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Narayanan Raghavan, Director, Linen Rental Services India Pvt. Ltd.

When it comes to processing close to 435 tonnes of linen per day for the Indian Railways, the complexity of washing, finishing and delivering clean linen to its users gets rather challenging. Moreover, the additional task of procuring and maintaining linen inventory in such large quantities is equally daunting. On the other hand, in a rental model, “we as service providers take the responsibility of managing the linen inventory, washing and then delivering it to the users,” says Narayanan Raghavan, Director, Linen Rental Services India Pvt. Ltd.

Cotton vs Tencel

Beginning with the linen inventory, which is largely cotton, here are some observations:

  • The price of cotton is skyrocketing
  • 100% cotton cannot resist E. coli virus, even after being laundered for a longer duration

The Dr Linen brand, which evolved during the pandemic, is a mix of Tencel fibres integrated with cotton fibres. Here are its characteristics:

  • Tensile as a fibre is 100% sustainable
  • It supports antimicrobial features
  • Gives the required comfort to its user
  • Uses lesser amount of water for washing
  • Has a longer life than cotton, as a raw material

Logistics & Washing

Commercial laundries processing large amounts of linen are located in remote places, thus, requiring longer durations to be transported to and from the nearest major linen depot. Linen, especially cotton, requires enough time to breathe once washed. But the high churn out requirement and the hurry to reach the linen back to users, curtails the life of the linen.

So how do you minimise the movement of linen from the laundry to the Central Depot or stations where the linen gets distributed onto the trains?

Let us consider the novel concept of ‘laundry on wheels’, where clean linen is made available to passengers at any point during the journey. Why not build a laundry of decent capacity inside a 20 or 40 feet container that can be placed at stations? It will operate 24×7 so that any soiled linen coming out of the train at that station can be sent to such a laundry facility closer to the station. This way, not much inventory needs to be maintained at one place. The turnaround time is faster. Washed linen gets enough time to breathe after being processed. Hence, the life of the linen can be extended too.

Similarly, polyester blended blankets – which presently get washed infrequently and take longer to wash – could be replaced with Tencel-blended cotton which can breathe and get washed faster, using less water.

Linen Tracking

Counting, maintaining inventory and keeping track of the railway linen being distributed from multiple areas is a mammoth task. This can be easily simplified with IoT devices that can be used along with linen to make the work easier for the operations team of the Indian Railways. In hotels, we have systems in place where the RFID tags, once attached to an item of linen, can be tracked for the minutest details like the number of washes it has undergone.

Covid-free pillow

While pillows cover are washed after every journey, what about the pillows inside? It can be argued that of all components of passenger linen, this comes into the closest contact of a passenger; not cleaning it after every use exposes the next passenger to health risks.

The uniqueness of the Covid-free pillow is that it does not require washing. The pillow’s Pneumapure filter takes the fresh air inside – blocking the entry of pathogens – and releases the old air outside. The pillow is welded shut on all sides so that no dust mites, bacteria or fungus can get into it. The pillows only require a wrapper pillowcase to be replaced with every new user. Hence, the user gets a cleaner and fresh pillow every time he or she travels on the train.

Sustainability

End-of-life line or stained linen, which is discarded, amounts to hundreds of tonnes of fabric which can be shredded to fibres.

In a model of textile circularity, this can be added to the raw material while producing new linen, which can get into operations again. This is a cost-effective as well as an environmentally friendly solution.

Digitalisation

Presently, the linen required for commuters is being carried from the originating station, for both the up and down journeys.

In some cases, it may take two-and-a-half or three days to conclude the journey in just one direction; both the washed and used linen end up remaining on board for six days at a stretch.

Used linen remains unwashed for longer than advisable, and washed linen loses its freshness when stored with use for days at a stretch.

As a solution, four to five stations along the way could be identified for offloading used linen and on boarding fresh linen. This presents its own challenges, as only a few minutes are available during each halt, when used linen can be replaced with fresh linen. As the number of AC coaches in trains increases, the quantum of passenger linen, and the number of such exchange points also rises to formidable numbers.

What is needed is a digital solution that will connect all the service providers along a train’s route, spread across different points on the route. This digital platform will provide all information from inventory to delivery, and all the processes in between. At any given point in time, real time data will
be available.

The digital platform will indicate how much stock is required and in which coach, how much used linen needs to be offloaded from where and so on. This information can be analysed from the railway booking system, which already has the data on where a large group of passengers will board and alight.

Linen packs can thus be kept ready along the route, rather than just at the originating station.

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