Imagine the following scenario: You manage several facilities across a large campus. Maybe it’s a college or hospital campus with multiple buildings that each serves a different purpose. During the workday, one of your custodians alerts you that the floor care machine he uses to clean a certain area of the building is missing, and as a result, he cannot ensure completion of the task that day. He has no way to track down the floor care machine, other than to keep searching—which as a result, pulls him away from his other cleaning responsibilities.
The next day, the custodian recovers the missing equipment in a closet, located in a hallway he doesn’t usually service. He doesn’t know when it was placed there, who placed it there, or how long it has been sitting there. However, the result is still the same: lost time and productivity.
While this particular scenario is not real, situations where cleaning equipment goes missing are not unheard of in the cleaning industry. Barry Shockley, product manager for equipment manufacturer Karcher North America, says he has seen instances of cleaning staff who prefer to use certain types of equipment and therefore, will hide them from other members of the team for their own benefit. He has also seen instances of custodians borrowing equipment from their employers to work on side jobs for other organizations.
“There are a lot of large facilities out there where there are 10, 15, even 20 large pieces of equipment being used daily,” Shockley says, “and trying to track the health of that equipment, how much they are being used, and [if] any of them ever disappear is really challenging for the site manager.”
However, today if a floor care machine goes missing or moves offsite, it’s actually possible to target its whereabouts instead of wasting valuable staff time—and, as a result, money—searching for it.
Now, thanks to monitoring systems that integrate into floor care equipment, facility managers and building service contractors (BSCs) can pinpoint the location, usage, and even health of a floor care machine simply by logging in to an online portal. These portals are typically accessible on mobile or computer devices and can be accessed through an Internet browser, making it easier for both BSCs and in-house facility managers to manage their equipment, budgets, and teams. This technology is part of a movement many refer to as the Internet of Things, which describes how machines and systems can connect with other devices we use daily to deliver information and improve the way we work and live.
Digitizing Floor Care: Helping with Asset Management
Developments in floor care technology are not only helping facility managers and building service contractors keep better track of their equipment, but how their cleaning crews are using it and what to do as soon as a problem arises.
As Shockley puts it, the information coming from their floor care equipment can serve as an asset management tool—which in the long term, can help to recoup potential lost costs from lost downtime on equipment.
“Today when a machine breaks, there’s often a day or two that goes by before somebody actually notifies somebody else that the machine broke,” Shockley says. “And then that person has to talk to somebody in service, and there’s this chain of events that has to occur.” However, advancements in technology have the potential to eliminate this downtime by sending automatic alerts regarding equipment status.
Michelle Nissen, senior product category manager–technology for manufacturer Tennant Co., agrees that asset management is a primary benefit of these new systems, particularly for building service contractors or large companies that may be managing thousands of pieces of equipment across various sites. “To be able to really manage that is significant,” Nissen says, “unless you go and send a person onsite to do inventory. That can be very costly versus just having a machine be able to report in and tell you where it’s located.”
Adoption of Technology
Having equipment and technology available that can transfer information and talk to mobile devices and web portals is not a new phenomenon. Consumers currently use this type of technology to monitor in-home alarm systems and thermostats with systems such as Nest. So why not apply this type of technology to bettering our work environment?
It’s no secret that the cleaning industry is not always the fastest to adapt. According to Cleaning and Maintenance Management’s 2015 BSC/Contract Cleaning Survey, only about 19 percent of survey respondents used equipment/asset tracking technology for work purposes. While it is possible that number has shifted within the past year, Nissen says adoption of integrative technology has been generally slower in the floor care industry than in other industries, such as the forklift industry.
Floor care manufacturer representatives interviewed for this article provide several reasons why adoption might be slower for some in the industry: There may be some natural barriers based on the overall age of the cleaning industry workforce. Many employees within the industry are not millennials and may not be accustomed to a technology-first approach. Understanding the cost-benefit value behind a new technology, or worry that the technology may replace workers may also be a concern.
However, they also say wider-spread adoption of high-tech floor care technology is not too far off.
Tom Boscher, general manager of Intellibot Robotics and global vice president of marketing technology for Sealed Air Diversey Care, says the industry is nearing a tipping point, and within the next year—or maybe two or three—every floor care machine will have an integrated tracking system that transmits data back to the user. Additionally, the market may continue to pick up speed as more solutions become available from various manufacturers, introducing even more options into the marketplace, which in turn, could also drive down cost.
Floor cleaning has been done the same way for a long time, Boscher says, but at the same time, the equipment has seen changes throughout the years. “We’ve seen evolutions from mops and buckets to walk-behind scrubbers to ride-on scrubbers, and now we are talking about autonomous scrubbers,” he says. “We’ve seen machines now that can track themselves and help people work better and smarter and optimize the fleet.”
So what’s next?
Shockley thinks the communication between machine and user will eventually become a two-way conversation, so users or service teams can run diagnostics on their floor care equipment remotely. For example, if a sensor in an autoscrubber delivers a message about an equipment malfunction, a user or service tech may be able to diagnose (and possibly even fix) the problem remotely instead of having to diagnose the problem in person. Perhaps facility managers and BSCs will even be able to tailor their equipment settings remotely to accommodate specific locations and staffing needs.
In an industry that is prone to heavy turnover, developments in how employees train may also be in the cards, Boscher says. Technology within the machines could have the ability to train employees on integrated screens, versus requiring another staff person to train them. “It’s very costly to always have somebody else there to help train the employees,” Boscher says, “and if they can take some of those costs out, it will be helpful to the overall operation.”
According to Nissen, this is just the beginning of the technology movement for floor care equipment. “This is a journey; this is going to continue to evolve,” she says. “There are going to be more solutions that are available and definitely ways that will continue to refine the equipment and solutions that go to market.”
Beyond Tool Tracking
How digitizing floor care can help save in three big ways
The benefits of integrating sensor technology into floor care equipment stretches beyond tracking the location of equipment. The collected data, once transferred to the web portal, may be able to show how long an autoscrubber or floor care machine has been running, who has been operating it, how it has been used, and whether or not it’s working correctly. At the end of the day, that can translate to a lot of savings and improvements in how businesses and facilities operate.
1. Customer Satisfaction
BSCs are constantly under pressure from their clients to do more with less while simultaneously delivering impeccable results. Data from digital floor care systems can help BSCs show clients how much time it takes to complete a job—or even prove whether the job has been done at all. This can help to set expectations, or in some cases, help to save the client money, especially if data shows the BSC can complete a floor scrubbing assignment in less time than originally budgeted.
2. Right-sizing the Fleet
By knowing how your equipment is operating, you may be able to identify how many machines are actually necessary to clean a particular facility. For example, if data shows a particular machine is facing significant wear-and-tear from overuse, it may be time to trade it in for a larger one that can handle more surface area in less time.
Unfortunately, cleaning a floor can sometimes lead to a slippery floor, which can be a huge liability for a facility if not managed properly. If a machine is leaking water on the floor, knowing the location of that leak can help to mitigate the problem quickly. Additionally, usage data may also help to pinpoint if custodial staff are using the equipment correctly and whether they may require additional training to help prevent risks.