The next cleaning revolution: autonomous mobile robot washers
Self-suppliers and construction service contractors responsible for cleaning and implementing floor care solutions often face labor shortages and / or limited skills that lead to inconsistencies of cleaning. What is even more concerning is when cleaning gaps occur, resulting in unhealthy environments due to dirt overload.
For this reason, many are turning to mechanized cleaners, such as automatic scrubbers, which improve productivity over the mop and bucket approach. Yet, as efficient as they are, conventional automatic washers still require direct human operation and monitoring.
This is where Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) come in. They provide the use of a machine to enhance an individual’s abilities without requiring human intervention.
AMRs (often called cobots) have only been on the market for a few years. While not as prevalent in the cleaning industry as other solutions, they are about to gain popularity.
According to ABI Research, 150,000 new mobile robots will be deployed in physical stores by 2025, and the use of cobots is expected to increase by 46% per year through 2030. ABI also predicts a 30% increase in productivity thanks to to robotics across all industries, including cleaning, over the next 10 years.
Why the lag on hold?
[Related: How Mechanized Cleaning Improves Productivity and Safety]
A look at the current situation
Without a doubt, COVID-19 has had a significant – and probably indelible – impact on the way facilities approach cleaning and maintaining floors. The pandemic has sparked increased awareness of cleaning protocols for health and appearance, especially those that are more task-oriented. This, in turn, decreases the bandwidth of the cleaning crews as the scope of the work requires additional levels of cleaning, sanitizing and disinfection several times a day. Touch cleaning is added to your daily needs.
These challenges are true for both in-house service providers and construction service contractors, who are also facing workforce reductions as increased awareness of COVID-19 symptoms causes absenteeism. Add that to an already tight labor pool and cleaning crews find themselves short-staffed, putting overall pressure on the cleaning industry.
However, COVID-19 is not the only one responsible for these workforce issues; they existed before the pandemic and probably will be after.
According to a white paper published by the Tennant Company, “The robotics revolution and your cleaning business” the cleaning industry faces a high turnover rate and significant competition for quality services. In fact, they estimate that “the average cleaning company loses up to 55% of its customer base each year due to poor service.”
The introduction of AMRs to tackle such problems may seem somewhat disruptive to the cleaning industry – many were initially skeptical of the technology’s adoption – but the likelihood of these machines leading to a cleaning revolution is real.
For the right facility provider or construction service contractor, AMRs could be a positive next step in establishing higher levels of productivity, maximizing manpower, and gaining visibility into performance metrics that can educate the business about better cleaning and create safer, healthier spaces for everyone.
Putting AMRs to work
AMRs are available in smaller units designed for smaller retail, educational and commercial spaces, as well as larger models for industrial facilities and warehouses.
They all work on the same principle: the machine takes on the repetitive task of cleaning floors independently while team members are free to focus on value-added activities that increase productivity.
It’s important to remember, however, that RAMs are never meant to replace the work of humans; they are there to increase it. An employee will always be needed to work side by side with the cobot to bring cleaning to its highest potential.
AMRs operate through a connection between the machine and the employee’s smart device. Once logged in, the team member configures the robot cleaner for their task (autonomous scrubbing, wiping or sweeping) in a designated area. The employee can immediately move to other parts of the facility to focus on detailed cleaning and disinfection, manage inventory, or work on another project. The machine will register as needed, including when it completes its scheduled task. If there are any problems during its operation, including downtime, an alert will be sent to the employee’s cell phone or other connected smart device.
The value of telemetry
In addition to supporting productivity initiatives, robotic cleaning machines provide full transparency through telemetry, the process of recording and reporting machine key performance indicator (KPI) readings. In short, telemetry provides proof of performance.
This is done in several ways.
- Thermal mapping: The machine can provide a heat map of the area of flooring cleaned and to what extent to make sure the job has been done satisfactorily. It also shows all other areas of the facility where the scrubber has been.
- Video: The machine can capture a video of its operations. In the unlikely event of a collision, everything is recorded so that auto-suppliers or construction service contractors can assess liability and resulting property or property damage.
- Data: The machine can provide reports at the end of the job, making it easy to understand what tasks were done, how long it took and more.
Telemetry offers these metrics in both manual and automated mode, creating cleaning validation.
[Related: IAQ Gets an Upgrade During COVID-19]
Set up for success
When introducing AMRs and co-tagging into a cleaning operation, several good practices should be taken into account.
1. Establish a positive cobot mindset within the team so that employees understand that technology is not here to replace them. Rather, it is a collaborative approach to cleaning that requires human interaction.
2. Understand the capabilities of the machine and what work needs to be done. For example, robots don’t work well on reflective surfaces, so consider the type of floor that needs to be cleaned.
3. Map the facility. Make sure the robot understands the areas it is going to clean and is able to access them. Keep in mind that it may take a few days or even a week to properly map the installation.
Once everything is planned out and the robotic cleaning machine has started its job, it is important to evaluate the reports the machine provides to gain a clear understanding of the data. This makes it possible to modify the programs to obtain the desired KPIs.
Make the change
As with any equipment, cost is always a consideration. There has to be enough work to justify the investment in AMR technology, this is where leasing can help. Leasing the equipment is often more cost effective than purchasing it directly, especially if there is uncertainty about the number of projects where it would be implemented. Renting also lowers the total cost of ownership because maintenance is taken care of by the rental partner. These partners can also help with the selection of the robot cleaner and provide training.
Training is particularly important to achieve the level of efficiency, service and productivity that AMRs seek and to help self-service providers and building service supervisors be successful.
And finally, there is flexibility with technology. As new AMR units are introduced to the market, a rental model makes it easier to increase or decrease in size or scale or meet seasonal needs.
About the authors:
Adam Camhi is the Vice President and Rory Saleh is the Sales Director – Flooring Solutions for Sun belt rental.
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