Using Internet of Things to clean up
The idea of an intelligent restroom that would know when it needed a good cleaning or could initiate stock replenishment had long been on the wish-list of Kimberly Clark's professional division, which sells all kinds of products and accessories for commercial restrooms.
Keeping commercial restrooms properly stocked and cleaned had been an ongoing challenge for KCC customers, which were constantly peppered with customer complaints about missing items or dirty fixtures. They were also struggling with inefficiencies related to their manual upkeep processes, which called for personnel to go from restroom to restroom to perform regular maintenance tasks without any insight into what to expect when they got there.
"We did an evaluation to look for potential opportunities and ways we could disrupt the competition," explains Jennifer Sepull, Kimberly Clark's CIO. "The question became what could we offer building management teams so they would come to our total solution because we helped them manage operations better."
While the business had a clear vision for so-called "intelligent restroom," they didn't have a handle on how to pull it off. The business side had experimented with a few technology implementations in the past, but they weren't successful due to excessive cost or some other limitation, Sepull says.
KCC's ITS team had filed for some initial patents related to sensors and applications and when the Internet of Things (IoT) began to come into the forefront, they were able to go to the business and show them a viable and effective way to make the intelligent restroom vision a reality, she explains. "We were able to show them an opportunity to leverage low-cost sensors, their existing networking and some of our application development work to come together and solve this problem," she says.
KCC focused on three main areas to ensure the system is properly safeguarded. The solution is run from within a private area network at the customer site, which ensures the network is safe and not a threat to their information; they encrypt data during transmission to make sure data leaving the customer site en route to the cloud is protected; and the core applications enables levels of security and access controls to be established based on role and user privileges.
"This may not cause someone to crash a car, but every time you put any device into a system like this, there's an opportunity for someone to come in and pose a threat to the internal network," Sepull says.
The Intelligent Restroom uses low-cost sensors placed on all of the equipment—paper towel dispensers, toilet paper dispensers, soap dispenser, and toilets—which collect and feed data in real time through a network to a set of apps, which then employ the patented algorithms to determine if a toilet needs to be cleaned or if a dispenser is low. Maintenance managers see the real-time indicators via an iPhone app, allowing them to prioritize staff resources appropriately and gain insight on which rest ooms have the most traffic or experience the most maintenance problems. In turn, maintenance personnel can better plan their routes and keep carts flush with the appropriate stock.
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