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Modern solutions to today's challenges25th of November 2010
Heading up the special report on sweepers in this edition of ECJ, Kai Stolzenberg of sweeper specialist Stolzenberg in Germany offers an overview of the market in Europe. He also examines how customer demands are evolving and the most significant technological developments.
Often underestimated, the sweepers sector represents a fairly significant segment of the European market for cleaning machines – total market share is estimated to be between 14 and 17 per cent of the total (also included are vacuum cleaners, scrubber dryers and single disk machines). For that reason it is vital to reflect precisely customers’ needs and demands - specifically in terms of the price-performance ratio.
While it is quite often reported that more and more hard floor surfaces are of such high quality that wet cleaning is the more appropriate method of floor treatment, it must not be forgotten that between the intervals of scrubber drying one or more sweeping processes are highly cost efficient:
1. For preventing wet cleaning equipment from being damaged by larger objects.
2. A sweeping process for cleaning in between scrubber drying is much faster and mostly sufficient for health and safety issues between the wet cleaning processes.
Taking into account these higher demands in the sweeping and cleaning process, dust control becomes a more and more important priority. Many different filter and filter-cleaning technologies have been developed in recent years and it seems as if the main focus on the part of manufacturers has been on the dust control and filtering. However it must be remembered this represents only one aspect of sweeping technology.
Here I would like to take the opportunity to correct one very common factual error. Sweepers - even those incorporating a suction system - are only and exclusively for sweeping debris off the ground. For that reason, dust control becomes important for the air that is whirled up by the sweeping process. None of the ‘sweepers’ on the market actually suck up dust up from the ground: the floor cleaning is done purely by the sweeping process.
Another very important topic is operator training and ease of operation. Even the most technically advanced sweeper cannot demonstrate its full performance when not operated correctly. Therefore sweepers have become more and more user-friendly and easy to operate in recent years.
Taking into account that between five and seven per cent of the initial cost of a sweeper in intensive operation has to be calculated for regular service and maintenance, it is important as well that all wearing parts are easy to access and spare parts are reasonably priced. The industry as a whole is aware of that and has developed various systems of easy-to-change and easy-to-replace main brooms, side brooms, filters, belts and other transmission parts.
Another important development is a result of the many large carpeted areas that have emerged in recent years. Specifically daily cleaning of public carpeted areas such as exhibition and show halls, large department stores and even hospital floors – they all need to be surface cleaned while public presence has to be respected. Therefore no cable-operated cleaning device can be operated during opening hours (for obvious health and safety reasons). Nevertheless there is a demand for intermediate cleaning during opening hours due to increased demand for spotless floors.
The sweepers manufacturing industry has therefore developed kits and specific attachments and options to modify standard hard floor sweepers and enable them to work on large areas of carpet and soft floors. This involves not only the need for specific brooms and bristles to prevent the floor from being abrasively damaged, but also must take into account DC Motor performance on the highly resistant floors – respecting static charge for example.
All these technical challenges go along with tough cost considerations on the part of the customers. So while the features and performance expectations of a sweeper have increased dramatically along with demands for durability, flexibility and easy-to-operate features, the average pricing within the different sweeper segments has not risen according to the technical demands on those units.
There are generally three different sweeper segments:
1. Purely manually operated sweepers without an external power source except human power.
2. Walk behind (suction) sweepers, typically battery or petrol engine powered with a self-propelled traction system and permanent broom drive.
3. Ride-on units with on-board operators in sizes ranging from small scooter-like sweepers up to combustion engine powered large area models. In this case municipal sweepers are not taken into consideration.
This conflict between increased performance expectations and decreased readiness for high investment has forced the industry not only to use latest production technologies (laser cutting, powder coating and rotational moulded integral design chassis are just some of those widely used in the industry). Costs created by and finally defined during the development process have been subject to intense scrutiny in recent years. CIM (Computer Integrated Manufacturing) and various computer simulation models have become standard as well.
In these terms, the sweepers manufacturing industry is very closely linked to the development of the car production industry, where much effort is put into reducing development costs by platforms, cooperation and multi-functional use of existing parts to reduce moulding and development costs. This makes the development process much faster and at the same time more challenging.
Determine customer needs
At the same time, information transfer is extremely important. Excessive surveys are carried out to determine what customers’ and operators’ demands and expectations are. Communication and customer feedback, training on the sweeper, efficient use of resources and permanently keeping abreast of the legal requirements are other key challenges to the industry.
In conclusion, the actual challenges and prospects are:
• Permanently increased sweeping and dust control performance
• Highest flexibility on different applications
• Easy-to-operate systems
• Low service and maintenance costs due to easy-to-access service parts
• Cost efficiency by using latest production technologies
• Efficient and quick design and construction processes to keep the costs created by and defined by construction reasonable.
• Excellent customer service and training facilities
• Various financing options.