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Sweepers - what do customers want?6th of December 2012
When asked what they want most from their sweeping system, how do most customers respond? Do they want a machine that offers ease of use, dust control, fast and efficient sweeping, economies in use – or all of the above? Ann Laffeaty finds out.
Sweeping machines are both hugely versatile and immensely practical. They can be used for removing anything from broken glass, leaves, grass, metal shavings, paper, cigarette butts and small stones from either outdoor or indoor surfaces.
They can operate on roads, car parks, warehouse floors or factory buildings, and since they use a dry mechanical action there is no water residue to clean up afterwards.
And there are many cleaning applications for which the use of water would be inappropriate or just plain dangerous, such as in a cement factory or aluminium plant where high voltages are required in the production process.
So is versatility the chief selling point of sweepers? Or do customers have different priorities when it comes to choosing a sweeping machine?
In fact they have a range of requirements according to Tennant’s marketing communications manager EMEA Agnes Knapen. “They want productivity, ease of use and performance,” she said.
“They also require low cost in operation and low noise levels in certain applications, as well as flexibility and versatility. Dust control is also very important, but will gain an even higher importance in the future.” She adds that customers tend to prefer walk-behind sweeper models to ride-on machines.
“Sometimes a ride-on can be more productive, but it doesn't fit every application,” she said. “Also, ride-on sweepers are more expensive and require more highly-trained operators. So we find that smaller, family-owned businesses tend to prefer a smaller, walk-behind unit.”
How long on board?
She says the importance of cab comfort on a ride-on machine depends on the length of time the operator needs to be on board. “In city cleaning and outdoor environments where the operator has to be in the cabin for a full shift of eight hours or more, comfort means everything,” she said. “Ease of ease is also important and safety is a given.”
According to Knapen bespoke systems can be an aid to productivity, particularly in situations where operatives need to clean beneath equipment and in hard-to-reach areas.
“If they can accomplish this with a machine that has a variable side brush or vacuum wand, they might be able to do away with the need for an additional person with a manual broom,” she said.
“Left and right side brushes are also common, and extending the cleaning path and improving productivity are key drivers.”
Latest sweeper products from Tennant include the S20 and S30 industrial models which are said to offer high cyclonic filtration levels.
Cost is the main concern for Reest Machines customers according to proprietor Johan van der Reest. “Customers want to buy a machine but do not want to spend very much, so they often buy a machine that is too small for the surface to be cleaned,” he said. “They then solve this problem by using staff to clean the surface which results in lost production hours.”
He says customers are interested in dust control - but again many are unwilling to invest. “Ease of use is also very important for customers,” he said. “Comfort is less important because comfort also means the machine will be more expensive.”
Marketing and product management specialist for Hako Klaus Serfezi claims that easy handling is one of the major customer requirements. However, economy in use comes a close second.
“Generally speaking, uncomplicated handling of the sweeper is very important for customers in order to minimise training time for machine operators,” he said. “Cleaning with a sweeping machine is far more efficient than carrying out the same task by hand, so the machine is also expected to work fast and cost-effectively at a high coverage.”
He says customers should consider these points before making a purchase. “The cheapest machine on the market is more than likely not going to turn out to be the most economical solution,” he explained. “What counts in the end is the machine’s actual service-life expenditure.”
According to Serfezi the dust control capabilities of a sweeper is usually another of its key selling points. And flexibility is also important for some customers.
“The right-hand side broom comes as standard, but an additional left-hand side broom is available on request for most machines,” he said. “A vacuum unit is available as an optional feature for some ride-on models to allow additional work to be carried out in narrow spaces.
“Other special options include a third and fourth side broom for further extension of reach and even sweeping on a second level, such as on a narrow pavement. We always try to accommodate special customer requests if possible under the rules and regulations set out by law.”
He says there is a current trend towards micro ride-on machines as a compact replacement for large walk-behinds. “These offer more comfort and better productivity,” he said. “Walk-behind sweepers cease to be efficient for a certain size of floor space or outdoor area, simply because cleaning takes too long and the battery capacity is limited.”
Total ownership cost
He adds that a sweeper’s key attributes will largely depend on who is assessing them – the purchaser or the end user.
“The purchaser would regard the total cost of ownership as the most important aspect, while the operator would focus on other things,” says Serfezi. “He could be sitting on a big ride-on machine throughout his entire working day and would therefore prioritise cab comfort. Safety always comes first anyway, and easy handling is important in order to minimise learning time.”
The company’s latest sweeper is the Hako-Jonas 800, said to combine the compact dimensions of a walk-behind sweeper with the comfort of a ride-on machine. According to Serfezi, sweepers will continue to have an important role in the cleaning industry – but they will never replace scrubber-dryers.
“However, there is a general trend to replace classic vacuum cleaners with walk-behind sweepers on large carpeted areas,” he said. “Also, some areas are nowadays considered not to be in need of wet cleaning on a daily basis, so they are getting wet-cleaned maybe once a week and then swept the rest of the time.”
User-friendliness is of major importance to Kärcher’s customers according to environmental matters public relations officer Annette Ostertag. “The controls should be clearly arranged and each function should be instantly comprehensible to rule out the possibility of operating errors,” she said. “Flexibility is also important and sweepers should offer different operating settings and a range of bristles on the roller brush to suit various types of dirt and surfaces.
“And last but not least, the machines should be robust and durable and require little servicing.”
She says an active filter system is also crucial for dealing with the problem of dust. “It is important to minimise the amount of dust generated by sweeping to avoid any secondary soiling of buildings, equipment and machines and - above all – any detrimental effects to the driver’s health,” she said.
Where ride-on sweepers are preferred - usually in areas more than 1,500 square metres in size – user safety is the top priority according to Ostertag. “A cabin protects the driver from weather when a sweeper is used outdoors,” she said. “In indoor areas such as warehouses it will protect the driver from falling objects, and this is sometimes a legal requirement.”
She adds that operator comfort is crucial if a ride-on sweeper is operated for extended intervals. “Heating and air conditioning systems are available as an accessory for Kärcher’s large sweepers. In addition, the cabin muffles the noise of the machine.”
Sweeping and wet cleaning
Karcher offers additional side brushes and other accessories such as the Kärcher Home Base flexible adaptation system. This allows cleaning utensils such as a broom or claw for picking up light debris to be attached to the machine. Latest products to be offered by the company include the new KM 90/60 R Adv ride-on model, said to be the first sweeper to feature the TACT (Triggered Air-draft Cleaning Technology) filter cleaning system.
“This removes dirt from the blades of the flat-pleated filter without any direct contact,” said Ostertag. “It can also remove it much more thoroughly than using conventional methods by reversing the suction flow. The advantage is that the filter works reliably even when the sweeper is in extended operation and the machine does not churn up dust - even if it is in use for several hours without a break.
“This effectively prevents any detrimental effects on the driver’s health as well as any secondary soiling of buildings, equipment and machines.”
She says sweeping and wet cleaning will continue to complement one other in the cleaning industry. “There are also some applications for which wet cleaning is not recommended or not required regularly, such as in the maintenance cleaning of wooden floors,” she said.
“Sweeping is also advisable for picking up large quantities of dirt or coarse dirt prior to wet cleaning. And in outdoor areas such as roads and car parks, sweepers are mainly used because wet cleaning does not make any sense.”