As with most cleaning technologies, manufacturers and distributors are important partners in the maintenance of robotic floor care equipment. These machines will require a combination of enhanced training and the identification of key personnel to perform daily maintenance, along with a strong partnership at the distributor and/or manufacturer level.

“Set-up and training are key to ensuring the customer gets the quickest return on their investment and maximizes the useful life of the machine,” says Jack Ellison, vice president of services and training for EBP Supply Solutions, a cleaning product distributor based in Milford, Connecticut. “As for maintenance, autonomous equipment requires specialized training for a distributor’s service department. These machines are packed with new technology. To be able to properly service this equipment after the sale, distributor service departments and service technicians must commit to ongoing training and certification programs.”

Sawchuk recommends working with the manufacturer of robotic cleaning equipment to ensure they provide preventative maintenance.

“Preventative maintenance with these pieces of equipment is so specialized,” he says. “Many end users don’t realize that they can sign up for preventive maintenance with their manufacturer and the cost can be built into the price of the machine, or you can purchase it as an add-on.”

At Rochester Institute of Technology, which has a small fleet of robotic floor care equipment, the machines are routinely maintained by a repair technician, and that will mean two days of downtime. VanMaldeghem compares this to routine maintenance of other forms of floor care equipment.

“As far as daily maintenance, it’s no different than any other scrubber,” he says. “We fill the tanks, clean the filters and clean the squeegees. We also have to bring the machine to its starting point, set it up and put it back into storage.”

Some of the important maintenance topics that will need to be covered in training sessions once robotic floor care machines are introduced include identifying key trainees to set up and operate robotic equipment, and training staff on the constraints of robotic technology while it is running autonomously.

Staffing Changes

Many cleaning workers will hear about robotic floor machines, or AI terminology, and begin to fear for their jobs. They may believe these advanced technologies will replace them, rather than free them to do higher level tasks. However, machines taking jobs couldn’t be less of a cause for concern than it is right now, especially as COVID-19 has forever changed the way facilities will need to clean for public health. Cleaning workers need to be focused on high-level cleaning tasks, including frequent disinfection of touch points and enhanced outbreak prevention protocols.

“As we have helped organizations implement robot technology we have seen 30 to 40 percent labor savings that have been reapplied to other tasks like increasing disinfecting of high-touch areas,” says Tim Poskin, president, Cleaning Management Concepts, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Perhaps a story at Rochester Institute of Technology highlights the redistribution of labor best.

Even prior to COVID-19, the facilities department at the university was able to increase frequencies for restroom cleaning after putting their robotic floor machines to work. On a campus with close to 19,000 students, restroom frequencies were becoming a significant need. The robotic floor machines freed up staff members who were reassigned to restroom cleaning, while also elevating their floor care program.

“With the average riding autoscrubber, you get a production rate of roughly 10,000 square feet per hour, while our robots were performing 15,000 to 22,000 square feet per hour,” says VanMaldeghem. “Now we are getting twice the amount in the same time, which allows us to deploy the equipment twice a day. In the winter, with the weather we have and the snow and salt, this protects our floors better than we could with humans.”

In the new world of facility cleaning after COVID-19, it’s not just about what facility managers are doing to prevent outbreaks. It’s also about what these organizations are communicating to their building occupants, whether they be employees, students or customers. By communicating a cleaner and safer environment, facility cleaning managers will build confidence in an anxious public and bring people back to buildings.

“Your customers and employees will need to know what you are doing for public health,” says Sawchuk. “The key will be how you communicate the changes you implement post-COVID-19. You can’t say you’re doing it the same way you did it in January. You need to explain how you are doing more, and if you have robotic floor care then that will tie in with that narrative.”

Nicole Bowman is a freelancer based in Philadelphia.

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Robotic Cleaning Boosts Daily Efficiency