Pads and Covers


Pads and Covers on Laundry equipment are very much misunderstood, so I thought that we should talk about them this month.


Whenever I visit a plant, there is about a 90% chance that my client and I have a conversation that goes something like this:


Client:  What causes this kind of wrinkle (or pressing flaw)?

Me:  Your pads (or your steel mesh) need to be replaced.

Client:  But I just changed these.

Me:  Its time to replace them again.


Sorry about that.  Pads and covers don’t last as long as you think.  But, if you do the arithmetic, you will find that the cost of pads and covers adds very little to the cost of shirts.


There is no doubt in my mind that the questions most often asked of me concern pads and covers.  A few months ago I received a memorable telephone call.  A man described to me, press quality issues that were clearly caused by poor padding. He added this, “My supplier said that I need to replace the steel mesh.”  I told him that it sounded as though his supplier was right.  He was disappointed.  Apparently his supplier also told him how much it would cost to replace all of this.  This man was obviously looking for an easy way out and felt certain that his distributor rep was trying to sell him hundreds of dollars worth of unnecessary things.  I asked him if he had ever replaced the steel on his equipment.  He said no.  I asked him if he bought the equipment new.  He said yes.  I asked him how old the equipment was and he told me that it was six and a half years old.


If you’re reading this and you didn’t just fall out of your chair, then perhaps you need to be reminded as well, that the steel mesh, although quite durable, needs to be replaced on a regular basis.  I think that some folks, certainly among them, this man with the 6 ½ year old steel, think that this steel mesh is not so much a part of the padding as it is a part of the chassis of the press.  Not so. It is actually a key part of the padding ensemble.  How long does it last?   Well, I refuse to be specific.  I have seen factory fresh equipment with steel that is no good.  Granted, this is an exception, but I will tell you this, if your steel is 2 years old, it should probably be replaced.


The cost to replace these covers should be built into your supplies cost budget.  And, you should order them like you order supplies – always have more in the stock room.


About wear and tear:

Humm, wear and tear – interesting words for this subject.  Generally, covers are replaced when they are “worn and torn” but this is not the best practice.  Typically, one of the side bags on the body press is found to have a split in it.  The typical shirt launderer sees that as an indicator that tells him/her that its time to replace the pads and covers.  A new cover is promptly ordered.  Good for you, except for 4 things.

  1. I can’t tell you how many times I am the one that finds the split in the side bag.  I’ll bet that 1/3 or ½ of the plants that I visit have perforated, torn or split bags and no one notices it until I point it out. Therefore, you only get points for finding the split bag if you also checked them yesterday and it was NOT split then.
  2. The cover should be in stock, ready for immediate replacement.  If you order it from the catalog, you may get the cover in a couple of days. If you order it from your local distributor it may be sooner or later.  Later if he doesn’t have it in stock, but at any rate, it’ll be several hundred shirts before the new covers get on the bucks.
  3. When your new covers arrive, you’ll kick the box out of your way about 5 times and when Saturday comes, you’ll change the covers on the body press.  Perhaps there have been 2000 shirts pressed since you discovered that they needed replacing.
  4. A split in the bag (or a hole in the cover) is not a proper indicator that the pads and/or covers are spent.


For this first example, let’s say that you have a full single-buck unit and your pads and covers necessities consist of the following: 1) Steel mesh for the body unit, 2) combined pad and cover for the body unit, 3) Steel for the triple head, as well as 4) a roll of padding and 5) a roll of cover material.  The sleeve press has but one item – 6) covers and bags in one piece. Six separate items.  If I suggest that you buy all of this stuff to keep on the shelves in your stock room, you won’t do it.  You may find that the cost is prohibitive.  However, you will have to buy all of it eventually and probably at the worse possible moment; therefore I suggest that you begin stockpiling these 6 items in your stock room today.  If money is tight, order/buy them using a direct proportion of cost vs. current cash flow.  If it’s the busiest time of year (for me, in my part of the country, that was October), then buy the steel mesh for the body press.  If it’s the slowest time of year, buy the least expensive item for the shelf. I guess that that is the roll of Nomex® for the Collar & Cuff press.  Now take a few minutes to decide, using the cost vs. income proportion, what you’ll need to buy over the next several months.


There is a good chance, of course, that during the month that you had scheduled to buy, say, steel mesh for the Collar & Cuff press, you need to replace the bags on your sleever. That’s okay.  Simply defer the purchase of the steel until either the next month or until the next month that has similar cash flow, depending upon when you expect to actually need to use that item.


I don’t need to go on about how you’ll manage to get all of these items in stock because everyone’s situation will be different.  You don’t have to do it gradually, the idea is to simply have anything that you could possibly need, in stock and immediately available whenever you need them. Now let’s figure out when you’ll need them.


I wish that it was easy to say when covers, pads and steel need replacing.  It should be easy, but because the real answer doesn’t seem to apply in the real world, the correct answer appears vague and standoffish: Replace the pads and covers when the press quality deteriorates or when shirts no longer dry completely in the usual time.  That’s really all there is to it, but in real life, we consider so many variables and perhaps rightly so, when “press quality deteriorates.”  I can tell you that when you have what I call “crow’s feet” wrinkles by the yoke seams; your pads and/or your steel mesh need to be replaced – UNLESS – you have low air pressure.  In fact, if you have low air pressure, you can simulate almost any shirt pressing malady there is, from the “rough dry” look to bizarre wrinkles to undressed sides to damp shirts.  You name it (almost).  We can also conclude that poor pressing is the pressers fault.  This may be a proper conclusion, but it may also be an improper one. We will think little of throwing an extra body into the shirt department to do touch-up at a cost of $50-$75 per day, but procrastinate when it comes to changing pads that will cost very little per day.  We will wait until the cover has a hole in it or the bags are split before we even think about changing pads and covers.  If and when that doesn’t work we don’t consider the steel mesh.  We blame the presser, or the equipment.  That just might be a very costly move.


And speaking of costly moves, the timers on the machines should not ever need to be adjusted, but they are often set at higher settings that the factory recommends.  Why? Because spent pads will not dry the shirts as quickly as newer ones.  Somewhere along the line, a shirt didn’t dry properly so the timer setting was increased. In many cases, this limits shirts per hour production forever!  The cost of that could easily run into thousands of dollars in unnecessary labor over time.  If Jane is used to pressing at a rate that is somewhat dictated by the body press timer set at 25 seconds, you should not expect that she will press 10% faster (55 shirts per hour instead of 50) if you turned down the timer to 22 seconds.  This is why trying to make your pads last longer by simply adjusting the timer – lengthening the time as the pads wear – will not yield favorable results.  Your pressers will adapt to a particular rate, as you surely know, and that rate will not be quickly and regularly adjustable by changing timer settings. You can fix it by changing the pads this week rather than waiting for the covers to be porous next month.  Then maintain that level by always changing the materials before they are visibly worn. Feel free to set the timer where it should be and hope that, over time, your presser will adjust.  At least you can be sure that she/he won’t be waiting on the machine.


Every time that you change a cover, write the date that you do it on the cover using a black marker in an area that doesn’t get direct head pressure.  Then keep an accurate count of how many shirts that you press with these covers.  You will find it surprisingly predictable.  Let’s say, just for illustration, that you do just about 20,000 shirts during the time between your purchases of body press covers.  It should be fairly simple to research; check your supply invoices for last year.  Now, in the future, change the pads and covers after you’ve done 19000 shirts – they will surely look worn, but not torn.  This will help to assure that you don’t produce inferior quality at the end of your covers’ life.


The only reason to delay replacing pads and covers must be to save money.  Do you think that it does?  Let’s prove or disprove that now.  First, let’s make some assumptions for this example:


You do 2500 shirts per week on your single buck shirt unit

The unit is purchased new and will last 12 years – pressing 1,560,000 shirts

The pads and covers will last about 20,000 shirts (don’t quote me on this) – 78 sets during its life.

A complete set of all the pads and covers for your units cost $175


This means that pad and cover cost, over the life of the shirt unit, is $13,650 ($175 x 78 sets). Forget about rising prices and the changing value of money for a minute as this is not relevant to my point.  The cost of pads and covers, on a per shirt basis is .00875 – a hair over ¾ of a cent.


Now, suppose that you do like many others do and don’t change pads and covers regularly, just when it’s already a bit too late.  You notice split air bags on Monday (you press 700 shirts) and order them immediately, they ship Tuesday (700 more shirts) and you get them on Wednesday (you press 500 shirts).  On Thursday and Friday, you press a total of 600 more shirts while you kick the box out of your way, deferring their installing until Saturday.  Because I think that it’s safe to assume that you won’t replace the pads and covers 1 week early, next time, we can deduce that this practice – euphemistically referred to as “deferred maintenance,” – will theoretically mean that you will need only 69 sets of replacements over 12 years because you have made the cover “last” 22,500 shirts.  Follow me so far?

You have, theoretically, reduced your pads & covers cost from $13,650 to $12,075 over 12 years. $1575 savings over 12 years – that is $10.94 a month – 36 cents a day – or 2/10 of 1 cent per shirt.


Now surely, everyone will agree that this is hardly a savings, but I will argue that your costs have actually gone up – astronomically by comparison.  Here’s why:


During that week that at least some of your pads and/or covers are spent, we can be certain that the quality of your shirts off the press is sub-standard.  We will assume that you will do some sort of touch-up that will either add additional people to the shirt department, add labor hours at the end of the day or decrease production.  Since we are only talking about 36 cents a day in “savings” on pads and covers, if we spend more than that in extra labor dollars that day, we have negated our savings, right?


It takes about 3 minutes to use 36 cents in labor. (If you’ve been following my mathematics carefully, you will realize that in order to truly negate the “savings” on pads and covers, you will need to be adding an average of 3 minutes per day, everyday. That still makes plenty of sense to me.)


Unless, you are certain that the condition of the airbags (for instance) has no effect on quality whatsoever, you must agree that pressing with them is counter-productive. The worst case scenario is if you come to realize that your touch-up people wouldn’t even be needed if the pads and covers were always fairly new and that these touch-up people only exist on your staff for the time when one or more of your machines is in need to some type of maintenance.  What is cheaper?  Pads and covers?  Or labor hours?