When it comes to excitement in the cleaning industry, floor care is center stage for cutting edge innovation and technology. Everything about floor care is in flux, from the products and equipment we buy, to the processes we use and the surfaces we clean and maintain. The speed and depth of change is creating turbulence and uncertainty for manufacturers, business owners and department managers as the industry transitions from the familiar ground of “how things have been done in the past” to the uncertainty of an unknown future that is rapidly evolving.
Property and business owners, along with cleaning department managers are unsure as to how to proceed. Distributors are hesitant to promote new and often untested products and processes, especially if they have the potential to cut into the profitable sale of exiting products and chemicals. Innovators face an uphill battle in getting exposure for their products via traditional industry media who rely on advertising revenue from established companies to stay afloat. Some of the new products on the market are so contrary to long held beliefs and established procedures that they face skepticism from potential purchasers, who question whether what is being promoted is realistic or even possible.
Change is on the Floor
Polished, stained and densified concrete and terrazzo is showing up everywhere. The use of natural wood, stone and rubber materials are on the rise in both residential and commercial locations. Vinyl composition tile (VCT) once the mainstay in commercial buildings is giving way to Luxury vinyl tile (LVT) that requires no finish or burnishing. Clay materials such as porcelain and ceramic tile are now common place in kitchens, bathrooms, halls, elevators and lobbies. Even clay tile is changing, with nearly 90% of the ceramic tile produced today having the color and pattern applied with ink jet printing technology. Where there used to a mineral glaze on the surface, we now find a urethane or aluminum oxide coating. At first glance one might say, so what, but the reality is that a urethane coating will not wear and resist scratching like a heat bonded glaze that actually becomes part of the tile. As these new surfaces become common place, the processes and products we use to clean, maintain and restore them must keep pace or costs needlessly increase and the useful life of surfaces is reduced. The sustainability movement has brought us bamboo, sea grass, coir, jute, hemp and corn based carpet fibers that are to and easily damaged by water and chemical based cleaning processes.
Forget the Finish
The trend appears to be moving away from the use of stripper, floor finish and burnishing processes that are hazardous, time and energy consuming and use large amounts of water that ends up in the waste stream via the drain. Self-cleaning surfaces, diamond polishing, nano-coatings, stain guards, impregnators and cleaners, and prevention are replacing the use of topical floor finish in commercial locations.
As scientific testing processes migrate into the cleaning industry, we are seeing higher expectations regarding slip, trip and fall prevention, the elimination of harsh and toxic chemicals and more attention paid to contaminates becoming airborne during cleaning processes.
You haven’t seen anything yet. Over the next ten to 30 years technology will reach a tipping point where the speed and impact of change will exceed our imagination. The speed of change is exponential or
Logarithmic, much like the pH and Richter scales which move in multiples of ten. One enhancement impacts another and as each gains speed as they all move forward more quickly. New technology become less expensive, more readily available to the masses and reaches further in its ability to displace long held beliefs, processes and products.
There is no way around it in larger facilities. It’s only a matter of time and money. As labor costs continue to rise, the benefits of better building systems and robotics will become more irresistible to management. It won’t the robot alone that drives the change, it will be the package of services, benefits and cost saving that robotics provides that will bring this technology to the forefront of the cleaning industry. Over the next ten years you’ll see more use of riding equipment and in the following five years it will become fully automated.
Wall to wall carpeting sales are continuing to decline in both commercial and residential settings, while the use of carpet tile and area rugs are gaining favor along with the use of luxury vinyl tile (LVT), stone, linoleum, concrete and clay tile.
Soft and self-cleaning are the buzz words for residential carpeting. Most carpet fiber manufacturers have bought into the “soft” is better marketing concept. Time will tell whether these “soft” carpet fibers will hold up to the use and abuse of today’s modern family. Personally I doubt it. In homes and offices you’ll see more use of area rugs and alternative natural fibers such as wool, bamboo, grass and corn. As for self-cleaning, the Army recently announced the development of a self-cleaning fabric for military uniforms. Self-cleaning carpeting can’t be far behind. It is interesting to note that Nylon was originally developed for use in tires during WW II. History repeats itself.
The use of wood as a floor covering continues to grow in popularity in both residential and commercial properties. Exotic, highly charactered, distressed and grained woods with low build, natural oil, extreme mat finish being the most popular. This is a change over the few years when gloss and semi-gloss high build finishes were all the rage.
It is simply amazing what is being done with decorative concrete in all type of facilities. New diamond polishing pads and discs are being developed that takes steps, time and cost out of the polishing and maintenance process for natural stone and concrete. New penetrating densifying guard products are being applied to the surface to make them more resistant to permanent discoloration due to staining. As we learn how to better maintain these surfaces, there use will continue to increase.
Floor Care Equipment
Besides robotics, other enhancements include less use of water, less or now use of detergents and strippers, along with square or rectangular machines that clean right up to the baseboard and in corners, speeding up the process by roughly 20% eliminating much of the hand work that used to be required around the edges of a room. The oscillating rectangular machines appear to be effective due to the motion of the pads and a greater and more flexible downward pressure.
Production Rates and Costs
- Production rates are increasing and costs per square foot are decreasing slightly for several reasons.
- More productive equipment and pads
- Less frequent scheduling of time consuming tasks
- Focusing on prevention vs. cleaning and restoration
- Targeting services and frequencies to high traffic (micro) areas vs. scheduling service based on the type of flooring (macro).
- Wider use of flooring that does not require stripping, burnishing or refinishing.
What’s it all Mean?
You must realize that part of your job and personal responsibility is to stay current with the changes taking place in the cleaning industry and as well as the trends that are impacting your customers. These days you can’t know it all, what you need to know is how to find the information that you need when you need it.
These are challenging as well as great times of opportunity for all who constantly strive to improve themselves and the work they do.