Sustainability in business has become a popular topic as companies increasingly recognize the need to have a firm grip on their triple bottom line – financial, social and environmental. Financial, social and environmental risks and opportunities abound in business, but creating an operations model that speaks directly to aspects of profits, people, and planet is not always easily attained.
However, many businesses have found that technology can be utilized to support sustainability initiatives, and that robotics and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are particularly promising.
Connecting High Tech to Sustainability
When most think of sustainability in business, the concept of green processes is not always top of mind. However, incorporating technology, and more specifically robotics and cloud connected devices, creates a secondary sustainability effect that is markedly more streamlined, and therefore ‘greener’ than legacy processes.
Commercial Cleaning and Sustainability
For facility managers and service companies, alongside businesses that need to maintain large public areas, the linking of improved commercial cleaning operations with sustainability efforts is nothing new. These groups have a long history of using technology and tailoring processes to support sustainability going back over a century.
Improving commercial cleaning sustainability using robotics and IoT is the natural next step forward. Thanks to the rapid rate of robotics innovation, as well as the addition of cloud connected devices and services, substantial advances in sustainable commercial cleaning are occurring sooner than many expected.
Cloud Connectivity in Support of Commercial Cleaning
Cloud-based technology that gathers data on people flow, equipment utilization, consumable replenishment and resource management can be used in concert with consumption and use data collected from automated cleaning devices, to provide a full view of operations from a sustainability perspective for facilities managers and commercial cleaning companies. For example, Sealed Air and ThingLogix, along with D6 Labs, have developed a solution that collects usage data from soap dispensers. Staff is notified when soap levels are low and when to replenish stock, resulting in a leaner and less wasteful inventory process.
With IoT cloud-connected technology, organizations can reduce their carbon footprint by eliminating the need for on-premise technology infrastructure. More efficient, sustainable processes and accurate consumption and usage metrics provide the framework for a better understanding of operational trends. This is a key requirement for organizations working to meet their sustainability objectives.
Robotic Automation for Commercial Cleaning
Companies that utilize their cleaning solutions and equipment more efficiently have a higher probability of reaching sustainability goals, and smart technology can assist with these efforts. For example, automating the cleaning process using robotics and regularly evaluating efficacy results in a more consistent and efficient clean with reduced waste, better machine fuel consumption and improved outcomes overall.
When businesses employ robotics commercial cleaning systems, they no longer need to be as concerned with the impact on staff or if cleaning systems are being used more (or less) often than necessary. In addition, task completion variability is eliminated and results ae more predictable. For example, current robotic floor care studies point to an 80 to 85% efficiency gain, while providing cleaning staff more time to focus on higher value work and more urgent tasks.
Cleaning Robots in Practice
Robotics floor scrubbers that navigate autonomously provide one example of innovative robotic systems currently performing commercial cleaning work. However, robotic floor scrubbers are not the only cleaning technologies in use today. For example, the maritime and green sectors, among others, leverage the power of robotics and IoT in support of sustainability practices.
In the case of the shipping industry, robotic technology is currently deployed to clean the hulls of cargo ships at port. This saves significant time and costs for shipping companies, who often need to rely on divers to clean the hulls manually. Consistent cleaning also reduces drag on the ship and improves fuel efficiency, as well as safeguards the environment via reduced greenhouse gas emissions and mitigates the spread of invasive species.
As another example of robotic cleaning, consider the cleantech sector. Solar farms require an extensive amount of cleaning to minimize the dust and dirt collecting on panels so as to ensure their proper performance. Novel solutions employing robotic technology has been shown to be very effective for panel cleaning. The technology also connects to a sensor-enabled IoT dashboards allowing solar farm managers to track cleaning efficiency, as well as receive diagnostics and performance data in real time.
Today, the impact of robotics technology for improving long-term sustainability is not yet fully understood. However, early results show that robotics systems can work to improve equipment utilization and increase efficiency.
The use of robotics systems also benefits the workers themselves. In the case of robotic floor scrubbers, staff are required for the front and back end stages of the robotic cleaning process. Specifically, individuals set up the machine, drive it to the area that needs cleaning, and then perform basic maintenance after the cleaning task completes. This collaborative framework allows for the automation of the tedious cleaning process, while freeing up the staff for other, more important or more profitable work.
The advancement of robotics over the last several years, as well as the introduction of IoT sensing and communication capabilities, has provided a revolutionary opportunity for companies and individuals responsible for commercial cleaning. The combination of robotics technology and cloud-connected devices provides companies with a detailed understanding of the pain points and requirements of the business. Understanding factors such as traffic flow, resource consumption, device wear, consumable replenishment and time management of employees, all work to the benefit of those responsible for cleaning outcomes.
Advancing 100-year-old methods using robotics and IoT technologies is the natural next step for companies requiring commercial class cleaning. Doing so creates a future for commercial cleaning services that is bright, innovative and supportive of the triple bottom line.
About the Author
Sandy Agnos is the Director of Global Business Development for Brain Corporation, a San Diego-based AI, robotics and cloud company. As a business development and product management professional, she has been instrumental in the commercialization and launch of numerous AI technologies including three different autonomous mobile robots with three different companies across North America, EU and APAC regions. Sandy is one of a few domain experts in the field of indoor autonomous navigation.