A recent record growth year announcement by Brain Corp, an artificial intelligence (AI) software company creating transformative core technology in robotics, again highlights the role of autonomous cleaning in the professional cleaning industry.

According to the company, it achieved an over 300 percent increase in robotic deployments during the year as retailers leaned heavily on cleaning automation to help better manage ‘a constant state of clean’ caused by the ongoing public health crisis. “Given the rapid adoption rates and strong value proposition, robotic solutions are clearly becoming the new commercial cleaning standard,” said Dr Eugene Izhikevich, CEO at Brain Corp.

Currently there are several thousand Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) deployed in the public environment, and, in many cases, these systems are tasked with cleaning retail and grocery stores, real estate, malls and airports. It is therefore opportune to take a closer look at how AMRs can assist in improving cleaning efficiency and quality as global retailers ramp up their adoption of robotic floor scrubbers and other autonomous solutions in the wake of the global pandemic.

While relatively new to the cleaning industry, AMRs can help improve cleaning efficiency and quality. Unlike automatic scrubbers that require human oversight, AMRs function without hands-on operation to enhance the work of cleaning staff. They are specifically designed for repetitive floor cleaning and operate via a connection between the scrubber and a smart device. This connection allows employees to set the machine to autonomous mopping, sweeping or scrubbing in a designated area.

AMRs are particularly beneficial for larger facilities, such as grocery stores, warehouse and logistic centres, and higher education buildings. These structures tend to have high-traffic areas that require regular cleaning, and the vast square meterage of their hard-floor surfaces gives AMRs plenty of room to manoeuvre. In fact, to date, micro-rider floor scrubbers powered by BrainOS® software have autonomously cleaned more than 9290,304 square kilometres and counting.

Building AMRs into work-loading efforts can provide additional benefits, especially when it comes to saving time and labour. The AMRs clean the most time-consuming areas, while employees focus on cleaning and disinfecting detailed, high-touch areas.

Connect work loading and automation

At a basic level, work loading involves leveraging verified productivity rates to determine what areas of a facility staff need to clean and how long it should take to complete specific tasks. ISSA, the worldwide cleaning industry association, has developed The Official ISSA Cleaning Times – a resource that assigns times to particular cleaning jobs. In addition to determining how long cleaning tasks take, work loading answers other questions, including:
• Which areas and surfaces are workers cleaning?
• What equipment are they using to clean?
• What is the process for cleaning or maintaining the area?
• Who is performing the task and where?

Work loading is not just about individual tasks – which are essential and need to be accounted for – but, more importantly, how tasks tie together in the flow of the cleaning staff’s workday. Effectively adding AMRs to a cleaning programme requires a shift in mindset and facility culture. According to the ISSA Cleaning Industry Management Standard (CIMS), 55 percent of a facility’s operational budget is labour.

Therefore, it is important to have employee buy-in before introducing AMRs. Labour retention is already a challenge in the industry, so facility managers and building service contractors (BSCs) need to reinforce the value of their staff. The key is to reassure employees that the AMRs won’t replace their jobs, but rather augment their positions and prepare them for higher-level career opportunities.

As team culture can shift with the addition of AMRs, engaging cleaning staff in the planning stages of implementation can help keep the culture positive. Ensure that staff members realise that AMRs remove the time-consuming floor-cleaning tasks from their daily routine and introduce efficiencies into their workflow and allow them to focus on detailed work that may have been difficult to complete before.

Create a checklist for implementation

Implementing AMRs requires attention to several details to achieve the best results – not only as it applies to the equipment, but also to the cleaning staff.

Identify capabilities

The first step is to identify what the AMR can do during a work shift. For example, an autonomous scrubber’s purpose is to maintain hard-floor surfaces. Look at the large spaces where the AMR could replace manual mopping or the need for an employee to walk behind an automatic scrubber. This provides insight into how staff could shift their focus to other tasks.

Test the AMR

Be sure that AMRs integrate into the cleaning programme based on real-life deployment. Select and test different floor-cleaning scenarios, calculate the time it takes to complete the task, and add obstacles that could impact timing and performance. Set up different traffic patterns and changes within the built environment – whether it’s re-arranging furniture or altering soil types on the floor. Test the AMR’s operation during different times of the year, since temperature and humidity can affect operation.

Set expectations

Many facilities do not have up-to-date quality assurance expectations. When integrating an AMR, communicate expectations to employees about the importance of the detailed cleaning they will take on while the AMR handles the routine floor cleaning. CIMS helps determine cleanliness outcomes, so deliverables are clear within the scope of work and in the service plan.

Provide training

Even though AMRs take care of hard-surface floor cleaning, employees are responsible for setting them in motion. Provide detailed training on how to set the machine to its tasks and how to address any stoppages. Cleaning teams will receive a stoppage alert on their smart device and need to know how to troubleshoot quickly to maintain efficiencies.

Support certification

Facility visitors are looking at in-house providers and building-service contractors as the cleaning experts. Highly knowledgeable employees are a benefit to the team. Enrolling them in certification courses increases their skills while also making a positive impact on company culture.

Abridged version of an article by Adam Camhi, vice president of flooring solutions at Sunbelt Rentals and Brant Insero, ISSA director of education, training, certification and standards.