The cleaning process of the future
Digitisation is currently on the increase everywhere. However, especially in the cleaning sector, the benefits must be easily comprehensible. The main focus is on the steadily increasing pressure of costs and efficient solutions. The change from purely experience-based cleaning to dynamic, knowledge-based concepts must – catchword Connected Cleaning – address these requirements. But which components are important in the cleaning process of the future and how should they integrate with each other? The aim is to combine classic cleaners, autonomous machines, intelligent use planning and Smart Data into a functional system. What this could look like in the future – a visionary case study.
Man versus machine?
Complementing, not replacing.
Robotics and automated solutions are currently on the increase everywhere and the debate on the impact this has on the use of manpower is omnipresent. Service robots are already available in the cleaning sector, but they only work semi-automated and on large, unobstructed surfaces. Vast areas such as large supermarkets require more sophisticated solutions to cope with diverse tasks, from cleaning wide aisles through to working in small areas, and this during peak trading hours. "The sensors must ensure efficient working in a complex environment and collision-free operation even in the event of unexpected situations," says Marco Cardinale, Head of Floor Care Product Management at Kärcher. "Our vision is to have a cleaning robot that achieves maximum autonomy and that can be used on virtually all surfaces 100% safely and economically."
A possible example of such robots could be autonomous scrubber driers to better manage the high workload in supermarkets. Where does the connection with a classic cleaner now lie? Dr Friedrich Völker, Aftermarket & Services Digital Products at Kärcher, presents a scenario in which both areas complement each other: "The human cleaner is a high-tech instrument that cannot be replaced in the foreseeable future. A person sees a room, identifies the need for action, breaks it down into working steps and finds solutions to unforeseen problems or non-standardised procedures – this is not something machines will be able to do in the foreseeable future." What this comes down to for the cleaning process of the future is the best way to use the different abilities of available cleaners and machines in order to achieve the required results efficiently.
Entirety versus detail?
Use planning on a new level.
Against this background, intelligent use planning conceals significant challenges. The interaction of the different elements must be thought through down to the last detail. Continuing with the case example of a supermarket, autonomous scrubber driers could be assigned work areas and corresponding routes via the programmed building mapping. During the cleaning process, the machine sensors scan the surrounding area for unforeseen obstacles. If such an obstacle is detected, the machine stops the cleaning process and passes an alarm message to a central system.
"At Kärcher, this would already be possible today via our fleet management system Fleet," says Dr Völker. "The message could be sent as an SMS to a defined group of participants, in future also to a central smartphone app." The question now is how the status information of the machine will be further processed. It is conceivable that cleaners in the vicinity could give feedback: who takes on the problem, in other words, who removes the obstacle and restarts the machine. In this case, individual coordination between the cleaners would be necessary. "Another possibility could be that only a central Facility Manager receives the message and passes it on to the nearest cleaner. However, here the person would quickly become a bottleneck."
The maximum level of automation would be reached when control takes place directly via a central system where all information converges: the whereabouts of available cleaners, which machines are ready to use or require maintenance, what cleaning requirements are signalled by the building sensors or also cleaners on site who are able to enter current requirements.
"It will take some time until we have reached this point," says Dr Völker. "In all our scenarios, two things are apparent: the work of cleaners is made easier rather than difficult, since within a complex system they carry much more responsibility and do not simply work according to a static plan. It is also possible to work more demand-oriented and raise the cleaning quality to a new level."
Plan versus demand?
Smart Data and Cleaning on Demand.
Cleaning on demand, i.e. being present at the right time using the right method and equipment in order to deal with pending tasks – drivers for such Cleaning on Demand models, on the one hand, are building operators and users. On the other hand, pressure on the cleaning industry is increasing from key players in the area of facility management, who are increasingly integrating sensor-driven services into their portfolio with a greater emphasis on cleaning on demand.
Through innovative concepts, building service providers have the possibility to position themselves in an increasingly competitive environment and establish new business models. For example, basic cleaning services can be offered at a basic rate, whilst intelligent Cleaning on Demand could be charged at different rates. "Verifiability of Cleaning, i.e. verification of the cleaning performance, is a further future-oriented catchword," says Dr Völker. "Via sensors, the work carried out and its quality can be detected as a measurable activity. In representative areas, feedback systems additionally indicate levels of customer satisfaction – in this way, the cleaning service becomes tangible and is no longer regarded simply as a matter of course."
In order to reach this point, in addition to robotics and intelligent use planning, a further key factor is working with Smart Data, i.e. the intelligent evaluation of data. Specific data acquisition systems that can provide indirect information on the utilisation and the degree of soiling already exist in the majority of buildings. These include lighting, heating and lift sensors. This information can be combined on a platform and made available to cleaning service providers. Alternatively or additionally conceivable is using special sensors that specifically acquire and pass on data relating to cleaning requirements, e.g. the dust concentration in the air.
"If one looks at the work process of the future, it becomes apparent that many components are already available today or are being developed," says Dr Völker. "Ultimately, it will all come down to combining these together and always firmly focusing on the concrete benefits – then there will also be great potential for the cleaning industry in the area of digitisation."