Torben Lund Andersen, head of technology development and autonomy at Nilfisk, reports.
It’s no easy task working in the commercial cleaning industry. As an owner, there is a need to secure the right equipment, reduce costs, and exceed customer expectations. As an operator, there is a need to constantly improve productivity, enhance safety and protect the environment. And today, more than ever, there is a need to have a firm grasp on new technologies - understanding what is available, recognising which technologies will best serve customers, and knowing how to use those technologies to their fullest potential.
While the cleaning industry has not historically been recognised for its innovation, today’s most desired and high performing cleaning equipment does, in fact, include technological advancements that benefit cleaning professionals, facility managers, employees, and building owners alike. Following are just a few of the technologies that are positively disrupting the cleaning industry.
Water and solution systems
While neither disc nor orbital floor scrubbers are new to the cleaning industry, the systems that control and regulate water usage as well as the technologies that power the scrub deck itself continue to evolve to improve cleanliness, safety, sustainability, and operator productivity.
Using excess water when scrubbing is simply wasteful and presents a safety hazard. And using too much chemical is environmentally unsound. Having to make multiple passes and repeatedly stop to dump and fill a solution or recovery tank is time-consuming. But today’s more advanced scrubbing technologies allow the operator to automatically switch between chemical-free, water-only, or varying degrees of detergent use; change down pressure; change flow rates based on machine speed; and rotate an entire orbital scrub deck. As a result, operators can effortlessly transition between different floor types and address varying degrees of traffic and dirt patterns; improve productivity by reducing dump and fill cycles as well as multiple cleaning passes; and deliver more consistently clean floors.
Ensuring an operator has as many of these technologies as possible on one machine further heightens their ability to clean effectively, productively and safely.
As with many new technologies, groundbreaking work was done in the military that has laid the groundwork for commercialising driverless cleaning machines. Take the mapping technology from the military, and add the increased capabilities for computing power in a smaller footprint made possible by smartphones, and combine those with lower cost optics and sensors, and you have the recipe for autonomous cleaning.
Without question, robotics offers the potential to help owners overcome the never-ending struggle to increase productivity while reducing costs. But autonomy, which elevates robotics from mechanical cleaning to independent operation, also addresses the need to improve the level of clean.
By combining state-of-the-art optics with cutting edge navigation and operation software, an autonomous machine, as we know it today, provides the operator with the freedom to address higher level cleaning tasks, such as break rooms, windows and stairways that might otherwise be overlooked. So by adding autonomous equipment as an ‘extra member of the cleaning crew’ it is not a question of man vs. machine but rather a man-machine collaboration – where repetitive cleaning tasks can be carried out by autonomous machines in order to free up resources for the operators. By restructuring how the cleaning crew operates it is possible to harness the full potential of autonomous cleaning.
Data drives business decisions in every sector of the economy and leveraging data is now a business tool within the commercial cleaning industry as well.
Connected cleaning is the automatic measurement and transfer of data. Data measured today includes information about where a machine is currently located, who is operating the machine, what a machine was programmed to do, if a machine is operating optimally, how many minutes a machine ran, and how much water and/or detergent a machine used.
The raw data has limited value for the individual operator. However once analysed the data can be used to document when and for how long the cleaning was carried out giving owners and operators the ability to better measure labor and validate cleaning compliance. At the same time the data enables operators to perform ‘predictive maintenance’. For instance by gathering data from the battery of the machine, operators are able to replace or repair the battery before a failure occurs and hereby avoid machine down-time.
So in essence the first fleet management systems which are currently available on the market are able to monitor machine usage and allow owners and operators to make decisions based on facts. This will for many be a significant first step towards optimising their cleaning program and ultimately lower the total cost of clean.
However a significant development within fleet management is taking place and the intelligent use of data is evolving radically. Now, not only can a machine communicate with an operator or owner via computers, phones and tablets, but the building itself can. Infrared cameras and optical sensors placed in a room have the ability to relay information on traffic patterns and usage rates. This kind of interconnectivity between a building’s rooms, its cleaning staff, and its cleaning equipment has the potential to dramatically influence operator productivity and cleaning efficacy by arming operators with the knowledge necessary to be proactive rather than reactive; to plan cleaning routes; and to focus time, resources and equipment on providing the appropriate level of clean.
Already now, we are seeing the first examples of ‘intelligent office buildings’ where data from the car park is connected to the number of plates prepared in the canteen and where traffic patterns and data is intelligently used to control the heating and ventilation in the building. So by tapping into various data sources and combining this with machine data, operators and owners will be able to plan and predict the need for cleaning.
Just as technology has revolutionised how consumers communicate, shop and wash, it has revolutionised how cleaning operators and owners deliver the cleanest and safest floors in the most productive way possible. And as with consumer technology, the best is likely yet to come.