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Remote monitoring for carwash operations

October 11, 2010
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Summary: This month, Professional Carwashing & Detailing® asked Tom Noble, transportation wash segment manager for Schneider Electric, about a new tool for owners of tunnel carwashes.

Question: What is remote monitoring and how do I decide whether my tunnel wash locations need to have it?

Tom Noble: For a carwash owner, remote monitoring is the ability to get information about your business from anywhere – home, office, or the local coffee shop. Using a personal computer or PDA with Internet access, a carwash owner has access to a broad range of operational data such as the number of cars through the facility, types of washes being selected, revenues for that day and even chemical levels.

As the sophistication of the facilities themselves expands, the value of remote monitoring increases and the ability to manage and supervise the technical and functional activities of the carwash becomes significantly more important.

Onsite technical staff is expensive, particularly when it’s not unusual for a full-service carwash to already employ 6-10 people to work the registers, prep cars, vacuum the interiors and clean the windows.

But not having skilled technical support available can put your whole operation at risk, because even the simplest maintenance issue, such as a dirty photoelectric sensor, can shut everything down.

Remote monitoring allows owners to avoid paying onsite technical experts without having to worry about outages. It simplifies data collection and the understanding of every facet of the carwash.

With this window into daily operations, and the ability to do routine maintenance remotely, it is entirely possible to operate a carwash on full automatic.

The necessity of a system
To answer the second part of your question, if you own just one local carwash, remote monitoring might be nice to have but not necessary or cost-effective in this instance. You may just as easily check on the facility in person if it is nearby and convenient.

But if you own multiple carwash facilities, have other businesses, or simply own a carwash as an outside investment, remote monitoring is almost a necessity. Rather than driving around from one facility to another or leaving your primary occupation to check on your carwash facility, you can tap into that information from your office, home, or simply allow a service company to take care of everything.

Remote monitoring also helps to minimize maintenance issues and reduce downtime by notifying you in advance when events have the potential to cause outages or reduce traffic. This could include anything from low chemical levels to a tripped conveyor overload.

A remote monitoring system is smart enough to alert an owner to these types of situations at the facility via e-mail or using an audible alarm on a PDA.

Going online, you or your service company can access the carwash, identify system faults and possibly correct them remotely. Or, if hourly on-site service needs to be dispatched, the problem can be identified before the service person arrives, saving both time and money.

More benefits
An added benefit of remote monitoring is the carwash operations information it collects to help you evaluate the performance of your carwash. It shows the busiest and slowest time periods for the carwash and monitors the types of washes that are the most popular with customers.

With that information you can adjust pricing and the hours of operation, or modify manpower and maintenance schedules to better service your customers and improve profitability.

One of the greatest benefits is the ability to significantly reduce labor and facility costs. Being able to open and close the doors, turn lights on and off, and power up or shutdown the carwash remotely, an owner can eliminate on-site staff and reduce utility costs.

Simple things such as automatically closing doors when the outside temperature drops to a certain level, or powering down the lights when there is no carwash activity, offer a huge potential for a large payback in energy cost savings.

How does remote monitoring work? The key is to have Web-enabled automation controls. This allows owners to access carwash operational information from any location with Internet access. Simply dial up the IP address for your carwash and check on anything from customer through-rates to low air pressure.

An experienced carwash manufacturer can help you design the right software and interface to make any operation capable of benefiting from remote monitoring. This includes incorporating these features into new carwashes or retrofitting older systems.

The decision on whether or not to invest in a remote monitoring system comes down to whether or not you can justify the up-front costs to get your desired return on investment.

With the savings on travel to carwash sites, fewer on-site employees, lower maintenance and fewer service calls, the return on investment can be quick and substantial.

Tom Noble is the transportation wash segment manager for Schneider Electric’s North American Operating Division.