The world of cleaning, 2028

15th of January 2019
The world of cleaning, 2028
The world of cleaning, 2028

How has the cleaning industry evolved from a technological viewpoint over the past 10
years? And what changes will we see 10 years from now? Ann Laffeaty looks back on the past and canvasses the views of industry players about future developments.

If we were to go back in time a mere 10 years we would probably be astonished at how rudimentary the technology was compared to how it is now.

Ten years ago the “personal digital assistant” was one of our most sophisticated technological aids. These devices pre-dated the smartphone and allowed cleaners to submit reports in real time via data that was inputted manually.

Other common technological solutions included tobacco detection systems which sounded an alarm or generated a voice message when smoke was detected. Indoor smoking bans had only just come into effect in Europe in 2006-2008 and facilities were keen to ensure that end-users were adhering to the bans.

It was truly a different world. Looking back at past issues of ECJ, we ran an article in 2008 on M2M communications, a relatively new concept at the time. It charted details of technologies that enabled operatives to find out via a text message when a machine had been in use for a set number of hours which would indicate that a service might be required.

Text messages could also be used to notify company managers when a street cleaning machine had been moved to another site in order to provide an overview of which apparatus was located where. Machine manufacturer Tennant was an early promoter of this type of technology.

Software articles in ECJ in 2008-2010 also dealt with other “high-tech” systems that would today seem old-fashioned and clunky. For example, there were various solutions that enabled companies to estimate the size and scale of a cleaning task in advance using a CD and a manual. The contract cleaner would be required to manually enter information for each area of the building via a PDA and the software would then calculate the number of hours the job would be likely to take.

Other staff checking systems would involve the employee having to dial a landline number at the client’s site. If they failed to do so, a text message would be sent to the cleaning company informing them of a potential no-show.

And of course mobile phones were much more rudimentary 10 years ago than they are how and were basically only used for making calls, sending SMS messages and maybe for taking low-res images. The world of digital communications only really opened up after the iPhone was launched in June 2007.

Rapid acceleration

Essity’s European marketing manager Anna Konigson Koopmans confirms that the rate of technological development has accelerated rapidly over the last few years.

“The use of digital tools is increasing and becoming more accepted,” she said. “Driving this development is the decreasing cost of sensor technology along with the growing understanding of the impact that new and smarter ways of working can have on cleaning companies.”

Touch-free dispensing and sensor-based solutions have helped to drive the market, she says “Meanwhile, new apps and computer programmes have been making the technology more accessible,” she adds. “Today we see digital aids mostly being used by managers to support them in their work, but productivity can also be improved by connecting operational employees with technology. This can make members of staff happier and more loyal because they are able to interact with their employers in a richer way. The expanded use of technology will significantly increase the value of digital tools for companies and their customers.”

Essity’s Tork EasyCube system provides cleaners and managers with information on cleaning and dispenser refill needs via sensors. When placed in facilities and washroom dispensers these constantly monitor visitor traffic and dispenser levels, transmitting the relevant information to cleaners via connected devices.

Rising standards

Essity believes technology will change the industry for the better over the next 10 years. “Cleaning standards will rise and cleaners’ working conditions will improve as they start to work smarter, not harder,” said Konigson Koopmans.

“There will also be objective data to support fact-based decisions and help cleaners do their job - and as a result, the cleaning industry will be more valued by its customers. We will probably also see new business models, new revenue streams and customer relationships reinvented 10 years from now.”

Automation and digital solutions have exploded on to the cleaning world as they have done in many other industries according to IPC’s PR and communications manager Gabriella Bianco.

“The advent of technological management and command systems means that operating equipment and machinery no longer needs to be checked only by humans,” she said. “Software can be incorporated into existing systems to help cleaning operators monitor and manage their daily tasks.”

The introduction of technology has reduced working time and cut labour costs while also improving operator performance and cleaning efficiency, she claims. “Furthermore, workers’ safety and security have been enhanced by the use of technological devices which can provide reassurance in isolated spaces,” she said. “For instance, indoor positioning systems can localise people and objects through sensors linked to smartphones.”

The development of cleaning robots both for outdoor and indoor tasks has had a dramatic impact on the industry, she says. “Robot vacuum cleaners can move around tables and chairs, sucking up debris and dust while sweeper and scrubber robots are also able to perform their activities without the need for human assistance,” she said. “These all satisfy a high demand of automated labour.”

Humans still needed?

Among the latest offerings from IPC is the Telematics GPS system which is integrated into the company’s CT 51 and CT 71 scrubber dryers. “This is a digital tool that monitors the performance of the scrubber,” said Bianco. “It allows the user to take control of maintenance parameters and
to stop the machine if something unexpected occurs.” Tracking of the machine’s position, user identification and battery level can all be carried out via a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Also from IPC is the Multifunction Safety Control high-tech system designed to protect the machine and operator when using hot and cold water pressure washers. This is described as an innovative self-diagnostic system said to provide full operator control over the machine while reducing energy consumption and maintenance costs.

It is clear that digitalisation will shape the future of the industry, says Bianco. “With the help of technology, cleaning companies will improve their performance and satisfy consumer needs,” she said.

“While human intervention will definitely not be eliminated, the presence of robots will grow while humans will be on hand to manage, monitor and maintain the machines. Furthermore, human involvement will also be required to clean the more difficult buildings such as those spread over several floors or that have hard-to-access corners, large amounts of furniture and constant traffic. These types of environments are more challenging for a robot than, say, an empty room or an indoor hotel lobby and in these types of cases, human cleaning operators will prevail over robots.”

The speed of technical development has certainly increased over the past 10 years according to Werner & Mertz sustainability manager Christopher Luening.

“Ten years ago we were less evolved digitally when in contact with the customer, since most of the information we gave them was only available in printed format or on a static website,” he said.
The company still tries to provide a balance between digital and analogue methods. “In this way our new tools and methods facilitate our work, but not to the extent that the devices become self-fulfilling,” he said.

“Many software-based innovations have had a real impact on the business as they help to improve work processes without having to invest into new equipment. The future is less about the hardware and more about clever combinations of tools and human workforce.”

The company’s own breakthroughs over the past 10 years have included monitoring and remote control systems in dishwashing and laundry dosing.

Artificial intelligence

So, how do industry players see the industry developing by 2028? “In healthcare we may see biosensors that detect potentially harmful bacteria and give alerts to self-driven robots,” said Luening. “The robotics industry will make a greater use of augmented reality and object recognition, and cleaning will no longer be seen as a mere maintenance function but also as an image factor.

“And artificial intelligence will play a crucial role when it comes to improvements in detection and recognition.” As for Werner & Mertz’s own plans, he says augmented reality may be introduced into its e-learning platform. “We are looking at more intelligent and more flexible mobile dosing systems,” he said. “However, good operatives will continue to be an asset. But as in all industries, the trend towards specialisation and the qualification of good staff members will continue.”

Meanwhile, IPC is working to simplify the use of its products and improve its maintenance systems, says Gabriella Bianco. “These will rely even more heavily on electronic devices, replacing the need for manual checks of all the main products’ parameters,” she said.

And Essity’s Anna Konigson Koopmans believes the impact of technology will be felt by the facility management sector as a whole in the future. “Big data is here to stay and has just started to change the industry,” she said. “Knowing rather than guessing will become the standard, while cleaning companies will start to request integrated digital solutions to provide them with smarter ways of interacting with staff and customers.

“We expect the cleaning industry to adopt technological solutions to meet and exceed the expectations of increasingly demanding customers and also to improve their bottom line.”

• This article is part of the 2018 ECJ supplement Cleaning in the Digital World. Click here to read it.


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