Based on current technology, cobots perform best in large, open and uncluttered areas but the technology is improving all the time says Venter. “Manufacturers are working hard at improving the agility of the cobot units to accommodate the everyday demands. In years to come, building design and internal layout will form an important factor for the integration of cobotics, and architects will need to ensure structures and interiors are more cobot friendly.”
“The beauty of cobots is their consistency. Be it vacuuming or hard surface wet cleaning, the units are programmed in such a way that they will ensure the output remains the same throughout their deployment.”
Kitchener concurs with this point, as she explains, cleaning teams have tried and failed in the past to redistribute resources away from repetitive tasks such as floor cleaning to pay more attention to focusing on things you touch with your hands – handles, switches, glass, plus other more difficult areas to clean such as stairs and escalators. Although these are all important – she says, they often get skipped because they do not form part of the visible routine.
“However,” she explains, “if we allow the cobot to clean the floor and empower the operator to focus on the detailed cleaning, this absolutely supports the delivery of cleaner, healthier spaces. The cobots also deliver quantified, consistent results, and detailed reporting via App’s on important information such as area cleaned, time taken, water used during cleaning, and battery and consumable life remaining.”
Based on this on-board technology adds Venter: “FM providers can obtain data confirming outputs and can also identify any shortfalls in the delivery and adjust these accordingly. In an environment where KPIs are becoming ever more important, FM providers are now able to evidence compliance.”
“As technology develops there is also growing potential for robotics to do more than one task,” says Robinson. “For example, some robotic scrubber dryers now have the capability to perform UVC light disinfection, which helps to create a healthier environment by disinfecting surfaces, while simultaneously cleaning them.”
They’re also good for the environment: “A key benefit is that they are extremely efficient, ensuring the cleaning path is maximised on every pass; they can be charged on off peak tariffs, so they are not only efficient but are more cost effective than conventional cleaning methods.”
Ortelli of 14forty says he can certainly see cobots helping them to achieve Net Zero by 2030 when it comes to their cleaning services.
“The cobot we use, manufactured by Killis, uses 70 per cent less water and fewer chemicals than traditional cleaning products, for example. This means that we are not only significantly reducing our water waste, but we’re also using more eco-friendly products at the same time.”
Of course, for cobotics to truly deliver benefit it’s essential that cleaning teams are on board with both utilising and deploying the new technology. According to Kitchener challenges can vary from operatives being concerned that they are being replaced by machines or how they are going to keep up with the technology to operate these machines and facilities companies not being ready to take the next step in innovation.
“We have found that the key to successfully integrating Cobotics is to collaborate with the cleaning operatives onsite to ensure that the machines become part of the cleaning team and are not seen as a threat or a separate function. This requires fully involving the front-line operators so that they see the real value of the machines as collaborating with them, not replacing them.
“In terms of training to ensure that cobots are used safely and efficiently, at ICE our training and installation programme is ever evolving with the constant feedback we are receiving both from customers and ICE staff.
“We currently offer a three-part training plan that covers everything from daily maintenance to mapping and safe operation. Following this, operators can refer to our training and support packs that are available via our App and online training videos. We also offer top up training on request as well as ‘Train the Trainer’ sessions so any new staff can be trained to operate the machines effectively and efficiently.”
According to Bensi, training depends on the cobot in question as all require different forms of training or mapping. “The bigger issue is how much time is needed to change cultural and behavioural attitudes around using robotics. In our experience, it takes approximately five days of working with cleaning teams before they readily adopt the technology.”
Careful set up is critical to productivity counsels Jean-Patrick Judson, Account Manager at Anabas, with activities split between the cobot and cleaner. “Cobots can only be [made] active following careful initial programming via a series of sensors which tell the bot where to go. This requires analysis of the workspace and a route to be created. Cleaning operatives are also required to maintain the devices, so they are fit for use. Management information and data analysis will need to be conducted by cleaning operatives.”
He adds: “Extensive data will be provided so operatives need to be upskilled to be able to manage it. It’s not concentrated to just cleaning teams though. Security teams, for example, can be trained to operate cobots during the evening when sites are unoccupied.”
Of course, cobotics is not the only technology being introduced to help automate cleaning processes. During COVID, the widespread adoption of sensors and apps to monitor occupation, not to mention innovations such as electrostatic spraying were all stepped up. A new Cleaning and Hygiene Centre of Excellence was recently launched in Birmingham by Mitie to showcase the latest products and service innovations in the cleaning industry. It has been designed to bring together new equipment and solutions, test new products, develop market leading training for its cleaning colleagues, and trial new sustainability initiatives.
“These [technologies] all now play an important role for FM providers to justify their KPIs,” says Venter. “Key to these applications is the data obtained to realise Management Information (MI). The MI obtained is key to demonstrating specification compliance to clients but is also a powerful tool for FM providers to maximise productivity.
“More recently, heat sensors are being introduced to measure activity within environments with a view to channelling valuable resources on demand to areas requiring cleaning. Where cobots cannot be deployed, FM providers can effectively monitor cleaning operatives’ entry and departure times, providing valuable time-based activity and productivity data.”
As Judson concludes: “With the move to smart buildings that integrate sensors and apps, the future of cleaning will be much more on-demand and congruent to how the workplace is actually used, resulting in greater efficiencies.”