German invents automatic napkin folding machine
By Marco Krefting Oct 20, 2011, 3:06 GMT
Stuttgart - A German is claiming to have built the first machine that can fold napkins on an industrial scale.
'There is nothing comparable to it in the whole world,' said Kartal Can, who constructed the machine in his home town of Kornwestheim near Stuttgart.
Experts agree with him on that point but doubt his invention will make a major breakthrough.
At the heart of the machine are metal arms, gripper tongs and a rotating turntable. In all, it takes up about 10 square metres of space. At one end, piles of napkins are placed inside a glass case and are then flattened, folded and turned into the desired shape.
Its inventor says it can complete eight different folded-napkin designs. The finished products are stacked in mobile racks that can be moved to the tables where they are needed. Up to 700,000 napkins - depending on the model - can be folded into shape a year.
'It costs about 20 cents to fold a napkin by hand. The folding machine halves that,' says Can. The machine costs about 549,000 dollars.
'I don't think it would save you much money,' says Uwe Gensmantel from Germany's Union of Hospitality Workers (NGG). He's also not worried that it may lead to job loses in the trade. 'Folding napkins will probably remain the domain of trainees.'
Daniel Ohl from Stuttgart's regional hospitality trade organisation, Dehoga, believes the machine's price will dampen its popularity: 'It's certainly not something for small businesses.'
Kartal Can is targeting theme parks and cruise ships as possible customers for his Rofobox, which is short for Robot Folding Box.
The 35-year-old has sold one device to a laundry in western Germany.
The laundry's manager, Udo Koenig, is happy with the product: 'Once you've gone down this road there's no going back to folding napkins by hand.'
Can comes from a family background that has many years of experience in the hospitality trade. How did he get his idea? 'On my first day at work in a large hotel I had to fold napkins. After just 10 minutes I didn't want to do it anymore and yet I still had a couple of hours more work ahead of me.'
It cost 2.7 million dollars to develop the machine. The services of an engineer's office, a specialist for automation and a college were brought on board to turn Rofobox into a reality.