What a difference a decade makes

15th of April 2010
What a difference a decade makes
What a difference a decade makes

Now that the new decade is under way ECJ's Ann Laffeaty asks key industry figures about the major trends of the 'Noughties' – and which trends they think are likely to shape the cleaning sector over the next 10 years.

It is remarkable how much the world can change in just 10 years. The first decade of the new millennium has seen huge leaps in terms of technology as well as a growing awareness of environmental issues. The concept of recycling has taken off at last, and a greater regard is being paid to personal health and safety than ever before.

It is easy to see how the cleaning and hygiene industries have been affected by these changes – particularly when a series of pandemic threats and a world recession are added to the mix.
Cleaning machines represent one of the fastest moving sectors of the industry. But over the past 10 years new technologies have emerged as a direct result of other key 'trends' such as the demand for sustainable solutions and the need to reduce costs.

“The topics of the environment and sustainability have become increasingly important,” confirms marketing director of Hako-Werke Dr Ralf-Hendrik Steinkühler. “Evidence can be seen in developments in zero-emission drives and alternative energy systems that use less water and cleaning agents. Also, greater efforts have been made to reduce chemical consumption.”

He says the need to reduce costs has become increasingly urgent. “The industry has had to offer alternatives such as leasing, while the efficiency of cleaning has had to be improved to reduce costs without reducing quality,” he said. “Machine manufacturers have helped by providing machines with shorter set-up times, automatic filling systems, quick-charging batteries and reduced water and cleaning agent consumption.”

According to Steinkühler the next 10 years will see a greater focus on improving efficiency. “Today it is not sufficient to simply offer products  -  practical solutions must be provided,” he said. “Some manufacturers are offering additional services such as computer-aided economic calculators as well as alternatives to purchasing such as short-term leasing.

“Environmental aspects will also become more important and cleaning machines equipped with antibacterial tanks will have to be offered in hygiene-critical areas such as clinics, retirement homes and canteen kitchens. We will also see developments in battery technology that might help to make machines more compact while improving their performance.”

EUnited Cleaning’s Peter Hug believes that increased efficiency and improved service levels have been the emerging trends in the cleaning machine sector. “Improvements in efficiency have significantly lowered machine-related costs and the industry has increased service levels in general,” he said. “Full service contracts and specialised warranty models are now seen as standard while after-sales services are state-of-the-art.”

He believes the next decade will bring two diverging trends in terms of machine design: some will feature a simpler design while others will offer increasing levels of automation. “Machines are developed for the needs of different markets and customers,” he said. “The advantages of the simpler design might be easier maintenance, whereas one ‘pro’ of the more sophisticated models will be higher efficiency.”

Issues such as sustainability, the environment and hygiene will be other industry drivers, he claims, while the relationship between manufacturers, distributors and end users may change. “In other industries we can already see that buying versus renting machines is a big issue,” he said. “Even sub-contracting models or hiring machinery along with a driver is becoming more prominent.”

Sustainability and increased efficiency have also been significant window cleaning trends says vice president of Ettore Products Europe Niels Ysbrandy, while increased safety has been achieved with the help of the water-fed pole. “Extension poles are a practical solution to the problem of high-rise cleaning,” he said. “The use of ladders is potentially dangerous and truck-mounted systems are not always practical since it can be difficult to park near a building that has a car park.”

He hopes the next decade will bring a change in the way new buildings are designed so that cleaning is considered from the outset. “If you are putting up a 50-storey building the energy costs will always be considered, but the people who design buildings are not really aware of the facilities management side.”

One of the major trends in the washroom industry over the past 10 years has been an increase in touch-free concepts, says SCA’s global director commercial, industrial and health care segments Janne Muntzing.

“Automatic taps and dispensers for soaps and hand towels have become very big since 2000,” he said. “People don’t want to touch anything that anyone else has touched. There is a much greater concern about the risks of cross-contamination following the pandemic threats of SARS, bird flu and swine flu. There is also an increasing understanding about the importance of the overall set-up of the washroom to ensure good hygiene.”

He feels that no-touch technology will become increasingly important in the future, while another emerging trend will be a greater focus on design and appearance. “People are becoming more keen to pamper themselves today, and as an example we see an increasing number of washrooms that are designed to give a spa-like ambiance or that offer extra facilities,” said Muntzing. “For example, here in Gothenburg there is a club that features a washroom with a champagne bar.
“Washrooms in restaurants and other establishments are increasingly being seen by customers as part of the overall experience. This is a trend that will continue.”

According to Muntzing another major focus over the next 10 years will be a wider understanding of sustainability. “General awareness of the need for sustainability has been accelerating and is becoming more important,” he said. “The environmental issue is not going to go away - but I think we will see an end to the ‘greenwashing’ that is being practised by some companies. Customers will become more smart about sustainability and look more actively for sustainable solutions.”

According to the UK's Cleaning and Support Services Association (CSSA) director general Andrew Large it is the perception of the industry that had changed most dramatically since 2000. “We are seeing a significantly greater respect for the workforce,” he said. “There has also been an increase in the prevalence of training which has helped to improve morale. People are beginning to see the possibilities of cleaning as a career instead of just a job.”

He said there had been an increased awareness of hygiene over the past 10 years, though with limited effect. “The idea of hygiene and cleaning for health has had a big impact in hospitals, but very little impact everywhere else,” he said. “You need a driver for people to take it seriously. We thought swine flu would be that driver, but it wasn’t.”

Another big trend over the next decade will be sustainability, he says. “It is the nexus of people-planet-profit that is true sustainability, and I think people have only really dabbled in it so far. There have been some movements towards social corporate responsibility and this has brought true benefits. But sustainability is about genuinely finding answers to difficult questions about how to run a business in the long term.”

He believes that one of the major trends for the future will be a greater use of IT-based systems to optimise cleaning. “People are already using palm tops and iPhones to store what is required in terms of safety data sheets and task specifications instead of having to carry around enormous piles of paperwork that might get lost or dirty,” he said. “We will see a greater use of GPS systems for route planning so that mobile cleaning teams can work out the quickest route from A to B taking into account local traffic congestion.”

Director of the Britain Cleanability Awards Richard Chisnell feels that cleaning companies have been engaged in a struggle for survival over the past 10 years. “The industry has needed to improve its standards of professionalism and adjust to a much more competitive environment,” he said. “We have seen a major recession and there is only so much business out there for the
contract cleaner.”

He says one positive change has been an increasing awareness of the need for cleanliness. “The issue of hospital cleanliness has gained a high media profile, and with the Olympics coming up there has been more public and corporate awareness about the need to keep Britain clean,” he said.

He predicted increasing levels of technology in the future, but stressed that this would not be the be-all and end-all. “We keep reading that technology has moved on a pace but at the end of the day machines can’t replace the human element,” he said. “It is all very well using a machine to clean public areas and empty bins, but we are always seeing dirty areas around seats and bins that the machines can’t access.

“I think in the next 10 years there will be a reinforcement of the awareness that people are key to keeping buildings and areas clean.”


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