Case Studies

Squeaky cLEAN


“Earlier this year, we took a bold step to embark on a journey of ‘Business Excellence,‘” by piloting a LEAN program within our laundry division. The results were amazing and confirmed our belief that the LEAN principles applied at Ford, Toyota, and GE can also support better outcomes and greater customer value in laundry operations.”

– Steve Carpenter President, Crothall Healthcare 


Every one of our processes must be challenged to improve the customer experience. While our utilization of the Six Sigma strategy was designed to reduce rework at the end of the process, LEAN is a philosophy that identifies waste within the process itself...long before the final outcome. Crothall Laundry Services (CLS) applied these disciplines in our cLEAN initiative—looking at our processes from the customer’s perspective: What brings value to Crothall Laundry customers? 

In our very first application of cLEAN, we were able to redeploy six people to balance flow and address bottlenecks in other areas. It’s a simple story that pays tremendous dividends. 


The decision to pursue the cLEAN program within CLS was fueled by a desire to add value for our clients. CLS is committed to delivering customer orders on time and in-full, with zero defects. 

cLEAN provides a framework for improvement by educating and empowering employees to drive excellence. The passion of our people drives them to find ways to do things faster, better, and with more accuracy. Waste can come in many forms—from items that are thrown away because of wear or soil, to work that is done more than once. 

“cLEAN is not about reducing staff or trimming payroll,” emphasized Laundry Director Umesh Vendargon. “It’s a culture of exceeding customer expectations by increasing productivity, and retraining or redeploying staff to support better outcomes.“ 


CLS’s initial cLEAN pilot took place at the Chicago plant, which produces about 80 million pounds of laundry each year.

The process began with an exercise known as value stream mapping (VSM). Essentially, this involves taking an item, like a bed sheet or a patient gown, and following it along its path through the laundering process. How many people touch it along the way? Are there any steps that do not add value to the customer? And finally, measuring each step. 

To create a VSM, CLS had help from business partner Total Insight. CLS also brought in the operations team and department heads at the plant and got input from the people who actually work on the floors. 

“In order to be successful, change must be simple to understand and easier to perform for the operator,” said Vendargon. 


The VSM exercise in Chicago uncovered some key areas where staff could focus their improvement efforts. In LEAN philosophy, these targeted exercises are referred to as “kaizen events.” 

For example, mapping revealed that customer items were handled twice during the packout: once to remove items from the conveyor belt and put them into designated carts (organized by item), and again to place items onto customers’ carts in order to fill specific orders. This process had packers travelling back and forth to find the different items they needed—sometimes traveling 125 steps for one cart! 

The team experimented with having packers pick items directly from the conveyor belt, eliminating the role of “cart builders” and leaving only “order builders.” This reduced the distance travelled to fill customer orders by 48%, cut the times that items are handled down to one, and allowed more time to fill customer orders. 

Production flow is now smoother, and there is more floor space, which allows the team to focus on quality and safety and gives supervisors better visibility so they can see if more (or less) stock is needed, or if problems arise. 

Catching problems early saves costs later. Also, reducing the number of times items are handled makes the process inherently safer, as well as more efficient. The less pounds that are lifted, the less chance of a problem or injury, noted Graham Skinner, Crothall General Manager at Mission in North Carolina, who has been active with the cLEAN initiative. Similarly, the less frequently items are handled, the better they look (and thereby the higher the quality) when they are received by the customer.  

“ Everyone’s involvement allowed the process to be more successful and generate additional ideas for improvement in the future.”

– Chris Hansen, General Manager, CLS-Chicago


With so much success in Chicago, the Crothall cLEAN team visited the laundry facility in Birmingham, Alabama, next. There, the VSM exercise focused on business processes, instead of production, and took a closer look at Birmingham’s role as a distribution center for Crothall’s laundry facility in Rome, Georgia. 

VSM identified changes that can now be implemented to streamline processes, improve communication between the two laundry facilities, and ultimately enhance the service provided to customers. 

Looking ahead, Crothall has set its sights on bringing cLEAN concepts to all of its laundry facilities. 

Rather than viewing this as an isolated undertaking, the cLEAN initiative is viewed as a way to support Crothall’s culture of excellence and answer our customers’ needs. 

“You try to develop a culture where people start to think, ’How can I make this easier, better, safer?’” said Skinner.