannegiesser factory in Germany. The fire – the precise cause of which was never established – created a monumental challenge to all the suppliers of ‘clean’ side equipment and services and the plant was not returned to full production until the beginning of 2008, with the completion of the installation of all necessary laundry machinery equipment – as well as a comprehensive new fire control, sprinkler system. The management of the Synergy Laundry Division faced

an even bigger challenge because of the fire. Normally in most wellmanaged laundries, there is a disaster management plan that seeks to minimise the risks when such disasters occur – possibly by renting extra production capacity in a supportive local laundry. The Synergy disaster plan was implemented by transferring all laundry processing from Dunstable to the Derby, Bristol and Sheffield plants and by ‘bussing’ the entire Dunstable staff to Derby over 120 miles to the north. Here in the Derby, Bristol and Sheffield plants, the entire processing volume from Dunstable was produced by establishing a shift system which operated virtually 24/7. This management action effectively achieved a ‘normal’ full service delivery of the Dunstable customers’ work within a matter of a few days, with no interrupted customer service. As the Synergy Laundry Division, managing director, Derek Isles says: “They were interesting times for us all.” With such an eventful start overshadowing the operation of the Dunstable plant, none of the past drama is evident for the ‘first-time’ visitor, anywhere in this immensely impressive laundry plant. As the photographs in this review piece show, this is a laundry going about its daily business with quiet calm efficiency. In fact this is one of the most efficient plants that Laundry & Cleaning Today has had the good fortune to visit. Only the Zischka plant at Simmern in Germany bears comparison for effect and this only, in my opinion, because the Zischka plant has installed equipment for delivering a higher volume of work each week than the

Dunstable plant was designed to produce. The Dunstable Plant occupies 60,000 square feet of flat, ground floor space with level access for truck loading and unloading. From the start of my ‘tour’, the soiled goods receiving hall, immediately showed the organisational effect of sound management. The arriving trolley loads were organised efficiently for soiled goods transfer from inbound truck to the Supertrack monorail system for onwards transfer to one or other of the two Kannegiesser PowerTrans, 16 stage, 75kg capacity, continuous tunnel washers (CTWs). These CTWs are installed to conform to full ‘barrier wall’ configuration protocols whereby soiled goods are loaded from the monorail, directly into the receiving hopper of the CTWs. The washed load is delivered through the barrier wall from the final stage of the CTW, to the Kannegiesser 40bar turbo presses and from the presses to one of the 10 Kannegiesser, PowerDry, 85kg dryers, installed in two banks of five dryers, installed on the overhead service platform. The Kannegiesser PowerDry dryers unload via an unloading conveyor into a Supertrack clean monorail transportation which transports the loads to the relevant drop position be it the relevant ironer line, full dry folding area or garment loading position. The sheets are dropped into a separator and transported along by conveyor, where the operators clip two corners of the dried item into the Kannegiesser Ergomat automatic storage system. The storage rail is able to feed the Kannegiesser EMA feeding machine in a continuous operation

processing up to 1400 hospital sheets per hour in two lane operation. Conveyors of the appropriate type then transport the finished, folded and inspected linen to the main storage area ready for selection for delivery into trolleys, packed according to delivery destination. Each loaded trolley is completely wrapped in customfitted poly-wrap trolley-guards ready for loading for final customer delivery, in the despatch area. The sequence described above caters for soiled linen; contaminated linen is separated from the soiled linen in the inbound arrival hall and then delivered to the three Kannegiesser Favorit barrier washer-extractors of 60kg with a third machine of 80kg capacity for thermal and chemical disinfection washing. Chemical disinfection of the contaminated linen loads is achieved by using Sanoxy Max chemicals delivered in controlled doses by Christeyns’ auto pumps as well as thermal disinfection of three minutes at 71 deg C. The disinfection is closely monitored by Synergy quality assurance department for chemical wash results and with microbiological analyses. The wash quality results are reported to Synergy QA management, as appropriate, on a weekly/monthly, basis by fully detailed wash quality performance reports to the management of Synergy Health at plant and corporate level. Reports include results of the dipslide testing of a randomly selected number of textile items, which have been processed in the two CTWs, as well as from the quality of the input water supply

from the mains, the rinse and press water, the surface condition of the conveyors after the press stage, and eight articles of finished linen. Two of the eight textile articles selected must be selected at the input testing stage at the start of the process. In the total control test, one each from the complete array of laundered items must be tested. These eight single items are a sheet, pillowcase, duvet cover, blanket, towel, patient’s gown, scrub suit and pyjamas. In addition, Synergy QA department monitors the bacterial control of laundered items for each CTW and barrier washerextractor and performs bi-annual, garment destructive, laboratory tests and detection control for the following bacterial infections: presumptive coliforms, staphylococcus aureus, pseudomonas spp, yeast moulds, TACC, listeria, salmonella and bacillus cereus. Testing to these levels is indicative of the concentration within Synergy Health on the absolute requirement to provide the most hygienically clean linen and surgical textiles possible, to their clients in the wider healthcare service businesses of England. An exactly similar business approach to that taken in all Synergy Health divisions, when delivering the sterilisation and disinfection of healthcare textiles, instruments and sterile surgical packs. Hospital staff uniforms and workwear items such as scrubsuits are transported, after washing through a Kannegiesser SMT-2, gas-fired tunnel finisher, at the rate of 1800 items per hour. They then pass sequentially through Kannegiesser garment

folders model FAX 900 automatic and are then transferred to the appropriate storage area to await onward transport to the client hospital. As can be seen from the foregoing comments Synergy Health Laundry at Dunstable is an efficient business operating to exacting standards in all departments. As befits the entire business ethos of Synergy Health plc, this is also a fine exemplar of the special art of ‘outsourcing’ as a viable business model for its own operations. For Synergy Health Laundry division is dedicated, as far as possible, to purchasing the required operating efficiencies, service excellence and overall plant economies by buying-in and managing-out, as many routine business functions as possible. The FAX automatic folder is able to sort the scrub suits into five different sizes which helps the sorting and despatch arrangements. I have mentioned the outsourcing efforts and effects of Christeyns on the chemistry and its competence at the Dunstable plant; we should now see what other outsourcing services Synergy Health relies on. The entirety of the plant’s production is transported, in and out, by 25, articulated and rigid-bodied, 12, 18 and 36 tonne trucks, rented from Ryder Truck Rentals and driven by Synergy in-house transport staff. Covering the country from three widely dispersed processing locations, while servicing hospital clients from Truro to the far North of England, by its very nature forces serious cost issues on the business. By renting its liveried truck fleet from Ryder, and still retaining ‘ownership

costs’ of the driving staff, the policy gives Synergy a costjustified, rental solution that frees up considerable working capital for its own needs. A further outsourced service has been provided by ABS, the laundry management software and systems supplier. All stock reporting and purchasing requirements are produced by the ABS absolute system that provides detailed information to assist internal plant management as well as external customer support staff. Thus delivering the essential business data, which gives a detailed and comprehensive overview of stock issues, deliveries to ward and forward requirement statistics, that affect the day-to-day running of the business. In the linen management system (LMS) developed by Synergy, as a superior linen stock and delivery control system, the essential control of movement data of stocks at ward and department level, in those hospitals contracted to use the LMS system, is a resource provided by the output of the ABS software. In effect an outsourced service supply that alleviates pressure on the Synergy Health IT department leaving it to focus its energies elsewhere. In fact a hidden outsourcing benefit removing significant internal overhead costs. All of which brings the Synergy Dunstable story to the ultimate expression of Synergy management philosophy, - the complete outsourcing of laundry machinery engineering services and their on-site management and external support. All washing, drying, monorail transporting, conveying, feeding, folding,

ironing, stacking and storing machinery at Dunstable, as well as in Derby and Sheffield, is staffed and managed, at site, by the Kannegiesser UK, service department. This suppliermanaged service relationship has been in continuous operation since beginning in Ascot Drive in 1997. This is the only such laundry plant and indeed Synergy Health is the only laundry group in the UK, where this level of outsourced service supply, is in effect and only Kannegiesser has been trusted to deliver and manage such a responsibility for managing the performance of laundry machinery in England. The results were probably best seen in the aftermath of the major fire at the Dunstable plant when a huge amount of removal and resupply of very many machines both large, small and all to some extent inter-connected, had to happen as fast as possible. The effects on the performance of the machinery installed at Derby and Sheffield caused by the huge production increases enforced upon these distant, smaller plants by the transfer of production almost overnight from Dunstable after the fire, reinforced the Kannegiesser capabilities in service provision to Synergy Health. It seems to me after my plant visit that that level of performance and the ability of Synergy staff and Kannegiesser to deliver the result together was an effective working partnership operation which is visible today. Ian Smithson, Kannegiesser UK, service manager is in direct control of the day-to-day service and engineering support to Synergy Health, while at the same time supervising the Kannegiesser

service operation across the UK from Banbury. Combinations of responsibilities that Smithson acknowledges ‘lend certain challenges to my everyday working pressures’. Smithson is delivering engineering support services to Synergy Health through four site engineers based in the Sheffield plant, five engineers and one engineering apprentice in Derby, and through nine engineers and one apprentice in Dunstable. In operational terms, Kannegiesser engineering support is available on site at Synergy plants as follows: cover is provided on-site from Sunday evening at 20.00 until Friday at 22.00. Saturday and Sunday are allocated for scheduled, planned, preventative maintenance work – PPM. Full reporting of maintenance carried out, as well as recommendations for machine performance improvement, are supplied to both Synergy plant management as well as to Kannegiesser in Banbury. Overall, the Synergy Health Laundry operations in the UK, in my view present a template of how an outsourcing, service support operation, should be delivered to any high quality, high volume laundry. Without doubt, this level of support demands acceptance of significant contingent costs. But Synergy Health is a business which itself, provides high quality service at very high performance levels, to a quality driven, customer base and that same Synergy business model understands the importance of high quality and quick response for its own delivery of its own services. In its healthcare laundry operations in England, and

Irving Scott reports

Holland, Derek Isles and all his colleagues in other parts of Synergy Health have overseen the development of a high quality, textile laundering service business. The Synergy Health business demands the very highest levels of input performance from all its suppliers. From its own corporate philosophy, Synergy Health sets out to meet and exceed its own customers’ expectations wherever they are. From my instructive visit to Dunstable and from my conversation with Derek Isles, MD, there is no doubt in my mind that this laundry business sets a benchmark for consistent performance, which others would do well to even attempt to emulate in their own customer offerings. The processing quality and the calm efficiency with which I observed the staff performing their allotted tasks, gave an over-riding impression of dedicated commitment to the task in hand at Synergy Health Laundry in Dunstable. To deliver very high performance in operational and service support, it seems to me that Kannegiesser and their many colleagues in the supply chain of equipment and systems which come together to assist Synergy in its daily processing tasks, are good examples of all that is best in an outsourcing success story. This is a very effective laundry, operating to the highest standards, making good use of excellent machinery, systems, chemicals and trucks. In addition, in the end demonstrating, that comprehensive outsourcing to other professional suppliers is a model for business efficiency and continuous growth in revenues.

November 2012 LCT 15

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