by Jon Adkins — Originally published in the August/September 2019 issue of ISSA
Editor’s Note: This article is the second in a two-part series in ISSA Today outlining findings from the AACEM/ISSA Autonomous Cleaning Survey, which ISSA and subsidiary membership organization the American Association of Cleaning Equipment Manufacturers (AACEM) released earlier this year. Part 1 was published in the June 2019 issue of ISSA Today and focused on general adoption rates and perceptions of autonomous cleaning equipment from industry end-users. This part highlights findings from those cleaning organizations that have implemented and/or actively use it. The complete survey report is available online for ISSA and AACEM member access exclusively at www.issa.com/autonomouscleaning.
In part one of this article series, we learned that end-users in the commercial cleaning industry—building service contractors, in-house service professionals, and facility/property managers—have varied perceptions and adoption of autonomous cleaning equipment.
For the purpose of the survey that ISSA and AACEM produced earlier this year, we defined autonomous cleaning equipment as equipment that enables cleaning to be performed in unstructured environments without continuous human guidance.
Examples of autonomous cleaning equipment include auto-scrubbers, robotic large-area sweepers, vacuums, etc., which may be used in a variety of commercial and institutional environments.
Of the pool of survey respondents, which represented a mix of those who provide cleaning services on a contract and in-house basis, along with facility and/or property managers who oversee their cleaning service providers, we found that:
27% of respondents currently use autonomous cleaning equipment
7% of respondents have used them the past, but no longer do
66% of respondents have not used them.
This article includes takeaways from that group of 34% who currently use or have used technology like robotics, auto-scrubbers, etc., in their daily cleaning operations.
In reviewing the survey results, we found that those respondents who currently use autonomous cleaning equipment—27% of the total responses—in general, were spread evenly in terms of their company/operation type among building service contractors, in-house service providers, and facility/property managers.
Similarly, of those respondents who have used autonomous cleaning technology in the past but no longer do, there was no clear difference in the breakdown by company/operation type.
Equipment and facility characteristics
Discernible distinctions became clear when evaluating what type(s) of equipment respondents use along with where they use it.
The most popular equipment types used among survey respondents were:
- Scrubbers: 89%
- Vacuums: 46%
- Large-area sweepers: 32%
- Sweepers: 25%
- Other: 5%.
Further, the facility type(s) in which they employ the technology varied:
- Education (K-12 school or university): 48%
- Commercial (office building, property management): 41%
- Government: 21%
- Health care (hospital, medical office): 21%
- Industrial: 18%
- Retail chains: 9%.
Perhaps most interestingly, when cross-tabulating the results of equipment use by facility type, we found that scrubbers were more popular in education (K-12 school or university) facilities than any other, while sweepers were either the most popular or second-most popular choice in all facility types in which respondents had experience.
Emerging usage trends
We found that the “early adopters” of autonomous cleaning technology have used each of the four main types of equipment—large-area sweepers, scrubbers, sweepers, and vacuums—predominantly for two years or more. Vacuums were the most tenured option as 76% of respondents have used them two or more years, followed by sweepers (75% more than two years), large-area sweepers (74% more than two years), and scrubbers (68% more than two years).
Cross-tabulating the length of time used by facility type in which respondents use this equipment, the results indicated that health care facilities (92%) have used autonomous cleaning equipment the most, for more than two years compared to all other facility types.
Additional cross-tabulations based on facility type and other factors are available on page 24 of the complete survey report.
Further, users of autonomous cleaning equipment noted that they generally use the technology for tasks and applications, such as cleaning large open areas (89%), hallways (80%), and entryways (39%), which can free up cleaning staff to focus on high-touch surfaces and the like.
Factors driving adoption
So, what’s driving adoption among the group of active autonomous cleaning equipment users (27% of the total respondents)? Respondents noted that the three main reasons they initially decided to invest in autonomous cleaning were:
- Cleaning efficacy (38%)
- Labor savings (25%)
- Productivity (23%).
Since adopting this technology, respondents’ major benefits in using autonomous cleaning, tend to mirror the reasons why they adopted it in the first place. This group noted that the top three benefits they have derived are: Labor savings, cleaning efficacy, and cleaning consistency.
Respondents were split when asked whether they envisioned changes to how their organizations will use autonomous cleaning equipment in the next two years, as 54% intend to make changes while 46% do not. Common “yes” responses included increasing use of autonomous cleaning equipment—especially in large open areas and testing different equipment for unique uses. Of those who do not expect to change their use, the most consistent responses revolved around continuing use of their current equipment, although reliability could be a concern for some over time.
The overall takeaway is that the sentiment among active users is positive. In other words, those who have adopted autonomous cleaning equipment believe they are likely to continue or increase usage as the technology continues to develop.
However, continued use and increased adoption of autonomous cleaning equipment go hand in hand with organizations’ return on their investment, as price can be a considerable factor. When reviewing payback expectations of those respondents who have used this equipment, 28% expect a positive ROI in six to 12 months, while another 49% expect to see payback in their second year of adoption (i.e., between 13- and 24-months post-investment).
For additional insights from the AACEM/ISSA Autonomous Cleaning Survey, view the complete survey report, which is available online for ISSA and AACEM member access exclusively, at http://www.issa.com/autonomouscleaning.
Jon Adkins is the vice president of marketing with ISSA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.