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May 26, 2016

Five awe-inspiring cleaning robots

There are some things in life worth never giving up—but cleaning is not one of them. During the past century machines such as vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, and
washing machines have made our lives easier. Imagine what changes we will go through in the 21st century as we shift even more cleaning work to machines, thanks to robotics.

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Recently the government of Singapore launched a $450 million fund to support the National Robotics Program. Its goal is to stimulate investment in robotics in order to revitalize its small and medium-sized enterprise market and reduce the dependence on manpower. Singapore is not alone. According to The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a management consulting firm, worldwide spending on robotics is expected to grow to $67 billion by 2025.

Innovation within robotics offers great potential to the field of facility management and cleaning processes in particular. The first version of the robotic vacuum cleaner was already introduced in 1996 and now, 20 years later, it has become an indispensable part of the cleaning industry. There are several other interesting developments in cleaning robotics on the way—here’s my top five for facility managers:

Ammonia sensors in toilets

Toilet cleaning can be a time-sensitive and labor-intensive process. Some toilet groups are used more often than others, but most facility departments still apply the same cleaning level to all restrooms, independent of their actual use. Applying ammonia sensors in restrooms is an answer to this challenge. I2R recently announced the availability of a toilet cleanliness monitoring system that keeps track of the actual use of individual toilets. This way, cleaners can be alerted if a toilet needs additional cleaning, or alternatively, that a toilet hasn’t been used at all since the last cleaning round. The system reportedly improved productivity up to 20 percent.

Rooftop inspections by drones
Drones have the ability to collect high resolution images from multiple perspectives, even the hard to reach areas such as rooftops. Rooftop inspections can be a cumbersome and dangerous task, so why not let drones take that difficult task out of our hands? This saves the facility department time and also leaves an otherwise difficult and dangerous endeavor to machines.

Sewer inspection robots
There are several robots available in the market that can alleviate the challenge of jammed sinks and sewers, which can be a true burden to the facility department. Detecting blockages and resolving them often requires a lot of man-hours in dirty and unhealthy conditions. Humans no longer have to go into smelly sewers to figure out what’s wrong, just let robots do the trick!

Stock picking robotics

Amazon already uses robots to pick products from their warehouses and deliver them to the distribution center. A similar development is foreseen in cleaning where sensors can detect the available supply of cleaning materials on the floor, and when levels are too low robots will be able to supply goods to the cleaning department.

Heat detection
Who doesn’t recognize this situation? You are in such a hurry that you spill your coffee. The sooner the spill is cleaned, the better. Not just for safety reasons, but also because spills are best cleaned directly after the incident. But you’re in a hurry… With heat and moisture detection sensors, an alert can automatically be sent to the building’s cleaners to notify them of the spill. This will help the cleaners address potentially dangerous spills and incidents in a much quicker manner, and it also saves the end user valuable time. These sensors are not yet in use, but there are several prototypes in development.

Due to the increasing availability of sensors and robots, the cleaning department of the future will require a different mix of skill sets such as the programming and operation of robots. This means a decreasing need for actual cleaners and a growing demand for technical specialists.

As long as there are humans there will be a need for cleaning. We’ll always be involved in that process—but hopefully not so much in the actual cleaning process, and instead, increasingly in innovating and making sure the new cleaning technology works correctly.

Alex Lim
General Manager Planon Asia