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Time to cut the cord?

27 March 2018

Gordon McVean, international sales & marketing director of Truvox International, examines the advantages, trade-offs and other factors to be weighed when choosing between conventional and cordless floor cleaning machines.

Buyers of floorcare equipment have always had to weigh the features and benefits of different cleaning methods, competing marques, and the specifications of models in the same range.

Now – from vacuuming to scrubbing and polishing – there’s a new alternative to consider, thanks to the rapid advances in battery power.

We do urge many floor cleaning teams to ‘cut the cord’, but we’re open and even-handed when giving clients advice. Truvox developed and markets what we believe to be the first commercial cordless upright vacuum, as well as manufacturing other battery-powered cleaning machines. But conventionally cabled models still make up most of our sales.

So what are the pros and cons?

First up has got to be the flexibility of working without trailing cables. Operators appreciate the sheer freedom of working without the stop-start of plugging and unplugging and searching for wall sockets. Operatives, and their managers, are also freed from the worry of tripping up building users or colleagues – or snagging fixtures and furniture.

This safety benefit is significant, given the potential cost of a liability claim for injuries sustained in a fall.

In daytime cleaning, the advantages of battery power are writ large. The lower noise levels associated with most cordless equipment also help minimise disturbance – a quality that is valued highly by our clients managing healthcare facilities and hotels too.

These more obvious advantages should not overshadow the productivity gain and other less tangible benefits. It is hard to quantify the time-saving aspect as circumstances vary so widely between buildings in terms of layout, availability of sockets, floor space, etc.

But it stands to reason that a person using a cordless machine can get more done. In our experience operators find the seamless cleaning experience more enjoyable too, so morale may improve for this and related reasons.

Would-be buyers don’t usually need to be reminded to factor in the higher price tag, of course. Cordless cleaning equipment comes at a premium – and that’s not just for novelty value. The additional cost of a battery-powered machine over its cabled equivalent varies. As a general rule, the more expensive the conventional model is, the smaller the increment proportionately. 

Sales volumes are a major contributor. As battery manufacturers produce and sell more and more batteries, and we sell more cordless models, the prices of both become ever more competitive. We’re seeing this with the new generation of lithium ion batteries, and expect this trend to continue.

Running costs should always be taken into account when selecting floor cleaning machines. Many specifiers are still cautious, given the past record of temperamental batteries and the view that they are ‘just one more thing that can go wrong’.

The reality is that modern batteries are far more reliable and largely maintenance-free. Apart from this, the key aspects to consider are running time, the ease with which a back-up battery can be swopped over – if necessary, for long shifts / larger areas – and time taken to re-charge fully.

Apart from price, the other factor to weigh is the weight itself. Adding an on-board battery pack can add significantly to the machine’s overall weight. This may be an advantage in the case of rotary polishers, especially where it’s a lower-speed model used for floor maintenance tasks such as stripping sealants or heavy-duty cleaning.

Which is why ergonomic design – a well-balanced machine that’s easy to control and manoeuvre – is crucial. Otherwise, the gains from going cordless made in productivity, flexibility and operator wellbeing will be negated.

Any increase in weight or bulk should also be compensated for in transportability, through large wheels and convenient handles. But this tradeoff is not inevitable – the battery upright vac is still just 5kgs in weight.

Cordless or corded, machine choice should always come down to return on investment. But be sure to weigh the hands-on know-how of your cleaning team, an expert supplier’s advice and a demonstration at your premises in the balance too.