If one were to ask a manager of custodial operations what the most costly cleaning tasks are at their respective operation, the most common answer would probably be the stripping and refinishing of floors. The cost of labor keeps increasing, while available dollars to clean and maintain facilities decrease. When floors aren’t stripped and refinished often enough, the floors begin to look dull, and the facility’s image is at risk. Anything that can be done to keep a floor finish looking clean and bright — in a cost-effective manner, goes a long way for customers.
Many tools are available to help cleaning managers get the most for their dollar. It’s especially true of floor care. Many machines on the market enable managers to maintain facilities at an optimal level, for a reasonable cost. One piece of floor equipment that can greatly enhance the shine on floors is the floor burnisher. Generally, a floor burnisher is a machine that burnishes the floor finish to a high state of gloss and enables the operator to cover large areas of floor in a limited amount of time.

Using available industry standards (and a labor rate of $10 per hour), it would cost $250 to polish 10,000 square feet of floor using a 20-inch rotary floor machine that operates at 350 rpm. However, if the same task was performed using a propane-powered, 27-inch burnisher that operates at 2,000-plus rpm, the same space could be polished at $45 — a savings of more than 80 percent.

Since burnishing a floor at a high speed is so much more economical than the slow-speed buffers of old, the manager can burnish the floors more often, thus increasing the gloss or “wet look” of the floors. In reality, the facility may look cleaner for less money because the floors shine.

Burnishers can enhance a facility’s image with clean and shiny floors. Remarkably, experience indicates that distributors don’t aggressively market burnishers, or other high-end cleaning equipment for that matter.

These days, anything a distributor can do to lower costs — especially labor costs — is of interest to customers. In tight times, distributors can make their mark by informing end users of the increased productivity burnishers offer.

Though burnishers offer some unique benefits, they also create some challenges. The majority of these problems can be resolved with good training and a quality preventive maintenance program. Obviously, there are safety precautions that operators must follow when using any piece of powered equipment.

With the help of Michael Jacobs of K.S.S. Enterprises in Kalamazoo, Mich., and Rob Glassmeyer of B.T. Ramsey, Indianapolis — as well as available literature — here is a list of some of the benefits burnishers offer:

High shine floor finish: Since burnishers operate at high speeds, the interaction between the burnishing pad and the floor finish creates a high shine, often called the wet look.

Burnishers cover large areas in minimal time: Supermarkets are a good example of how burnishers cover large areas in minimal time. Often, one can visit a supermarket late at night and see dull floors, and only a few hours later, in the morning, the floors are clean and shining.

Saving labor dollars: Since burnishers decrease the amount of time needed to polish floors, there is a significant savings of labor dollars.

Image of the overall facility: When floors are clean with a high shine, the overall facility looks clean. Light also reflects better off a highly polished floor.

Safe floors: Clean and well-maintained floors are safe floors. A good floor cleaning and burnishing program provides a clean, slip-resistant surface for customers to walk on.

Compatibility with floor finishes: There are innumerable floor finishes manufactured today for use with high-speed burnishers. Indeed, many floor finishes are specifically designed to provide a high gloss level that is enhanced by high-speed equipment.

Ergonomics: When operated properly, a burnisher can alleviate some of the stress an operator experiences with slower-speed equipment.

Competitiveness: To stay competitive, end users are looking for every opportunity to produce quality floor finishes at the least possible cost. Burnishers are a great tool to use in controlling operating costs.

Power choices and sizes: Burnishers can be electric, battery-operated or propane-operated. In addition, machines have a variety of burnishing paths, suitable for small to very large areas.

A Down Side?
Despite their attributes, there are some limitations to burnishers; however, most of these are easily addressed by an informed distributor.

Power choices: If a manager selects a battery-operated unit, the run time of the unit is based on the power provided by the battery. If an electric model is used, the operator is tied to cords and available outlets. If a propane unit is selected, it may not be allowed in all locations. The distributor can provide invaluable advice with regard to the right burnisher or burnishers to purchase for each respective application.

Power sources: When using electric burnishers, the power source can create a challenge as many wall outlets may not be the right amperage. Electric floor equipment draws a lot of power as it starts and could blow circuit breakers.

More than one piece of floor care equipment may be needed: A burnisher affords many advantages but it cannot be all things to all operations. Thus, a burnisher is only a part of an overall floor care system.

Specifications of equipment: All burnishers are not created equal. Pad sizes vary, power sources are different, pad pressures and consistency of pad pressures may vary by machine, and speed of machines may be rated from over 1,000 rpm to well over 2,500 rpm. Matching the right piece of equipment to the task to be performed is essential.

Like all pieces of equipment, there are some common mistakes made by high-speed burnisher users. Some are:

Lack of maintenance: All equipment should be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. A good preventive maintenance program will extend the life and operational effectiveness of all equipment.

Lack of cleaning: All cleaning equipment should be kept clean at all times. Being dirty can limit the operational capability of the equipment.

Lack of dust control: Burnishers may produce some dust because each time a floor finish is burnished microscopic particles of floor finish are removed. Dust collection equipment should be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s directions and emptied as specified in the owner’s manual.

Neglecting to clean the floor prior to burnishing: A high speed burnisher should not be used on dirty floors. Using a burnisher on dirty floors will damage the floor finish and create inordinate amounts of dust. Prior to burnishing, floors should be dust mopped and damp mopped. Some organizations may use a high-speed restorer during the damp mop process.

Compatibility of finishes and floor equipment: If a floor finish is not supposed to be polished by floor equipment that exceeds 1,000 rpm, and an operator decides to use a burnisher that operates at 2,000 rpm, disaster could result; the floor finish could powder off the floor and cause damage. It is essential to match the burnisher with the right floor finish in accordance with specifications.

Rocky Road
Many challenges lie ahead for the cleaning manager in 2002, and probably the greatest of challenges will be helping customers do more with less, while retaining a proper level of quality. Today’s high-speed burnishers afford the cleaning manager an opportunity to maintain high quality floor finishes while controlling costs. The proactive distributor — by providing the right burnisher and training — can help the manager polish the image of his or her facility and make it shine.

Alan S. Bigger is director of Building Services for the University of Notre Dame, and Linda B. Bigger is a freelance editor.

Additional Resources:
Must-Have Floor Equipment
Propane Fiction

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