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The robot revolution

02 June 2017

Cleaning Matters talks to Darren Marston, executive chairman at Industrial Cleaning Equipment (ICE), about the newest trends and developments in robotic floor cleaning machines

What type of automated cleaning machines are being used in which environments and why?

Over the last 25 years, cleaning has not changed a great deal at all - it is still labour intensive, completed out of hours, and involves repetitive tasks such as pushing a scrubber dryer around.

The costs associated with cleaning have been squeezed as much as possible, clients are demanding savings, and there is nowhere else to go without automation. Automating cleaning tasks is about offering flexibility, along with cost savings and improved standards.

Currently, automated scrubber dryers are being used in:

  • Hospitals and healthcare facilities
  • Schools, colleges and universities
  • Food and high street retail stores
  • Airports, over-ground and underground stations
  • Warehouse and manufacturing facilities

The robotic scrubber dryers on the market today can clean not only open areas, but also environments where people are constantly walking around – demonstrating total obstacle avoidance, and safety. 

Using robotics as part of the daily cleaning regime enhances standards as it gives guaranteed consistent floor cleaning with the automated machine, along with focusing the cleaning resource on other more detailed cleaning tasks, for example high level and low level cleaning, polishing glass etc. It also means that cleaning operatives can be used in other ways, for example, washroom maintenance.

Many of our major retail customers tell us that automation will help them, there is no doubt about that. Using a robotic machine gives the operative time to do detailed cleaning, which often gets missed if they are spending time pushing a floor cleaning machine around. It empowers the operatives to think about what other cleaning tasks need to be completed whilst the robotic machine cleans the floor.

What can we expect next - how will these machines evolve and become more sophisticated?

Without doubt it will be interaction and user interface. Now that we can clean complex floor areas quickly and efficiently, the next step is to utilize computers to provide a huge amount of management information as part of the Internet of Things. Remote management of automated machines is already possible, and an invaluable feature of automated cleaning, but inevitably this will evolve to provide an even deeper level of information.

In our view, the most taxing cleaning challenge is the automated washing, scrubbing and drying of floor areas, and the robotic machines currently in the market achieve this challenge. Automated carpet cleaning and sweeping machines will be a natural progression.

We do not believe that there is a beginning and an end to automation in cleaning – it is very much a journey. But for certain environments we believe robotics are already the ‘go to’ solution.

How will their role develop to help the cleaning industry meet the challenges it faces?

Dyson have recently announced a £2.5 billion investment in robotics - compared to their £5 million investment just over four years ago. This speaks volumes and is a clear signal that automation in the cleaning industry is gathering pace.

We know the technology is available and is reliable, so it’s simply a case of application and acceptance. For example, we are seeing an increasing appetite for climbing robots to take care of the cleaning of windows and external surfaces of high rise buildings, providing a huge opportunity from a health and safety perspective. Any repetitive or dangerous tasks will be naturally taken care of by machines, leaving humans free to concentrate on the jobs that require leadership and decision-making. Change is fact – the variable is how we embrace it.