By Tanya Olckers with technical contributions by Franco Habib of Allsteam Engineering cc

How do you save water in a hospital laundry? Get it done with steam. Edenvale Hospital in Gauteng has just installed a new steam system in their laundry.

The electrical control box.

The electrical control box. All images supplied by Allsteam Engineering cc

Laundry day blues: there is a wash basket stuffed with dirty clothes and the linen needs to be washed as well. It’s a nightmare. However, our domestic laundry challenges are nothing when compared to that of a public hospital that not only has to take care of its own laundry, but the laundry of several other hospitals on the East Rand.

Clean laundry in any hospital is vital to a patient’s well-being, as well as the health of the staff who work there. Superbugs such as vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE) and Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can survive in an unclean laundry for up to three months. Because these bacteria are antibiotic resistant, contact with them has to be eliminated or greatly reduced for the health of anyone coming into contact with linens, clothing or other items that may have been exposed to them.

Sheets don’t just have to be clean and hygienic – they need to be sanitised. As you can imagine, that takes a lot of water. How can you manage to provide sanitised laundry while also providing an efficient way to conserve water in a country that is water scarce? Franco Habib from Allsteam Engineering, in a joint venture with Mbali Solutions and Dalow Engineering, has been involved with the installation of a brand-new steam laundry system at Gauteng’s Edenvale Hospital.

The hospital currently uses a series of washers that can take 100kg of linen. Each washer uses around 200ℓ per wash, on a 45-minute running cycle.

“The new Lavatec tunnel washer we have installed washes 50 kilograms every two minutes, and will use 200ℓ over eight washes,” Habib explains. Edenvale Hospital has relied on industrial washers, dryers and ironing stations to get not only its laundry clean, but that of other hospitals in Gauteng. This is the very first steam tunnel washer installed at this laundry.

“Many hospitals run on 75% steam as electrical supply may not be sufficient to drive all their needs,” Habib says.

The giant tunnel batch washer has eight compartments, each responsible for different parts of the wash. Effectively, the machine can wash 400kg with the same amount of water that the hospital currently uses for one wash, and it can do the wash in just under 26 minutes. The entire system was custom designed and built specifically for Edenvale Hospital, with the components coming from Belgium while design was taken care of in Belgium and Germany. “Logistics and manufacturing time was really our biggest challenge,” says Habib. However, once the parts landed in South Africa, it was all systems go for the Joint venture.

Tanks containing the detergents.

Tanks containing the detergents.

The linen starts off on a conveyer belt which has a built in scale that measures it out into 50kg batches. They then travel along into a shoot that opens into the tunnel washer itself. Water and detergent are added to the wash, and while in the machine, the linen travels through the eight chambers as a screw conveyer with a 1.4m diameter oscillates as it cleans. Each oscillation lasts for two minutes. When the linen is done, the corkscrew shaped oscillator takes a full rotation to push the linen out. It is a continuous washing system.

The system also allows for the recycling of water. The water used in the rinsing and softening process is fed back into the three washing processes. Water from the first three batches – the washing process – is then disposed of down a waste drain. This aids the continuous washing system – keeping the machine constantly cleaning linen. The water used to clean the laundry is heated to between 85 and 90°C. This is to ensure that the laundry is both cleaned and sterilised.

Once the excess water is squeezed out of the linen by a pneumatic press, the linen is then placed on a hydraulic ramp and fed into one of three drying machines. These dryers work on steam, reaching temperatures of up to 170°C for around 15 minutes. Again, these high temperatures aid in sterilising the linen. Excess steam is released through exhaust air stacks that release the steam out into the open air. The dryers are equipped with lint filters that trap any fluff that comes off the linen. These are pulled out of the dryers via a vacuum system. From here, the linen is taken to a Dapauw ironing station that takes the sheets through a set of rollers where they are ironed.

“This whole system is fully automated,” says Habib, “however we will still need to train and upskill operators to take care of some of the tasks.” The laundry runs in two shifts, with a total of three operators per shift on the CBW and a total of five people per shift on the dryer line.

Ultimately, the installation will ensure that water is saved. The steam driven set up will also aid in the efficiency of the laundry, allowing for the linen from other hospitals to be more easily accommodated.