Automating cleaning tasks is integral to protecting workers, minimising physical risks such as sticky or slippery floors, and protecting them from the spread of infection.
A constant challenge for companies is to ensure that cleaning is undertaken consistently and effectively across every shift – difficult in an era of labour and time shortages.
Operative safety must also be considered, especially in facilities where cleaning must take place at the same time as core activities, with fork-lift trucks constantly in use, for example. And those tasked with cleaning must make the best use of water and other cleaning media. And, even when staff can be found, labour typically accounts for up to 85% of all cleaning costs.
Consequently, companies are seeking alternative solutions such as autonomous cleaning – the use of robotic equipment to undertake cleaning tasks.
The advantages of this approach are clear. Worries about staff availability are instantly removed; an autonomous, programmable machine will always be available for action and will perform each task consistently, every time, using the optimum quantity of water and cleaning materials.
One example is in the use of diamond cleaning pads. Manual cleaners often don’t use these in the right way, so the pads wear out faster than they should, but a machine will apply the correct pressure for the right duration to deliver the best possible clean.
The introduction of autonomous cleaning equipment supports human workers in their roles by freeing up time from the more mundane tasks and allowing them to focus on added-value jobs requiring human intervention. One individual can operate several machines simultaneously, so staff are no longer ‘just’ cleaners; they are now robotics operators.
What about ROI?
Autonomous cleaning solutions require a new way of thinking about return on investment, compared with traditional machines. A robotic cleaning machine will last several years – far longer than manual equipment that may end up in landfill after a couple of years. While the initial investment may be viewed as high, finance solutions such as leasing and contract hire, as well as outright purchase, mean autonomous cleaning can become a reality in any business.
Autonomous cleaning machines do not require regular payment unlike staff wages, and can be used constantly. Manual machines often collect damage when in use through operator error and accidental contact with walls, racking and so on, but autonomous machines are programmed to avoid collisions.
Meanwhile, regular, planned servicing, enabling proactive maintenance and rapid repairs, prolongs uptime and the service life of any autonomous cleaning solution, protecting the investment and keeping costs under control.
A further advantage of autonomous machines concerns their ability to gather data and so inform operational decision-making and continuous improvement. For any autonomous machine, it is often said that ‘its worst day is its first day’. However, as a sensor-enabled machine, the constant data collection ensures it learns quickly. The latest bespoke software and user-friendly apps, accessible to both managers and individual users, enable real-time tracking of machine performance and productivity through detailed dashboards, and the planning of cleaning regimes.
But as with any data-gathering function, a responsible approach to data management and storage is critical to ensure compliance with local, national, and international regulations. The ramifications of poor practice in this area can be significant and highly damaging. We only need to look at the huge impact of GDPR on businesses, and autonomous cleaning is no exception to this. It’s too important an issue to not have a strategy in place for the data gathered by autonomous cleaning.
Data protection and agreements should always therefore form a key part of discussions when agreeing contracts for autonomous machines, with clear assurances about who will hold the data gathered, to ensure peace of mind for all.
Once this is in place, the financial and operational benefits of autonomous cleaning can be fully enjoyed. Maximised productivity and performance, enhanced operator safety and total reliability, will be accompanied by reduced costs, meaning a rapid return on investment.