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The evolution of vacuums

September 19, 2010
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In the August issue of CM/Cleaning & Maintenance Management magazine, we took a look at how hard floor equipment has improved in the last ten to fifteen years.

This month, we’ve asked several industry experts to weigh in on the vacuum market — a market that has also changed over the years, with innovations that have improved cleaning effectiveness, productivity, and worker safety.

These modern innovations have made laborious, heavy, and often noisy machines obsolete.

Taking their place are lightweight, quiet, easily maneuverable machines, which are the cornerstone of any cleaning regimen.

Effectiveness and performance
Perhaps the biggest difference between older vacuums and today’s models is proven effectiveness.

In terms of cleaning effectiveness and performance, Jeff Fystrom, project manager with Tennant Company, notes machine designs have evolved to allow for better soil removal.

“Vacuum motors, shoe designs, agitation brushes, and the motors that drive the machines have all been improved,” Fystrom says. “But perhaps the greatest improvement is the pull-through design that vacuums incorporate today. In the past, vacuums used a motor with an impresser in the base to create suction. Debris was caught in the airflow, brought through the impeller, and pushed up to the bag. The new pull-through design places the vacuum motor at the last point of the airflow so that debris is pulled through the vacuum and caught in the bag. This design simply works much better.”

Another way vacuums are more effective today is through enhanced filtration capabilities, which promote better indoor air quality.

“In terms of filtration,” Fystrom says, “today’s vacuums are designed to capture dust and debris and keep them in the vacuum. This relates back to that pull-through design, which allows for multiple levels of filtration. In the past, the only filtration offered was the vacuum bag itself. Now, HEPA filters, three-ply vacuum bags, and exhaust filters are commonplace on commercial vacuums.”

Billy Mitchell, director of marketing at ProTeam, concurs that today’s vacuum filters are far more advanced as well as play a significant role in a building’s health.

“We recently released a redesigned disposable micro-filter that features eight layers heat-blown into a cross hatch pattern to capture extremely small particles,” Mitchell adds. “(Advanced) vacuums capture a vast majority of the microscopic pollutants that ride on dust, which is extremely important when trying to improve indoor air quality.”

Productivity and worker safety
Two areas that have also benefited in the modern vacuum era are productivity and worker safety.

Ergonomic designs and a variety of models, such as backpack vacuums, have taken the industry by storm.

Andre Motta, senior product manager for Rubbermaid Commercial Products, says one feature that has improved productivity in vacuum cleaners is the automatic height adjustment, which automatically adjusts the vacuum’s power head up or down to the appropriate cleaning height.

“With this feature,” Motta says, “the end user doesn’t need to spend time manually adjusting and guessing the right height of the brush for different types of carpet. That feature alone enhances the cleaning efficiency of the equipment by reducing the need for additional steps.”

Vacuums have also become lighter and easier to use, which helps promote worker safety.

“In terms of ease of use,” Fystrom says, “vacuums today are lighter, they have easy-to-access onboard tools and extra bags; they also offer cord connection placement, a foot release pedal, easy-to-change bags, and the handles are ergonomically designed.”

Fystrom notes that today’s vacuums operate much more quietly than in the past, which improves worker safety by helping workers stay more alert of the environment around them.

Mitchell also highlights innovations and trends that affect productivity and hazards to workers.

“More and more,” Mitchell says, “the cleaning industry is adapting to a workforce made up of people of different sizes and statures, including women. Vacuum manufacturers need to make products that a smaller person can use. To this end, we’re incorporating lighter-weight materials and offering more options in size.

“Cordless vacuum technology is also helping maintenance managers and contract cleaners to increase productivity and guard against trips and falls — both with their staff and those in the building being cleaned,” Mitchell adds.

Buying decisions
It makes sense that one of the most important factors in purchasing a vacuum is its performance, as a better-performing vacuum will only lead to a more productive cleaning experience.

“End users want a high-quality product with features that meet their needs,” Motta says. “In the commercial application, anything that can reduce labor is of higher value since the equipment is just a small part of the overall activity costs. Some vacuum cleaner manufacturers have adjusted to this situation by eliminating the need for tools to assemble and disassemble the product.”

Mitchell agrees that increased productivity is what most end users are looking to achieve and their buying habits have reflected this emphasis.

To that end, he says, distributors and end users also realize how much machine quality counts — with better quality machines, less time and money will be wasted in repairs and maintenance.

“No one wants to buy a vacuum that quickly goes out of commission or causes continuous hassles with replacements and repairs,” Mitchell says. “The longer it lasts and the easier it is to repair, the more cost-effective and productive it will be.”
Fystrom adds that distributors are also concerned about a vacuum’s performance and durability.

“A distributor will focus on what customers want and will definitely be interested in how dependable the vacuum is since they’ll be doing the service work. If the vacuum is broken down all the time, it makes for an unhappy customer. So robustness and dependability will be important to the distributor.”

Greener vacuums
The green movement has greatly impacted the cleaning industry and products that aim to achieve a greener environment abound.

“Vacuum manufacturers have been affected by the green phenomenon with just as much force as any other product category,” Mitchell notes.

Motta agrees that the green trend is a reality in the vacuum market.

“Vacuum cleaner manufacturers are continually developing products that meet the increasing demands and new standards of a greener environment, such as new air filtration systems,” he says.

Fystrom adds, “As it relates to green, the three most common concerns I hear about are filtration, sound level and cleaning performance, all three of which impact indoor air quality and the indoor environment in general.”

Where we go from here
All three experts interviewed for this article agree that vacuums will continue to evolve as end users’ expectations grow.

“In general,” Fystrom says, “manufacturers will continue to improve vacuum design to enhance performance and offer the most dependable machines available.”

“Many end users will demand longer performance, so manufacturers will be compelled to make better, more indestructible vacuums,” concurs Mitchell.
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