Both in-house custodial managers and contract cleaners rely on a wide range of equipment to service disparate facilities and flooring. Although ride-on machines are best suited for wide aisles and large, open areas, such as those found in a warehouse or manufacturing facility, many buildings do not have the storage space or square footage to warrant the use of large equipment. 

Doobin’s company uses both ride-on and stand-on equipment for facilities with large corridors, lobbies and open spaces, but favors a stand-on scrubber with an on-board charger because it “easily goes through most doorways.” 

Ride-on and stand-on machines help reduce operator fatigue when cleaning large spaces. However, a high price tag and large size don’t make them a universal fit. 

For example, Woodard uses a rider primarily in the 3-million-square-foot Health Sciences Building; however, the university is moving away from riders in favor of walk-behind units. 

“We don’t have wide, long hallways, and the riders are a little intimidating for some of our custodians,” he says.

In fact, walk-behind autoscrubbers are a popular choice among BSCs and cleaning departments for a wide range of applications because they increase productivity and improve the cleanliness of floors. 

For instance, Dumond uses a walk-behind autoscrubber to service medical facilities with ceramic tile floors and to clean the hallways at a university. And Bessert relies on a walk-behind autoscrubber for daily maintenance of marble floors in the rotunda of a courthouse.

Some facilities are downsizing floor equipment even further and investing in micro scrubbers for quick, efficient cleanup of spills and to access small, tight spaces. Bessert recently purchased a 15-inch micro scrubber to clean small clinic rooms in her public health buildings.

“The staff loves it,” she says. “Before that we were using microfiber mops, which do a good job, but they don’t reach dirt embedded in the grooves of the laminate wood flooring.”

Micro scrubbers also work great for emergency cleanup while occupants are still present. 

“One floor challenge we address regularly is how to incorporate floor machines during the work day, especially in high-traffic areas,” says Doobin. “A small [micro scrubber] allows us to quickly clean up spills on hard floors during the day.”

The Future Of Floor Care

As floor equipment continues to evolve, robotic cleaning machines are becoming a more viable option for facilities and contract cleaners to ease the burden of labor-intensive floor cleaning tasks. And while advisory board members still balk at the price tag, some say they have considered robotics — or might in the future as the technology advances and prices come down. They are also confident that robotics will aid custodians rather than replace them.

“We view artificial intelligence as supplementing our workforce, not replacing it,” says Doobin. “Some workers may be concerned about this type of technology taking jobs away, but we believe technology enables cleaners to focus on other tasks.”

Indeed, robotics will allow custodians time to complete tasks that are often neglected — and focus on work quality. 

“The partnership between automation and people is only going to make our work faster and more efficient,” says Bernstein. “Right now, clients are reducing the scope of work they want us to accomplish; we’re vacuuming quarterly and dusting yearly. Robotics will bring the scope of work that clients want us to accomplish back to an acceptable level.”

While the success of robotics is still speculation for many facility managers and BSCs, Dumond has witnessed a robotic floor machine in action at a client’s semiconductor manufacturing facility — and the results were surprising. 

“The company had billions of square feet, and they were using the machine to scrub the hallways,” he says. “Before that, we had three part-time employees using autoscrubbers. I wasn’t sure [the robot] would work, but it did.” 

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

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