Expansive facilities with large cleaning staffs have long benefited from chemical proportioning and dispensing equipment. This product category has given managers the ability to tightly manage cleaning and maintenance costs by controlling the amount of chemical used. Now, however, smaller facilities are realizing the efficiencies that proportioning equipment can bring, and distributors are seeing new opportunities open up.

Chemical dispensing equipment is designed to dilute concentrated cleaning chemicals with water. In most cases, concentrated chemicals are drawn up when running water creates a vacuum, and the mixture is dispensed. (Other companies offer pre-measured concentrates in packets — end users simply add the packet to water.) The efficiencies offered by these systems often provide significant cost savings — labor is reduced and product costs are kept in check.

“The old rule was that you had to have a large cleaning staff to enjoy the benefits [of dispensing systems],” says Bill Smith, director of marketing for National Chemical Laboratories Inc., Philadelphia. “That idea is starting to change. There are various types of facilities using these types of equipment.”

Any facility that uses water to dilute chemicals should use proportioning and dispensing equipment, says Jonathan Deutsch, vice president, marketing, of Dema Engineering Co., St. Louis. “Especially important are food service areas and hospitals using sanitizers that require very precise dilutions,” he says.

“The chemicals are supposed to be used at a certain dilution rate for optimum effectiveness,” says Pete Maglocci, vice president of marketing and business development for Hydro Systems, Cincinnati. “If you don’t dilute correctly, you’ve got a couple of issues.” Increased labor is one thing. “In the cleaning equation, 90 percent of the cost is labor. Chemicals are the other 10 percent.” So if a chemical is improperly mixed, it can either become ineffective, or it can actually damage a surface, requiring that more time must be spent correcting the problem.

“You’ve substituted a very expensive labor function for an inexpensive labor function,” he adds.

Chemical proportioning plays a major role in cost control for facilities, leaving less room for error and misuse. It also gives supervisors the ability to tightly manage chemical use.

“When you’re using a glug-glug method — tipping a pail over into a bucket — you don’t know what you’re putting in there. People tend to put in a lot more of the chemical than they need,” he says. Proportioning equipment helps facility managers control chemical costs and provides a benchmark to help them evaluate their organizations, Maglocci adds.

“The chemicals require a precise dilution that cannot be obtained without a chemical dispenser. Using the correct dilution not only saves the end user money, it produces the right mixture for both safety and cleaning purposes,” says Deutsch.

“When you get to an ultra-lean dilution, even being off just a little bit has a huge impact, so we’ve developed technology that allows us to be very accurate in lean dilutions,” says Maglocci. The highly concentrated chemicals are ideal for keeping shipping costs down and using less storage space. “Nobody wants to be shipping water around,” he says. “But the technology to be able to allow in a tiny amount of chemical is critical.”

Making the systems easy to use is the foremost goal of manufacturers, says Rick Yanez, vice president of marketing for the Lake Forest, Calif.-based Knight Inc.

“All levels of users should understand it, and it’s intuitive,” he says. Color-coding should lead to ease of use, and the equipment should have multi-lingual instructions.

Buying Results, Not Products
The cost controls provided by proportioning equipment and portion control products are growing more desirable every day, according to Marvin Klein, president of PortionPac Chemical Corp., Chicago. “The world is switching away from buying products to buying results,” says Klein. “The traditional managers in our industry who are knowledgeable about housekeeping are being replaced by experts in systems and management. They know about training and controlling labor and their main focus is the bottom line.”

Labor efficiency will be the key to their success. “They have to clean better with fewer resources. The cost of the products, which are only a minute part of the budget, doesn’t make a difference,” Klein continues. “It’s a question of what you can do to help them get the job done right and with effective use of labor. Proportion machines and portion control packaging fit right into their needs.”

Klein believes that portion control systems can actually promote relationships and partnerships between distributors and customers. “There continues to be an increase in programs being sold on a set-cost basis. These new managers like to accurately budget for supplies and reduce the cost of purchasing and inventorying products. There will be more partnerships between the distributor and the customer. This is a great opportunity for distributors.”

Training plays a part in the relationships, and Yanez says he sees a greater trend in that direction. “I think there’s probably more focus on training with the distributor,” he says. “Many of them are getting out in the field at the end-user level.”

Distributors can be helpful to customers if they learn to speak their language, Klein says. Set-cost programs that charge so many cents per room at a hotel per day or dollars per month for cleaning supplies makes it easier for managers who deal with other suppliers in these terms. “It’s just like contractors bidding a job. They quote what they are going to do for so many dollars a month. This is just bringing that concept one step further,” he adds.

Time To Upgrade
New innovations in equipment make it attractive to customers, and if their current chemical program isn’t performing to expectations, facility managers are more willing to look at an upgrade.

“Depending on the dispenser type, low water pressure may become a problem,” says Deutsch. “If pressure goes below 20 psi, you will begin to see a drop in vacuum and less chemical draw.”

Protecting against backflow of chemicals into the water system was an important advancement for Hydro, Maglocci says. Different water pressures throughout a facility also prompted the company to develop flow-control technology.

There are reasons to upgrade a facility’s current system, says Maglocci. “For example, the air gap eductor. That was a huge upgrade because it provided backflow protection.” There are also ultra-lean metering systems, among other things.

Chemicals that aren’t performing to expectations are also a reason facilities seek new suppliers.

“I think it’s never easy to replace an incumbent system because someone has made a decision to put it there in the first place,” says Smith. “You have to evaluate your customer and pinpoint what problems have surfaced from the equipment...If someone really speaks loudly that the products haven’t worked well, the distributor can use that opportunity to promote a competitive system.”

“Dispensers are easily installed and this makes the process of upgrading systems fairly easy,” says Deutsch.

If a program is failing because of product performance, there is great opportunity, Smith adds. He has walked into a facility to see their dispensing equipment on the wall with the hoses unhooked, and later found out the product wasn’t meeting expectations. That type of facility is ripe for an upgrade.

Who Needs ‘Em?
Proportioning equipment and products offer different benefits, but all serve a similar purpose.

PortionPac’s pre-measured packets are portable, making them popular with large facilities and multi-location cleaning contractors. Portion control in food service and health care are a proven management tool. “Training is easier than with any other type of product,” says Klein. Packets are also beneficial in schools, buildings and events like the Winter Olympics where security is a concern. The clear factory-sealed envelopes are deemed easier to control and “safer” than liquid formulations in buckets or drums.

Certain facilities make perfect candidates for proportioning equipment, but that definition is broadening. First, facilities trying to maintain an upscale image benefit from the equipment because of the quality control afforded, says Maglocci. Also, any environment that uses sanitizers and disinfectants for safety and health issues is a candidate, he adds. Food service and food-processing facilities, supermarkets, restaurants, cafeterias, educational facilities and health-care facilities are good targets.

Beyond the typical customers, new markets are opening up, Maglocci says. “There are continued cost reductions,” he says, making them more appealing to smaller facilities.

“Manufacturers are building lower-cost, easier-to-use modular chemical proportioning systems that suit even the smallest user,” says Yanez.

“If a facility needs to control their costs, they have to look at these programs,” says Smith.

Additional Resources:
Yellow and Blue Make Green
Special Report: A Maintenance Executive’s Guide to Effective Housekeeping Dispensing with Technology

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