Dispensing with Technology: Providing Dilution Solutions

Today's chemical dispensing systems provide the same results for the custodial services manager: An accurate solution of cleaning chemicals and water, each and every time, with quality results that have a direct impact on the bottom line - the housekeeping budget.

A while ago I attended a football game in a stadium with a capacity of more than 80,000 spectators. While waiting in line at the concession stand, I saw an amazing piece of technology at work: A dispensing system that mixed water, carbon dioxide and drink flavorings together. It was capable of dispensing various flavors and types of soft drinks, all specifically metered to provide customer satisfaction and to economize in the dispensing of the ingredients included in a soft drink, so that profits could be maximized and costs minimized.

What works for concessions stands dispensing thousands of soft drinks applies in the custodial and housekeeping setting. The system in the stadium mixed the drinks correctly every time, using the right amount of ingredients, and dispensing soft drinks that met the customer's expectations. Likewise, today's variety of chemical dispensing systems provide the same results for the custodial services manager: An accurate solution of cleaning chemicals and water, each and every time, with quality results that have a direct impact on the bottom line - the housekeeping budget.

Modern chemical dispensing systems are varied in such a way as to allow small and large users to benefit from the technology. Some systems are very basic and others are more complex, yet they all have one common feature: The proper use of these chemical-dispensing systems saves money. Gone are the days (at least the days should be long gone) when custodians mixed chemicals as they wished - a splash here, a dab there.

The 'glug-glug' method is now being replaced with an exact science of measuring and using chemicals. Chemical dispensing systems include:

* Packets or pouches of either dry or liquid concentrated chemical that is mixed with the appropriate amount of water to make the end cleaning solution.
* Snap-on or screw-on fixtures that attach to faucets and that can dispense concentrated chemicals from a box (or a bag), using water pressure and special orifices to mix the appropriate amount of water and chemical.
* Wall mounted systems that are basically plumbed to a water fixture that can mix multiple chemicals.
* Computerized systems, plumbed to a water source, which can do all of the above. These machines can mix chemicals at various strengths and usually can mix a wider variety of chemicals.
* Portable mixing stations or dispensing systems that are mounted on a wheeled cart. The custodians can roll the mixing station from location to location, hook the equipment up to an approved faucet and mix the chemicals on the spot where they are working.

Several developments during the last few years have made the use of chemical dispensing systems more attractive, even invaluable, to the custodial manager: There has been a significant movement away from wall-mounted or faucet-mounted dispensing units to smaller, more mobile units allowing custodial personnel to move them from floor to floor. With mobile units, it's not necessary to have a chemical dispensing system on every floor or in every closet because the custodial cleaning team can locate mobile stations as needed.

The original dispensing equipment was quite cumbersome, but recently there has been a move towards compact wall-, shelf- or counter-mounted units. These units take up minimal space yet provide many of the advantages of dispensing units.

Some systems now use dry chemicals that work like water softeners that use block salt. The chemical is in solid form and is placed in a dispenser that accurately mixes water and chemical each time. The benefit of the dry block chemical is that it will not spill, is easy to store and the potential for injury from the dry chemical is minimal.

Chemical dispensing systems have many advantages that far outweigh the disadvantages of such systems. However, before investing in such technology, several items should be considered:

* Unless you purchase generic dispensing equipment, most of the equipment today is provided as part of a package deal with a chemical company. You buy their chemicals and they provide the dispensing equipment. This can be an ideal arrangement for both parties if the chemicals work and the dispensers work. If not, dissatisfaction can result for both parties. Before locking your organization into a chemical dispensing system, and sole source chemicals (since most chemical dispensing systems that are not generic have a sole source clause in the user agreement) ensure that the dispensing system is adequate for your needs, and that the chemicals provided work in your environment.
* Chemical dispensing systems are subject to water pressure, which can have an impact upon how chemicals are mixed with water. Before installing a system, make sure that you have stable water pressure.
* Any system that has water flowing through it is subject to the impact of water quality. Many of the mixing orifices are very small (1:256 is a very fine orifice) and may become blocked by sediment. A good preventive maintenance and check-up program is necessary to ensure that chemicals and water are mixing correctly.

* Dispensing systems should have appropriate back-flow prevention units either built in, or an approved back flow preventor should be installed in-line or on the faucet to which the dispensing unit is attached. Check with a licensed plumber to ensure that the dispensers meet or exceed all local and state ordinances.
* Dispensing systems, while providing most of the answers to the need for properly mixing chemicals, do not provide for all chemicals that you may need. There are systems available that can mix 10-20 different cleaning solutions, but the average user may not need such complex units, and will still have to resort to buying some chemicals that are either ready to use or that must be mixed manually. Any chemical-dispensing system, while providing most of the answers to mixing chemicals, is not all things to all people. However, such systems are light years away from the "glug-glug" philosophy of old, where a person when mixing a chemical would say, "If a little is good, more must be better." This method defeats the use of the chemical and makes end-use chemical costs soar.

Dispensing Systems Are Here to Stay
There is no doubt that chemical dispensing systems are here to stay, and over time, these systems will become increasingly sophisticated. While there will always be a need for basic chemical systems (such as pre-measured packs), the demand for consistent on-site proportioning and dispensing of chemicals will continue to grow.

Computers have already revolutionized chemical-dispensing systems, much like robotics has revolutionized floor scrubbers. Watch for the day when there will be a blending of computerized dispensing systems and robotics. Such technology partially exists in the consumer world where specially designated gasoline pumps and specially designated cars are already providing for drive through gas stations where people no longer have to touch the gasoline or pump, and the driver does not have to get out the car.

The day is coming when robotic scrubbers will back up to a computerized filling station (chemical dispensing system), the scrubber will be filled with cleaning solution, and the robot will continue the task of cleaning, all without the intervention of a human - allowing the human element, the custodian, to perform the more sophisticated tasks involved in a day's cleaning schedule.

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