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Change in pressure25th of November 2010
Manufacturers of high pressure cleaning systems are experiencing increased demand from some quarters - while other markets are declining. So why is this occurring? Ann Laffeaty looks at the changes afoot in the world of high pressure cleaning.
The high pressure cleaning industry has undergone a series of fundamental changes in recent years. It has long been established as a key method of removing substances such as paint, graffiti and chewing gum from pavements and facades. It has also been an important player in the professional vehicle cleaning industry.
Today we are seeing increasing numbers of vehicles on our roads while graffiti and chewing gum pollution is as big a problem as ever. This should by rights have resulted in a boom for the industry – but at the same time, new environmental standards have been restricting the use of high pressure washing equipment in some quarters.
Meanwhile some companies have been seeking more specialist alternatives to the traditional pressure washer, a move that has posed a threat to the industry. However, new applications for high pressure cleaning are emerging all the time. The result is a snakes-and-ladders board of pitfalls and pluses that requires manufacturers to adapt their offering to suit an industry in a state of flux.
So, how have they been coping? According to Idrobase marketing manager Bruno Ferrarese, the fact new markets have been emerging has definitely been a bonus. “We have noticed that areas of application for high pressure washing systems have been increasing and customers are using our systems, for example, to clean solar panels,” he said. “There has also been an increase in the number of units sold in relatively new markets, such as for removing chewing gum from pavements and for cleaning graffiti from vertical surfaces.”
Another new application for which Idrobase high pressure equipment has been used was to help clean away the toxic red mud that recently polluted parts of Hungary. “We are also seeing increasing demand for our systems from developing countries,” said Ferrarese. “However this upsurge has not been sufficiently high to offset a lower demand from mature markets.”
This downturn has been a result of the economic crisis and the near-saturation of certain sectors of use, he claims.
Reduction in demand
According to Ferrarese the car wash industry has particularly suffered from a reduction in demand. “This is because of the massive use of brushes in car plants, and also because new environmental standards now limit the washing of private cars and trucks,” he said.
In fact the economic crisis is changing the face of the industry according to Ferrarese. “Many cleaning machines on the market nowadays are produced with low technology and this allows new manufacturers, mainly Chinese and Turkish, to compete on a global level with European producers,” he said.
“Lately we are observing, too, that the customer is paying greater attention to price over quality. For this reason we will witness the rise of new competitors in semi-professional and hobby markets in the short term, while there will be a consolidation of the European manufacturers’ positions in the professional and industrial sector.”
Adaptability is the key to survival in the current climate, according to Ferrarese. “Today more than ever, flexibility and customised products - targeted to individual customer needs - are necessary to win the market,” he said.
“Our strategy involves moving from the production of identical high pressure washers to the manufacture of custom-made systems that have been built to meet the specific needs of each market in each country. For this reason the high pressure washers we sell in Russia are completely different from those produced, say, for the Australian or Japanese markets.”
More specialist equipment
Dibo’s managing director Pierre van den Borne says that in some areas, high pressure cleaning machines are being replaced by more specialist equipment. “In future we will see that people will not buy high pressure cleaning systems for washing cars - they will take them to the car wash instead or use specialised tools for car cleaning,” he said.
According to van den Borne, people today are asking more from a high pressure cleaning system and Dibo has responded by bringing out machines such as its WWC hot water multi-functional cleaning machine. This is mounted on a trailer and has a built-in vacuum. “This means that the unit can be used to clean up after road accidents because it sucks up the spilt oil and all the other debris into its tank,” said van den Borne.
“This is a new application because municipal authorities in the past didn’t want all the water and debris to be washed away into the sewer. They also objected to large trucks being brought into the city centre to clean up sites, but the WWC machine is both small and compact.”
Kärcher agrees that global industrialisation has created new markets for high pressure cleaning systems. According to high pressure cleaners product management professional Volker Steigauf: “People’s expectations of hygiene - especially in the medical and foodstuffs production and processing sectors - are growing ever greater, which is leading to a rise in demand for cleaning in general and for high pressure cleaning.
“Vehicle washing continues to be a major growth market for pressure cleaning as more and more vehicles are sold, while industrial plant, machinery and tools are growing increasingly high-grade and more sensitive.”
However, he adds that other markets are diminishing. “In agriculture, for example, there is a trend toward equipment that uses water in larger quantities but at slightly lower pressure,” he said. “Some applications are no longer necessary – for instance the thawing of frozen construction material such as grit with the aid of steam generators.”
He agrees with Ferrarese that an ability to adapt is crucial in today’s difficult times. “It is very important for us to ensure that our products cater precisely for our customers’ needs,” said Steigauf. “We include customer requirements in the product origination and development process and then develop specific solutions that are geared precisely to demand. We also cater for regional needs and specifics.”
So will environmental pressures and a change in customer demand ever spell the end of the high pressure cleaning industry? “We consider that to be highly unlikely,” said Steigauf. “Pressure cleaners will always be widely-used cleaning devices. The markets are, however, in a constant state of flux. That is why it is important for us to be able to adapt to new requirements by means of our innovative strength.”