Smart solutions - the soft sell

28th of June 2016
Smart solutions - the soft sell
Smart solutions - the soft sell

Cleaning is a traditional industry, and one that is slow to adopt change. But smartphones, tablets and other technological breakthroughs have infiltrated every sector over the past 10 years – and cleaning is no exception. So how is the industry adapting to changing times? Ann Laffeaty finds out.

Cleaning used to be all about hard manual labour. Mops, buckets, brooms, detergents and water – all of them used in conjunction with a healthy dose of good old-fashioned elbow grease – these were once the mainstays of an industry that has been around as long as, well, dirt.

But automation has revolutionised all our lives and there has been a corresponding impact on the cleaning industry. State-of-the-art sweeping, scrubbing and vacuuming machines – even robots – are now being employed to help shoulder much of the hard graft.

The industry barely had time to become accustomed to a new age of mechanical cleaning when another breakthrough emerged. Smartphones, tablets and the Internet of Things have all made the world barely recognisable from how it was as little as 10 years ago.

But how receptive has the industry been to new technology?  Are cleaning companies embracing the high-tech solutions that are increasingly coming on to the market? Or are they doing their best to resist them?

Kärcher’s digital products manager Dr Friedrich Volker concedes that the cleaning industry has been a late adopter of the Internet of Things. “Other industries such as the automotive sector used to be far ahead of us,” he said. “However this has changed over the past two years or so. Digitalisation is significantly affecting the cleaning industry and suppliers and customers alike have begun to face the resulting challenges and embrace the opportunities.”

Kärcher offers a telematics system for organising its machine fleets. Kärcher Fleet allows commercial cleaning contractors to use GPS and mobile telephony to find out where its scrubber dryers and sweepers are deployed and the condition they are in at any given time. A similar system is in operation for the company’s water dispensers and gantry wash systems.

“Customer feedback in general has been very positive and enthusiastic,” said Volker. “Clients definitely see the cost and time-saving benefits of the system. Some have expressed concern regarding data security but their worries usually go away once we have explained our security measures.”

Kärcher Fleet uses a telematics box the size of a smartphone that can be fitted to scrubber dryers and sweepers. The information it collects is encrypted and made available on a universally accessible cloud server. The box, which can also be retrofitted to Kärcher machines and to other manufacturers’ product lines, is supplied with a SIM card that functions worldwide. The operator then simply has to switch on the telematics box and log in via the Internet.

A particularly smart feature of the Kärcher Fleet system is the fact that it targets the relevant operative with the information it collects. “For example machines that are due for servicing are highlighted for the branch manager’s attention while the controller receives information about the fleet’s capacity utilisation rate,” said Volker. “Meanwhile information is specifically supplied to the facility manager to allow him or her to check the machines’ battery status and to produce work documentation. This all makes it possible to plan, track and document machine deployment efficiently.”

Meanwhile, a growing number of companies are also becoming receptive to new technology in terms of hygiene provision according to European marketing manager for SCA Anna Konigson Koopmans.

“However it does vary according to the industry and we see a particularly high interest in the hospitality, retail, transport and healthcare sectors,” she said. Konigson Koopmans feels that the developments of the last decade have paved the way for new ways of working. ”Just think of the smartphone: 10 years ago it was nothing and now it is the interface for almost everything,” she said.

The company offers Tork Solutions which provide digital services based on connected washroom devices. Tork Solutions consists of Tork EasyCube and Tork SmartFresh. Tork EasyCube is a cloud-based system that uses smart dispensers to provide real-time data that allows facilities staff to anticipate cleaning and refill needs before they happen. Tork SmartFresh is a system of panels for toilets and urinals that feature automatic air-freshening and cleaning.

“Tork SmartFresh also offers an integrated media screen while the real-time data it generates facilitates more efficient and needs-based washroom cleaning,” said Konigson Koopmans.

“Tork Solutions has been received with great interest from many companies – and competitors – and we have these services up and running across a variety of industries. They range from amusement parks and large sports facilities to universities and fast-food restaurants, but what unites all these customers is the fact that they all have an ‘early adopter’ mindset along with a genuine interest in improving their way of working.”

But she admits it is not always easy to convince customers to switch on to new technology solutions.  “Having good arguments in place is crucial,” she said. “We have also found it important to closely connect the discussion about our solutions with our prospects’ identified focus areas. When we do so, the discussion becomes much more relevant.”

Customer trials can also help to persuade a prospect to commit to a new solution, she says. “Trials work particularly well in larger locations,” says Konigson Koopmans. “Since the Internet of Things is still in its infancy we also know that testimonials from happy customers are important to illustrate what we can deliver.”

Pancomp International’s sales director Jan Makela agrees with the consensus that the cleaning industry has become more receptive to new technology over the past 10 years.

Competitive edge

“Companies are recognising that they cannot survive in an increasingly competitive environment without a system that increases productivity and efficiency,” he said. “Technology has become the way to gain productivity improvements and there is a clear need for systems that improve productivity. Resource costs are inevitable but cost savings are still required - and these are extremely hard to find elsewhere in the business.”

Pancomp offers time and attendance and employee management solutions for the cleaning industry. The company also offers the Pancomp Clean Smart App which provides a two-way exchange between the end customer and the cleaning service.

The app enables the cleaner to clock in and out and report any extra work they take on or pauses they might make. Work instructions can be received via a smartphone and the cleaner is able to transmit information to Pancomp Clean when reporting any deviations from the cleaning plan.

The Pancomp App also allows customers to provide ratings and feedback to the cleaning service and even take photos as supporting evidence in order to highlight any issues.

So it seems that the industry is moving forward at a rapid pace, and companies agree that this is the shape of things to come.

“Management solutions are a must for a thriving business in this day and age,” says Makela. “They help the industry to evolve with a lower level of human error. They can also provide more transparency in services; greener businesses that use less paper and safer working environments through visibility into remote sites.

“Nearly all industries are already benefiting from some high-tech solution and the trend is set for technology to increase its presence - even in the most manual and labour-intensive of industries.”

Kärcher’s Volker predicts a significant transformation in the cleaning industry over the next few years. “Robotics, Internet of Things solutions and mobile applications will make cleaning processes both smoother and significantly more cost-efficient,” he said. “Cleaning machines will be communicating with smart building IT-platforms and this in turn will provide the necessary data for on-demand cleaning solutions.”

And SCA’s Konigson Koopmans concurs. “Think of toilet paper,” she said. “What could be more analogue than that? Nevertheless we have shown there to be evident benefits in the move towards making cleaning digital. That shift is happening now and it is here to stay. We have created an entire system based on connected devices – simply because it is of benefit to facility managers and cleaners.

“The core of the cleaning industry is people, and high-tech solutions can support those people with smarter choices that help to evolve how we work in terms of people management. As long as there are important benefits to be reached, new technology and new Internet of Things applications will follow.”


Related Articles

Our Partners

  • ISSA Interclean
  • EFCI
  • EU-nited