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The sky's the limit for window cleaning systems13th of August 2013
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and the window cleaning sector is certainly proving this to be true, using innovative materials, technology and designs to answer client needs. Jochen Wagener, head of marketing for Unger Europe, reveals how window cleaning systems are adapting and developing to keep pace with key market trends.
The only way is up – if the continuing architectural trend for high-rise buildings is anything to go by. The majority of our most iconic buildings seem to prove the theory that size matters, in terms of height, that is. Whether we are talking about the Shard in London, the Commerzbank Tower in Frankfurt, or the Torre de Cristal in Madrid, the fashion for high-rise, high-tech designs – featuring lots of glass and metal – doesn’t look like slowing down any time soon.
Tall buildings, whether new or established, need regular, thorough and effective cleaning to ensure they present a professional face to customers and colleagues. For the highest heights, ‘robotic’ automatic window cleaning systems, operated by remote control and using chemical-free pure water, are gaining ground. However, if a more ‘James Bond’ approach is preferred, abseiling using traditional squeegees is also still widely used. Operatives can also regularly be seen cleaning high level windows from cradles, using small poles, brushes and again pure water.
Professional window cleaners continue to embrace new methods and equipment – with water-fed poles emerging as another popular choice. These poles allow operatives to clean high buildings and windows safely from the ground, alleviating the need to work at height.
For many years, window cleaners have had the choice of two types of pole system: telescopic or modular. However, telescopic poles can tend to flex as they are extended, with a subsequent loss of control. They also have some weight issues; for example, a six-section telescopic pole will always have six sections as they cannot be removed – so even if you only need to use four sections to clean to the height required, you are still carrying the weight of six.
Modular systems, although better at extending without weakening rigidity, simply become too heavy as they are extended, and the extensions also add width to the poles making them less easy to handle. They can also take a long time to construct or build up, which is a disadvantage in terms of making the best use of operatives’ time.
This presented the sector with a challenge: how do you create a water-fed pole system that will clean up to 65 feet/20 metres in height, but be both lightweight and easy to control? Along with engineering and design techniques, combining the best features of both telescopic and modular poles, using the right materials is crucial – and more and more options are emerging to provide specific solutions.
Carbon fibre, fibreglass and aluminium are all materials that have brought choice and flexibility to the window cleaning sector, helping to create equipment that offers alternatives to suit the situation or building type. Carbon fibre in particular offers an amazing balance between strength, weight and rigidity. In comparison to steel it is stronger, more rigid, and yet it weighs considerably less.
These ‘next generation’ carbon fibre poles provide a better balance between weight and rigidity. Because the poles are lighter they make the job of a cleaning operative that much easier and more comfortable, putting less of a strain on their bodies and enabling them to clean swiftly and efficiently. The fact that they are lighter also means that the operative is less likely to get tired as quickly, so they can clean a larger surface area than if using a conventional system.
However, just because the poles are lightweight it doesn’t mean that they deliver less in terms of rigidity. Even when extensions are added to increase the length and reach of the system, the poles do not bend or become unwieldy. On the contrary rigidity, and therefore control, is maintained, allowing every corner and crevice to be cleaned thoroughly.
As companies and organisations have become more environmentally aware, an increase in the use of solar panels has also brought challenges for the window cleaning sector. Installing solar panels represents a big investment in both time and money, so businesses need to ensure that they are kept in top condition to reap the expected rewards.
The Renewable Energy Association (REA) says that solar power is the fastest growing energy technology in the world. The two main systems currently in use are:
• Photovoltaic (PV) panels – these convert sunlight into electricity and are available in a variety of formats including cladding, roof tiles, and custom glazing.
• Solar hot water systems – these absorb energy from the sun and transfer it, using heat exchangers, to heat water. A variety of collectors are available, which are commonly mounted on roofs in the same way as PV panels.
No matter where a building is sited, solar panels are exposed to the weather and environmental influences 24/7, 365 days a year. Dust, dirt and other deposits not only look unsightly, they affect the performance of the panels. Traffic fumes and soot can build up quickly, especially on systems that are located near roads, railway stations or on industrial parks where there is a constant stream of trucks, vans and cars.
The orientation of the panels is another factor to consider. Because you are looking to achieve maximum exposure to sunlight, panels should ideally be oriented to the south. When oriented in other directions, a build-up of plants or moss on the surface can result. The angle at which the panels are placed can also have an impact.
It’s widely agreed that if the panels lay very flat, then there will be more deposits to deal with. A steeper angle will help, to a certain extent, but dirt may still have a tendency to collect in lower corners. And although rain removes some of the existing dirt, it also deposits new dirt on the surface.
Soiling that is left on the panels stops sunlight from getting through, meaning that less energy is produced, in some cases resulting in a decrease in efficiency of 30 per cent. This is obviously not acceptable, so regular cleaning should be put in place to ensure you protect your investment.
Water-fed poles have already established themselves as a popular choice with professional window cleaners, because they allow them to clean high buildings and windows safely from the ground, alleviating the need to work at height. These pole systems now also lend themselves perfectly to cleaning solar panels, dispensing with the need for ladders or cranes but still cleaning safely and efficiently to help boost solar output.
Cleaning with chemicals also runs the risk of leaving a film on the panels that can prevent the sun’s rays from getting through, so the most effective way to clean is to use pure water. To get to this state the water is processed to remove the minerals and impurities that would otherwise dry and lead to spots and streaks.
Cleaning techniques used on the outside of buildings are now helping to influence how interiors are maintained, and window cleaning equipment is adapting to fulfil a growing need for safe and effective ways to do an ‘inside job’.
Many different businesses and organisations require indoor cleaning systems. From shopping centres, with their central, glass-clad atriums; to museums and galleries that need safe ways to clean around precious exhibits; to manufacturing facilities incorporating roof skylights – indoor cleaning is becoming increasingly important.
Demand is growing for easy-to-use, flexible systems. Companies are looking for more efficient ways to keep their premises clean – and that means efficiencies in both time and money. Methods of cleaning high interior windows that dispense with the need for ladders, but still operate in a safe way, are becoming more popular.
Telescopic pole systems are smaller and lighter, so they are more easily moved around buildings and between floors than bulky ladders, plus they get the job done quickly, without compromising quality. Systems that use pure water don’t need chemicals, saving both money and helping companies with their ‘green’ agendas; plus re-usable, washable pads mean less waste and more sustainability.
Indoor window cleaning systems means that customers are now able to clean places that were previously out of reach, such as ceilings, escalators, conservatory roofs and elevators. Ordinarily, this would require specialist cleaning and logistics to arrange – increasing financial outlay because of the high cost of hiring equipment such as scissor lifts, and causing disruption to the working day because areas have to be closed off while cleaning takes place – but the latest systems provide a solution to these problems.
Thanks to continuous product development and feedback from clients on their changing needs, great cleaning results are now the norm, and not difficult to achieve when compared to the more traditional glass cleaners and paper towels, used in years gone by.
There’s no doubt that the professional window cleaning sector will continue to make progress, taking advantage of new technology and innovations in engineering and materials to produce even more adaptable window cleaning systems. Whether you need to clean inside, outside, or up on the roof, the 21st century window cleaning sector is rising to the challenges ahead, and providing imaginative solutions that deliver the required results.