Bigger isn't always better. When it comes to floor equipment, for example, many users prefer a compact design. Manufacturers are responding to consumer demand by producing smaller machines, particularly autoscrubbers.

The move toward less-bulky machinery has been happening for some time in Europe, which often sets trends that later take off in the United States. Smaller floor machines were a common sight at the recent ISSA/INTERCLEAN show in Amsterdam and many jan/san distributors in the United States are beginning to see the trend here.

"Usually there are several factors that all come into play to create a trend," says Louie Davis, senior territory manager at Central Paper Company, Birmingham, Ala. "A lot of things are becoming more compact in this industry. Everyone wants to be more efficient and save money."

The biggest (or smallest) changes are happening with autoscrubbers. Unlike other products, these machines offer economical opportunities for downsizing.

"I don't see orbital floor machines getting smaller because the price differential between a 20-inch and a 17-inch swing machine is like $40," Davis says. "The economies of scale don't apply there but in the autoscrubber market I think they do."

There are many ways manufacturers have reduced the size of autoscrubbers. For example, electric models are slimmer than battery-powered units. Other units incorporate the frame of the machine into the solution tank to make them more streamlined. Also, newer plastics are thinner, which helps to reduce bulk.

"The actual machine structure is becoming more compact and smaller in terms of its appearance and profile," says Phillip Consolino, president of SouthEast LINK, Atlanta.

Manufacturers have also tried to make smaller machines more versatile. With many new autoscrubbers, multiple-size heads can be used on the same body style. This allows for a larger cleaning width on a smaller machine.

Money Matters

There are several factors driving the move toward smaller autoscrubbers. Top of the list for most building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house service professionals (ISPs) is budget. The economy is affecting all purchasing decisions and end users are unwilling to pay more than is absolutely necessary for any equipment.

When it comes to autoscrubbers, a smaller machine is constructed of fewer materials, which equates to a lower price. And that's appealing to end users who must justify every penny they spend.

"Manufacturers are engineering lower costs into the production of the equipment because there is a lot of price sensitivity in the marketplace," Consolino says.

A 17-inch autoscrubber can cost as little as $2,000, which is often less than half the price of a traditional ride-on or walk-behind machine.

A larger machine can cover more ground in less time, providing labor savings and a bigger, faster return on investment. Regardless, many customers are more motivated by upfront costs.

"People are very cost conscious," Davis says. "Whatever you are selling, whether it's a machine or some other supply, you always have to think in terms of the initial purchase price."

Automatic Option

Price may be the primary driver behind the increasing popularity of smaller autoscrubbers but it is certainly not the only factor.

The most significant size reductions are happening with walk-behind models because, when made small enough, the machines can help janitors to automate tasks previously done with a mop and bucket. Smaller equipment (13 to 17 inches), can clean underneath countertops and tables and into corners.

"To clean better, you have to automate and the industry recognizes so there's been a push to downsize to get in areas you couldn't before," says Stephen Wehse, equipment manager at NASSCO Inc., New Berlin, Wis. "We've seen a push to replace the mop and bucket because scrubbers are much more effective. From a sales standpoint, it's very easy to sell against a mop and bucket."

Not only does a small scrubber replace the mop and bucket in a small space, it is also more effective.

"The floor cleaning machine does a lot better job than a mop, which spreads dirt around," says Rick Schott, president of Factory Cleaning Equipment, Aurora, Ill. "A floor scrubber puts down clean water and the floor is drier much quicker. That helps with safety and quality."

A compact autoscrubber allows a janitor to clean spaces quickly, such as restrooms or conference rooms, which previously could only be reached with a mop and bucket.

"We see customers trying to automate the cleaning process a lot further down than they used to," says Schott. "In the past, people would own a large scrubber for the plant but the locker room and cafeteria and small spaces were all done manually."

Automating those processes is as much as 10 times faster, Schott says. Those savings are significant when 85 to 95 percent of any cleaning budget is labor costs. Many janitorial departments are now expected to clean more with less staff. An opportunity to mechanize a manual process can help cleaning managers justify the upfront expense of a new floor machine.

"Even though they are not as productive as a large machine, when you look at the fact that you gain utility by being able to use them in more places and automate jobs you wouldn't otherwise wouldn't be able to, that's why our customers are going that way," Davis says.

While still much larger than the new streamline walk-behinds, rider scrubbers have also been whittled in size in recent years. Riders have gone from 38 inches or larger in the past to as little as 26 inches today.

"The ride-on equipment is much more compact than the older models but it's still fundamentally a fairly large piece of equipment," Consolino says.

Reducing the size of ride-on autoscrubbers has helped boost their popularity. Previously, the bulky machines were best suited to wide-open industrial spaces. Now they can be used in retail stores, healthcare facilities or other buildings that have aisles or spacious lobbies.

The smaller riders allow janitors to clean more square footage in less time than a walk-behind. That efficiency comes with a higher price tag than a walk-behind, however, which will likely always limit the market for even small riding equipment.

Other Factors

Davis says that 90 percent of the autoscrubbers his company sells are now smaller than 20 inches. Schott says his company is also selling more compact autoscrubbers than ever before.

The dramatic shift has happened for two reasons. First, customers are replacing large scrubbers with smaller versions that offer more flexibility. Second, others are investing in a scrubber for the first time because they are now small enough to suit their needs.

Smaller machines are useful for facilities that simply aren't large enough to use a traditional autoscrubber. For example, Davis says the equipment is suited for churches, civic buildings and car dealerships.

Even larger facilities are beginning to use their space more efficiently to reduce expenses. Janitors are expected to clean smaller rooms and narrower aisles and more compact machinery can help them accomplish these tasks.

Smaller construction has other practical benefits. A smaller scrubber takes up less space, making it a smart option for facilities with limited storage space. The compact equipment also makes it more maneuverable for janitors who must move the machine around a large building or on elevators. It is also easier for BSCs to transport the equipment from one account to the next.

"The machines address another trend we are seeing, which is day cleaning," Davis says. "The compact autoscrubbers aren't as noisy as the big machines. I think they fit the mold for day cleaning and that may be another factor in their popularity."

Davis says the machines are also easier to service because the components are more accessible and are easy to take apart.

Distributors who aren't yet selling compact autoscrubbers may want to take another look at this growing market segment.

"This is an opportunity for distributors to address many problems customers are experiencing," Davis says. "If you are going to spend less money why not get a more flexible machine that can do more jobs and address labor budgets?"

Becky Mollenkamp is a freelance writer based in Des Moines, Iowa. She is a frequent contributor to Sanitary Maintenance.