A Touchless Processes for Laundry & Dry-Cleaning Business

Chicago-based laundry company leverages Zebra RFID Technology to boost safety for customers and employees, while adding efficiencies and accountability to service.

Since 2007, the Kimbark Laundry & Dry Cleaning has done exactly what its name suggests – dry cleaning and laundering uniforms and clothing for commercial businesses, hair salons, a variety of local medical practitioners, hospitals, and government agencies. For nine of its first ten years, the company worked in much the same way that any local dry cleaner might, just at a larger scale.

The company’s owner, Darryl Crawford, has a history of driving innovation inside and outside of the industry, including almost 20 years working as an IT consultant on massive networking projects. Crawford wanted to use his expertise to drive the company’s next phase of modernisation.

Having already improved the laundry company’s network, point-of-sale terminals, and lockers for easy pickup and drop off, Crawford started thinking about methods to improve inventory tracking and making workflows more efficient. These ideas would ultimately prove to be more important than originally envisioned.

Enhancing Tracking and Workflows

When a few healthcare customers started losing scrubs, garment tracking became a big opportunity for improvement. Although the company wasn’t as fault, Kimbark Laundry needed a way to show the number of garments leaving the customer site was the sam as the number returned to the customer site. Manual counts were not viewed as reliable by customers and often dded up to 45 minutes to garment processing workflows.

“We needed to create a fast, auditable chain of custody, showing garments weren’t going missing from our workflow,” Crawford says. “Otherwise, we’d be focused to reimburse customers for lost items, representing an ongoing cost for a problem that we have no control over.

Medical practitioner uniforms such as soiled scrubs from coroners and mortuaries, representing a potential health hazard, also pushed the company to investigate touches workflows. This would minimise the amount of contact with potentially contaminated garments while automating the counting process.

To address these challengers, Kimbark Laundry wanted to embed customer uniforms, scrubs, and patient gowns with RFID tracking tags. To kick off its project, Kimbark Laundry reached out to a Zebra Partner, to find a complete RFID solution that worked for its unique needs.

Tracking Soft Goods in Seconds

Criteria put forward to the Zebra Partner led Kimbark Laundry to leverage Zebra’s RFD8500 RFID solution. The integrated platform enables users to instantly scan, count, and track assets from a distance as garments get picked up, cleaned and returned. The combination solution from Zebra and its partner was easy to deploy, learn and use, cutting through possible roadblocks for adoption.

Choosing to embed soft goods with tracking tags created several process improvements for Kimbark Laundry. “Instead of spending nearly an hour counting a bag of laundry by hand, workers can simply scan it and get accurate count in just a few seconds,” Crawford says. Most importantly, workers don’t have to touch potentially contaminated clothing.

“We wash garments at 170ºF to help ensure garments are truly clean and safe, requiring an RFID solution that was waterproof and withstood high temperatures,” Crawford says. “We also needed a scanner that could quickly and accurately scan garments through several layers of fabric. Solution from Zebra and its partner exceeded these expectations.”

As clothes are received, cleaned, and returned, the Zebra RFID scanner feeds reporting software from Zebra’s partner, so managers have a clear view into where garments are at every step. Additionally, the cleaners can report back to customers if there are any discrepancies between what was picked up and cleaned versus what customers claimed. This updated process helps Kimbark Laundry avoid the added cost of reimbursements for lost garments and provides customers clear insight into where garments were actually lost on their end.

Scaling Rapidly in the Face of COVID-19

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Kimbark Laundry had recently completed its RFID Transformation. In addition to efficiencies gained and cost savings achieved, the benefit of having employees minimise contact with the garments became even more apparent. Healthcare organisations are placing a greater premium on laundry vendors that can safety clean potentially infected garments, as well as help ensure the health and safety of their front-line workers.

Kimbark Laundry was well positioned to address its customers’ concerns. At the same time, the company demonstrated the ability to accept increased demand without disruption.

The laundry began servicing more work – nearly double. Added efficiencies and improved safety protocols helped Kimbark attract new customers, including government agencies partnering with hospitals during the pandemic, giving revenues an addition lift.

The RFID tracking process also offered an unexpected value add for healthcare customers. A software provided insight on how many times an individual garment had been washed, helping hospitals understand how often to replace garments, uniforms and bed linens in accordance with safety guidelines.

Continuing to Innovate

 

Kimbark Laundry is working with its customers to develop even more sophisticated asset-tracking solutions that leverage RFID technology to help them mitigate inventory shrinkage. For example, by placing an RFID scanner in a uniform closet and then tagging uniforms, a business can understand how often each uniform is being worn and then help ensure each uniform makes it into the hamper.

“It’s important for hospitals to know where all of their assets are – including what size scrubs are available on which floor and in which closets,” Crawford says. “We’re starting to develop solutions using RFID technologies that can deliver real-time information and create impactful visibility for healthcare workers.”

While the actual method of cleaning soft goods hasn’t changed, modernising the process with RFID technology from Zebra and its partner has dramatically changed the experience, creating benefits for both customers and workers alike.

 

Article Credit: https://www.zebra.com/content/dam/zebra_new_ia/en-us/solutions-verticals/vertical-solutions/retail/success-stories/retail-success-story-kimbark-en-us.pdf