by Brian Kirkendall — Originally published in the February 2017 issue of ISSA
Technology has become such an integral part of daily life that we often don’t realize just how advanced the products we use have become. Cell phones, televisions, cars, washing machines—to name a few—now offer models that incorporate the latest technologies to provide the greatest of convenience, productivity, cost savings, and safety. Add to that list commercial floor care equipment. The technological advancements permeating our daily lives can also be found in today’s most desired and high performing floor cleaning equipment, and it’s reshaping the entire floor care industry.
John Dalman is general manager at the Minneapolis office of Hillyard, a leading distributor of institutional cleaning products and equipment. Over his 34-year career, he has seen technology evolve to the benefit of cleaning professionals, facility managers, employees, customers, and building owners alike.
“Not unlike the consumer marketplace, floor cleaning technologies are advancing faster than ever before in an effort to keep pace with growing customer wants and needs,” he says. “Today’s floor care equipment incorporates a wide array of technologies that do everything from improving productivity and enhancing sustainability to reducing accidents and heightening cleanliness. In fact, they can make cleaning more fun.”
The technologies in today’s floor care equipment leave no stone unturned, addressing water and detergent usage and pick up, offering intuitive and easy to use controls, boasting unprecedented soil removal, and more. Below are just three of the emerging technologies that have the potential to have the greatest impact on the industry as a whole.
As is the start of many new technologies, groundbreaking work was done in the military arena that paved the way for commercializing driverless cleaning machines. Take the mapping technology from the military, add the increased capabilities for computing power in a smaller format made possible by smartphones, and combine those with lower cost optics and sensors, and you have the recipe for driverless applications.
“Robotics has reached a tipping point from just demonstrating what’s possible with research prototypes to solving real-world problems with reliable systems,” says Steve DiAntonio, CEO of Carnegie Robotics, which works with such clients as NASA, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Army, and Honeywell among others. “Technologies such as 3D cameras, positioning systems, and embedded computers have been packaged into affordable components that become the enabling building blocks for a variety of mobile robot applications. It is exciting to see the commercial cleaning industry integrate software, sensors, and cameras into their current products to provide more capability and flexibility for customers.”
Robotics offers the potential to help customers overcome the never-ending struggle to increase productivity while reducing costs. Autonomy, which elevates robotics from mechanical cleaning to independent operation, also addresses the need to improve the level of clean.
While a robotic machine will automatically do what it is programmed to do, an autonomous machine will go a step further and respond intuitively to its environment. “We’ve worked hard at Carnegie Robotics to build components and systems that can be readily applied across industries,” said Brian Beyer, executive vice president of engineering at Carnegie Robotics. “In our partnerships, we’ve successfully transitioned proven military and space autonomous technologies in perception, navigation, and mapping to provide safe and cost effective solutions to new industries.”
By combining state-of-the-art optics with cutting edge navigation and operation software, an autonomous machine provides the operator with the freedom to address higher level cleaning tasks, such as break rooms, windows, and stairways, that might otherwise be overlooked. In addition, because autonomous machines share the workload, their use has the potential to improve operator morale and reduce turnover and hiring and training costs.
Data drives business decisions in every sector of the economy. Consumer preferences drive retail product selection; customer satisfaction drives banking functions; accident rates drive automotive safety features. Harnessing and leveraging data through telemetrics is now a business tool within the commercial cleaning industry as well.
Telemetrics is the automatic measurement and wireless transfer of data; within the cleaning industry the data is collected from a piece of cleaning equipment and transferred to a computer. Data measured can include such information as where a machine is currently located, who is operating the machine, what a machine was programmed to do, how many minutes a machine ran, and how much water and/or detergent a machine used.
Once collected, this data provides owners and operators the ability to better measure labor and supply costs, validate cleaning compliance, monitor machine usage and operator productivity, take corrective action where necessary, and optimize their cleaning program. In the end, once analyzed, this data allows owners and operators to make decisions that ultimately lower the total cost of clean.
According to Hillyard’s Dalman, “The introduction of telemetrics is having a very positive effect not only on cleaning results but also on bottom line results and operational excellence within the cleaning industry. It’s this kind of technology that is leading to—and will continue to lead to—more critical, more accurate, more fiscally responsible decision-making.”
The use of battery operated cleaning equipment is critical to an operator’s ability to perform anytime cleaning—equipment must be maneuverable, it must not pose a safety hazard to building occupants, it must be quiet. However, the battery cost for many machines can be equal to half the cost of the machine itself. Fortunately, the cleaning industry has again leveraged consumer technologies to create advancements in batteries and battery charging systems that are improving battery life.
Sealed, maintenance-free batteries such as those found in automobiles eliminate the need for operators to monitor, manage, and maintain water levels associated with traditional wet-acid batteries. The most common maintenance-free battery advancement to migrate to commercial floor care is the Lithium-ion (Li-Ion) battery. Common in home electronics, Li-Ion battery packs are lighter in weight than traditional batteries and provide for longer run times. Thanks to ease-of-use, lighter weight, and longer run times maintenance-free batteries, in particular Li-Ion batteries, have an immediate impact on operator productivity and machine maintenance costs.
Often overlooked in the push for increased battery capacity is the importance of charging technology. As demands on battery capacity increase so does the risk for thermal issues and failure. Those risks can be largely avoided by using sophisticated software and sensor-suites built into higher-end batteries that monitor temperature and battery drain and automatically adjust accordingly. Such self-regulating technology is now commonly used in car and cell phone batteries, and even in industrial ride-on floor scrubbers.
Though often considered antiquated, the commercial cleaning industry is quickly recognizing that its customers are consumers who are familiar with the vast benefits that technology offers. These technologies have been rapidly making their way into commercial floor care in recent years, as evidenced by the technologies noted above, and will continue to do as customers, like consumers, increase their desire for convenience, productivity, cost savings, and safety.
Brian Kirkendall is global director of autonomous products for Nilfisk. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.