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The tools of tomorrow

September 19, 2010
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Shrinking staffs, rising labor costs, dwindling budgets, emerging regulations, and growing to-do lists can make the future seem uncertain for many building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house cleaning managers.

Fortunately, with time also comes new technology.

Although years will pass before Rosie the Robot vacuums the path your cleaning crew now walks, research and development (R&D) continues to carry the JanSan industry forward.

To help you sort through the top technological trends, CM/Cleaning & Maintenance Management® spoke with the leading producers of cleaning equipment and software (see The pros in the know  on pg 36).

So read on to learn how industry manufacturers — inspired by a market expected to exceed $6.4 billion in 2009 (see JanSan demand  on pg 38) — unyieldingly vie for your purchasing power by tweaking and tinkering in the following trends.

Value & return on investment

Tightening budgets make doing more with less a must.

To tackle this future constraint, Pacific looked to the past and engineered a low-voltage motor that allows floor machines to operate in older facilities.

Able to perform at 90V, compared with a standard minimum of 108V, these cleaners can adapt to the wiring of yesteryear without blowing circuits or damaging the motor.

Software company DDi Systems, LLC chose the opposite road, opting to gaze forward on the progression to a paperless society.

To mitigate the increasing costs of forms and filing, DDi added delivery confirmations to its digitalized distribution management program.

Following this multi-function form, U.S. Products recently introduced a dual-surface extractor, able to undertake carpets and hard-surface floors alike.

Seeking its own share of the resilient floor market, ProTeam released a 20-inch attachment for the company''s vacuums.

Advance also traveled this all-in-one route, targeting multi-taskers with machines that sweep, scrub and vacuum-dry surfaces, as well as integrate tools-free interchangeable scrub decks.

Productivity & efficiency

While technology may allow your staff to do more, they''ll still need to find the time.

With this in mind, many manufacturers continue to focus on making cleaning less labor intensive and more profitable.

Recognizing that your bottom line relies on retail, DDi created sales-tracking software that analyzes customers'' history, provides suggestions to representatives, displays customer status, and creates follow-up dates.

In addition to helping you make the most of every opportunity, DDi''s future development will focus on improving communication via portable devices.

Also integrating PDAs, as well as barcode reading equipment, Spartan Chemical''s CompuClean recently engineered a program to help facility service providers compare costs, quality, supply usage, staffing, and other factors on the go.

Joining JanSan software, industry equipment is also making a move toward the wireless realm.

A line of propane-powered autoscrubbers released in the past year by Pioneer Eclipse have eliminated the endless quests for outlets and freed cleaners from the constraints of short-lived batteries.

But rechargeable tools also took a leap forward.

Recent R&D at NSS Enterprises yielded a nickel metal hydride battery that balanced power and weight for the company''s backpack vacuum.

Extending the runtime, an instant trigger on the handle put power management in the operator''s hand.

Kaivac also placed control in workers'' palms, introducing an at-gun chemical injection system to reduce consumption of water and chemicals by 50 percent while enabling mid-stroke access.

With the recent acquisition of Powerbuff Inc., Betco''s R&D plans to integrate technology to create user-friendly tools.

In its quest to heighten operator ease, Tornado Industries continues development of lighter, more maneuverable machines with tools and accessories onboard.

Transportation and organization also influenced U.S. Products, which added a hose-management system to its largest extractor.

Further, the company launched auto-fill/auto-dump machines that join Tennant Co. and Whittaker low-moisture carpet care systems in claims to cut dry times to 30 minutes.

Green cleaning & the indoor environment

While machines that conserve chemicals and water work to reduce labor and supply costs, they also embrace a growing trend in the JanSan industry.

With the green cleaning movement capturing the attention of facility managers and cleaners alike, manufacturers now concentrate on minimizing consumption, improving indoor air quality (IAQ), and creating quieter mechanisms more now than ever before.

Targeting the first of these points, Advance recently designed a detergent dispensing system that reduces environmental impact, as well as the number of dump and fill cycles required.

Also focused on minimizing consumption, Clarke will unveil a floor machine with a similar focus at next month''s ISSA/INTERCLEAN® in Las Vegas.

U.S. Products touts an extractor that uses 80 percent less water and chemical than traditional versions, while Whittaker claims its system exceeds the U.S. Green Building Council''s standards for low-moisture cleaning, utilizes phosphate- and butyl-free formulations with low VOC levels, and reduces airborne particulates by up to 95 percent versus dry pile-lifting systems.

By allowing the dry vacuuming of dust and the liquefying of particulate matter to prevent both from becoming airborne, Kaivac also boasts means of improving IAQ, wh-ile concurrently inv-esting time noise reduction.

With improved filtration and quieter motors, major vacuum manufacturers also join the campaign for better in-door environment.

The backpack vacuum by NSS in-cludes a three-stage filtration system — a pleated cone, filter cup, and foam medium that can be replaced by a HEPA filter — to minimize dust and noise entering the environment.

Future development at Tornado will also focus on reducing airborne particulates, as well as on creating floor mach-ines with passive vacuums and minimal consumption.

One of the company''s latest releases integrates a six-stage, true-HEPA filter into a canister vacuum that targets day cleaners with unobtrusive operation.

Ergonomics & safety

By creating quieter machines, manufacturers appease building occupants and cleaners.

Tornado and Whittaker both minimized noise output from their latest ergonomic equipment to reduce operator fatigue.

Along with intuitive controls designed to reduce accidents, Advance also targeted user comfort to keep employees wo-rking, while ProTeam''s ergonomic efforts begin before cleaners start the job.

R&D at the company engineered an adjustable platform that holds the backpack vacuum so operators can slip it on without bending down.

NSS also examined the ergonomics of its backpack, pairing a multi-adjust-able harness with lightweight design.

Placing batteries on the waist strap provides quick acc-ess and increases balance, while cordless power helps reduce the risk of trips and falls.

Tennant''s floor cleaning system also aims to keep cleaners on their feet, emp-loying advanced de-tergent to increase slip resistance by as much as 21 percent and meet National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) high-traction standards.

Recognizing the importance of workplace safety, Rimrock''s software helps reduce accidents by tracking hazard communication infomation and aiding in training.

Automation & robotics

From today''s robotic vacuums whirling around residential floors to tomorrow''s robots that vacuum and multitask their way through cleaning facilities, the progression of cleaning technology will almost certainly focus on computerization.

Software companies currently provide the largest source of automation in the industry.

DDi''s distribution management tool automatically tracks and analyzes sales, allowing quick and easy comparisons.

To help cleaning execs decide if its time to place an order, Spartan''s program monitors equipment service and repair, as well as the inventory of replacement parts.

Finally, Rimrock''s technology automates the tracking of inspections, work orders, supplies, and labor costs for analysis.

While these programs can boost business management, mechanization isn''t limited to the office.

Advance''s design will explore electronics to reduce operator decisions and error.

Focused on a similar goal, Cleanfix professes to be in the final stage of developing robotic equipment for basic maintenance processes.

Your research and development

With new and improved tools constantly becoming available, knowing the options is in the best interest of your business.

Whether you want to improve operations in your facility or in the restrooms you service, making the most of technology will lead to a better bottom line.

Recent Articles by Katy Coleman, news editor

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