Commercial Cleaning Robots and The Elephant in the Room

by Richard L. Ward, Chief Technology Officer, Cyberclean Systems

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Ice Robot in Hospital

Cyberclean Systems had a unique opportunity to pilot test what we believed was the first advanced robotic service for common areas and hallways of a large medical facility. The first few sites went well and we were invited to expand the pilot tests with the hopes of taking the program into multiple states. In order to achieve this we decided to hire some cleaning staff directly to control the data and results so we could objectively measure the results.

While we are a technology company and not a contractor it made more sense to keep the project in house. We called our program "Robots as a Service +" The + meaning a person with the robot. Most importantly we had a willing and very flexible customer that was willing to test this advanced robotic service.

We purchased three robots. One ICE and two Minutemen all running the Brain OS. The customer had major labor shortages and were hopeful the robot service would fill those gaps while maintaining quality standards. In addition, the hospital purchasing group had some unrealistic expectations about ROI. More on that some other time.

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What many miss is that robot deployments typically only address one task in the floor cleaning process. At the end of the day it is still a floor cleaning process but it now has to consider the use of an advanced machine. This cleaning “process” is dramatically impacted by the introduction of these autonomous machines and this is where one of the many challenges are in developing a successful commercial cleaning robot program for your company.


Successful deployments always involve a very forward thinking and innovative operations leader who knows how to adapt his or her workflow to maximise the use of a robot. The elephant in the room is that a large percentage of mobile floor cleaning robots today work much slower than humans riding manual equipment or slower with a human and a backpack vacuum.

So there is a natural pushback from operations people who are already struggling to get the work done with the staff and limited labor budget they have. Now leadership wants to incorporate the use of a robot in that already strained process. And the operations leaders naturally resist something that holds them up each night and costs them extra labor in their budget.


What happens? When executive leadership has stopped looking the robot gets parked. This is what we at Cyberclean calls “underutilization”. Or worse, it gets ridden like a manual scrubber. Then leadership interprets that the robot technology doesn’t work and the manufacturer unfairly gets blamed.

The Minuteman Robot with Brain OS

Minuteman

Unfortunately, this is reality. We find that many of us have unrealistic expectations of what robots can do. If we are ever to effectively utilize automation within the cleaning industry we must begin looking at the “process” and what the real value the robot has in that process. Those successful operations people I mentioned earlier know how to do this. “Speed” is not a real value of mobile cleaning robots, quality is. Nor is traditional ROI. This is not to say that money cannot be saved. It can. However, this savings is primarily found in what our company refers to as a “repurposing of labor.”

Repurpose of Labor

Cyberclean "Repurpose of Labor"

Since robots today are typically filling a void in labor there is still a “cost” of not performing that undone task. This specific number that we go through an exhaustive analysis to identify provides the labor that can removed from one cleaning task to be repurposed to another. And the “speed” at which the other staff around the robot work is a major factor in the application of that robot task.



There is also a tendency and misguided belief that no labor is needed to run robots. We call this mandatory part of the process “Cobot labor”. A successful operations person will consider there is a cost of moving the robot from area to area (if it is not fully autonomous), servicing it at the beginning and end of shifts and cleaning the areas that it cannot (corner and edges). This Cobot labor is critical to understand and organise to be successful.

Teach and repeat technology was a giant leap forward for robots but the other elephant in the room we need to discuss is that this process can also be the enemy of a successful program. This is not a technology problem. Again, it is a “process” problem. Look no further than our own pilot tests in that hospital I mentioned. Let me provide our own data to show you what I mean.

The original cleaning staff we hired programmed the hospital hallways using the “teach and repeat.” Great. We were off and running. The chart I show here is from the Brain portal. That, by the way, is a fantastic tool for managing your robot operation. You can see that the production rate we were getting with our original staff was approximately 66,448 square feet of autonomous usage and 6 hours of runtime. Really bad.

Brain Portal May

Enter Austin Lakore at Core Facility. When our company met Austin at a Nilfisk deployment in Tampa he had already successfully deployed several AMR technologies within his contracts. Needless to say our senior leadership was extremely impressed by this young mans skill. We decided to take a leap of faith and offload the customer to Austin and his very competent team. And we were very pleased. This was the fantastic result.

Brain Portal May

The production rates went off the charts. 1.2 million square feet and 116 hours of runtime. So did the quality of service. So the technology didn’t change. The area didn’t change. What changed? Why was it different?

Austin went through great lengths to program the hallways correctly using the technology. No disrespect meant to the hard working reps out there but the robots were not programmed by salespeople. They were programmed by experienced cleaning people who not only knew the robot itself but the cleaning process as well. He knew from experience the production rates he could get from the machines and matched them carefully with the process workflow.

What is my message in all this? I have three takeaways for you to consider.

Using robots will ultimately force you to think differently about their real value.

Plan your workflow process in detail. Make sure to include Cobot labor.

If you utilize Teach and Repeat make sure the person teaching the robot its cleaning process actually knows how to clean, what the robot is capable of and how to organize workflow around the unit.

Richard Ward
Richard can be reached at rward@cybercleansystems.com


Austin Lakore can be reached at austin@corefacilityservices.com
Core Facility Services

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