It’s common knowledge that frequent handwashing is the most powerful preventative measure to help combat the spread of infectious disease. However, the issue of handwashing remains a large problem throughout the United States.

Many people, regardless of what they hear, don’t follow this most basic precautionary measure after using the restroom because they are disgusted by the prospect of touching faucet handles. Restrooms are the most common breeding grounds for disease, as faucets, flushers, surfaces, and soap and towel dispensers harbor many germs.

Today’s end users place high priority on improving hand hygiene. Touchless dispensers are required for environments such as food processing and food service, and are requested in almost every market segment by end users who seek protection from potential pathogens.

“People are more vocal these days about hygiene and facility cleanliness,” says Sherrie Linney, brand manager for Kruger Product’s Away From Home Division, Mississauga, Ontario. “If you fail to demonstrate a willingness to go the extra distance with things like auto-flush toilets, urinals, and hands-free towel dispensers, your business can suffer. For instance, a restaurant or bar that drops the ball on hygiene might find a bottom line that’s more washed up than its patrons’ hands.”

Function And Design
Touch-free is a relatively new product category with constant modifications and improvements — so much so that it begs the question: “What’s new in touch-free these days?”

“The technology is developing at an astounding rate,” says Mike kapalko, category manager for dispensing systems for SCA Tissue North America, Neenah, Wis. “It’s starting to reach into all types of products and manufacturers. In airport restrooms, for example, you’ll see touch-free — from fixtures to towel dispensers. In many facilities, you don’t need to open a restroom door anymore. Toilets flush automatically. Water turns on automatically. You don’t have to touch any common surfaces.”

The industry is creating products that focus on both function and design aesthetics, says Mark Stanland, director of marketing for Wausau Paper’s Bay West Products, Mosinee, Wis.

“Touch-free equipment not only reduces contact with potentially harmful bacteria, but also offers contemporary style, colors and features that add to the overall washroom appearance,” he says.

However, product performance remains a priority. “We’re trying to improve on dispenser appearances but we also have to put an equal amount of time into the dispensers’ features that improve performance, accessibility and ease of use,” Stanland says.

Sensing A Change
According to Jerry McDermott, executive vice president of Technical Concepts Inc., Mundelein, Ill., the use of surround-sensor technology as opposed to infrared sensors, enhances the aesthetics of faucet design.

“We no longer need to add the infrared sensor or any associated wires to a faucet,” McDermott explains. “That frees up our designers’ creativity. And surround sensors can also be used with gooseneck faucets which traditionally did not work well with infrared sensors.”

Standland says Wausau Paper recently upgraded its Wave’n Dry dispensing system in order to improve functionality — specifically installation flexibility.

“The sensor was relocated and is now pointed downward, where previously it had faced forward. This allows it to be installed in a variety of applications.

In addition, the system’s sensor sensitivity was adjusted, and the battery holder was modified to allow users to install batteries directly into the holder, eliminating the need for special battery packs or adapters.

McDermott says Technical Concepts has been test marketing its Auto Door Opener, a simple retrofit that opens restroom doors with the wave of a hand in front of a sensor.

“The patented design makes installation easy and allows the door to be opened manually with no extra effort,” he says. McDermott notes that the product is compliant with regulations developed by the American Disabilities Act (ADA).

Recent Unveilings
Kruger Products recently launched the Titan mechanical dispenser unit that answers the demand for hygienic touchless towel systems. “The Titan is specifically targeted to the food processing, healthcare, food service, education and property management markets,” Linney explains. “It reduces the risk of cross contamination and germ transfer because only the towel is touched, not the dispenser.”

Last year, Sloan Valve Co., Franklin Park, Ill., launched a new jan/san division — Sloan JANSAN. “Recognizing that there are millions of manual flush operations all over the United States, we came out with a battery operated product — called Smooth — that easily changes the manual operation into an automatic one with the use of an electronic flusher,” says Susan Kennedy, marketing director.

She explains that the product is mounted over the handle and doesn’t require the user to turn the water off when installing it. “This is the only one of its kind with a manual override, so no matter what happens it will always work,” Kennedy adds.

Sloan Valve also produces an automatic faucet — the Solis — which is solar powered. “It has a lithium battery but is powered by the lighting in the restroom,” Kennedy says. “That provides the battery with a longer life. And we have a radio frequency powered faucet, called the ‘RF.’”

kapalko says SCA recently introduced the Tork Intuition, an electronic, hands-free towel dispenser. SCA is also planning on launching a new Tork conventional bath tissue dispenser that uses high capacity rolls. “It has an automatic transfer system,” kapalko explains. “When the primary roll is just about gone, the next roll advances without anyone touching it.”

Research & Development
New products are — for the most part — heralded as the industry’s main evolutionary factor. However, products have to answer a definite need in the marketplace, or they risk jeopardizing companies’ credibility.

Kimberly-Clark Professional North America, Roswell, Ga., is looking at all product categories it produces, and some new possibilities, to determine areas that touch-free could benefit from, says Richard Thorne, director of restroom business.

“We want dispensing systems for towels, tissues and soaps that will meet consumer needs and growing industry trends, which include environment, electronic and hygiene,” Thorne explains. “These are the key drivers that I see.”

Restroom aesthetics and functionality are becoming more of a focus for SCA designers and engineers, kapalko says. “We’re very intuitive when it comes to design and function of our products. We have our dispensers in major airport restrooms used by all types of people. We know that patrons’ experiences in a restroom affect their perceived image of that facility.”

Wausau Paper has a long-standing R&D philosophy that helps it offer value-added products and services to their customers and end users. “We use customer feedback and test marketing to develop and improve our products, including touch-free technology,” says Stanland. “The improvements that we made recently to our Wave’n Dry dispenser was a result of our market research.”

Technical Concepts uses a “stage gate process” for touchless product development. “It’s a formalized R&D program that gives us flexibility in the early stages to investigate many different ideas and encourages our people to go out and get new ideas and search for new technologies that we can apply to our products,” McDermott says. “We’ve now got a nice portfolio of concepts that keep bubbling up.”

Two years ago, Sloan Valve initiated a new product development initiative (NPDI). “It’s all based on up-front research coming from a team from each one of our company’s major divisions,” says product manager, Bob Lewis. “Those ideas are funneled through our group and it’s their responsibility to keep the process moving. This helps us get our new products out the door faster.”

The continued advancements in touchless products will help the industry reach its most important goal — meeting the needs and expectations of end users. “The worldwide emphasis on health and hand hygiene continues to drive demand for automation, so it should be safe to assume that the restroom of the near future will be cleaner, fresher, and more inviting because of improved automatic fixtures,” says McDermott.

Jordan Fox is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer.

Audio Message Systems Can Help Spread The Word About Handwashing

To help communicate the importance of good hand hygiene, two companies — Kimberly-Clark Professional, Roswell, Ga. and Radal Technology, Lancashire, U.K. — have each created unique audio reminder systems that emit recorded messages to restroom users.

“Several months ago we introduced our Hand Hygiene Voice Module which basically provides a gentle audio hint about the importance of washing hands,” says Richard Thorne, director of washroom business, N.A., for Kimberly-Clark. “It’s targeted primarily for health care, food service, schools and other organizations.”

Mounted on a wall with four B-cell batteries, it has a two-minute rotating loop message in both English and Spanish, available in a male or female voice, which can be set according to which restroom the module is in. “Its message says, ‘Handwashing reduces the spread of germs. Thank you for washing your hands,’” Thorne explains. “It goes into a ’sleep mode’ over weekends and/or when automatic lights turn off in a restroom. When lights switch on again, so will the message.”

Thorne says that a 12 percent increase in handwashing has been recorded during testing of the units after installation.

Radal Technology has brought to market the SpeechPOD, a compact programmable speech-messaging unit, says Brent Dunleavy, the company’s managing director. Powered either by battery or an external source, it can easily be screwed into a wall or ceiling, and can produce up to seven different messages in multiple languages.
“Generally our messages are activated by infrared sensors, but they can be controlled by a magnetic door contact, similar to that of a burglar alarm, or by a pressure mat,” Dunleavy explains. “The messages can discuss the importance of washing hands, or warn restroom users that floors have just been cleaned and are slippery, or state that smoking is not allowed in the restroom.”

In the United Kingdom, elementary school children are recording their own messages, ”Don’t be a germ, wash your hands!” is one example. ”That’s been an effective, motivational technique,” according to Dunleavy. — J.F.