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www. My Laundry Room .com ? New technology is revolutionizing campus laundries

Vendors are continuing to find innovative uses for campus cards and other advanced technologies in places as seemingly mundane as the dormitory laundry room. The latest wrinkle: washers and dryers that are not only activated by the student’s campus card – that not only automatically inject the proper amount of detergent and fabric softener – but that actually can be linked to the Internet so students don’t waste time trekking to the laundry room only to find all the washers full. They can check the status of each machine in advance, in real-time via the web.

Two companies-USA Technologies, Malvern, Penn., and Mac-Gray, Cambridge, Mass.- have operational systems doing things like those described above.

USA Technologies in conjunction with Unilever (makers of Wisk and Surf detergents) created an online laundry payment, operating, and service system known as eSuds aimed at the college laundry market.

From the laundry room, students activate the eSuds system at a control hub with a swipe of their student ID cards or by keying in a pin number. The system automatically injects a pre-measured amount of soap and fabric softener into each load at the correct time.

But with IBM as a collaborator, eSuds is also able to connect these washing machines and dryers to the Internet, giving students a virtual view of the laundry room. They can then check machine availability, pay with their student ID and choose to receive an email or be paged when their wash and dry cycles are complete. This system also allows laundry operators the ability to go online to monitor service conditions, usage, and sales.

“Together, we are introducing a new ‘pay injection’ laundry service to college students, providing them with a higher level of service and convenience,” said Erika Bender, USA Technologies’ vice president and channel manager.

According to Ms. Bender, eSuds was initially offered as a service for operators and students, but now “has become a complete end-to-end solution. We’re working with Unilever to integrate our equipment and systems to deliver a seamless eSuds system on campuses.”

Also working to incorporate new technologies into their laundry offerings is Mac-Gray, the nation’s largest laundry facilities contractor serving the college and university market. Its PrecisionWash system will automatically inject liquid detergent directly into the wash cycle. While it may not seem like a revolutionary idea, to students it can be just that. PrecisionWash means no more buying, storing and lugging detergent to the dorm laundry rooms. And no more late night trips to the market for supplies. Combine this convenience with campus card-based payments and a revolution really has occurred in the way students do their wash.

PrecisionWash is currently in use at four Massachusetts schools: Babson College, Babson Park; Endicott College, Beverly; the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams; and Tufts University, Medford.

At Endicott College, Lynne O’Toole, vice president of finance likes the fact that the students use their existing student card. “Working with Mac-Gray, we successfully made the transition from coin to card-operated laundry equipment last year. Now with just the push of a button our students can also purchase detergent in a cashless transaction. It’s very efficient and it integrates seamlessly with our existing campus card system, which made this an easy decision for us. We began working with Mac-Gray on this project in March of this year, and we were glad to test the first prototype of the system.”

Another selling point is that the system is environmental-friendly. Because the system uses just the recommended amount of detergent, there’s no wasted soap that can damage clothes or the environment. “These colleges are committed to environmental responsibility,” said Stewart MacDonald, Mac-Gray’s chairman and chief executive officer. “The ‘green’ focus at these schools will now extend to the washers and the detergent used with the PrecisionWash system.”

Mac-Gray has been integrating college laundry card-operated systems for nearly 15 years. “We’ve introduced several new card technologies, including smart card systems for resident convenience,” said Mr. MacDonald. “With the PrecisionWash product, we are charting new directions.”

Its newest direction, though, will be, like USA Technologies, connecting its washers and dryers to the Internet.

According to the company, future developments will include Internet-linked laundry rooms that enable students to check machine availability and allow administrators to have remote access to usage and financial information for every machine.

Mac-Gray contracts its laundry rooms under long-term leases with property owners, colleges and universities and government agencies. These leases typically grant Mac-Gray exclusive contract rights to laundry rooms on the lessor’s premise for a fixed term, which is generally seven to ten years, in exchange for a negotiated portion of the revenue collected. The company operates about 30,000 multiple-housing laundry rooms in 27 states in the Northeastern, Midwestern and Southeastern United States and the District of Columbia.

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