Though a futuristic vision of robots replacing humans for work allowing us to enjoy limitless leisure has been a favourite, if unrealistic, sci-fi story for years, robots are having an impact on the cleaning industry.
If robots are used for labour-intense, repetitive tasks, it can mean that cleaners are able to focus on higher value jobs that need to be carried out by humans, possibly helping to mitigate the impact of staff absences and turnover.
But how does a company know whether an autonomous cleaning machine will suit them?
Firstly, if the area to be cleaned is a wide open space such as a those found in distribution centres, retail, healthcare or educational premises regularly and frequently, then an autonomous mobile robot (AMR) floor cleaner can be programmed to move around fixed objects and clean multiple routes.
However, as the technology in the cleaning industry is evolving, careful research is necessary to find software and machinery that will have after-sales service and support as updates in functionality and performance evolve. Equipment that works well for a few months but then becomes obsolete or unusable thanks to downtime and delays is pointless.
Likewise, AMRs that require external programming, in-depth training and operator oversite would appear to defeat the object of a machine that is able to be up and running within minutes, can quickly be programmed with autonomous routes, and can work independently.
Nevertheless, some training to enable use of the AMR at optimum efficiency such as mapping assistance or route pairing, knowledge and understanding autogenerated heat maps and staff reporting should be provided.
The purpose of AMRs is to work alongside staff, not replace them. Areas for cleaning will still need to be prepared and many other tasks can only be carried out by trained employees – such as cleaning touch-points, removing rubbish bins or any number of tasks required to create a safe, clean environment.
Robot cleaning machines are increasingly finding a place in the industry. But, as with most new technologies, they have limitations as well as capabilities so thorough research and a realistic appraisal of the advantages for individual companies is key to stop an expensive item languishing in a cupboard once the novelty has worn off.