NOVO Miami—Betting On Technology & Teamwork In A Fast-Growing Market

NOVO Miami—Betting On Technology & Teamwork In A Fast-Growing Market
Automation—coupled with innovative engineering—helps NOVO Health Services maximize throughput & efficiency

This article was originally featured in the November/December 2023 issue of Textile Services (TRSA)

To win in today’s hypercompetitive market for acute-care and outpatient healthcare textiles in South Florida, you’ve got to do two things: outperform—or at least compete effectively—with rival firms, while providing a work environment that’s more appealing than other laundries, or similar businesses competing for the same pool of labor.

These were the goals that NOVO Health Services set out to achieve in January 2022 when it opened its new 80,000-square-foot (7,432 square-meter) healthcare laundry in Miami Gardens, FL. During a recent visit to the plant located about a half an hour northwest of downtown Miami, Textile Services saw how NOVO/Miami is progressing on its production and HR goals. From the start, we were impressed with the image that the new plant projects to visitors. “When you see the facility, it’s very nice,” says Shane Ledbetter, NOVO’s Atlanta-based senior vice president of operations. “It’s brand new.” To deal with labor shortages, Ledbetter told us that a key focus of NOVO’s human resource strategy is to pay fair wages and treat staff with respect. “They do an excellent job of ensuring that the employees feel appreciated,” Ledbetter says. “And we’ve done everything we can to make the work environment as tolerable as it can be for employees.” This includes dealing with the hot temperatures endemic to South Florida. For example, during our walk-through of the plant in August, we noticed spot-cooling pipes at every workstation to help keep employees comfortable with a continuous flow of cool air.

Ground-Up Project

As for productivity, the plant features an innovative wash floor that’s designed for maximum throughput. Ledbetter notes that the plant’s two Kannegiesser tunnel washers (each with 17 240 lb. [110 kg.] compartments) are not laid out in a straight line with the dryers. When clean wet textiles emerge from the press, they go into an ETECH sling and are stored in the ceiling. The goods are staged in another queue before going to the dryers. “It’s essentially two separate operations,” he says. “Whereas almost everyone else, the moment you come out of the press, the cake is going to the dryers.” In this U-shape configuration, with dryers parallel to the tunnels, rather than at the ends, production at the soil end of the plant can continue, even if one or more of the dryers is down. “The bottleneck is typically almost always going to be your dryers,” Ledbetter says. “So we’re able to keep that pipeline of product going to the dryers. Even if we were to have a dryer outage, we don’t have to shut down soil sort.”

The plant is designed to process up to 60 million lbs. (27 million kg.) per year. NOVO has pursued a gradual production ramp up to ensure quality and on-time deliveries to customers. The plant currently is processing 120,000-140,000 lbs. (54,431-63,502 kg.) per day.

Installing efficient machinery and systems is one thing, but ramping up staffing for a new facility is a challenge for any new operation, particularly in a fast-growing market like metro Miami, where the competition for labor is fierce. Ledbetter says he’s pleased to have established—without undue stress—a quality staff of 186 people working two shifts in the plant at 4310 NW 215th St. The plant and offices take up a small share of a larger complex in an industrial park. One advantage that NOVO had in recruiting was the fact that the plant took over laundry operations for CSI, a local healthcare textile provider. When the NOVO plant opened, virtually all the CSI laundry staff transferred to the new plant. That group largely filled out the first shift. Yet NOVO managed to recruit additional staff for the new facility so that filling out the second shift wasn’t too heavy a lift. “That was the biggest issue for us,” Ledbetter says. “I mean, like I said, the first shift we kind of brought over the workforce from CSI. So having that core group, most of them going to first (shift), that’s typically what you’re always going to see.”

Oddly enough, a bigger headache with bringing the plant online was navigating the regulations required for new building projects by local permitting authorities, Ledbetter says. In this case, there were two governmental entities to deal with: Miami Gardens and Dade County. One might not think of South Florida as having such strict permitting rules for new businesses. But NOVO found that—even with guidance from its contracting partner, ARCO/Murray—that meeting these requirements was as difficult as any they’d ever faced. “The biggest challenge that we ran into, honestly, was the permitting side of it,” Ledbetter says. “We were typically—throughout the process—always ahead of the game in terms of having materials on site, physically being ready to move forward, and just waiting on the massive amount of permitting that’s required in this market, which even ARCO’s statement was that this is the most they’ve ever seen.”

While the permitting process posed a hurdle, it didn’t significantly delay the project, he adds. Mostly, it was not knowing how much information local authorities would require to keep things moving. “There were some, I wouldn’t say significant delays, but there were a number of unexpected delays that took a bit longer than we had expected,” Ledbetter says. “Typically what we were finding is it wasn’t a matter of the inspections and permits were more stringent. They weren’t coming in and saying, ‘Oh, you’ve got to fix this; change this.’ There were just more inspections, and it took longer to get through them and the time to get that permit through the different offices in the city. One of the things we found unusual is multiple permits had to go through multiple offices.” Fortunately, with ARCO/Murray’s help, NOVO overcame these challenges. “At the end of the day, with Arco pushing the ball up the hill, it didn’t cause any undue delays.”

“I think it was very beneficial to partner with someone like ARCO who had built plants before, this is what they do.”

Shane Ledbetter, Senior Vice President of Operations

As for the plant’s equipment and layout, Ledbetter says ARCO/Murray and Kannegiesser ETECH worked together to meet NOVO’s requirements. “I think it was very beneficial to partner with someone like ARCO who had built plants before,” Ledbetter says. “This is what they do. So they were crucial in helping on the design aspect. Partnering with Kannegiesser also helped with the design and layout and proposed equipment assortment.” NOVO executives told the equipment vendor, “Here’s the volume; here’s what we think we’re going to need. What’s the optimum setup to achieve our goals here?” Your correspondent saw what the team came up with during our walkthrough of the NOVO Miami plant.

In The Plant

After our interview in the front office, Ledbetter led us to the plant floor. There, we we’re joined by the General Manager Dragan Grabovac, a Croatian immigrant who came to the U.S. 27 years ago. Grabovac formerly ran the CSI laundry for nearly four years and transferred to the new NOVO plant. Upon entering the laundry, we were struck by the pristine orderliness of this well-lit facility. Employees moved briskly in smart yellow T-shirts inscribed with the name “NOVO Health Services” above a pyramid design on the front. On the back, we saw “Miami” with the pyramid design taking the place of the “a.” The NOVO plant is certified for both Hygienically Clean and the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC). The building features a walled separation of the clean and soil sides, along with negative air flow from soil to clean. The plant’s wash aisle equipment is built into the wall so that loading is done on the soil side and unloading on the clean side.

We stopped first at the soil dock. There we saw lines of carts loaded with soiled textiles in plastic bags awaiting processing. Employees weigh each cart on a scale, then move it to an ETECH cart dumper that drops the items onto a table where staff tear open the bags and drop them in a cart for recycling. Goods then move up one of two belts to a sorting line with 30-plus chutes. An RFID canopy is placed over both belts to record all garments. These items are tracked via a radio frequency identification system from Positek RFID. On the sorting deck (we detected no odors there or anywhere in the plant), we watched as employees clad in isolation gowns and hairnets dropped goods into chutes designated with a graphic image, plus the name of the item. The computer screen above each chute also tracks the fill level of the slings located below the sort deck. When full, the EVUE tracking software automatically dispatches the sling via an ETECH overhead rail system to a storage area in the ceiling. There it will await processing in one of two Kannegiesser tunnel washers. The tunnels complete 17 transfers per hour, Ledbetter says. The system includes a buffer system that lets staff keep sorting while the slings are transferring. Laundry chemistry is provided by Ecolab Inc., and the tunnels recently added a Smart Ultraviolet Light Advanced Oxidation System (SULAOS) from Omni Solutions, a division of Gurtler Industries Inc. Standing by the wash aisle, we watched as slings dropped their loads into either of the two tunnels for processing.

Nearby, we saw an Energenics cart washer with a special disinfecting formula that kills microorganisms within 30 seconds, rather than the usual 10 minutes needed for other disinfectants. “This gets the entire cart,” Ledbetter says, noting that the infection-control professionals who regularly tour the plant on behalf of customers appreciate the faster disinfecting time for carts.

Post-washing, clean, pressed “cakes” of textiles move from conveyor to sling and are dispatched to any of 20, 240 lb. (110 kg.) dryers.

The plant also has two 250 lb. (113 kg.) Kannegiesser washer/extractors for stain rewash and small lots such as delicate fabrics. These machines are also built into the wall and are manually unloaded into carts on the clean side. When we pass by a small washer/extractor on our way to the clean side of the plant, Dragan jokes, “This one is for my personal clothing, because I live at the plant.”

Moving to the clean side, we pass through a buffer area that divides the two sections of the plant. Here we see lockers that employees use to change clothing at the end of a shift, so that they can enter the clean side and front-office areas without risk.

The bulk of the textiles on the clean side are moved via an ETECH rail system that takes slings of clean, pressed goods from the dryers and drops them onto a large metal ramp. This gravity-fed system helps break up the textiles when they drop from the slings. Employees then find it easier to feed them into any of the plant’s five Kannegiesser ironer lines. As for the washer/extractors, we watched as an employee fed loose clean wet textiles from a cart into a vacuum system that moves them directly to the dryers for the next phase of processing.

All but about 5% of the textiles processed by the NOVO/Miami plant are rental goods. About a fifth of the total are outpatient garments, such as scrubs, isolation gowns and similar items. As previously noted, all garments are fitted with RFID tags. They are moved via carts to the garment-sortation area, where employees put them on hangers and place them on a conveyor for pressing in a Kannegiesser tunnel finisher. After pressing, the RF tags are scanned automatically, and the garments enter an ETECH sorting system that arranges them by route, customer and individual wearer. Next they are moved to a storage area. When needed for packout, employees inspect the garments and run them through an RFID portal before placing them onto trucks for delivery on any of the plant’s 28 routes.

As for flatwork, goods emerging from the ironer lines move via conveyor to a packout area, where employees inspect them and place them on carts in the order and quantities recorded on sheets of paper placed on each cart. Small pieces, such as towels, are run through any of six Kannegiesser small-piece folders. Grabovac notes as we head back to the office that the plant staff represents individuals from 18 countries. A sign on a wall by the door to the plant affirms the plant’s pride in its diverse workforce with a note (written in French, Spanish and Creole) that says, “The beauty of this world lies in the diversity of its people.”

Growth Prospects

Of course, celebrating diversity would mean little if staff didn’t feel safe on the job. That’s why incident prevention is a critical priority for NOVO/Miami, Ledbetter says. “We have a very rigorous safety program. We separate out the entire safety vertical of our company. We have a corporate safety and compliance department that’s independent of operations, so it doesn’t report to me. They report directly to the CEO (Karl Fillip II). So it’s truly in every sense of the word, a check-and-balance system. And it is very rigorous. Our corporate director comes in quarterly to do a very detailed safety audit. And then every time any of our corporate management staff enter the plants, we do a similar but shorter version of that safety audit.” Grabovac adds that company also emphasizes safety on the plant floor with daily “toolbox talks” on issues such as ergonomics and slip-and-fall-accident prevention.

Promoting both the safety and solidarity of NOVO/Miami’s diverse workforce is integral to its growth strategy. While highly automated, laundry processing still requires extensive human intervention. That means keeping the plant’s staff of nearly 200 people feeling motivated and part of the team. Fair pay and benefits help, but an attitude that each employee is valued is making a difference in morale, as well as recruitment/retention, Ledbetter says.

In return, NOVO/Miami managers need a team that can handle market shifts. As technology advances, most observers expect that outpatient medical will grow faster than acute-care hospitals. The plant is engineered with that in mind, including selected limits on automation. “There are some plants that I’m aware of that have a little more automation on the backend where the takeaway from the finishing equipment, they’re doing a post-sort, so hands-free, full conveyor system to an order-building area,” Ledbetter says. “We chose not to go that far automated on the packout side because we wanted more flexibility. So when you go to the fully automated hands-free conveyors, you’re really talking about plants that are doing major acute centers only. We wanted the flexibility to be able to do both, to take on those major acute accounts that are going to take massive bulk carts and the smaller accounts in the clinic business. So that’s why we didn’t go full scale on the backend, but everything else, we’ve got it.”

The Miami metro area currently includes 6.4 million people. It’s projected to grow to as many as 7.5 million by 2040, according to World Population Review ( A recent economic forecast cited plans for new housing projects, ranging from a 1,000-foot-high (304-meter) Waldorf Astoria Hotel & Residences to a $15 million, 38-floor apartment tower in the Brickell neighborhood. There are many similar proposals in the works for high-end as well as affordable housing ( Whenever the population expands, healthcare demand naturally follows. That’s why NOVO/Miami’s investment in technology—coupled with its commitment to teamwork—strikes us a formula for success in 2024 and beyond.

JACK MORGAN is senior editor of Textile Services. Contact him at 877.770.9274 or