Productivity and sustainability: These two concepts are frequently referenced during cleaning industry tradeshows, networking events, online webinars and management training.
Yet, for years these subjects were viewed as polar opposites.
Some cleaning professionals thought, for an operation to be environmentally responsible, time and money had to be sacrificed to lackluster results and slower performance.
Others thought that, for employees to produce at their highest capabilities, sustainable techniques and equipment were not options that could be considered.
As most managers and cleaning professionals now know, this is no longer the case.
In fact, today’s professional cleaning operations often call upon a wide array of sustainable techniques and technologies to generate higher profits, improve worker productivity and lessen their environmental impact.
Over the past few years, smaller, cord-free equipment, new energy-efficient technologies and even worker-powered options have opened up a new horizon of efficient, portable cleaning options.
On the surface, it seems like a simple proposition: If an operation wants to use less electricity, just unplug all the equipment.
While that is an easy step, it leads to an obvious question.
What automated cleaning equipment is available to managers after they decide to pull the plug?
There are a number of portable equipment options currently available to cleaning operations, according to Dave Lathrop, senior staff engineer with Emerson Tool Company.
Three battery-powered examples are:
- Hybrid sweepers and stick vacuums that offer portability and convenience with less power.
- Cordless commercial backpacks that are light and powerful enough for routine vacuuming without taxing to the wearer.
- Cordless, handheld wet/dry vacs that can be used to quickly address spots and spills.
Another developing industry innovation is employee-powered equipment.
Rex Shull, contact cleaning category manager with Karcher North America, says facility managers and building service contractors (BSCs) have long been interested in productive cleaning solutions that were “simple as a mop.”
“We found a customer need that fell between a mop and bucket and an autoscrubber,” Shull explains.
In response, his company developed a piece of cleaning equipment that applies solution, cleans floors and removes liquid using only manual power.
“Innovation is not always new technology, but rather new ways to clean productively and effectively,” Shull explains. “[It] was not designed to replace the mop and bucket or the autoscrubber, but to perform in the space [where] neither of these offers the best solution.”
Engaging Employee Power
From concept to release, the development of the employee-powered equipment took approximately 14 months, Shull states.
The greatest engineering challenge was 100 percent removal of water from the floor without a powered vacuum system.
Retaining water so it could not flow back onto the floor was another major hurdle.
Shull notes that the team discovered technology outside of the JanSan industry that ended up meeting the equipment’s needs.
The sustainability benefit is evident, but this type of equipment can offer increased productivity as well.
Compared to the traditional mop and bucket, this option uses very little water and chemistry, and the design allows a worker to clean floors five times faster, according to Shull.
Occupant safety is another benefit.
“First and foremost, we learned that safety from slips and fails could be eliminated, and ‘automopped’ areas could be usable immediately,” Shull continues.
Non-powered equipment also allows an environmental services team to work virtually anytime, anywhere.
With a 52-decibel sound rating, this option is quiet enough to run in educational, healthcare and office environments without negative feedback, Shull says.
“The idea is to complement the use of autoscrubbers and leave the floors clean and dry when autoscrubbing is not practical,” Shull concludes. “During a busy school day it is not practical to bring out the autoscrubber to pick up the snow or rain tracked in.”
Cutting That Cord
For large jobs, many modern equipment choices depend on battery power.
Though it requires electricity, battery-power can still be an environmentally-responsible choice that pushes productivity.
First, cordless equipment can remove a literal tether that may limit employee productivity.
“A cord is more limiting than you would think,” Lathrop says. “Yes, plugging in and unplugging take up time, but the greater advantage of cordless [equipment] is being able to dictate your own path without being tethered to an outlet.”
Also, cords take constant readjustment to avoid getting caught — battery-powered equipment eliminates these restrictions, Lathrop notes.
Studies have shown an approximate 30 percent of time savings when cleaning operations switch to battery-powered backpack vacuums, according to Lathrop.
The improved employee production rates with cordless backpack vacuums have been reported in a number of facilities, including schools, universities and office settings.
Finally, battery-powered vacuums are also beneficial for facility managers and BSCs that offer day cleaning or work in 24-hour facilities.
The two main benefits: They operate more quietly and remove the trip hazard of a power cord.
Boosted Battery Life
While batteries have been around for decades, new engineering and design advances have made them more dependable and environmentally responsible.
Lathrop notes that the usable life of batteries has increased so much so that replacement is now required less often.
In addition, all battery types are recyclable.
“There are a number of places that will accept any manufacturer’s batteries for recycling, like Home Depot,” Lathrop states.
Today’s new lithium ion and lithium polymer batteries offer a higher power density, Lathrop continues.
This means more runtime can be added using the same space, or the same runtime can be achieved with less weight.
For larger floorcare equipment, it is always important to choose the right battery and learn the proper battery maintenance steps, according to Trojan Battery Company.
Further, educating staff to remember maintenance requirements ensures the safe operation of floor machines and is key to the largest return on a battery investment.
Here, deep-cycle batteries — flooded, AGM or gel — are the best choices for cleaning machines because they are optimized for the deep discharge characteristic of daily floor scrubber operation, according to Trojan Battery.
Flooded batteries cost less and have a longer lifecycle.
Sealed AGM or gel batteries are maintenance-free, but have a higher price.
Flooded batteries provide the best cycling performance of all deep-cycle battery technologies, and they can be the most ideal option for a majority of floorcare equipment, especially when low cost is a key deciding factor, Trojan Battery notes.
Yet, to achieve maximum potential cycle life, flooded batteries require periodic “watering.”
While the frequency is determined by how the equipment is operated and is based on individual use, Trojan Battery recommends that electrolyte levels be checked at least every two weeks to ensure optimum performance.
Since watering is required to maintain flooded batteries, single-point watering systems are now gaining in popularity in the market, Trojan Battery reports.
Single-point watering systems make maintenance of flooded batteries quick and easy; staff can fill a complete set of batteries in less than 30 seconds.
Sealed batteries, which include AGM and gel types, are considered maintenance-free because they contain no free-flowing electrolyte, Trojan Battery states.
If battery maintenance steps cannot be guaranteed on a regular basis, sealed battery technology should be considered for floor cleaning applications.
While these maintenance-free batteries provide more convenience, the convenience comes with a price.
Sealed VRLA batteries are usually more expensive and will have lower cycle life when compared to flooded batteries.
Sealed batteries do not have openings to add water to the cells, but they do “off gas,” so the location where the batteries are charged should have good ventilation, Trojan states.
Remembering To Recycle
Though the concept of lead-acid batteries can sound somewhat intimidating, today 96 percent of all lead-acid batteries are recycled, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Reclaimers actually crush the batteries, recycle the plastic components and deliver the purified lead back to battery manufacturers and other industries, the EPA reports.
A typical lead-acid battery contains 60 to 80 percent recycled lead and plastic, the EPA notes.
Today’s cordless equipment calls upon different engineering advances to efficiently aid facility managers and BSCs in their daily pursuit of cleaning commercial buildings.
While mops, buckets and corded equipment definitely have a future in the industry, there is little doubt that employee- and battery-powered equipment will have a positive effect on professional cleaning operations.
Especially when their environmentally-responsible attributes are considered, these updated options should become even more attractive to facility managers and BSCs around the globe.