Here's How ERM Can Help Your Rodent Management - Pest Control Technology

2022-10-02 00:53:38 By : Mr. Shangguo Ma

Find out how electronic remote monitoring is having a growing role in rodent management.

There’s undoubtedly a cool factor involved when a pest management company brings cutting-edge technology to an age-old process. But thinking that an electronic remote monitoring (ERM) system for rodent control is just another cool gadget is a misconception.

“Visionary PMPs — the same type of folks who came to us several years ago asking about the potential for sensors and the digital transformation of monitoring — have now adopted ERM to create an enhanced service that is giving them a competitive advantage,” said Mitchell Goldstein, business development manager, Digital Pest Management Group, Bayer Crop Science, which makes ERM devices. “They have elevated their services and relationships by reallocating time formerly spent checking empty traps to more meaningful activities: assessing the overall risk within a facility and identifying problems before they happen.”

As those early conversations between manufacturers and PMPs took place across the industry, manufacturers sought solutions that would address not only the need for more efficient monitoring, but also the desire for deeper insight into accounts. They have since developed and launched a variety of ERM systems and devices.

PMPs can choose from ERM systems whose sensors fit onto or into existing equipment — multi-catch traps, snap traps or bait stations — and systems providing devices that house both monitoring technology and a killing mechanism. Depending on the system’s wireless communication platform, a technician can receive capture alerts on their phone or other device in real time from any location (LoRaWAN) or only when they are on-site at an account (Bluetooth or Wi-Fi). These alerts can help the technician home in on the traps that require servicing and help inform strategic decisions at the corporate level about how to best approach a particular site’s rodent issues.

“It’s exactly the way I envision effective rodent management: more time spent on inspection and preventative measures, and less time checking empty traps,” said Michael Knappenberger, food safety account manager, Hoffman’s Exterminating Co., who uses electronic monitoring in audited food facilities, stadiums and other large commercial accounts. “Plus, we can look at trending data based on the heat map, which illustrates, for example, that the south side of the building has more activity than the north. With that information, we know where to focus our efforts.”

And while electronic monitoring has become particularly popular among pest management companies that service large, complex accounts, it is also gaining traction among those who provide rodent management services in residential markets. Del Lawson, vice president, Modern Pest Control, said the technology is ideal for his Houston market.

“Construction and urban sprawl produce an incredible amount of rodent pressure here, especially from roof rats,” Lawson said. “We use ERM in 95 percent of our residential rodent exclusion accounts, as well as in commercial trapping situations. Installing these devices reduces the workload on our team because they don’t have to go to an account every three to five days to check empty traps. It also provides a better experience for our customers, because we can remove rodents within 24-36 hours of getting an alert.”

THE WIN-WIN-WIN. ERM has potential benefits for customers, companies and service technicians. PMPs who are using ERM cite a number of areas where the technology has helped them provide better service and build stronger relationships with their customers: time, transparency, employee satisfaction and safety, to name a few.

TIME SAVINGS/REALLOCATION. The benefit PMPs seem to appreciate most is the time saved in not checking empty traps. At commercial accounts, many choose to allocate that extra time to doing more inspection and exclusion work. With residential accounts, the advantage often lies in making fewer service calls.

Pat Hottel, technical director, McCloud Services, was eager to test electronic remote monitoring [ERM] systems and devices for rodents as the technology was emerging. She published a report as early as 2017, based on field tests of two systems, promising “plans to test more.” That’s a promise Hottel has kept.

“We have tested a variety of different models, including those that communicate via Wi-Fi and those that are LoRa-based,” she said. “We have tested and/or now have permanent installations of multi-catch trap units, bait stations, snap traps and electrocuting kill tunnel traps. We have used units that photograph the rodent, as well as those that use either mechanical or infrared sensors for the alerts.”

Hottel and Eric Melass, vice president of Killum Pest Control, offer the following best practices for commercial and residential accounts.

Begin with a detailed survey and analysis of site needs. Each site has unique conditions and pest pressures. Analysis is important in determining whether the site is a good candidate for ERM and which system and devices will work best. Among your considerations:

Allocate time for management of the system. Don’t underestimate the value of the data. Make sure you have time for review and analysis, whether for identifying root causes, charting trends or reassessing device placement.

Discuss expectations with the client prior to startup. Is the expectation that the service specialist will check alerted traps immediately, within 24 hours or during the next service? Are there factors beyond client expectations, such as regulations, that need to be considered?

Keep track of your inventory. The life expectancy for ERM devices can be many years; you can use them again and again. So, make sure you’re getting them all back once a service is complete. Only use them in places where you know you can get them back and hold your technicians accountable for returning them to the inventory. Every device you lose negatively affects return on investment.

Clearly communicate the value to your customers. Customers love hearing that your technician will be notified of any catches and then respond within 24 hours to get rid of those rodents. They don’t have to worry about smells or fly infestations, and they will have the peace of mind of knowing their issue is being proactively addressed.

Leverage opportunities for ongoing service. Once you’ve solved the rodent issue, make your customer aware that you can leave some devices in place for a monthly fee. “We’ve had customers keep the service going for several months or even years,” said Melass. “It’s an additional revenue stream that offers them continuing peace of mind.”

“When we began designing our electronic monitoring products, we interviewed some of our important PMP partners to better understand their needs. One thing that always struck me as amazing was that when I asked them, ‘How many traps do you check each month that don’t have a rodent caught inside?’ the answer was always around 80 or 90 percent,” said Patrick Lynch, senior vice president of sales, Bell Laboratories, which makes ERM devices. “Given that knowledge, I wasn’t surprised when we documented time savings of 78 percent in a test setting [that involved a 600,000-square-foot facility outfitted with 228 devices].”

Kevin Keim, strategic account manager, Corteva Agriscience, which also supplies an ERM system, reported similar time savings results with the ActiveSense system.

“In commercial environments, we’re seeing a 70-90 percent reduction in time and labor, especially in sites being serviced weekly,” Keim said. “We heavily encourage PMPs to reinvest a portion of that time and labor savings back into the site, to focus on other areas that may be causing noncompliance issues. That drives value to the end user, who is primarily interested in passing their audit and protecting their brand.”

Hank Hirsch, CEO, RK Environmental Services, makes a point of quantifying the extra value his clients will get from electronic monitoring as his team services their food processing and distribution facilities.

“I explain that we have historically spent 80 percent of our time (representing 80 percent of their investment) servicing devices. That left only 20 percent of our time for inspection, documentation and exclusion,” he said. “With electronic monitoring, we can reverse that ratio, applying 80 percent of our time to more valuable activities and just 20 percent to checking devices. By changing the time allocation, we can, without question, provide a much higher level of service.”

That higher level of service can truly give a pest management company a competitive edge, Goldstein said. “PMPs can change the perception of their company from a commoditized trap-checking service to a risk-based partner focused on protecting their client’s brand and providing real-time data and trends to make informed decisions.”

On the residential side, Lawson said the savings is in service calls. “Since we started using ERM, we’ve been able to eliminate about 1.5 trips per site,” he said. “If you’re doing 25 rodent exclusions a month across 12 months, that works out to 450 service calls your technician didn’t have to go out on. That’s significant in terms of not only workload but also fuel savings.”

TRANSPARENCY. ERM provides PMPs and their customers with data-driven insights into what’s happening between site visits and over time. The data often provides information leading to the root causes of rodent activity.

“Imagine a situation in which a service specialist on weekly visits continually sees rodent activity on one side of a facility,” said Hyun Mee Graves, vice president of marketing, Ecolab Pest Elimination. “They can’t be sure if the activity is caused by structural issues, poor diligence about keeping doors closed or infested incoming goods. If this location has an [ERM system], our service specialist would receive time and date stamps of activity, creating a thorough record of exactly when and where issues are occurring. This makes it easier to deduce that activity peaks after a particular supplier’s delivery or during a particular work shift when doors are being propped open.”

Graves said that in addition to supporting this type of root-cause analysis, ERM reporting and visual tools facilitate conversations with customers that are essential to effective rodent control programs and to building strong partnerships.

“A pest management company can share up-to-the-minute status through email reporting or access to [our ERM]... so their client can see how well their facilities are being protected,” Goldstein said. “The data also supports companies as they evaluate their overall risk. Without this visibility, they would need to either gather information from disparate sources or face having some holes in that risk assessment. The key is to stop infestations before they start; for that, you need data.”

Some pest management companies also study the data to assess seasonal trends that affect their accounts, Goldstein said. They can look at the previous year’s data to determine what actions they may want to take in anticipation of colder weather, for example, when more rodents typically come inside. It gives them a more precise idea of when to focus on checking doors and beginning exclusion work.

EMPLOYEE SATISFACTION. As the Great Resignation rages on, companies are trying all kinds of strategies to attract and retain good employees. Offering them a more challenging and rewarding role, where they feel like what they’re doing really matters, can go a long way in keeping their morale (and productivity) high.

“ERM allows technicians to be superstars,” said Mark Ebner, account development manager, Victor VLink Products, Woodstream, which produces an ERM system. “They are trained to be pest management problem-solvers, not trap checkers. We know that just checking traps is not a good way to control rodents. A technician needs to be free to do a proper inspection, to be the pest detective that determines that a door sweep has been chewed out or that there is a gap in the wall providing an entryway for rodents. When you bring information like that to a customer, you demonstrate the value of your service.”

And you feel good about yourself. “When our technicians engage a customer in conversation about using ERM technology, there is a source of pride that our company is an early adopter in our market, especially on the residential side,” said Lawson. “They like telling the customer not to be concerned — that these traps will text us when you get a catch so that we can respond quickly and provide you with the best service possible.”

SAFETY. When technicians don’t have to check every trap every visit, they don’t have to put themselves into precarious positions quite so often. “Most traps are placed in areas that are hard to reach; a lot of them involve climbing ladders, and as any PMP will tell you, the less time a technician or service specialist spends on a ladder or climbing behind heavy objects and machinery, the safer they are going to be,” said Lynch.

“In one of our earliest tests, we installed sensors in multi-catch traps at a food plant. A plant worker used one of the traps to prop a door open and inadvertently caught a mouse. When we got the alert, our technician went to remove the rodent and found the trap propping the door. Were it not for the alert, we wouldn’t have found that mouse until our next scheduled visit, when that trap would have likely been put back into its place inside the plant. ERM enabled us to identify the root cause as an employee action rather than some environmental issue within the plant.” — Pat Hottel, technical director, McCloud Services

“We introduced ERM to a school that had rodent issues, recognizing that the traps would be a better solution than a standard baiting program, which would require regular inspections that could be disruptive to classes. When alerts come in, we are able to schedule removal outside of school hours, which the administration appreciates. We went from servicing one school building to expanding the program across the entire school district. With this technology, we can offer efficient, discreet rodent management services in sensitive accounts.” — Eric Melass, vice president, Killum Pest Control

“One of our bakery clients showed me a photo of a German cockroach baked into one of their products that had been sent in by a customer. I asked to see every layer of their process, from ingredient delivery to product packaging. During the walkthrough, I saw evidence of cockroaches in the break room and realized the employees were likely bringing them in.

“I explained to the client we would love to be able to inspect every one of these areas every time, but our designated service length didn’t allow time for proactive inspections since we were spending so much time checking their rodent traps. I recommended ERM, which freed us up to provide a much more comprehensive service and opened the door to additional opportunities with the client. We have since increased the scope of our relationship considerably.” — Michael Knappenberger, food safety account manager, Hoffman’s Exterminating Co.

“We service a medical school here in Houston, and it’s a very sensitive environment. Some construction was going on, and rodents were getting into a drop ceiling. We set some traps and, thanks to ERM, were able to go and remove catches within 12 hours of an alert. The client appreciated that; in fact, it was the reason they went with us over a competitor.

“We’ve found this with a number of accounts — a bank branch, for example, that didn’t want rodents running around the ceiling, or the flies and smell that come with a decaying rodent, while customers were standing in line trying to do business there. We were able to call and say, ‘We just got an alert; we’ll be there tomorrow at 8 a.m. before you have any clients in the lobby.’ It’s all about creating a better customer experience.” — Del Lawson, vice president, Modern Pest Control

WHAT’S NEXT FOR ERM? Looking toward the future, PMPs and manufacturers both envision new features and evolving functionality in ERM devices and systems.

“ERM’s greatest value will come when we can integrate it with multiple types of environmental sensors — humidity, temperature and open-door sensors, for example — and use AI for pest identification. Perhaps some of the analysis of predicting pests, solving problems and trending could be done by the technology as well,” said Pat Hottel, technical director, McCloud Services. “More broadly, once these systems become more commonplace, the science community and pest management industry will be able to gain a lot of knowledge from them about pest behavior.

“When I see manufacturers’ commitment to this technology for not only rodents but also insects, I’m hopeful it will continue to progress and become increasingly valuable to us as PMPs and scientists.”

ERM will undoubtedly progress, said Keim.

“Technology moves at a fast pace, and we are always working to improve and build on our products,” he said. “Right now, we are continuing to expand the applications for our sensor beyond rodents to cockroaches, and we have a robust pipeline for new developments related to the technology, data and reporting.”

Ebner said one of the exciting things happening right now is that ERM technology is becoming more affordable and accessible to pest management companies.

“PMPs have a lot of choices and should take a look to find out what’s available,” he said. “Ask manufacturers about their platform, the kind of devices they offer or support and how their system works. We’re all different in our approach to ERM, so try a couple of systems to see how they work for you. The right technology can really help move your rodent management program forward.”

It’s moving the industry forward, too, said Lynch.

“When you look to history as a guide, once a solution is developed to save time or energy, protect health and improve safety in any service industry, there’s no going back to how things were before. I’m excited to see the success of our PMP partners with this technology and to witness its lasting effects on our industry as a whole.”

The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.