Sweepers - easy rider

18th of December 2019
Sweepers - easy rider
Sweepers - easy rider

How do manufacturers ensure that their sweepers are easy to use and comfortable to ride for the operator? And how important are ergonomics in a sweeper anyway? ECJ asks manufacturers how far they consider the end-user’s experience when designing their machines.

Cost, efficiency, productivity and suitability for the task in question – these are all key factors that any customer needs to bear in mind when choosing a sweeper.

Whether they are purchasing or leasing the machine, a facilities services or cleaning company needs to be certain that their sweeper will be able to cope with the specified task with optimum speed and effectiveness. But the operator’s role is also pivotal in determining how efficiently the job will be carried out.

For example, there could be a huge knock-on effect on productivity if the user finds a sweeper too uncomfortable to ride or excessively difficult to operate. But manufacturers are on top of this according to Hako application technology trainer and consultant Klaus Serfezi.

“With our walk-behind machines you simply need to turn a key switch, pull a lever, then off you go,” he said. “And with many of our ride-on machines you just lower the sweeping cylinder and the side broom and then you can start working.”

Ergonomics are a key focus area for Hako when developing its machines - particularly with its ride-on models. “This is not only important as far as the driver’s seating position is concerned, but also in terms of overall operating comfort which includes ease of operation, economic efficiency and durability,” said Serfezi.

The biggest problem with over-complicated machines is that operators have no motivation to work with them, he said. “The result is that the cleaning task will not be carried out properly and if an operator becomes particularly frustrated, he or she might go as far as wilfully damaging the machine,” said Serfezi.

Ride-on models in particular need to maximise operator comfort, he said. “Fuel-powered machines or vacuum sweepers equipped with large battery packs are basically mobile workplaces on which the operator has to sit for several hours,” he said. “This requires good ergonomics in order to ensure fatigue-free working.”

Comfortable seats

Hako sweepers are claimed to be operated by a maximum of two levers whereas large vacuum sweepers require only the push of a button. All Hako’s ride-on machines are said to offer adjustable seats for a comfortable ride, with suspended seats an option on larger machines. And all operating elements are within easy reach of the driver’s seat, says Serfezi.

Diversey’s principal global application specialist for robotic machines Paul Martorano agrees that ease of operation is important in the design of any sweeper. “All processes must be efficient and if the operation is too complex, more time could be spent on setting up the machine than on completing the actual cleaning task,” he said. “It could also result in people not wanting to carry out the task in the first place or taking longer to complete it than they should.

”And if a sweeper is too complicated to use it might tempt the operator to look for more appealing options, or even to take dangerous short cuts.”

Customers and end-users are always at the forefront of product design at Diversey, he says. “These are the people who will be spending the most time operating the machine and if they are unwilling to use a sweeper, its design will have failed in its most important function,” he said.

“We always seek feedback from users to improve design and reduce user stress through improved ergonomics, which is at the heart of all our product development.”

According to Martorano an increasing number of customers are switching from pedestrian machines to ride-on models as part of a growing shift towards mechanisation. “Comfort is important in any situation where an operator might have to remain in one position for long periods at a time,” he said.

“And if the operator is uncomfortable this could lead to time off work due to injury as a result of being in a non-ergonomic position.”

A hydraulic high-dumping system will eliminate the need for the manual disposal of waste, he says. “This can help to reduce the risk of injury and improve productivity,” says Martorano. “And contoured surfaces coupled with adequate leg protection will help to reduce the risk of slipping in outdoor areas or wet conditions.”

Diversey sweepers are said to offer intuitive operating controls within easy reach of the rider so that all functions are accessible whilst driving.

IPC communications manager Gabriella Bianco believes a ride-on sweeper should actually be a pleasure to use. “If the operator is not provided with a comfortable driving seat, they may have to assume an awkward position for which their back will pay the price,” she said. “They will then run the risk of musculoskeletal disorders and shoulder and neck pains which are a common consequence at work.

“For this reason, providing a comfortable and convenient working position during daily cleaning tasks is a must.”

Simple controls

She says it is also essential that sweepers are easy to use and equipped with straightforward control panels. “The end-user’s experience plays a key role,” she said. “Besides a comfortable
seat for ride-ons there should be adjustable handles for walk-behinds because these ergonomic features will guarantee ease of use and even pleasure when using the sweeper.”

If it is not immediately obvious how to operate a sweeper, the end-user might use it incorrectly – and this could lead to breakdowns, she says. IPC Group’s latest ride-on sweepers feature a front-loading filtering system which is said to offer a high degree of dust and debris control. They are also ergonomic, sturdy and comfortable to use according to Bianco.

“The easier the application, the easier it will be to achieve good results,” she said. “And the simpler it is to use the control panel, the higher the operator’s satisfaction will be.”

The cleaning industry has a typically high turnover of employees who may be assigned different tasks on a daily basis – and this needs to be kept in mind when designing a sweeper, says Kärcher product manager Marian Anton.

Intuitive in use

“Very often there will be a different person using the machine from one day to the next which makes it absolutely mandatory that the sweeper should have an intuitive operation and an easily understandable concept,” he said. “This will guarantee the best cleaning results and prevent any damage to the machine or to the cleaning environment.”

The fact that less training is required for an easy-to-use machine will save both time and costs, he says, while a complex sweeper could result in negative effects.

“Operating errors can easily occur in situations where there is a rapidly-changing cleaning personnel,” he said. “This could not only lead to damage to the machine, but in a worst-case scenario it could also cause damage to the floor.

“And when a sweeper is too difficult to operate, the user will fail to identify with the machine and this may cause him or her to take less care of the sweeper which could lead to further breakdowns.”

A hard-to-operate machine could be detrimental to productivity and to the ultimate cleaning result, he said. “Only when a machine is adjusted and used correctly will high quality cleaning results and a high degree of productivity be a given,” said Anton.

He adds that ride-on models – particularly small, compact machines – have been gaining in popularity in recent years. “The productivity of a small ride-on sweeper is around a third higher than that of a large walk-behind model, so there is a trend towards ride-on solutions that provide a more comfortable and productive sweeping experience,” he said.

“This type of machine is also highly agile which makes it more suitable for use in narrow turns and restricted areas. And a ride-on model provides the operator with a high level of motivation to complete the sweeping job due to the ‘fun factor’ which comes with using the machine.”

He says ride-ons are particularly suitable for extended use. “For example, Industrial sweepers tend to be used for complete shifts and operated for many hours in the day,” he said.

Treat with care

According to Anton, factors that can make a sweeper easier to operate and more user-friendly include an adjustable steering wheel, safety lights, warning beacons, litter-pickers and vacuum cleaners for cleaning corners and shelves directly  from the operator’s seat. Kärcher’s own KM 150/500 R Industrial models offer seat suspension, comfortable arm rests, a one-switch operation, colour-coding, automatic filter-cleaning and symbols for all operating instructions in order to bridge language barriers.

The end-user is always a highly considered stakeholder when Kärcher designs a new machine, says Anton. “Before releasing any model we create prototypes and put these through several testing phases,” he said. “We are a customer-centric company and we are keen to ensure that every machine is as customer-orientated and as user-friendly as possible.

“Only when there is a high degree of identification on the part of the end-user with the machine can we be sure that a sweeper will be used properly, serviced properly and treated with care.”


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