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The IoT: Driving the cleaning revolution

29 November 2016

The term ‘Internet of Things (IoT)’ is still relatively new to many industries, but with its ability to utilise human resource, save costs and collect vital data, it is already showing potential to completely rewrite the rulebook when it comes to the cleaning sector. Rob Abrahams, senior strategic director at Office Depot, explains more

In its simplest form, the IoT allows devices to connect via the internet to relay information to other tools, applications or people. The technology has been quickly adopted in some industries – for example in utilities, where consumers are able to control their home’s heating via a smartphone app, or in the automotive sector, where a GPS system built into a car can figure out the quickest route to work. However, it is only now that smart tech is beginning to be fully integrated within the cleaning and washroom environment.

The slow uptake of tech innovation within cleaning operations has so far been blamed on the lack of demand for it, as trends show a resistance from purchasers to make the initial investment in more expensive, smart products. This reluctance could be due to an absence of knowledge available to facilities managers, with relatively few adequately informed as to how these products can streamline services to make significant cost savings further down the line.

Why sensors make sense

An example of a product which utilises IoT technology and can reduce cost is a soap or paper towel dispenser fitted with a sensor. By using a sensor within a soap or paper towel dispenser, vital data on when the device needs to be restocked, cleaned or fixed can be communicated instantly without the need for a cleaning professional to manually check on a regular basis. This data can then be analysed to determine how often a bathroom is being used, creating more accurate cleaning schedules – for example highlighting those which need less maintenance and those that need more frequent attention. This process will prove significantly beneficial across multi-location operations, as the use of IoT on a large scale will allow facilities managers to distribute staff more effectively. For an industry where labour accumulates an average of 85% of outgoing costs, ensuring that human resources are utilised for maximum productivity will create huge costs savings.

Similarly, automated floor cleaners can also be utilised to access information on cleaning products and dosage. In-built sensors are able to detect important details such as a change in floor surface or areas of a floor with a low or high volume of dirt. With a change in floor surface, the device will be able to change product accordingly, minimising the risk of wasting large doses of an ineffective cleaner. As for detecting low and high volumes of dirt, the device will only distribute product where required, again ensuring that cleaning detergent is only used when needed.

While assigning labour more effectively and keeping costs down are obvious benefits of smart tech, another advantage for these devices is the impact they could have on a business’ ‘green credentials’. Data can be collected from devices to demonstrate how much water, cleaning solution and energy it is using, emphasising areas where less of these elements can be used. With environmental sustainability high on the agenda for many facilities managers – especially as more businesses across the supply chain are demanding to see green credentials from all suppliers – pressure is on to minimise the environmental impact of their services and products.

Although the sector may have been initially slow to embrace high-tech innovations, including the IoT’s rapidly growing network of smart web-connected objects, facilities managers are becoming increasingly aware of the sustainability and cost benefits such solutions can bring. While implementation could require a larger initial capital investment, if used correctly these new technologies could drive significant efficiencies.