IoT Washing System Cuts Water Consumption and Repair Headaches

For a midscale hotel in Massachusetts, the Xeros laundering system has reduced water costs and downtime, while lightening the load for employees.
Published: November 30, 2016

In 2013, Chad Hanson, the general manager of a Comfort Inn hotel with 134 rooms, was spending far too much time thinking about laundry. The two machines on which the Danvers, Mass., hotel relied for daily laundering of sheets, towels, kitchen linens and so forth were the same age as the hotel: 20 years. And they were showing their age.

“We were having to get service on them all the time, so our service costs were through the roof,” Hanson says. Plus, the old machines were huge water hogs, using 100 to 120 gallons for every load. With water costs rising, this added to the financial strain. “We had to get new machines.”

The Xeros laundering system

Hanson happened to see a flier for a company called Xeros, which claimed to have a new approach to laundry. Its proprietary machines use small plastic beads to help agitate and clean textiles, allowing it to significantly reduce water consumption.

“I thought it sounded too good to be true,” Hanson says. “It was this whole new type of technology that no one had heard of, and they said they’d save us 70 percent of water use [for laundry]. Those seemed like bold statements. I was skeptical because laundry is laundry, and has not changed in the past 50 years.”

Despite his skepticism, Hanson called the number on the flier. A few weeks later, he and his staff maintenance manager drove up to a hotel in Manchester, N.H., to see the Xeros machines in action. They watched a load go through a machine, took the cleaned items out themselves to inspect them, and saw that the cycle had consumed around 30 gallons.

Xeros machines are instrumented with sensors that track a range of metrics, including water flow, the amount of detergent used, and the machine’s uptime. An integrated gateway device uses the hotel’s internet connection to transmit all of this data, along with diagnostic information that tracks the machine’s performance and includes any alerts related to potential malfunctions, to Xeros’ cloud-based servers. Customers access this data through a web-based portal.

Hanson liked what we saw, he says, and began negotiating.

Xeros spun out of a research project conducted at the University of Leeds, in the United Kingdom, in 2006. Researchers at its School of Textiles had been studying ways to improve the way in which dye is applied to different fabrics. They were experimenting with different polymer-based application techniques when they started to wonder whether the small plastic beads that they were testing as a means of applying dye onto fabric could also be used to remove stains from fabric as well.

Eventually, the team discovered that nylon beads, since they are highly absorbent in humid conditions and are also resilient, could be used, along with detergent and water (in amounts much smaller than conventional washing machines), to clean textiles. Xeros machines contain a reservoir that contains 4.5-millimeter nylon beads, manufactured by BASF. Early in a wash cycle, the beads are released into the main washing cylinder. Toward the end of the cycle, as the textiles are being spun, the beads are recaptured into the reservoir. They are then reused during subsequent cycles.

Every 1,000 to 1,500 cycles, once the beads start to degrade, they are replaced. This is a significant improvement over the earliest iterations of the beads, explains Jonathan Benjamin, Xeros Technology Group’s global president of laundry. Xeros partnered with BASF to refine the formulation of the nylon beads in order to optimize their lifecycle—initially, they had to be replaced after 500 cycles.

Benjamin says that while Xeros has been selling its washing machines since 2007, it did not begin to integrate the machine-monitoring sensors through cloud connectivity and add the remote-management platform until 2012 in the United Kingdom, and then in 2013 in the United States. “We realized that to validate our claims and verify outcomes, we needed to use of IoT,” he says.

Hanson says that he receives monthly usage reports. “It gives me the number of wash cycles and a daily and monthly breakdown so I can see X loads are being done,” he explains.

Before each cycle is started, an employee must enter the type of textile being washed into the machine’s user interface. This determines the type of cycle.

“In the busy summer months,” Hanson says, “I can see that we run 15 to 16 loads each day in each machine and I can see which cycles are being run,” what percentage of loads are sheets, how many are towels, etc. If an employee notices that a load of heavily soiled items—such as cleaning cloths from the kitchen, for example—needs to be re-washed, he or she can re-run the same load by choosing “reclaim.” This appears on the usage report as well. If it were to happen frequently, management might choose to investigate, in order to determine whether there was a business process issue or if the frequent reclaim cycles were linked to a problem with the machine’s performance.

Hanson says he also receives an alert whenever there is an operational error with one of the two machines at the hotel. In the two years since they were installed, he says, “The errors we have are few and far between.” Such errors tend to happen when something large—a comforter, for example—creates a blockage inside the machine that might prevent the beads from being released.

The reports can also be used to match labor hours to productivity. “So say a site, like a hotel ownership group, with decentralized management wants to know when machines are starting and stopping and the machine utilization rate,” Benjamin states. “If the shift starts at 7 AM and the machines doesn’t start until 9 AM, then there is a problem.”

Xeros leases the machines to its customers—which, aside from hotels, include fitness centers, dry cleaners (that also offer conventional laundering services), and industrial laundering services. “The lease payment includes the machines, which we will own at end of lease term, and it also includes service, maintenance, and all of your chemicals [detergents],” Hanson explains.

As for overall savings, Hanson feels confident that moving to Xeros has benefitted the hotel—which changed ownership last year and is now called the North Shore Hotel—in a number of ways, even though he admits that penciling out the exact savings would be difficult.

“We’ve never had the laundry room metered on its own, so I did not know exactly how much we are spending on laundry [with the old machines]. But now I can see our [water] usage on a month-over-month basis,” Hanson says, adding that he can work this into the metric, known as cost per occupied room, that hoteliers use to measure cost. “Our cost our occupied room has gone down, but the cost of water has gone up. And if we still had the older machines, we would be using far more water, so there is no doubt that we’ve had water savings.” Add to that a major reduction in maintenance costs, compared to the old machines.

What’s more, Hanson notes, because the Xeros machines use less water than conventional models, the textiles are dryer when the cycle is finished. That means the dryers do not need to run as long to dry the textiles, which provides energy savings. Finally, since the dryer textiles are lighter, they’re easier for his staff to transfer to the dryers.

Xeros is now looking ahead and plans to break into the consumer market—not by selling the washing machines direct to consumers, but by providing laundering services for specialty items in which laundry would be picked up, brought to an industrial laundry service using Xeros machines, and then returned to the customers. Benjamin says Xeros is looking at testing this new service in the marketplace next year.