Once the robot is up and running, the manufacturer monitors and interprets usage data to identify potential issues and improve cleaning outcomes. However, the distributor — and sometimes even the end user — may have a hand in mapping, depending on the make and model of machine.

For example, NSS Enterprises is working on a cleaning robot set to launch in 2020. According to Krausnick, the end user will be able to program the machine simply by driving it and recording its route. 

Diversey has a handful of distributors worldwide that are capable of installing and mapping the manufacturer’s robotic floor machines. Although the company is responsible for mapping its robots in the majority of installations, Mann sees distributors taking on a more active role in the next six to 12 months with the advent of new technology. 

As with mapping, distributors may find themselves taking on the responsibility of maintenance services, depending on the nature of the problem and their level of expertise.

NSS Enterprises plans to partner with a national service provider to maintain and repair its machines in the field. According to Krausnick, tasks such as calibrating the machines or changing sensors will require technicians with specialized training.

“There might be opportunities for distributors to do the same kind of maintenance that they do now,” says Krausnick. “If I have a robotic scrubber that needs a new brush motor, for example, that’s something commonly done by most distributors that do machine service.”

Although most distributors are capable of handling mechanical repairs, the manufacturer is still in the driver’s seat when it comes to the robot’s navigation system. Even so, some manufacturers believe that distributors can position themselves to take on IT services in the future as robot sales increase.

Becoming The Expert

Manufacturers agree that distributors are capable of becoming robot experts — but the onus is on them to achieve that status. 

“Selling and servicing autonomous equipment will require some level of expertise,” says O’Neill. “Distributors and technicians can benefit from training their existing talent and recruiting professionals trained and/or educated in autonomous technologies.”

Most manufacturers provide training for their distribution partners so that they can continue to service the customer after the sale. 

“I think distributors can become the robot experts — if they are willing and see value in achieving that status,” says Sheikh. “The manufacturer definitely plays a role in training, but the distributor has to have the right team in place. If your service team doesn’t have skills in computers and electronics, you have to invest in those skills so that you can position yourself to be a robotics expert in the future.”

According to manufacturers, tech-savvy distributors are more likely to find success in the robotics market. Some are developing their own cleaning software packages, for example, while others are buying robotic floor machines for their own marketing purposes. 

“As the autonomous market evolves, it is critical for distributors to understand how these new technologies and solutions are impacting their customers,” says O’Neill. “For example, warehouses have already adopted autonomous applications like racking robots and connected forklifts. Understanding how autonomous cleaning equipment and digital solutions will integrate can set them apart as subject matter experts.

Kassandra Kania is a freelancer in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is a frequent contributor to Sanitary Maintenance.

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The Manufacturer-Distributor Relationship Matters When Making A Robot Sale