Sweepers - to ride or not to ride?

11th of December 2013
Sweepers - to ride or not to ride?

When is a ride-on sweeper more appropriate than a walk-behind version? And are the new micro ride-ons replacing walk-behind sweepers in constricted areas? We ask manufacturers about the pros and cons of each kind of machine; which suits which environment - and whether there is a future for the standard walk-behind sweeper.

It can be difficult to make a choice from the enormous range of cleaning appliances available on the market today. But when buying a sweeper, there are basically two kinds. There is the model that is pushed by the operator, and then there is the kind with its own cabin that the operator actually drives.

But where would you require a ride-on machine, and when would a walk-behind appliance be more appropriate?

According to Nilfisk-Advance’s global product management general manager Michael Fenger, there are several factors to take into consideration when making this decision. “The choice between a ride-on and a manual sweeper depends on the budget, the area to be cleaned, the frequency of cleaning and the level of manoeuvrability required,” he said.

“Manual sweepers are the entry-level product and typically answer the needs of customers who require a more productive system than a manual broom. However, they do not offer dust control.

“Walk-behind machines are typically easier to use and are preferred in situations where several operators have to use the machine, and where there are manoeuvrability constraints. But when operators are likely to use the machines more often or when larger areas need to be cleaned, ride-on sweepers come into play since in these situations, higher productivity and ergonomics become the most important factors.”

Fenger adds that customer preference depends on the area to be swept, the time available, the type of debris on the floor and the type of obstruction likely to be encountered such as doorways, ramps, inclines, stairs etc.

“In a medium-sized area where there are several different operators using the machine, a walk-behind machine is often preferred,” he said. “However, in large open areas where a longer running time is needed, the right solution would often be a ride-on sweeper.”

Advantages of a ride-on can include a heated or air-conditioned cabin or an overhead guard that can be used to protect the operator from falling objects, he says.  “Some ride-on sweepers also have a high dumping system that allows it to offload the debris into a container,” said Fenger. “In the latter case, operator safety and ergonomics play an important role.”

Van der Reest Cleaning also offers both ride-on and walk-behind sweepers. According to proprietor Johan van der Reest the decision on which model to choose depends mainly on the square meterage of the area to be swept. “Though of course, a ride-on is more comfortable – and when it is more comfortable, the operator is likely to use it more frequently,” he adds.

Van der Reest believes a ride-on is essential in areas larger than 750 square metres. “A walk-behind is also a better option in a restricted area or narrow gangway, or in an environment where careful handling is required,” he said.

“When you bump into an object with a walk-behind sweeper there is usually no damage since the machine will be pushed at a maximum of five kilometres an hour and only weigh up to 200 kg. But when you hit an object with a ride-on sweeper – which will weigh around 700 kg and be driven at up to nine kilometres per hour - the damage value will usually be higher.”

A lower price, better manoeuvrability and easier ramp crossings are among the advantages of a walk-behind sweeper according to Kärcher’s ?environmental public relations officer Linda Laipple. However, ride-ons offer the added benefits of higher agility and greater operator comfort.

She says ride-ons tend to be the best option for use in large areas where long cleaning tasks need to be carried out. “When any cleaning task takes more than two hours, a ride-on offers more working comfort and higher area performance,” she said. “Walk-behind sweepers can be used for medium-sized areas and cleaning tasks of up to 1.5 hours or when mobility is required, for example when the sweeper needs to be transported to different places. A walk-behind model may also be preferred in areas that have sensitive floors where the machine weight must not be too great.”

Small ride-ons

She adds that the current trend is for smaller ride-on sweepers, but that the market for walk-behinds will be largely unaffected. “Micro ride-on sweepers have the advantage of better agility and more comfort. But due to the lower price level and the other advantages of a walk-behind sweeper, ride-ons will only replace them in certain applications,” she said.

Hako’s Klaus Serfezi says the actual size of a sweeper can be more important to the customer than whether or not it is a ride-on or walk-behind model. “The smaller the machine, the better the chances are for it to be accepted,” he said. “The majority of cleaning staff are women who sometimes don’t feel too confident about using a big machine.”

He adds the choice of sweeper tends to depend on the task. “We can’t generalise and say that one is more popular than the other,” he said. “Walk-behind sweepers cease to be efficient at a certain size of floor space or outdoor area, simply because the cleaning task takes too long and the battery capacity is limited.”

He adds that there is an increasing trend towards the use of micro ride-on machines. “These are very compact and replace large walk-behinds by offering more comfort and better productivity.”

Fimap has developed a hybrid micro ride-on sweeper that uses a combination of battery and motor engine. This enables it to run for seven hours says Silvia Quintarelli. “This means it can compete with walk-behind models that have a 60/70 cm working width,” said Quintarelli. “Ride-on models can offer advantages that a walk-behind model cannot provide such as comfort and speed. Today’s technology is helping us to produce very small ride-on models, and these are having increasing success in the market since they are very productive, manoeuvrable, comfortable, compact, versatile and offer greater autonomy than walk-behind models.

“Ride-on machines should be used on larger areas where heavy-duty cleaning is required, whereas walk-behind models are an ideal solution for small, cluttered areas and for regular maintenance,” she said.

But what is the future of the traditional sweeper in an ever-changing cleaning industry? Quintarelli feels that ride-on models will soon begin to dominate. “Walk-behind models will continue to find their market only through a higher level of industrialisation, more accessories and more diversified equipment,” she said.

Johan van der Reest feels the market is declining. “Customers are increasingly opting for a scrubber dryer with cylindrical sweep system, and we sell many more scrubber dryers than we did five years ago,” he said.

According to Nilfisk-Advance’s Michael Fenger sweepers are an “old technology” solution for cleaning larger areas. “An increasing focus on hygienic standards and newer floor coatings have led to a switch to scrubbing technology as the preferred choice for customers,” he said.

“Moreover, many emerging markets are moving directly from manual cleaning to scrubbing. In addition, the recent economic uncertainty in the marketplace and customers’ financial constraints have slowed down the general growth in the sweeper market.”

However, he adds there are still applications where dry sweeping is the only solution. “We see a trend for the price of a small, compact, ride-on sweeper to become closer to that of a larger walk-behind - and for this reason the ride-on will become more popular as it offers optimal ergonomics and productivity compared with a walk-behind,” said Fenger.

“Ride-ons will be a very good alternative to some walk-behinds - but we believe that there will always be a market for walk-behind sweepers.”


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