Creative thinking in chemical dispensing

28th of June 2012
Creative thinking in chemical dispensing
Creative thinking in chemical dispensing

In today's challenging economic environment, innovation in dilution and chemical dispensing technology is more important than ever, believes Hydro Systems' managing director Andrew McQuillan. He writes exclusively for ECJ.

The mop and bucket may still be with us, but there's no doubt that in today's commercial and industrial cleaning sector, the growing number and complexity of cleaning tasks facing industry professionals call for the best possible use of available technology. The challenge has been made greater still as the pressures to improve performance, enhance safety standards and cut costs continue to grow.

For dispensing equipment providers, creative thinking in the product design process has been the driver behind the development of efficient and cost effective solutions and remains the best way of meeting the changing needs of customers. In the current economic climate, it has an increasingly important role to play in helping develop products and systems which successfully resolve the sometimes conflicting demands of maintaining high standards of cleanliness, ensuring operator safety and controlling labour costs. 

A flexible approach to customer needs is essential and this means maintaining an ongoing dialogue with both chemical producers and end users to ensure an effective response to changing market conditions.

Efficient automatic systems

The success of the leading technology providers in demonstrating the efficiency and cost benefits of advanced systems is evidenced by the steady growth of automated dosing and dispensing systems for all types of applications. They are now available to clean all types of surfaces and are suitable for various environments. They also optimise the efficient use of chemicals and can substantially reduce labour costs. Although manual systems are better than traditional methods, units only dispense a single chemical and accurate dilution is largely dependent on the operator who still has to add water manually.

Automatic dilution systems normally incorporate venturis and are directly connected to the water supply. Built-in selector valves allow up to five chemicals to be dispensed, at different flow rates if necessary, from the same unit. Dilution control is extremely accurate and, being fully automatic, requires no operator intervention. Equipment can be supplied for a full range of applications including spray bottles, mop buckets, sinks, drains and autoscrubbers.

Innovation and flexibility

Modern dilution control systems incorporate flow and pressure control devices to ensure optimum efficiency and consistent dilution ratios, regardless of water pressure.  (Hydro's systems can operate at pressures down to 0.6 bar).  Also, because they are now fitted with closed eductors (venturi) as well as traditional air gap eductors, they can handle particularly hard or soft water and eliminate scaling.

As well as being efficient and flexible, automatic systems are generally less expensive than comparable manual systems. For instance, an automatic unit with a multi-select valve to dispense four chemicals from a single unit, would certainly cost less than four separate single-chemical manual units.  Chemical costs are also reduced and the scope for human error is minimised. Safety is enhanced too – the operator rarely comes into contact with the concentrate and spillage is eliminated.

Given that the most expensive resource used in any cleaning operation is labour, automated systems provide substantial benefits. It is self defeating to have operators spending time on tasks such as mixing water and chemicals to achieve the required dilution or having to repeat cleaning procedures because they were not done properly in the first place.  The automatic systems now available offer increasingly high standards of performance and economy and deliver a return on investment which make them increasingly attractive to users.

Environmental factors are important too.  The trend towards reduced packaging and freight costs means an increasing use of concentrated chemicals and a shift from the dilution requirements of 2-50:1, seen historically, to more frequent requirements of 200-500:1 seen today. Such a change puts far greater pressure on dispensing equipment manufacturers to design and develop much more precise and efficient systems to avoid either waste of detergent from over-use and potential damage to the surface being cleaned, or under-use entailing having to repeat the task.

Growing range of products

Dispensing systems are becoming more accurate and sophisticated and specificity is a key element in the design of the latest systems. This means there is no need to compromise and use old style systems for multiple tasks. For example, the system required to dispense multiple chemicals into housekeeping spray bottles needs to be completely different to that required for an automated car wash or to fill scrubber dryers.

The continued investment in innovative design and engineering maximises the versatility of dispensing systems and positively impacts upon performance and efficiency.  For example, advances in incubator technology for biological products now ensure that bacteria is at its most active before being dispensed. Historically, dosing systems have been used for the removal of fats, oils and greases from drain traps.

The release of under-active bacteria into the trap meant largely unsatisfactory performance from the product. Now, thanks to a 24 hour incubation period, incubators ensure the chemical is fully active before being dispensed and, as a result, guarantee the best results.

Also within venturi systems, automated multi-product dispensers (such as Hydro's own MultiFlex which dispenses up to eight separate products) are now available and substantially reduce the cost per product dispensed. Advanced valve technology ensures that there is no accidental mixing of the chemicals in the dispensing process when changing products. In the water valve too, the design enables water to flow instantly at a consistent rate which will generate the vacuum immediately, so the accuracy of dilution is guaranteed in accordance with the chemical manufacturer's instructions for that cleaning task.

In peristaltic pumps, used extensively in applications such as On Premise Laundry (OPL) and warewash machines, new developments in tube design mean maintenance requirements have been reduced dramatically. There are a number of important developments taking place in this area. Hydro Systems, for example, is currently developing a new control system in partnership with a leading machine manufacturer, designed for OPL applications. It enables the dosing system to proportion the right amount of detergent and other chemicals required for the wash.

Pumps are running for a shorter period so less energy is used. The quality of the wash is also improved ensuring longer life of the fabrics being cleaned. Again, as well as providing a major boost to efficiency, it also means substantial environmental and cost saving benefits.

There have also been a number of developments in volumetric technology which is used increasingly for spraying and foaming. In high flow applications in particular, such as car wash, volumetric pumps are taking the place of peristaltic pumps as they offer lower maintenance and more attractive life cycle costs. It's yet another example of where technology is being tailored and developed to provide specific benefits for particular applications.

Dialogue vital

The ability of the leading technology providers in the cleaning and hygiene sector to develop increasingly innovative products is clearly good news for both chemical companies and equipment users.

To work best however, all parties need to maintain an ongoing dialogue which will enable application-specific solutions to be developed which will improve efficiency and operator safety. Cost effective use of resources - chemicals and most importantly, labour - is of course a critical factor. When choosing a system for a particular requirement, users need to bear in mind that the cheapest is not necessarily the best. Total lifetime cost, dependable product performance and minimising labour cost are the best indicators of true value for money.

In fact the relative cost of even the most sophisticated systems has been progressively reduced in recent years and advanced dispensing systems are now a viable option for even small users. A relatively modest investment in an automatic chemical dispensing system will save time, eliminate waste and ensure a consistently high standard of hygiene and cleanliness, regardless of
the application.

For technology providers the key to success remains continuing innovation and providing a fully integrated package for customers tailored to meet their specific needs. However the focus must not only be on driving up standards of quality and usability, but also on reducing total cleaning costs.  Well designed, efficient and reliable dispensing systems - available at the right price – now play a major role in improving cleaning standards, even in difficult economic times.


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