Laundry and warewashing systems lend themselves easily to IoT capabilities. They already draw from an electrical power supply and tend to already be equipped with sensors, microprocessors and digital memory.

Other chemical proportioners, however, lack this advantage. Much of their value comes from the ability to operate off of a running water connection or mechanical action.

“In the future, determining how to power such devices economically — potentially with batteries — is a barrier that will need to be overcome,” says Goetz.

Manufacturers say that chemical proportioning systems will continue to evolve and push the boundaries in other ways as well.

“We think IoT will also enable more accurate dispensing in the future by monitoring the dilution rates in real time and potentially providing the ability to adjust flow in real time,” says Boscher.

Other future intriguing possibilities include the ability to automatically control chemical inventory by tying dispensers into site enterprise resource planning (ERP) or inventory control systems. Then, if a chemical is beginning to run low, the dispenser automatically triggers an order for more.

Manufacturers should focus on must-have features like proof of delivery of chemicals, chemical dilution accuracy and programming management in the coming years, says Clarkson.

“Our industry is smart and doesn’t accept products that don’t truly offer a benefit,” he says. “If the feature is nice to have and doesn’t provide a true value, IoT won’t be successful.”

The cleaning industry is a well-established marketplace with a long history of norms and processes. But as IoT makes the overall industry smarter, Clarkson expects more decisions to be made on costs over a lifetime rather than up-front costs.

“If I could sell you a dispenser than would cost 20 percent more but reduce your typical service calls by 50 percent wouldn’t you consider it? Operations managers will start to see the benefits and demand smarter equipment,” says Clarkson.

IoT’s Proportioner Challenges

As many advantages as IoT offers, there are some challenges to the technology. For IoT-enabled chemical proportioner systems, one of the biggest drawbacks is the challenge associated with installation.

“It’s no secret in our industry that many of the install points for wall-mounted machines such as warewash, laundry and proportioning equipment are located internally to the building, often near stairwells and in basements — all the hardest places to get a good Wi-Fi or cellular signal,” says Clarkson. “Being able to connect to a wireless network or having a strong cellular signal are must-haves for IoT to work successfully. Having an IoT-enabled dispenser with spotty and limited access would benefit nobody.”

The price associated with adoption is another hurdle IoT systems face. There is an additional expense that chemical providers or end users have to bear to cover Wi-Fi setup or expansion, data plans, and more.

Once those obstacles are dealt with, facility managers then must determine what to do with all the data that is collected.

Manufacturers say that forward-thinking companies are working with data scientists to help analyze and uncover underlying performance opportunities.

“The true power will be realized,” says Boscher, “when business teams invest in these analytics resources to mine the data or hire consultants to mine the data.” 

Nick Bragg is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee. He is a former Deputy Editor of Sanitary Maintenance.

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Laundry Systems, Warewashing See IoT Influence