Integrated Facilities Management involves many services including cleaning, security, mechanical, electrical, landscaping and pest control. With the availability of IoT sensors, the Facilities Management industry is on the lookout for ways to integrate sensors to implement utilization-based facilities management. Having developed a Smart Facilities Management system, we found Smart Toilet Systems to be one of the best use cases for IoT integration and utilization-base facilities management.
Utilization Based Facilities Management
Traditional facilities maintenance involves scheduled inspections. Regardless of usage, cleaning is arranged at regular frequencies. For toilets where usage is irregular, such an approach is inefficient. During periods of under-utilization, cleaners would be scheduled for cleaning which was not needed. During periods of over-utilization, cleaners would not be there when they were needed.
One obvious solution is to deploy people counters. We deployed passive infrared sensors to count the number of people entering and leaving the toilet. The sensor would send MQTT messages to our Smart Facilities Management system every minute of the number of people that it has detected in the past minute. We built configurable triggering logic within the software system so that each toilet could trigger an alert based on different thresholds.
While people counters are useful, clearly, they are not a complete solution. Toilets, unfortunately, can become smelly even when utilization is low. Ammonia sensors were deployed to complement the people counters. Again, the sensors simply sent raw data to the Smart Facilities Management system, and all triggering logic and threshold setting was handled in the software system. The Smart Facilities Management system also handled automated assignment, alerts, ticketing and other workflow management processes.
Sensors can automatically detect some situations where cleaning is required. Additional sensors such as bin sensors, toilet roll sensors and soap dispenser sensors can further detect other common situations which require the attention of the cleaner. However, the ROI for each sensor type needs to be justified and if as the anticipated triggering frequency of the sensor becomes lower, the ROI also diminishes.
Automated sensor activation should therefore be complemented by a convenient way for toilet users to report issues. Here we implemented a configurable QR code system. Upon scanning a unique QR code for each toilet, a form would be brought up on the users’ mobile phone web browser, where the user can quickly indicate the issue, which would again be ticketed within the Smart Facilities Management system.
Key Benefits and Lessons Learnt
In general, utilization-based facilities management has the potential to simultaneously increase workforce productivity and user satisfaction. Although we discussed a Smart Toilet implementation, the same is true for other areas of Facilities Management, such as equipment maintenance.
For successful IoT implementation, the respective hardware and software approach needs to be correctly conceptualized. In this case, we chose MQTT as a lightweight protocol that met our needs and also opted for all configuration and business logic processing to be handled at the software application level. This approach not only meant that deployment and integration was easy, but that raw data could be captured for subsequent data analytics.
The sensors also had to be complemented by a easy feedback reporting system in order to satisfactorily deliver a more complete “Smart Toilet” system. All alerts, tickets and workflows had to then be consolidated and handled by the Smart Facilities Management system so that management and facilities management had a “Single Source of Truth” to refer to and from which to generate reports.