Selecting the right cleaning equipment for hard-surface floors is important in floor care. Effectiveness, reliability and ease of use are among the key factors that need to be carefully considered in the selection process if you’re going to provide your customers with the best possible tools.

When it comes to today’s automatic scrubbers, the industry consensus is that they are increasingly durable, reliable and effective.

So, in helping your customer choose one, what other factors must be considered? Which of the machine’s three basic configurations should you recommend as most appropriate for your customers?

A propane-powered one? A battery-powered scrubber? An electric-corded machine?

Those are the questions distributors must ask when assessing a facility’s autoscrubber needs. The pros and cons of each should be explored and discussed with customers.

Beyond The Budget
Before Jeannie Murphy begins to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of autoscrubbers, she does a site visit and talks to her customers at great length.

Murphy, president and owner of Murphy Sanitary Supply, Tulsa, Okla., says she needs to know what customers’ budgets are, how many full-time employees they have, what their cleaning schedules are, how they clean with their equipment and how large their facility is.

“It’s our job to show them how the autoscrubber we recommend can improve their productivity and save them money and labor,” she says. “Budget is not the number one consideration.”

“Many organizations are faced with budget restraints, and this, of course, is an important consideration,” says Jeffrey Pease, corporate vice president of sales and marketing for Brady Industries, Corp., Las Vegas. “However, when we help customers, we provide a total-cost analysis as it relates to their purchase. It’s not always the less expensive product that will provide the greatest total cost savings.”

The cost of maintaining equipment is another important consideration as parts and service are inevitable costs associated with these machines. Pease says his company also offers a number of lease options to help customers obtain an autoscrubber.

Russ Melton, vice president of the RoyaLab Division of Royal Papers Inc., St. Louis, also believes you must first interview customers to determine what they want, what their budget is, and what their objectives are. “You should know what kind of debris they are cleaning,” he says. “That determines what contact pressure is needed.

“The size of the facility is another factor,” he adds. “If a facility is less than 5,000 square feet, it probably doesn’t need an autoscrubber. If it encompasses 50,000 square feet or more, a battery-powered machine has its limitations. In that case, a continuous-running scrubber is needed, and I’d recommend a propane-powered machine.”

William Kuross, Sr., CEO of Savoie Supply, Minneapolis, believes the size of the facility and the size of the scrubber are keys to success. “The bigger the scrubber is, the faster it’ll do the job and save on labor,” he says. “About 90 cents of every expense dollar is labor. Budget is important, but in many cases, you can show the customer it’s better to purchase an autoscrubber instead of hiring an extra worker.”

Square footage and density of a facility play a vital role in choosing the right machine, says Pease. Density depends on how cluttered with obstacles the area is, and the more dense the space, the greater the need for a machine with an improved turning radius and a footprint and deck-width that allows for easy maneuvering.

“Obviously, an airport would require a totally different scrubber than would a retail facility — wide open, less dense floor space, vs. smaller aisles and obstacles to maneuver around,” Kuross says.

Understanding the customer’s needs and the space they are cleaning will help achieve the goal of maximizing the customer’s efficiencies. “One of the largest costs of cleaning is labor,” says Pease. “We want to provide the customer with a product that reduces clean time and gives them excellent results.”

How To Power Your Autoscrubber
Melton believes propane machines, the least-used autoscrubber model, traditionally do a good job in large commercial and industrial buildings.

“In such places as warehouses, factories, and food plants, they can do huge jobs,” he says. “They can clean about 60,000 square feet per hour.”

The propane power provides long run times when compared to battery-operated machines. They operate in the area of 3,000 rpms and they apply great pressure to a floor because the entire weight of the machine is on the pad. There are disadvantages, though.

The propane machine usually requires more maintenance. Proper lubrication is important. Engine oil must be changed on schedule to prevent possible damage.

“There are also safety concerns about propane machines,” says Pease. “Schools, for instance, don’t allow them because of the pollutants they release into a building. They also vibrate and are extremely noisy. Some retail establishments frown upon them for the same reasons.”

Electric-powered autoscrubbers operate on standard 110 AC wall current and are usually the most dependable model in terms of long-time operation. They usually cost less and weigh less than their battery and propane-powered counterparts.

But because of their lighter weight, they generally don’t apply enough pressure to the floor to create the heat that makes a mirror-like floor surface, says Melton. Some electric machines work well in creating floor gloss, others do not.

“Weight, sometimes, may be an important consideration in transporting a machine from one place to another,” Melton explains. “But if elevators are close by, or transportation is not a problem, battery-powered machines are probably the way to go.”

Battery-powered machines, the most commonly used autoscrubbers today, don’t need to be plugged into an electrical outlet, which saves time.

Melton says the disadvantage of battery-powered machines is they need to be plugged into a power source when not in use, usually requiring at least eight hours for a full charge.

While productivity runs higher for battery machines, actual effective run time on one charge is usually from two to six hours.

Also, an operator can cover more square footage in the time the machine is operating, but he or she is limited in the amount of time the machine will run.

The Past And The Present
The automatic scrubber was originally invented in the late 1920s, according to Kuross. “The original machines were huge and combined a floor machine with a wet vacuum mounted behind it to pick up used solution.

“Over the years, however, autoscrubbers have evolved and improved over those early models,” Kuross adds.

Today, they are sophisticated, durable and efficient machines that are head and shoulders above machines that were built as recently as the 1980s. They now come in various sizes from small, eight-gallon machines to large 30-gallon machines, and even larger ride-on scrubbers used in warehouses. Flexibility has become the name of the game.

Jordan Fox is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer.

Battery Technology Evolves

The basic chemistry and overall design of the lead-acid battery has not changed much since lead plates were first submersed in sulfuric acid to store electricity in 1859.

There have been changes in separators (red cedar wood in 1904, rubber in 1915 and modern micro-porous plastics), plate design (Plante plates in 1859, pasted plates in 1880, tubular plates in 1910), grid additives (antimony in 1881, calcium in 1951, selenium and tin), lead oxide production methods and, more recently, gel (1957) and agm designs (mid 1970s).

Various additives can be used in the manufacture of lead grids, and there are lead impurities with which the manufacturers must contend. Also, there are different methods of production of active material, pasting of lead plates and plate design.

One key item in the production of batteries is the type of separator used to separate the positive and negative plates. Manufacturers must balance electrical conductivity against pore size allowing current to flow, but preventing lead passage. Other considerations are oxidation resistance, low acid displacement, thermo stability and inertness.

Flat plate wet lead-acid batteries are the most common in the jan/san industry but other types such as tubular batteries are available, as well as sealed designs like gel and agm.

In all battery types, those with thicker plates containing more lead tend to give better cycle life as they are better able to handle the stress of deep discharge and they can better withstand corrosion.

Internal construction methods such as through-the-partition inter-cell connectors, cast on straps and post connectors result in more durable batteries with high electrical efficiency.

Batteries with liquid level and state of charge indicators have been introduced to alert maintenance staff when service is required. If plates are exposed due to low electrolyte levels, permanent damage can occur. Other after-market products available include battery watering systems.

Battery manufacturers continue to develop, test and refine their designs striving to make improvements in performance, capacity and longevity of their products.

Piers A. B. James has more than 17 years of experience in the sanitation industry and is the sales manager of Brierly Technologies, a company providing a range of SCR and high frequency battery chargers.

Innovation In the Autoscrubber Arena

Distributors are finding that the new generation of automatic scrubbers offers new technologies that bring about more convenience, comfort and productivity than the previous generations.

Innovative features of some scrubbers, for example, include simple ergonomic handlebars and control panels for scrub functions. Convenience is now a top priority, and some include features such as a rear port that allows the operator to fill the solution tank while dumping the recovery tank — a time-saver. Easy-to-read solution level sight gauges tell the user how much solution is left in the tank, and hands-off brush mountings and removal eliminate the need to reach under the machine.

Other autoscrubbers on the market feature technologies that include hygienic tanks that help clean up mold and mildew, and technology that puts soaps, cleaners and water on board. According to Russ Melton, vice president for the RoyaLab Division of Royal Papers Inc., St. Louis, low-moisture technology uses significantly less water, another important trend that has affected autoscrubbers. “That means fewer trips to dump and reload,” he says. “It’s phenomenal technology.”

Jeffrey Pease, corporate vice president of sales and marketing for Brady Industries, Corp., Las Vegas, says more people are buying ride-on autoscrubbers today because of gains in productivity.

“And you’re seeing more micro-riders, which are down-sized scrubbers with a deck size of 20 to 28 inches,” Pease says. “Previously, these were walk-behind models, but by riding, worker fatigue decreases and productivity typically increases by 30 percent.”

Jeannie Murphy, president and owner of Murphy Sanitary Supply, Tulsa, Okla., believes battery technology has improved, too. “Gel batteries are now available. Unlike wet batteries, gel batteries don’t require any attention,” she says.

Melton says autoscrubber technology is spilling over into carpet cleaning, too. “There are new battery-powered, walk-behind scrubbers that clean carpets ... Keeping them clean has been very labor intensive. Because of the need, one of the manufacturers has come up with a scrubber that uses less moisture. That enables the carpets to dry in 30 minutes, and therefore reopen quickly to foot traffic.” —J.F.