There is a revolution going on in hard floor care that will have a major impact on how floors are cleaned and restored in the future. We are in the beginning phases of eliminating the need to strip, burnish and refinish hard surface floors. For those of us who grew up on the handle of a floor machine, with layers of wax on our boots, it’s hard to envision floor care without stripping and refinishing, but the handwriting is on the wall and will soon reach the floor.
The speed and depth of change is creating turbulence and uncertainty for manufacturers, business owners and department managers as the cleaning 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 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 distribution networks and 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. As this natural transition takes place, you can expect to see consolidation, new players and the end of long held companies who could not adjust quickly enough to changes in the market place.
Change is on the Floor
There are millions of square feet of Vinyl Composition Tile (VCT) on the floor and more is being installed, but this mainstay in commercial buildings is giving way to Luxury vinyl tile (LVT), sheet goods and other surfaces that require no finish or burnishing. In fact, much of the flooring being installed today is coated during manufacture with mineral based wear layers that do not require or prohibit on site application of sacrificial topical finish.
Polished, stained and densified concrete and terrazzo is showing up everywhere and is easily maintained with diamond impregnated floor pads. The use of natural wood, stone and rubber materials are on the rise in both residential and commercial locations. 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 clay 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, and hemp that are easily damaged by water and chemical based cleaning processes. These trends are expected to continue in the future, and over time will become the norm vs the exception.
No More Finish
The use of floor finish is decreasing. We are slowly 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 will replace the use of topical finish in commercial locations. First we went to chemical free stripping, then dry stripping and now you will see stripping and the use of finish being reduced and finally no longer used as better products and processes eliminate the need for its use.
Sustainable, Green, Chemicals and Processes
Green is in. What used to cost extra and many didn’t and still don’t see the need for is becoming common place and expected if not demanded in many market segments (education, health care, government) and areas of the country. We are learning that cleaning in a sustainable manner is cost effective and there are often hidden financial benefits that only become visible as green cleaning programs are implemented.
Floor Care Equipment
Floor machines, vacuums and auto scrubbers are going digital and will soon be linked wirelessly to the Internet. You’ll never have to ask again, “Where is my floor machine?”, a quick check on your phone and you’ll know right where it’s at, even if it’s in the back of a truck going down the freeway in another state.
Equipment is becoming easier to operate and repair, often relying on electronic systems that are energy efficient and use green/sustainable engineered water instead of chemicals for cleaning.
Robotic equipment, although off to a slow start is picking up speed as wages increase and costs come down, as ease of use increases, robotics will become irresistible to management. There is no way around it in larger facilities. It’s only a matter of time and money. 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
Besides robotics, other enhancements include less use of water, less or no use of detergents and strippers, along with square or rectangular machines that clean right up to the baseboard and into 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 are more effective due to the motion of the pads and a greater and more flexible downward pressure that allows them to get into cracks and pits to loosen and remove soil.
In the past if the floor shined and no soil or build up was visible, you were good to go. Today, management and our customers want proof that what we call cleaning actually obtains the desired results. To meet these demands, we are seeing a migration of scientific testing equipment and processes into the cleaning industry and the facilities we clean. It is becoming more common to see specification that require testing and validation of cleaning processes related to Coefficient of friction, gloss levels and film thickness. Beyond this, you will find hand held ATP meters, particle counters and other test equipment showing up in all types and sizes of facilities.
Along with the test equipment come higher expectations regarding slip, trip and fall prevention, the elimination of harsh and toxic chemicals and more attention paid to contamination on surfaces and becoming airborne during cleaning. This is only the beginning, you can expect testing and validation of cleaning processes to become common place in the future.
Hang On to Your Hat
You haven’t seen anything yet. Imagine self-cleaning surfaces, and realize that they already exist, but haven’t reached our industry yet, but it won’t be long before we begin to feel the impact of this technology.
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, they all move forward more quickly. As new technology become smaller, more powerful and less expensive, it will become more available and reach further in its ability to displace long held beliefs, processes and products.
What’s it all Mean?
This is a good time to be in the cleaning industry. The public, employees and customers are demanding cleaner facilities in which to live, work and play. Clean is in and being demanded by those who use the facilities we clean. Businesses are responding with a new focus on cleanliness and health in order to protect their public image, prevent lawsuits and avoid negative postings on Yelp and other social media websites.
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. 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 those who constantly strive to improve themselves and the work they do.