The new sweeping norm

8th of February 2021
The new sweeping norm
The new sweeping norm

Empty streets and deserted city centres were a common sight in early 2020 – and this inevitably led to a reduction in the amount of debris left strewn around public places. But the profile of cleaning has sky-rocketed in line with the number of Covid-19 cases worldwide. So, how have these conflicting occurrences affected the sweepers market, asks Ann Laffeaty?

The value of cleaning is being understood and appreciated today in ways we have never seen before. This year’s global pandemic has alerted us all to the importance of keeping our publicly-used spaces clean, hygienic and uncluttered.

The profile of cleaning in general has been raised as we unite in the international battle against Covid-19. And evidence of this may be seen everywhere: restaurant staff are billeted to continually sanitise pub and restaurant tables while facility cleaners - who once went about their business as unobtrusively as possible - are suddenly proud of what they do and are even being hailed as heroes.

The people whose job it is to operate sweepers fulfil a slightly different role to that of the general cleaning army. The removal of unsightly debris from large open spaces such as car parks, warehouses, streets and city centres is arguably less critical during a global pandemic than the task of sanitising frequently-touched surfaces in indoor environments such as shops, bars and restaurants. But other people’s litter could well be contaminated with the virus – and that means it needs to be cleared away from public spaces on an ongoing basis to help keep the general population safe.

However, the first part of 2020 saw cities all over the world being completely locked down. Restaurants, bars, non-essential shops and cafes were all closed for business which meant our streets were practically deserted. And the decree that we should all stay at home meant that the scope for dropping litter in public spaces fell dramatically.

So with cities worldwide under lockdown, how much of a call has there been for sweepers – and how has the industry fared as a result?

The coronavirus crisis has had a significant impact on the professional sweeper market according to Kärcher’s sweepers product manager Florian Böhm. “There is a great deal of uncertainty about the course the crisis will take in future and as a result of this, the overall market for sweepers has declined significantly worldwide compared to the previous year,” he said.

“We believe our competitors are facing similar challenges because investments are either being reduced or held back. In recent months there has been a slight improvement compared with April and May but the general uncertainty is being reflected in a passive investment attitude on the part of customers from across all segments.”

Conversely he adds that demand for cleaning systems in general has increased over recent months. “However, the emphasis of this demand is currently more focused on the disinfection of interior surfaces than on the cleaning of outdoor areas,” he said.

Increase in demand

In fact, demand for sweepers has decreased in all target groups, says Böhm, though he admits that some sectors have been less badly hit than others. “Those less-affected areas include the transport, retail, construction and hospitality sectors,” he said.

According to Böhm, the large-scale lockdowns imposed earlier in the year are likely to have led to a reduced need for cleaning in public spaces. “Entire production plants were closed down during this period and some environments did not need to be swept for months,” he points out. “These areas included, for example, the frontages of football stadiums and exhibition halls where large events would normally have been held.”

But he adds that the market was only severely affected for a relatively short time. “Even during the peak of the crisis people were still meeting up outdoors and leaving behind rubbish that needed to be cleared away,” he said.

Scope unchanged

The scope of sweepers has remained fundamentally unchanged during the Covid-19 pandemic, says Böhm, “Since the reopening of restaurants and retail outlets in many central European cities, the foot traffic in pedestrian zones has been steadily increasing again and is now resulting in similar levels of refuse to those we saw before the crisis began,” he said.

“But this has not yet had a knock-on effect on the demand for municipal machinery where the reluctance of local authorities to invest is still outweighing the need for new equipment.”

Kärcher offers a range of professional sweepers that incorporate features such as hydraulic container lifts, multifunctional displays, adjustable side-brush speeds and an automatic Tact filter cleaning system for dust-free operation.

According to Böhm, the chief role of sweepers during the pandemic has been to keep public spaces free of contaminated waste. “However, the removal of viruses without leaving any residue is only possible to a limited extent,” he says. “We therefore see some new potential for carrying disinfectant with the machine and applying it to contact surfaces with the aid of a spray lance in areas such as playgrounds, for example.”

But he adds that surface disinfection is currently mainly being linked to interior cleaning as far as the public discussion is concerned. “It is the inside of buildings where there is a significantly higher risk of transmission,” he points out.

Health protection plays a major role in all Kärcher’s new product developments, says Böhm. “For example, we pay close attention to topics such as exhaust air filtration by means of efficient filter systems along with dust-binding and ergonomics.”

Tennant has also noticed a marked impact on the sweepers sector during 2020 as a result of the pandemic. “Sales have been globally impacted across all categories,” said EMEA industrial product manager Stefan Sehmke. “This has been the inevitable result of companies, factories, shopping centres, sports facilities and exhibition centres being closed due to the pandemic and of large events such as national and international exhibitions being cancelled.”

New solutions

But he adds that the advent of Covid-19 had changed most cleaning practices and prompted a rise in demand for new cleaning solutions in general. “As a result, cleaning is evolving to meet the higher hygiene standards that are required today,” he said.

Despite worldwide closures of bars and restaurants in the early months of Covid-19, Sehmke says there has been no significant change in the type of rubbish being left behind in streets, which typically includes items such as takeaway containers, food wrappers, cigarette butts and drinks cans.

“The main difference has concerned the quantity of the debris being discarded and in the reduction in the number of cleaning rounds required as a result,” he said.

However, sweepers have still been needed in facilities such as manufacturing plants, lorry parks, transport hubs and healthcare establishments, he adds. “There has also been a higher demand for scrubber dryers and disinfection equipment over the past few months, probably due to the evolving situation regarding the pandemic,” said Sehmke.

He considers floor cleaning in general to be a highly important task. “The physical removal of soil, debris and organic substances from surfaces is the first step in any disinfection process,” he says.
“The job of the sweeper and then the scrubber dryer is to carry out this process between disinfection cycles and when people are present.”

He adds that all environments need to be kept safe and clean whether they are hospitals, grocery stores, manufacturing facilities or restaurants. “Cleaning professionals around the world are
working harder than ever to achieve this and are performing critical work every day,” he said.

New from Tennant is the S16 compact ride-on sweeper which is described as being both versatile and fume-free. The battery-powered model has been designed to maximise efficiency and enhance performance in both indoor and outdoor environments and is said to be easy to operate and maintain.

Optimistic for the future

While the strict lockdowns earlier in the year led to the slowing down of business in most European countries, Sehmke has high hopes for the next few years. “We are confident about the future and we expect business to rebound in the coming months and into 2021,” he says.

Kärcher’s Florian Böhm shows a similar level of optimism. “Although the movement of people and goods may have declined in many areas during lockdowns - whether in industry, logistics or transport - this did not make the role of sweeping fundamentally superfluous,” he said. “In fact in the medium term we feel that the sweepers segment will probably benefit from the universally enhanced perception of cleaning that we’re seeing today.”

 

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