Laundry services are not glamorous, but are essential. Dealing with hundreds of thousands tablecloths and uniforms on a daily basis has been a commitment for New China Laundry for four decades.
Hong Kong-based NCL provides linen and uniform laundry services for more than 200 premier hotels, restaurants, club houses and organizations, including Hong Kong Disneyland (HK Disney).
"Commercial laundry is not an edgy industry," said Wilson Yuen, assistant GM, operations, NCL. "But being part of a major conglomerate, it's our corporate culture to pursue excellence and innovation."
From linen to innovation
A previous subsidiary of NWS Holdings, and currently part of conglomerate Fung Seng Enterprises, NCL leverages technology to achieve operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.
During the past 10 years, Yuen said the firm has committed to different IT initiatives, including an electronic invoicing system, a biometric security and staff management system, and a GPS—based truck tracking system. The assistant GM said the most transformative and challenging project is the company's latest RFID initiative.
A search for tags
NCL staff handles over 10,000 laundry items daily for HK Disney. Previously, staff manually counted each item—whether soiled or clean—before entering data into their billing systems. This tedious process introduced multiple errors.
The company began exploring technologies to automate the counting and billing process—and track laundry items—in 2005. "It's a challenge for us to identify personalized uniforms when our customers' clothing only has traditional non-specific embroidery tags," he said.
NCL handles laundry based on the locations where it's collected. Yuen said when restaurant staff are assigned to work at different outlets, their cleaned personalized uniforms are also moved to the new locale, further complicates NCL's task of tracing individual items.
To raise customer satisfaction, enhance traceability, and improve efficiency, NCL identified RFID. But finding the right RFID tags to be proved difficult.
Although many tag-suppliers claimed their RFID tags were durable, Yuen said they could not survive regular laundry processes. Industrial-grade tags should tolerate 100 washing cycles and steam-iron temperatures of up to 140oC.
"We've tried many different tags with protective wrappers," said Yuen, "but some wrappers were so flimsy that the entire tag inflated like a balloon from the heat of the steam iron!"
Positive results appeared when NCL started working with HK Disney. The iconic theme park planned to manage its massive volume of costumes with RFID, and its partnership allows NCL to access Fujitsu's RFID tags.
"We worked very closely with Fujitsu and HK Disney to test these tags and identify the best readable tag placement," said Yuen.
After more than three years of implementations, the result was satisfactory. Yuen said NCL has built a closer relationship with its customer and it is also able to save 15% of labor cost from the previous manual process.
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