How IoT is transforming on-premise laundry dosing in healthcare
As we continue into the second decade of the fourth industrial revolution, the cleaning and hygiene sector finds itself in the midst of an exciting and fast-moving era of communication and connectivity.
Known as the Internet of Things (IoT), this technological growth is a marriage of smart device technology and data generation, processing and accessibility. In the consumer sector, this has resulted in the emergence of the smart home, with users benefitting from the ability to remotely control a multitude of household items — from lighting and heating to kitchen appliances and security devices — via computers, smartphones and tablets.
And there’s no sign of this boom slowing any time soon, as Statistica estimates that the worldwide installed base of internet-connected devices will increase from 13.8 billion today to more than 30 billion by the middle of the decade.
This extends far beyond domestic use, however. Businesses around the world are embracing Industry 4.0 — also known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) — by embedding technology in physical applications to help managers improve everything from operational efficiency to environmental compliance.
As a world-leading manufacturer of chemical dosing pumps and control systems, SEKO is influencing and witnessing first-hand the extent to which this cutting-edge technology is changing what is possible in traditional chemical dosing pump applications, including commercial and on-premise laundry dosing.
In the healthcare sector, where hospital laundry costs account for 2–3% of budget on average, site management have a distinct choice between the installation, operation and maintenance of an on-premise laundry or outsourcing the washing of items such as bed sheets, blankets, towels, uniforms, scrub suits and gowns to a contractor.
The argument against an in-house setup is often that, beyond the initial outlay, it brings with it ongoing costs such as utilities, chemicals, maintenance and repair. However, should the service be outsourced, it is likely that the selected contractor also faces such costs which would ultimately be passed on to the customer — in this case the hospital, where budgets may be especially tight due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While outsourcing laundry removes the hospital’s responsibility for managing the process and the need for a dedicated laundry room, it does leave it bound to the contractor’s inflexible turnaround times and the potential for service interruption. Meanwhile, in some cases mass cleaning methods, such as the use of a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide at greater temperatures, cause chemical and mechanical damage to towels, linen and other fabrics which leads to more frequent replacement and subsequently increases costs.
Despite the many pros and cons, it is generally accepted that an on-premise laundry ultimately delivers a better wash performance, longer fabric life and greater flexibility than can be achieved via outsourcing, which is why around two thirds of hospitals choose to launder in house.
In order to manage such operations, there is a clear need within the healthcare sector for chemical dosing systems that have the capacity to handle high load demand across multiple machines while maintaining precision and consistency over an extended period.
In addition, the rapid growth of IoT in everyday life means equipment users now expect the latest systems to provide them with some measure of remote access and control via smartphone, tablet or laptop.
This is one of the reasons operators in the healthcare sector striving for improvements to performance, efficiency, convenience, reliability and sustainability are increasingly specifying web-enabled pump systems for commercial laundry machines within sites such as hospitals and nursing homes.
In the healthcare sector, where infection control is paramount and heavy, stubborn soiling is common, only the highest standard of laundering is acceptable in order to properly protect patients, residents and staff, and IoT-ready dosing and control systems can help operators to consistently achieve this over the equipment’s lifespan.
As well as the benefits for patients and residents, a major draw of IoT is that features such as up-to-date downloadable manuals, intelligent auto-tuning sensors and online step-by-step technical support can accelerate installation, setup and commissioning and reduce associated time and costs.
During operation, data is harvested on multiple pump values, including wash cycle status, chemical consumption and equipment performance, which can then be accessed historically or in real time via a cloud-based platform thanks to the system’s built-in web server.
With this vital information at their fingertips, users can programme and adjust wash formulas, maximum flow rate, unit of measure and other parameters as well as selecting pump operating modes such as manual, batch and timed in order to optimize performance and minimize chemical consumption.
Common features include the option to view chemical consumption in financial terms, which allows projected detergent and fabric softener savings to be precisely calculated and presented to key decision makers when considering dosing changes.
Reducing chemical and energy consumption this way means operators benefit from immediate efficiency improvements while being able to budget more accurately and streamline stored chemical volume — especially useful on smaller sites where space is at a premium.
Most IoT-based systems include an alarm log that enables users to identify and action faults immediately, helping them to improve efficiency in equipment maintenance, repair and upgrade planning and to minimize costly and inconvenient unplanned downtime.
The technology allows even specific component performance and status to be assessed, meaning the user can be alerted that a part is due for replacement and have it changed before it fails and causes expensive unplanned downtime. For healthcare sites operating on tight budgets, this would allow them to avoid using contract laundry services as a stop gap which would, on a short-term basis, prove expensive.
Meanwhile, the prevalence of data logging and analysis means laundry machine manufacturers are able to monitor trends, user preferences and common problems over time in order to refine equipment and improve their product offering. This ultimately benefits end users, who get to operate the latest, most advanced laundry dosing equipment and exploit new features that improve wash performance and chemical consumption.
It’s not only the efficiency of equipment and utilities that can be improved. For those managing public and private healthcare facilities across multiple sites (which may be in in different countries or even continents), IIoT means operations management can be anywhere in the world and still be as effective as they would be whilst stood in front of the laundry system itself.
Plus, wasted journeys by maintenance technicians to perform routine servicing — who may travel a considerable distance to assess a system’s condition only to find it in perfect working order — can be eliminated, as they need only be deployed when required.
As the global healthcare sector looks towards a post-COVID future, the benefits of IIoT provide operators today with the ability to take control of in-house laundry costs over both the short and long term, helping to deliver reliability and confidence at a time of great uncertainty.
SEKO is a worldwide manufacturer of chemical dosing systems for multiple sectors, and has supplied its leading on-premise laundry equipment — including the highly-regarded Wash Series IoT-enabled units — to hospitals, care homes and other healthcare sites over many years. The complete range can be viewed at www.seko.com, where you’ll also find contact details for your local SEKO representative.
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