Dispenser downers

14th of November 2017
Dispenser downers

A dispenser has one job – to provide the washroom visitor with its contents. So how can it fail? We ask manufacturers about epic dispenser fails and how these can be avoided with today’s sophisticated products.

It is hardly rocket science. All a washroom dispenser has to do is to provide visitors with access to essential soap and paper supplies. But sadly, it is not always this easy. Dispensers may jam or leak. If they are not sufficiently sturdy they may break or be vandalised. And if they are too easy to open their contents may be pilfered: too hard to access and they might be difficult to refill.

A dispenser can also be good at hiding the fact it is running out of supplies. So, what are the most epic dispenser fails from the manufacturer’s point of view? Being empty, says Essity’s European product director Gilles Bétourné.

“An empty dispenser is a critical failure whether it is caused by over-consumption, insufficient capacity or a difficulty in recognising when it is time to refill,” he said. “And poor functionality or jamming can lead to a washroom visitor being unable to access the product, even when the dispenser is full.”

He says a weak or poorly-designed dispenser may not sustain general wear and tear. “An unsecured system could also be a problem since it may allow for pilferage while also compromising hygiene and safety,” said Bétourné. “And dispensers that are too complicated to use also represent a fail because they may cause customer frustration.”

Another, more technical issue is the problem of “tabbing”, says Bétourné. “This often happens in over-filled hand towel dispensers,” he said. “The weight of the towels in an over-stuffed unit makes it hard for washroom visitors to take out a towel from the bottom. So they inadvertently tear the towel and this results in scraps of paper littering the washroom floor and adding to the cleaning burden.”

Essity claims to have solved this issue with its new Tork Peakserve Continuous Hand Towel dispenser. This delivers towels in a continuous loop which eliminates the issue of tabbing, says Bétourné. The dispenser also caters for 1,000 visitors per refill – said to be 250 per cent more than most other towel systems - to prevent the problem of run-outs.

Tork dispensers are lockable to prevent pilferage and contain refill identifiers to help facilities managers choose the right refills, says Bétourné. “Most of our dispensers also have level indicators that allow staff to tell at a glance when they need refilling,” he adds. “And our Tork EasyCube system allows staff to keep a check on refill levels remotely from a smartphone or tablet and this also helps to ensure that product is always available.”

Managing director of Metsä Tissue Mark Dewick believes the wrong refill represents a “fail” for a hand towel dispenser. “If the towels are too small for the dispenser they will fall out of the opening and create waste and mess on the floor,” he said. “And if they are too big they will not dispense well. Users will then have to grab clumps of towels and possibly tear them which can result in mess and cross-contamination.”

Sometimes the dispenser is not the problem – it is the hand towel, he says. “This can be the case when hand towels don’t “self-present” which is what happens with C-fold towels,” said Dewick.

“Another issue is when dispensers retract the hand towel so that the washroom visitor cannot access it. This can cause ‘tissue rage’ and may result in a user becoming aggressive with the device. One of our customers had to replace three dispensers in a week because of the damage caused by this issue.”

Metsä offers free dispenser inserts that enable customers to use Katrin towels in any dispenser. “These reduce or lengthen the opening to ensure the towels can be accessed properly,” says Dewick. “Our dispensers also have transparent sides so washroom staff can see immediately when a refill is required. And our new Inclusive range features contrasting colours, large push-faces and braille text to make the dispensers easy to use for everyone including children, the elderly, the disabled and the visually impaired.”

Difficult to use

Dispensers that are too hard to use are a problem in general, says Dewick. “For example, touch-free units are not always intuitive and it may not be clear where to wave your hand to locate the product,” he said. “Difficulties may also arise when the dispensers have to be opened to see whether or not they need refilling. Across an area the size of a large hospital this can quickly mount up in terms of resource time and labour costs.”

An over-complicated washroom dispenser is also a “fail” in the eyes of Zenith’s managing director Oliver Johnson. “The most robust dispensers tend to be the simplest of manual units,” he said. “These remove the circuitry that can add a whole new level of failure in a wet environment. Add if you add battery life and reduced intuitiveness to the mix it becomes clear why a simple dispenser solution is important.”

He says easy-to-understand units allow for faster servicing and provide a better return on investment for the customer. “Where end-users waste time with more complicated devices it greatly increases the overall time staff spend in the washroom instead of working,” he said.

“Another consequence of over-complicating the dispenser is that end-users will simply bypass the hand hygiene process altogether. This could lead to the spread of infectious diseases and a lower return on staff investment.”

A jammed sanitary bin cover represents a major dispenser fail according to Kennedy Hygiene’s international marketing manager Violeta Belogaska. “This will prevent visitors from disposing of the waste which will make the toilet cubicle look unsightly,” she said.

“If the soap pump is damaged or the cartridge is broken too, this will cause the soap to drip. And if the wrong paper towels are inserted it will result in too many being released in one go.” Other problems can occur when a dispenser is easy to pilfer from or hard to refill, she says. “And a dispenser not made from a robust material will break easily and have to be replaced regularly which will increase the cost of maintaining the washrooms,” she adds.

Kennedy offers lockable dispensers made from durable ABS as well as well-functioning sanitary bins in manual, pedal and no-touch versions, says Belogaska. All Kennedy units are designed to be easy to use and quick to service.

Personal preference

A dispenser will fail if the washroom visitor is not encouraged to use it, says Jangro operations director Joanne Gilliard. “The main job of a dispenser is to ensure everyone leaves the washroom with clean hands which means all dispensers need to be accessible and easy to use,” she said. “But this may not occur if one standard model is used throughout because everyone has a personal preference.

“Children in particular can be intimidated or confused when using washroom dispensers and this can have an impact on hand hygiene compliance and contribute to the spread of infections around a facility.”

Jangro offers manual and touch-free units as well as dispensers that are expressly designed to be user-friendly for children. “The Jangronaut hand washing characters on some of our washroom dispenser units are central to our education resources,” said Gilliard.

Soap dispensers will fail if they clog, spill or take too long to refill says GOJO’s managing director Mike Sullivan. “Nozzles can easily clog which leads to complaints that the soap has run out,” he said.  “And if parts wear out or break they will need to be replaced.

“But most issues occur where bulk soap refills are used – the type that involves the soap being poured from a jug into a dispenser reservoir.”

He says these types of systems can lead to product contamination. “This is because the soap is open to the environment,” said Sullivan. “Once the dispenser has become contaminated the bacteria will re-grow, even after cleaning with bleach. And time and effort is needed to pour the soap and clean up any spills, drips or stains which makes refillable bulk soap dispensers both messy and labour-intensive.”

GOJO products come in factory-sealed cartridges, he says. “This means the soap is never open to the environment and the units are quick and easy to replace,” said Sullivan. “Each cartridge comes with a fresh pump and nozzle to prevent clogging. And newer systems feature large sight windows to make it easier to see when a refill is required.”

Run-outs, leaks and installation problems are among the main fails with soap and air freshener dispensers according to Vectair president Paul Wonnacott. “A common problem is batteries go flat and service people forget to replace them,” he said.

“Refill leaks are often unavoidable, perhaps if a user has pushed the dispenser but taken their hand away in the meantime. And poor refill quality can be to blame when units fail to dispense properly. So it is important companies don’t scrimp on cheaper refills that aren’t up to the job.”

He says issues can also arise when a dispenser is difficult to install. “If it is not installed properly it may not function correctly,” he said. “Vandalism is always an issue too and washroom dispensers are subject to all sorts of damage. There have been cases where batteries have been stolen from dispensers or even whole units have been taken down from the wall.”

Badly-designed dispensers cause particular problems, he said.  “Some low-cost options use poorly-made electronics which can lead to the display not functioning,” said Wonnacott. “Non-lockable dispensers may easily be vandalised or stolen while poor quality batteries will need to be replaced within months.

“And dispenser covers made from poor materials will be harder to service while frequent leaks may cause these covers and the inner components to break or crack  and this could damage the dispenser beyond repair.”

Robust and durable

Vectair dispensers feature drip trays and alarms to warn customers of product run-outs, he says. An optional display shows the number of days remaining before a refill needs replacing while the auto reset feature recognises when a new refill is inserted. And installation videos and instruction manuals allow for easy set-up, according to Wonnacott.

So how will washroom dispensers evolve to make them even more functional and user-friendly in the future? They will become more hygienic while reducing the risk of run-outs, says Kennedy’s Violeta Belogaska. And dispensers will become more robust and durable due to advances in electronics, adds Wonnacott. “Battery life is also improving and good batteries can now last for three years or more before needing to be replaced,” he says.

Essity’s Gilles Bétourné says increased functionality and more efficient maintenance are two of the current hot topics. “The idea of connectivity and data at your fingertips is a general trend that is definitely reaching into the washroom,” he said.

And Metsä’s Dewick agrees technology will have a significant impact in the coming years. “This will include mobile communications that provide information on how often the dispensers are used, how much stock is left, forecasting usage and triggering stock ordering,” he said.

“There are questions over how much people are willing to pay for this type of technology in such a low product value environment. But Metsä is testing similar technology and keeping abreast of the introduction of these next-generation devices.”


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