Scrubber dryers - the future looks bright

8th of April 2021
Scrubber dryers - the future looks bright
Scrubber dryers - the future looks bright

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the closure of many high-traffic buildings including shops, gyms and schools. But other essential facilities such as hospitals, airports and warehouses have had to remain open - and cleaning has become more important than ever in these environments. So, has the pandemic affected the scrubber dryer market for better or worse, asks Ann Laffeaty?

COVID-19 has led to the closure of many venues that most of us once took for granted. Restaurants, hotels, gyms, retail centres  - even schools have had to close in the global effort to stem the spread of the virus.

The fact that fewer public facilities have remained open worldwide has meant floors once trampled upon by huge crowds of people have remained clean and devoid of debris, marks and scuffs.

But while reducing footfall, the global pandemic has also had the effect of heightening our awareness of cleaning. And it has become more important than ever that the facilities we occupy remain scrupulously clean at all times.

So what effect has this combination of lower traffic levels and enhanced cleaning protocols had on the scrubber dryer market?

Business has generally declined in the sector according to Kärcher’s scrubber dryer floor care product manager Christian Mrowka. “This was particularly the case during the early lockdown months when many buildings were not in use,” he said. “Existing machines were being kept in service for longer periods instead of being replaced with new ones.”

But he adds the decline in the scrubber dryer market has been offset by improvements in other sectors. “There has been a steep increase in demand for disinfecting equipment, for instance,” he says.

Despite the closure of many buildings, scrubber dryers have remained an essential cleaning tool in healthcare, retail and logistics facilities, he adds. “Lockdowns have inevitably had a significant impact on the market in schools, hotels and public buildings, but overall the situation today is less critical than it was in spring 2020,” he said.

Enhanced cleaning has been essential during the crisis because it improves the public’s perception of a facility, says Mrowka. “Cleaning is the main method of removing viruses from surfaces in order to create a healthy environment, and nobody wants to make a mistake in the current situation,” he said. “But in general, floors are not a big infection risk because there is not usually any direct contact between the floor and the hands. So it is usually sufficient just to clean the floor surface thoroughly.”

Mixed picture

In areas where an enhanced level of hygiene is required such as in children’s nurseries, gyms and other barefoot areas, Kärcher offers sanitising kits for its large ride-on B150R and B200R scrubber dryers. These comprise a spray bar which can be mounted at the back of the machine from where a disinfection solution is applied to the pre-cleaned floor.

Tennant reports a similarly mixed picture as far as scrubber dryers are concerned. “The impact on the market was initially pretty severe during the first wave of the pandemic,” said director of strategic accounts EMEA Stanislas de Pelichy. “A number of purchasing decisions were put on hold during the early part of 2020 – and this meant sales of new equipment were significantly down on 2019 and on the first quarter of 2020.

“However as lockdown measures were lifted across Europe and sites started to reopen we saw a roll-over effect on sales. As a result, our recovery was very positive towards the end of the second quarter – and in fact during the summer months we even surpassed the previous year’s
order levels.”

He says many manufacturers have been offering anti-COVID add-ons to their scrubber dryers such as disinfection spray kits and UV lights. But according to de Pelichy, the efficacy of such products has yet to be proven. “The real question is whether or not to disinfect floors at all,” he said. “The bottom line is floors are not a high touchpoint surface. While keeping them clean is of paramount importance, floors still play a fairly limited role in the viral transmission chain.”

The pandemic has led to a shift in priorities for many cleaning companies, he says. “During the first wave of COVID-19, cleaning contractors were being asked by customers to focus more heavily on disinfection protocols,” he said. “However, tasks that involve the cleaning of
multiple frequent touchpoints cannot really be mechanised.

“A number of cleaning contractors and end-users therefore opted to deploy robotic scrubber dryers in place of conventional machines. This enabled them to refocus the efforts of their staff on to cleaning high-touch areas – and this meant they could deliver higher standards of cleaning.”

According to de Pelichy, the company’s Autonomous Mobile Robot range attracted heightened levels of interest during the pandemic. “Such products tick many boxes in our new reality, and this shift in focus towards autonomous cleaning meant that our 2020 results were on a par with those of 2019 despite a second wave of restrictions.” he said.

Like other companies, Hako experienced a slight decline in its scrubber dryer business during 2020 says application technology trainer and consultant Klaus Serfezi.

“We saw something of a drop in sales during the early lockdowns, but demand is still there,” he said. “Good cleaning is an ongoing requirement and scrubber dryers have still been needed in those facilities that have been unaffected by the lockdowns.”

Hako’s new Scrubmaster B260 R is equipped with a large 260-litre tank and a powerful all-wheel drive for long operating times in large areas.

Fully operational

Like Tennant, Hako has experienced an increase in demand for contact surface cleaning solutions. “This we can fulfil by offering optional equipment for use with our cleaning machines,” he adds. A hand spray-wand for cleaning and sanitising contact surfaces is available on the company’s Scrubmaster B45.

Another company that experienced a drop-off in demand during the first half of 2020 was Nilfisk, according to head of corporate communications Steffen Støvelbæk. “This varied from market to market and segment to segment,” he adds. “Demand levels were close to normal in those facilities that remained fully operational such as supermarkets and hospitals. But in segments that were severely hit by the pandemic such as hotels, restaurants and airports, demand was low.”

Business began to pick up month by month in the third quarter, he said.“While it was still lower than usual, overall we have been able to continue our sales and service activities even in those areas where local spikes were experienced,” he said.

The pandemic has transformed the nature of cleaning, according to Støvelbæk. “On a functional level, the scope of cleaning is changing and there are stricter procedures, increased cleaning frequencies and a new focus on disinfection,” he said. “Meanwhile on a psychological level, cleaning is playing an increasingly vital role in demonstrating corporate responsibility while building up trust and ensuring people’s safety.”

He claims the cleaning of floors is critical to any infection control protocol – and adds that this was the case even before the coronavirus pandemic began. “Floors are not as high-touch as many other surfaces such as door handles and light switches, but germs can travel on trolleys and on other equipment or be kicked into the air via people’s shoes,” he said. “As a result, contaminants can easily be transferred from the floor on to frequently-touched surfaces.”

Customer attitudes

Together with Carnegie Robotics, Nilfisk has developed an integrated ultra-violet germicidal irradiation module which uses UV-C light to disinfect floors. This can be paired with Nilfisk’s Liberty SC50 autonomous scrubber dryer and is said to be able to remove dirt and debris while simultaneously disinfecting surfaces.

Støvelbæk believes the company’s scrubber dryer business will remain buoyant in the future – and he bases these predictions on the results of a study into customer attitudes carried out by Nilfisk at the height of the pandemic.

“One of the key findings was that a substantial proportion of customers who had previously cleaned their floors manually were expecting to switch to machine cleaning in future,” he said.
“We believe demand for higher quality, more frequent cleaning protocols as a result of the pandemic will result in increased time pressures on cleaning staff – and this will prompt a move towards mechanised cleaning, even in small areas.”

He believes the advent of COVID-19 has changed the public’s outlook on the industry in general. “Before the pandemic, cleaning tended to be a backstage activity - one that had to be achieved as unobtrusively as possible,” he said. “People also tended to feel that when you walked into a restaurant or hotel and found everything looked clean, you would assume it actually was so. But these days, cleanliness is no longer assumed and people now require more reassurance.”

Tennant’s Stanislas de Pelichy agrees with this viewpoint.  “There has been a general mindset shift in expected levels of hygiene,” he said. “People now need to be confident of the cleanliness of any facility they visit - otherwise the image of that facility will be harmed. And we are confident that this new mindset will trigger a rise in demand for new equipment going forward.”


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