The changing face of cleaning practice

The hope for many is that robotics will provide a cheaper outcome, but the real value will be in the predictability of the cleanliness outcome.

Cleaning is a fundamental practice of mammals. All mammals, and most animals, engage in cleaning of their environment to enhance their survival. But only humans do the cleaning for the aesthetic reasons.

The cleanliness of the surroundings also causes humans to engage with respect to cleaning and cleanliness in a way that distinguishes us from other primates – because we talk about it and complain about it, if the cleanliness is less than we prefer or not up to our expected standards.

Some people want a sweet smell after cleaning processes, while others want no smell at all. Some people react to the slightest smell of bacterial degradation, whereas other people are affected by mould. Most people react to poo on your shoe, whereas some people work willingly and well in sewerage plants.

So, the standard of acceptable cleanliness varies from person to person and often also from place to place. This makes the job for cleaning service providers a constantly moving target.

Cleanliness standards are set by humans, not by robotics. While cleaning tasks may be undertaken (increasingly) by robots, the acceptability of the cleanliness is determined by the humans and not the bots. Cleanliness is still fundamentally defined through a human interface.

At trade events you will see some of emerging technologies in robotics and automation but have no misunderstandings – cleaning standards will remain a human domain.

That is why trade events such as the ISSA Cleaning & Hygiene Expo remain – and will continue to remain – essentially human and face to face in nature. And thankfully so.

The platforms selling and marketing cleaning products, including social media and trade shows, still have personal contact issues as the number one priority so far as choice and decision making is concerned.

This applies to both sides of the cleaning contract divide, where humans make the ultimate decision on cleanliness for cleaning contractors or those employing cleaning contractors.

There are also important changes with of our natural world including the growing recognition of the problems with Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR).

The implications of AMR for cleaning companies are still very poorly appreciated, and again this applies both sides of the cleaning contract divide.

As the importance of AMR is better understood and managed, and integrated cleaning validation systems ensure more reliable outcomes, the role of robotics will increase.

This is because you can program a robot and rely on a robot to provide a standardised methodical cleanliness output.

Variation is minimised provided that the parameters of the cleaning processes and standards for acceptable cleanliness are mutually recognised.

The great hope for many in the cleaning sector is that robotics will provide a cheaper outcome, but the real value will be in the predictability of the cleanliness outcome.

Robots that integrate into cleaning systems, and the cleanliness platforms in a practical and reliable manner will provide a major step forward, but it will be the reliability and not the cost that drives the process. In that way, humans will continue to tell the robots what to do, and not the other way about.

Dr Greg Whiteley is executive chairman of Whiteley Corporation

This first appeared in the September/October issue of INCLEAN magazine 

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2 thoughts on “The changing face of cleaning practice

  1. Whilst I appreciate the need for change in the industry, I cannot help but feel that the use of robotics will simply do away with a high % of cleaners – which is sad. Yes, customer face-to-face is important but so to is the individual cleaner / janitor / custodian. Machines will simply pave the way for these people (in the main) to either lose their jobs or to have their on-the-job contact time decreased. One of the biggest issues facing the worker is already their ability to make decisions with a fair degree of autonomy, and now this move to mechanizing what has always been, since my father’s day of the 1950s, a “Hands on” approach. We are forever harping on about “saving money,” “better productivity,” “a better clean,” yet for me these issues can be addressed by far better training which leads to higher-skilled cleaners. The other approach (at least in my view) will do away with the cleaner, lead to higher unemployment and its associated problems, and more importantly, will add to an already-existing increasingly isolated world in terms of our ability to react with others (think ‘Customer Relations’).

    Dr. Whiteley highlights the continual need for cleaners but if a machine can be programmed and the cleaner walks away to do other tasks, then surely the person that would once have operated a machine (such as a auto-scrubber) would have a job as they moved the machine and down the aisle! To automate via robotics take their job away.

  2. The above sentence, “One of the biggest issues facing the worker is already their ability to make decisions with a fair degree of autonomy,” should have read as “…their inability.” Sorry about the oversight

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