Building service contractors face high labor costs and constant employee turnover. One solution to these problems comes from an unexpected source — product innovation. Many manufacturers are now able to offer robotic vacuums and autoscrubbers to help clean accounts with less reliance on cleaning workers.

Robotic equipment uses the same type of artificial intelligence found onboard the Mars rovers. They move automatically through buildings and are even able to navigate paths between cleaning areas.

Robotic machines feature ultrasonic sonar sensors that are able to create multiple maps of cleaning routines. The machine then stores the maps so the next time workers need to clean they simply retrieve the map from the onboard computer. The sensors also constantly watch for stationary objects in the cleaning path such as walls and furniture, as well as moving obstacles such as people. When the machine detects something in its path, it simply navigates around it and continues its work.

Robotic equipment is able to clean by itself with very little operator attention. Machines feature built-in diagnostic systems to continually monitor and report on machine performance. Some machines even come equipped with a paging system. When the machine encounters a problem it can’t solve on its own — for instance, low batteries — it will communicate with the operator via a pager. These machines also page their operators when they’re finished cleaning.

Since very little human interaction is needed, cleaning workers are able to concentrate on other cleaning tasks, allowing more cleaning to be done with smaller crews. Many robotic machines are able to clean 100,000 square feet in an eight-hour shift. Cleaning that much space in so little time is not possible with walk-behind or ride-on equipment because workers will get fatigued. In addition, cleaning workers are not perfect and can miss dirty areas. However, robotic machines are able to deliver a constant level of cleanliness every time.

These machines are designed for large spaces in facilities that receive heavy foot traffic and demand constant cleaning. Some of these facilities include hospitals, schools, large office buildings, convention centers and hotels. Since the robotic machines are large pieces of equipment, they are designed for bigger and wider carpeted or hard floor surfaces. If the area is too small or narrow, the machines will not be able to maneuver as well and not clean as effectively. It’s also a good idea to use the machines during night cleaning or when facilities are not in use. The heavy traffic will create obstacles for the machine to have to work around.

With labor costs accounting for as much as 65 percent of a BSC’s budget, being able to replace a few workers by using robotic equipment can help reduce that percentage. And, while a robotic machine may be a high upfront cost, with the reduced labor costs, BSCs should be able to see a return on investment in less than a year.

Compiled by Dan Weltin, Editor