Window cleaning - millennium reflections

11th of August 2021
Window cleaning - millennium reflections

The introduction of new technology, a heightened concern for sustainability, a growing focus on safety, a global pandemic – all of the above have made for a turbulent 21st century so far. But what impact have these and other trends and events had on the window cleaning market, asks Ann Laffeaty?

The chief tools of any window cleaner were once considered to be a ladder, a bucket and a squeegee. But the new millennium has spawned a whole host of novel attitudes and priorities along with the introduction of new technology.

For example, a heightened focus on health and safety in the workplace has led to the use of ladders being generally discouraged in cases where an alternative cleaning method can be found. This has resulted in a growing preference for systems that allow cleaning to be carried out safely from the ground.

Meanwhile, the industry in general has become more competitive due to the pandemic, with fewer public buildings being open and budgets having to be closely scrutinised. As a result, factors such as cost-cutting, high productivity and optimal cleaning efficiency have moved higher up customers’ lists of priorities.

And a burgeoning sustainability movement has led to the wider use of methods and equipment that minimise the use of chemicals and that have a lower environmental impact.

All these changes have led to a significant shift in the profile of window cleaning since the start of the new millennium. And according to Unger’s marketing communications specialist Stefan Kossmann, the rate of change has become even more pronounced during the past 10 years.

“New technologies and methodologies have improved the quality and efficiency of cleaning, while sustainability is becoming increasingly important,” he said. “As a result, more customers are now expecting solutions that use no chemicals and won’t pollute the environment.”

However, changes to the industry have varied from country to country – often as a direct result of the pandemic, he claims. “The comparatively hard lockdowns In France and Italy have had a major impact, with window cleaning orders declining significantly in Italy in particular in 2020.”

“The closure of many buildings in Germany also led to a marked decline in orders. However, window cleaning has still been allowed In Benelux so while the interior market there has shown losses due to the large number of office buildings being closed, the pandemic has had less of an impact on exterior work.”

Pure water cleaning is increasingly replacing traditional methods In the Benelux countries, according to Kossmann. “The filtering methods used for pure water cleaning in these areas are also changing,” he adds. “Filtering was originally mainly achieved with the use of resin filters, whereas reverse osmosis systems are now increasingly being used.”

Bright outlook

He claims the post-pandemic outlook looks relatively bright in the UK. “Here the number of short and medium-term orders have decreased while investment in diversified services and in private sector orders has increased,” he said.” In the long term we believe there will be a UK recovery because the quantity of glass to be cleaned has not decreased.”

According to Kossmann there has been a general trend in France for firms to specialise in window cleaning only. And he adds that Italy has had a difficult millennium so far – experiencing problems even before the pandemic struck. “The economic crisis had a negative impact in Italy between 2009 and 2012 when many end-users attempted to avoid all non-essential expenses, which meant they often saved on window cleaning,” he said.

Among the most significant changes to have taken place in the new millennium has been the growing use of pure water systems for cleaning glass and building surfaces, he says. Kossmann cites two reasons for this: a general demand for more sustainable practices and a recent change in the design of buildings. “Many new buildings are inaccessible to traditional window cleaning methods, which makes modern telescopic poles combined with the use of pure water an efficient and safe alternative,” he said.

Window cleaning has generally become safer over the past 20 years, according to Kossmann. “Cleaning professionals are paying more attention to safety and are increasingly choosing higher quality tools for the job,” he said. “And the use of water-fed poles instead of ladders has contributed to this enhanced work safety.”

A step-up in the use of automation has been among the major changes to have taken place over the past 20 years, according to Kärcher’s high pressure cleaner product manager Dominik Rauer.
“This is particularly the case where huge window facades need to be cleaned,” he said. “Many companies are now seeking innovative methods such as robots or drones which can significantly reduce the total operational cost.”

He claims to have witnessed a number of prototypes of robot and drone systems, adding that in his opinion these can work very well. “However, there is still a need for an operative to control these robots both for technological and safety reasons,” says Rauer. “So I don’t think we will see a fully autonomous window cleaning robot any time soon.”

Another change over the course of the millennium has been an increase in competition and cost pressures on the industry, he says. “This means there is an ongoing need to use methods that both simplify and accelerate the process.” And he adds the use of water-fed poles has become a major part of the window cleaning business, although not the solution in every case.

“Modern architecture poses a number of challenges which means an individual, tailored solution is often necessary,” he said. “And a fair amount of window cleaning using classical tools such as squeegees and washers is still taking place.”

Ergonomics and worker health and safety have both become pressing customer concerns since the start of the millennium according to IPC window cleaning system specialist Attilio Momi. “Operators are required to spend all day handling devices that force them to adopt awkward postures,” he said. “This can result in backbone trauma.

“Window cleaning at height can also be highly dangerous if appropriate safety measures have not been put in place and if operations are carried out without the right equipment.”

Momi agrees with other commentators that the increased use of water-fed pole systems has been among the millennium’s major industry changes. “Many building cleaners now swear by this method because it is cost-effective, can be quickly set up and saves on the cost of fork lift trucks or scaffolds because cleaning takes place from the ground,” he said. “And ionised water results in a high level of cleaning performance which means there is no need for additional detergents.”

He claims the development of high-performing telescopic poles with lengths of up to 20 metres has driven the increased use of water-fed systems. “Another plus is these systems use no chemical detergents which is important from a sustainable viewpoint,” said Momi. “And where high buildings are concerned, water-fed poles help operators achieve cleaning more safely, and better.”

So what will be the main industry drivers as the new millennium gathers pace? Health and sustainability will be at the forefront of all new developments, claims Unger’s Stefan Kossmann. “The increasing focus on ergonomics, health and ecology will continue to shape the development of the industry,” he said.

Kärcher’s Dominik Rauer believes the need to cut costs will drive tomorrow’s window cleaning industry. “We will increasingly need to come up with innovative products that deliver time reductions, improved results and more ergonomic working conditions for operatives,” he said.

And IPC’s Attilio Momi adds that in the wake of the global pandemic, manufacturers will need to redesign equipment to enable it to be used with strong disinfectants. “Complete cleaning systems that pay particular attention to ergonomics and safety will replace single tools or products that have a specific use,” he said. “And we are convinced that robotic systems will be further developed and will be technically improved to an extent that they will gradually be able to take over.”


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