Washroom dispensing gets smart

10th of October 2014
Washroom dispensing gets smart

A number of washroom dispenser manufacturers are developing ‘intelligent’ dispensing systems that provide real-time data for service providers. But what is the value of these systems, and are they here to stay? ECJ talks to the companies offering these state-of-the-art systems.

There was a time when a washroom dispenser was simply a box on the wall whose main function was to house the hand towels, toilet paper or soap inside. The chief advantage of these units was to protect the products from contamination before use. Some away-from-home washroom managers did not even bother to install them.

But as the industry has become increasingly sophisticated, today’s dispensers have become – well - indispensable. They offer benefits including portion control and sometimes a hygienic touch-free operation as well. Others have been designed to enhance the image of the washroom and create a smart, co-ordinated impression.

But in recent years, certain washroom dispenser manufacturers have decided to go one step further. They began to ask themselves: how would it be if the dispensers actually ‘knew’ when they were empty in order to make refilling a more seamless and efficient operation?

And what if dispensers could also predict the likely amount of washroom traffic expected in any given facility so refill levels could be kept topped up?

One of the companies offering such a system is Tork manufacturer SCA. The company launched its Tork EasyCube at this year’s ISSA/Interclean. The system comprises a range of dispensers equipped with integral sensors.

“These sensors measure refill status, product consumption and washroom traffic data,” said business development manager Edwout Terpstra. “The information is then combined with a web application for managers and cleaning staff. Together they create a management system that provides monitoring information on the usage and status of any given washroom facility.”

Tork EasyCube is aimed at anyone managing a facility who also takes responsibility for its overall budget and costs. “The value of Tork EasyCube is it offers a solution to facility managers who are struggling with the increasingly difficult balance between cost-control and an increased demand for enhanced washroom performance,” added Terpstra.

During the product development stage, says Terpstra, the company carried out extensive tests and customer trials along with additional research. “What we try to achieve with Tork EasyCube is to give a facility service manager the tools to switch from cleaning-when-scheduled to cleaning-when-needed.

Fewer complaints

“It also leads to a significant reduction in the number of customer complaints or reports on the status of the washroom facility, since Tork EasyCube highlights potential issues in advance.”

He says the benefits of the system will differ from location to location since they depend on factors such as the number of washrooms in a facility; the number of users; how many cleaners are on site and the cleaners’ ability to respond to demand or to change their behaviour. But so far, says Terpstra, customer response has been positive.

CWS International claims to have been one of the first washroom hygiene companies to move into the intelligent dispensing systems market. The CWS Washroom Information Service (WIS) introduced in 2013 comprises a range of towel dispensers with built-in radio modules. These allow cleaning staff to be notified by text or email when a dispenser is empty or when supplies are running low.

“This means that when a towel roll has been used up, staff can have access to this information without having to physically check the dispenser,” said Silke Zügel, product management team leader for CWS International.

The system collects data such as dispenser identification and location along with filling-level status information and maintenance requirements.

“This information can be sent to pre-defined recipients at pre-defined time intervals,” said Zügel. “The radio module in the dispenser sends all data to CWS using the mobile phone network every 15 minutes. The information is then processed in a database and converted into real-time information such as ‘dispenser almost empty’ or ‘dispenser empty’. These alerts are then forwarded to on-site staff.

“This approach makes long-term analysis possible in order to improve planning and facilitate logistics along with the procurement and storage of consumables.”

The system is aimed in particular at the facilities managers of large public and commercial buildings such as airports and trade fair organisations. It is also targeted at interior architects and building planners. Initial customer feedback has been positive, Zügel says. “It has highlighted the more efficient use of staff and time made possible by the WIS data analysis,” she said. “The ability to trigger direct reactions on the part of on-site staff through active notifications has already made the system an everyday tool for facility managers.”

Hagleitner’s Xibu washroom dispenser range also offers intelligent functions. The company’s SenseManagement system for taps, foam soap, hand towel, toilet paper and sanitiser dispensers all have an integrated radio frequency system that counts every towel or shot of soap, sanitiser or water.

“The fact that every dispenser and tap is equipped with this function means that the status of all dispensers and taps can be seen at all times and from anywhere in the world via a tablet, a PC or a smartphone,” said product manager Dr Georg Steiner. “The dispensers and taps send information about refill status, usage patterns and consumption to a web-based central site.”

The system is aimed at facility managers, restaurant owners, hotel owners and managers of other large buildings, said Steiner. “The system saves money because cleaning staff can be deployed more efficiently,” he says. “You always know where a dispenser needs to be refilled and you can therefore deploy your cleaning staff accordingly.

“Moreover, the collected data informs you how many people use the washroom per month and this facilities forecasts and product ordering according to demand. As a knock-on effect, storage planning also becomes easier and just-in-time deliveries are achievable since the system allows predictive planning.”

The system is extremely new on the market, but according to Steiner the first pilot projects have been well received. “Hospitals and other healthcare facilities are using the information to analyse and improve compliance with hand disinfection regulations,” he said. “Meanwhile, hotels, public institutions, sports stadium and airports are using the system to draw up schedules for their cleaning staff.”

So do manufacturers believe intelligent management systems to be the way forward? “More and more aspects of our working environment are being integrated into digital platforms,” said SCA’s Edwout Terpstra. “The logic is if one knows what is going on in certain areas of the working environment – such as frequency of use, traffic levels etc - one can act accordingly to optimise the user experience while reducing risks and costs.”

Silke Zügel says CWS will continue to improve and develop its system. “We are confident WIS has opened up new possibilities for higher levels of hygiene in the washroom,” she said. “Information systems will win over the market in the medium run, just as sensors have done within the washroom equipment sector. They will improve washroom planning and service levels, and provide the possibility to collect and analyse relevant data.”

And Hagleitner’s Dr George Steiner adds intelligent washroom dispensing systems offer real value to customers. “This is absolutely the trend in the market,” he said. “Greater transparency while simplifying the use and maintenance of washroom dispensers is the way forward. Not only does it make the daily workload simpler, it also saves time and money.”


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