Viennese laundry service company uses SICK’s 2D machine vision solution to create an automated laundry system

Loading, washing, unloading, drying, ironing. Rinse and repeat. It’s an endless cycle in the laundry business. The cleaning professionals at Rosa Toifl in Vienna, Austria are constantly picking up, cleaning, and drying laundry. Their jobs are made easier thanks to state-of-the-art technology that SICK and Rosa Toifl developed together, a tailored sensor solution for sorting different textiles.

Tons of laundry are picked up, cleaned, dried and returned again each day.

The company Toifl Textilpflege has dedicated itself to the high quality cleaning and care of textiles since 1954.

“We place great importance on careful handling, hygiene, and an immaculate appearance,” said Jakob Müller-Hartburg, Executive Assistant at Rosa Toifl & Co. “We have a broad spectrum of customers in terms of textiles and industries, from hospitality to the hotel industry and even the hospital and health care sector.”

The entire laundry process takes place on a very different scale in a professional setting such as Rosa Toifl in Vienna. Around 55 tons of laundry goes in and out of the facility each day which requires  great organization skills and a reliable technical solution. Getting the logistics and automation right is essential and that’s made possible by a 2D machine vision solution from SICK that sorts the laundry automatically. This can be a challenge because may of the hand towels are similar, but each of them have a different pattern making the sorting process trickier.

The Journey of Laundry

The processes on the four floors at Rosa Toifl are complex. The delivered laundry first needs to be transported to one of the top floors and presorted into bags, which are then transferred to a bag storage system. At the appropriate time, the bags are automatically transported onwards into the washing machines.

Once the laundry is clean it is transported to the dryers via a conveyor system. In the case of hand towels, these are dried fully, unloaded automatically and then folded and prepared for delivery.

“All of these paths need to be ‘cleanly’ implemented, in the true sense of the word, both logistically and technically – floor by floor,” Müller-Hartburg said. One hurdle is the consistent color that is found within all the laundry. To solve this, an efficient solution was needed, preferably one that is full automated.

“The white laundry is a real challenge for automated sorting. Everything looks the same,” Müller-Hartburg said. “We used to have a final location where all the laundry went to so that it could be sorted one more time before dispatch. But as the volume of orders increased, we began to run out of space to do this.”

The pusher moves out at lightning speed and redirects the terry towels. The camera system and the angled lamp are installed in the sheet metal box overhead.

The pusher moves at lightning speed and redirects the terry towels. The camera system and the angled lamp are installed in the sheet metal box overhead.

Müller-Hartburg set about finding a solution with the help of the specialists at SICK and they came up with an ingenious idea.

“There are cameras that already detect all kinds of things. And if it is possible to scan surfaces, then this should also be possible with the structure of our goods. Namely, by checking the surface in detail,” Müller-Hartburg said. “A terry towel, for example, has a specific pattern, and is rougher and coarser than other textile surfaces.”

An intelligent image processing vision solution

This pattern of the material structure provided the foundation for the intelligent image processing solution from SICK.

“We will shine additional light on the laundry from an angle. This creates a shadow, based on which the irregularity of the surface can be identified as a clear pattern. The 2D image processing system can then quickly and reliably establish whether or not it is a terry towel, which will then determine what path the laundry item should take on the system,” Müller-Hartburg said.

A downstream photoelectric sensor activates the camera at the right moment.

A downstream photoelectric sensor activates the camera at the right moment. The easy to configure system was commissioned with the help of the free-of-charge, versatile SOPAS ET configuration software from SICK, which also delivers continuous real-time images to the operators. The entire evaluation of the taught-in pattern occurs onboard the Inspector Vision Toolbox, which has been perfectly designed for high speed and fast switching operations.

The versatile Vision Toolbox combines the performance of a 2D camera with the user-friendliness of an intelligent sensor without the need for additional hardware. It directly controls a valve, which in turn controls a pneumatic cylinder with a pusher. The Inspector is activated via a downstream photoelectric sensor and after classifying the shadow on the surface of the laundry stack, it issues a switching command to the valve if required. In this way the material is sorted and transported to the correct area at the end of the cleaning process where it is prepared for dispatch.

Commissioning is quick and easy using the free-of-charge SOPAS ET configuration software. It also displays the real-time images from the Inspector. The structure of the white hand towels is clearly discernible.

Commissioning is quick and easy using the free-of-charge SOPAS ET configuration software. It displays the real-time images from the Inspector making the structure of the white hand towels detectable. With 55 tons of laundry per day, system reliability is especially important. If an area of the system fails for even a short time, the laundry quickly piles up and there’s not a lot of extra space around.

“We need top quality components, reliable partners, and an exceptional team of technicians who can assist right away on-site,” Müller-Hartburg said. “We are very proud of this creative, joint solution. The flexibility and commitment of the SICK experts was fantastic. You could sense that they share our passion. The project was a real joy to work on. What a pity that it’s over, but we’ve already got some new ideas in the pipeline and the sensor systems from SICK are bound to be onboard again.”

Want to learn more about these types of vision solutions? Contact a SICK representative today?