Whether in a traditional coin-op laundromat or an industrial textile cleaning application, hot water—and plenty of it—is the number one consideration. Limit the supply or lower the temperature, and profitability goes right down the drain.
“In the laundry or textile cleaning industry, there’s a simple formula, so to speak,” said Trent Dodson, co-owner of Oklahoma Textile. “There are four inputs needed to get clean material; Temperature, time, chemicals and mechanical action. If you’re lacking one of these, you’ll need to make up for it with another.”
Dodson’s industrial textile cleaning company serves 40 clients in the greater Oklahoma City area. They’ve carved their niche by focusing on relatively few, but large, customers with an unconditional focus on quality and timeliness.
“We’ve cherry picked what we consider to be the very best clients in the area,” continued Dodson. “Casinos, hospitals, housekeeping services and a few restaurants make up the lion’s share of our business. Limiting the number of patrons lets us maintain rigid quality control, and as such, we’re blessed to have a solid report.”
But maintaining the stellar reputation hasn’t been easy. Along the way, he and his business partner, Mark Boen, have battled everything from tornados to underachieving water heaters.
As a startup company in 2009, the initial investment for all inventory, an industrial washer-extractor and a dryer to match was colossal, leaving little capital for supporting equipment like vehicles and water heaters. At the time, the company purchased two, 80 MBH, 50-gallon, tank-style water heaters to supply all the hot water for the huge, stainless steel washer.
While hardly suitable to begin with, the tank-style water heaters became grossly inadequate as OK Textile’s client base grew. The company was hobbled by two-and-a-half-hour wash cycles, a direct result of insufficient hot water volume and temperature. Dodson and Boen worked six or seven days each week to meet demand. In addition, they were compensating for lower water temperatures with heavier detergent use, which took a painful bite out of their profit margin.
By late 2011, the existing setup was inhibiting the company’s growth, and Truman Plumbing was hired to fix the issue.
“They needed hotter water and a lot more of it,” said Les Haugeto, owner of Truman’s. “Based on prior experience with high-efficiency Navien tankless water heaters, I suggested they seriously consider a cascading, multiple-unit approach. We talked about the cycle times they were looking to get from their washer-extractor, and designed a new system accordingly.”
Two steps forward
Incoming water temperatures in Oklahoma can fluctuate between 45°F and 70°F depending on the season, and different wash materials require different hot water temperatures, in some cases 180°F. On average, the washer’s initial fill took eight minutes when supplied by the tank-style water heaters, not to mention a torturously long regeneration cycle after they’d been depleted.
At the time, Haugeto installed three Navien NP-240s, the precursor to the NPE-240, which boasts a 199 MBH input, 10-1 turndown and Energy Star- rated 97 percent thermal efficiency. Depending on the time of year, the three units combined were capable of providing between 6.6 and 10.8 GPM to the washer, with a water temperature of 182°F.
The washer’s initial fill time hadn’t changed much because the building was only equipped with a ¾-inch water line. But cycle times had plummeted because hot water was always on tap. Considering that the washer may dump and refill as many as 10 times in a cycle, the difference was staggering.
“As a result of installing the three Navien units, our natural gas consumption decreased slightly, while production and profitability soared,” explained Dodson. “Our water and sewer bills fell as a result of using less water volume, labor hours dropped and electric bills shrunk as a result of shorter wash cycles and fewer hours spent in the building. Most importantly, we cut our chemical use in half, which is a huge deal.”
The water heaters were plumbed in series and vented through common, six-inch schedule 40 PVC pipe, allowing Haugeto to make only two sidewall penetrations. Additional NPE units could easily be added to the system if more washing machines were needed in the future.
Oklahoma Textile used their new flexibility and expanded capacity to gain new customers. The company was on a superhighway to growth and success. But, all that momentum halted abruptly on May 20th, 2013.
Three steps back
That spring day started like all others. At noon the skies darkened and by 4:00 PM, a category F5 tornado had freight-trained its way across a 17-mile strip of the densely-populated OKC suburb of Moore, leaving a mile-wide swath of absolute devastation in its wake. Countless homes were leveled flat. Two brick schools were toppled, cars literally thrown through brick walls. Millions of square feet of industrial space had been diminished to rubble, OK Textile included.
“We immediately started looking for new industrial space to rent,” said Dodson. “We got very lucky and found an appropriate building a few weeks later, bought new equipment and called Truman Plumbing again. That whole process took six weeks. Three nearby cleaning outfits graciously served out clients in the meantime.”
“The new hot water system we enjoyed for a brief time at the old facility solved a laundry list of issues,” he continued. “It was an absolute game changer, so we wanted to expand on it for the new, bigger building.”
This time around, a larger water supply line from the street – now two-inch– meant the ability to run a larger washer, or even a second one. When Haugeto arrived, he had five Navien NPE-240 water heaters in the truck. They’re now lined up like soldiers against the back wall, piped and plumbed together, not taking up any precious floor space.
“The NPE-240A, which we used here, has integrated cascading controls,” said Haugeto. “During the install, all I need to do is run a small communication wire from unit to unit and they’ll modulate only as high as needed to meet the call for hot water. In effect, OK Textile has a system that can provide 50 stages of input.”
“Every dark cloud, even a 300 MPH vortex, can have a silver lining,” said Dodson. “We’re now capable of making more hot water than the new washer can use. Average fill times are down to two minutes, and there’s seemingly no limit to the amount of hot water. With the Navien water heaters, we’re cleaning twice as much material in three days than we used to do in six days with the old tank style units. And we’re doing it better and more profitably.”
Dodson and Boen are happy with where the business is today, but they’re always looking ahead. The goal is to add a second washer to the current facility, and with it, two more NPE water heaters. In six years, they’d like to own a larger building and larger washers.
“We’ve gone through this twice now, so I think we have it figured out,” said Dodson. “When we move for the last time, Haugeto will do the plumbing work. His professionalism and final product are unparalleled. Working with him is one part of what allows our customers to say the same about us.”