January 5, 2021

What to Know When Considering Autonomous Cleaning Equipment

picture of whiz robot in a hotel

The cleaning industry is forecasted to grow at least 10% by the year 2026.

This is big considering the average job growth rate across industries is estimated to be around 7%. This kind of growth requires cleaning companies to be creative and adapt to changing needs and standards. Especially in an industry with high turnover and absenteeism rates, making it key to address problems head on.

In a world where technology is omnipresent, more and more companies are turning to automation to help them meet challenges.

Introducing robotic or automated equipment does not mean replacing staff; realistically, very few occupations will fully be replaced, only certain activities are likely to be automated, and in most cases, these are repetitive activities that can be offloaded to help humans get more done.

Research done by McKinsey shows that “45% of work activities could be automated using already demonstrated technology.”

This means functioning together and using smart technology to build cleaner, more hygienic environments and better working experiences for everyone.

Features to Consider When Adding Autonomous Equipment to Your Team

Automation can serve to address growing needs in the industry, while also supplying a solution for high turnover rates and increasing expectations.

To assess if autonomous equipment is a good fit for your business, there are multiple things you should consider.

Examine Your Space to See if Automation is the Right Fit

The first thing you will want to look at is the space that is to be cleaned, since not every room or space is suitable for robotic solutions. There are several features that you should watch for when checking to see if automation will be a good fit.

1) One major consideration to take into account is floor space. Bigger, open areas are ideal when using machines like autonomous vacuum sweepers. For example, Whiz, an autonomous vacuum sweeper distributed in partnership between ICE Cobotics and SoftBank Robotics, uses programmed, mapped routes to vacuum the space autonomously.

Thanks to its safety features, the vacuum does not have any trouble avoiding obstacles like people or desks. However, it has a harder time navigating changing environments—so it is important to make sure your designated areas look like the route the robot is expecting to get the job done efficiently.

2) Not only the width of the space, but also the level of the floor should also be considered. Surfaces that are very uneven are most likely not suitable for autonomous equipment, since they cannot navigate up and down stairs or other elevated parts of floors.

3) Maybe not the most obvious thing, but something important to be aware of is the light in your facility. Being aware of areas where there are sky lights or substantial amounts of light that may hit reflective surfaces is important to consider, since the Lidar Sensors work with reflective light technology. Sometimes too much reflective light can interfere with the Lidar Sensors on robotic machines, causing them to get off their route.

Look for Features That Help Save Time and Ensure Safety

1) Delayed Start

Usually, you want cleaning to be done when there is the least amount of traffic in your facility. This means that cleaning staff often must work after closing hours or very early in the morning. Finding employees to work these shifts can be difficult, but autonomous cleaning equipment is designed to help overcome this problem.

The delayed start feature on Whiz, is exactly what it sounds like. This ensures the machine can start working anytime you program it to, even at night. This feature gives you more flexibility, since you can plan the task at any time of the day and Whiz will start working without you having to touch it or even be around.

2) EZ Setup

Whiz’s EZ setup makes it easy and quick to teach the machine the desired cleaning route. All you must do is teach Whiz, or map, the perimeter of the space to be cleaned. After that, Whiz will map the interior of the space on its own and when done save the route.

Essentially, this saves cleaning teams lots of time because not only does EZ Setup cut the time it typically takes to map an entire space, but the route is saved, and Whiz will clean it completely on its own the next time it is deployed.

3) Cloud-Based Storage

These routes are not only saved to the specific machine but are stored using Cloud-based software. This way, mapped routes are saved to the cloud and can easily be transferred from one machine to another. This is an important feature in an instance a machine goes down or needs servicing.

Since the routes and information are saved in the Cloud, the routes can be transferred from one unit to another. This prevents cleaning teams from having to re-map routes, meaning less downtime overall.

4) Lidar Sensors

All the sensors function to scan the environment for any obstacles, like people or objects, so, the machine can safely maneuver around them. Lidar Sensors use scanning and light reflection technology to detect obstacles in the robot's path, allowing it to maneuver around the obstacle.

The cliff sensors are specifically designed to prevent the machine from falling off any edges or cliffs, which also ensures the safety of the machine itself.

5) 2D & 3D Cameras

The 2D & 3D cameras work in conjunction with the Lidar Sensors to detect any obstacles that may appear in the robotic cleaning machine’s path. The cameras are used to navigate the area, detect obstacles, and redirect or stop the device, as they communicate with the Lidar Sensors and other safety features in Whiz.

6) Turn Signal Lights and Audible Noise

Turn signal lights work the way you would expect them to. Whenever the machine makes a turn, the signal light will automatically turn on to alert anyone around the machine. Whiz is designed with a color-coded system that indicates when the machine is stopping or stopped (red), working (green) and flashes yellow or orange when turning—all important to safety.

In addition to light signals, Whiz uses audible alerts that notify anyone or anything of its presence. Audible alerts let passersby know if the machine is stopping or making a turn. Together, the light and noise indicators help keep anyone in the robot’s path safe.

7) Emergency Stop

Should anything go wrong, the emergency stop ensures the robot can always be stopped if necessary. The emergency shut off button is in an easy to reach location and will stop the machine at once if there is any sort of emergency.

Additional Benefits of Autonomous Cleaning Equipment

Beyond programming and safety features are the added benefits of bringing on robotic cleaning machines. These may not be as clear as the physical features of autonomous solutions but are just as important to consider, as the long-term impact can positively improve the bottom line.

1) Autonomous solutions can help reduce employee turnover

Reasons for the high turnover rates stem from increasing focus on cleanliness combined with stricter guidelines resulting in an increased workload, unclear expectations for staff, difficult working hours (often after a building is closed), and repetitive tasks that can lead to lack of interest.

Robotics equipment, like Whiz, can help reduce turnover by taking on repetitive and mundane tasks so workers will be able to focus on more challenging aspects of their job. This will increase the motivation of employees, decreasing the chances of them leaving. Robotics also share the workload, taking away a part of the time-stress that many cleaners experience.

In this way, robotics can aid employee retention by improving job satisfaction, performance, and overall work quality.

2) Autonomous Solutions can help improve client satisfaction

Autonomous cleaning solutions can be of significant use when your aim is to deliver better results. They clean often and consistently, ensuring the cleaning checklist is completed and the work is done on the same level every day. Besides this, they also enable staff to focus on other tasks that they otherwise might not be able to tend to, by taking over the most repetitive jobs. With the help of cleaning robots, more work is getting done at a higher level, which ensures overall better results.

Autonomous cleaning equipment also helps in delivering a confirmed clean. Being able to surely say that the job is done helps keep clients satisfied and, in this way, keeps them committed to the company.

3) Autonomous cleaning equipment can improve staff efficiency and productivity

Recent research by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) shows that a positive connection exists between the use of autonomous equipment and the productivity of staff. Introducing automation into your team is beneficial for both the employees and their managers since both continuously aim to improve their results.

Adding an autonomous machine to the cleaning process can be helpful in multiple ways.

By introducing Cobots, autonomous cleaning robots, staff can have more time on their hands for other assignments. Robots take on repetitive tasks and will free up staff to focus on other high-value work.

While the floor is being cleaned by an autonomous vacuum sweeper or scrubber, cleaning employees can tend to other things, like disinfecting surfaces or cleaning areas that the equipment cannot reach.

Autonomous equipment can deliver more consistent results, while simultaneously allowing staff to work on tasks that otherwise might get skipped due to a lack of time.

Not only will autonomous solutions increase the productivity of staff, but they can also aid in perfecting the cleaning process. The best method for improvement is to know where you stand, measure it against where you want to be and adjust your process to get there.

ICE Cobotics is an industry leading technology and cleaning equipment supplier, specializing in the subscription model.

Contact one of our equipment experts to get started or for further reading, we suggest: An Introductory Guide to Safety for Service Robots

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