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This isn't your grandfather's hard floor equipment

September 19, 2010
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Hard floor care machines have come a long way since their arrival in the JanSan market many years ago.

At that time, the thought of saying goodbye to your mop and bucket might have been reason enough to get excited.

But today, as the industry has placed more importance on worker safety, job productivity, ease of use and green cleaning, the evidence is piling up on why you should invest in a hard surface machine for your company’s profitability and for your employees’ safety.

Hard floor equipment manufacturers have made many changes and adjustments to their products that better suit them to the needs of end users in today’s market.

By examining such equipment as autoscrubbers and burnishers, it’s clear that these innovations were made with end users in mind.

After talking with several leading manufacturers, CM/Cleaning & Maintenance Management has compiled an overview of some of these innovations to help you make more informed decisions when investing in hard floor care equipment.

Productivity, worker safety, and ease of use
Mark Cuddy, director of sales for Tornado, explains that the evolution of hard floor machines, and the many enhancements made to modern machines, are all especially designed to increase productivity and decrease hazards to workers.

Cuddy notes that although burnishers have been redesigned and reengineered over the years, some of the greatest improvements have occurred in just the past few.

“Interestingly, many of the items that improve machine operation and safety also help improve worker productivity because they make the machines much easier to work with,” says Cuddy. “In the case of (floor) glazers, for example, some of these improvements include machines with one-piece rotationally molded housing, machines with easy access to motors and internal components (yet all wiring is completely enclosed), and machines that have safety release controls on the handle.”

Autoscrubbers have undergone some changes as well.

Bill Bukowski of Clarke Commercial Sales says that the biggest changes over the years have concerned ease of use and run times.

“As electronics have advanced, so have scrubbers,” Bukowski says. “Things like one-touch scrubbing that make it easy to train operators are all a result of new programmable systems. The new systems that control the operation of the machines have virtually eliminated the old style solenoids that burned off battery power as heat, thus reducing run time.”

Another area autoscrubbers have improved upon is productivity.

Bukowski says that the large increases in autoscrubber productivity are due to the addition of on-board chemical and recycling systems.

Also, he says, the most effective use of water and chemicals is found by using scrubbers that incorporate orbital scrubbing technology.

“Orbital scrubbing technology is the most energy-efficient due to fewer motors found on a typical disc scrubber, which also requires large battery packs in order to complete the work,” says Bukowski. “In addition, by switching to orbital scrubbing technology, pad usage is reduced by half.”

Bukowski says autoscrubbers have also improved in terms of worker safety, which he attributes to better ergonomics, such as the front and rear fill ports, so the operator does not have to crawl over the machine while parked in a tight janitorial closet.

Additionally, he says, “the new palm switch handles and speed controls — mounted so the operator does not have to remove his or her hands off the control panel — protect the operator and the operational environment.”

Current buying concerns and trends
With so many options to choose from when purchasing a hard floor machine, today’s end users are faced with many decisions.

Kyle Strait, product manager with Tennant Company, offers insight into some of today’s top buying concerns.

“Like any industry that has evolved over time,” he says, “end users recognize that there are many options (for) them that range in reliability, feature set and sales support. And, unlike consumer goods, this is a business decision and they look very closely at the price/value in that context.”

For the most part, though, Strait says that if money were not an object, overall it would be reliable performance that is most desired when purchasing a new piece of equipment.

“They are buying the machine to effectively clean their floor (performance), and if the machine breaks down, it can’t do its job (reliability),” Strait says. “In the end, they hope to attain some minimum level of both of these. From there, the key factors in the buying decision can vary greatly based on their business needs: Safety, productivity, ease of use, green and serviceability — most recently, we are seeing the safety and green elements come to the forefront.”

Likewise, Cuddy has found that today’s end users are not looking for equipment based solely on price.

“Like distributors,” he says, “they want moderately priced equipment that is dependable, durable and easy to service and that keeps their customers happy by producing quality results.”

However, Cuddy says, when it comes to floor care, there is always one concern on every cleaning contractor’s mind: Can this machine cut labor costs?

“This is because labor is 90 percent of floor care costs,” Cuddy says. “Instead of asking about price, BSCs (building service contractors) should ask the distributor how much money the machine will save them in labor expenses. A high-speed floor machine, ride-on or walk-behind can pay for itself in just a few months, because it reduces time and labor costs significantly.”

In addition to cutting labor costs, Cuddy says that end users are increasingly looking for equipment that is environmentally responsible.

“Some floor machines have vacuum systems that capture and trap the airborne dust and impurities so that they are not released into the air, improving air quality,” Cuddy says. “Additionally, cylindrical machines use less water and chemical than conventional rotary machines, which helps promote sustainability and protect the environment.”

Where we go from here
As impressive as today’s hard floor machines are, the market will undoubtedly continue to grow and evolve.

Improvements will continue to be upgraded as new concerns arise and as the need for floor machines increases (manufacturers hope!).

By and large, however, most manufacturers agree that demand for green machines will continue to grow.

Strait says although green is all the rage right now, it’s still in its infancy and not the key component in most autoscrubber purchases.

He attributes this to the sometimes overgeneralization of the word “green.”

“Green has such a broad umbrella right now that key buyer concerns of noise, ergonomics and indoor air quality are categorized that way,” Strait says. “Many people speak about or have needs in these areas, but they talk about them specifically rather than about what it is to be green. As more and more people are affected by state laws or LEED-EB certifications, they will begin to aggregate those into the green movement. The near future will likely see the green movement evolve and become one of the top three factors considered in a purchase decision.”

“We will continue to see the drive to green technologies,” agrees Bukowski. “Natural resources are finite. The technologies that use less fresh water and reduce wastewater will continue to grow in the cleaning industry. We will also continue to see a reduction in solid waste items as the cost of disposal continues to climb. Recycling will play a larger role in our future.”
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