How has the facade cleaning market evolved over the years?
Mazen Harake (MA): Over the past 10 years, the market for façade cleaning has clearly shifted from the traditional BMU / cradle system to abseiling, due to both CAPEX and OPEX savings. Rope access has proven to be more efficient and a more safe approach to façade cleaning. Many large developers such as the likes of Emaar have witnessed the benefits of abseiling especially with the time factor involved in every cycle, and have completely abandoned their existing systems.
Jurgen Joman (JJ): Facade Cleaning compromises these days of much more than just cleaning. It ensures the availability, safety, and reliability of the owner’s asset, and the sustainability of their business operations. For example, facade inspections with drones are successfully replacing traditional methods, which eliminate the shortcomings of the traditional methods and providing comprehensive results in a short amount of time.
What is still lacking in the facade cleaning industry?
JJ: The understanding of new technologies now available to perform building inspections, and the importance and requirement for the inspections and repairs. From a distance the facades might view nice, however we often find façade situations where the gaskets between the windows are damaged. Consequently, these surveys can address some concerns related to the integrity of the asset as well to the detection of air leakage from inside the buildings.
MA: Regulation. The Dubai Municipality should tighten the regulations for operating as a rope access or high-level cleaning/ maintenance Service Provider. Currently, every company carrying out a “building cleaning” activity under their license may perform abseiling activities without meeting all the IRATA directives. As an IRATA member company, Spider Access is dedicated in maintaining the highest standards in Health and Safety when it comes to operations. The overheads incurred from following such standards create a recognizable gap in price and quality between IRATA member companies and any newcomers or novices in the market. We believe that clients need to be educated on the importance of screening appropriate Service Providers based on qualifications and experience, and they should place budget and cost-cutting cost as a secondary importance. Accidents in our industry are more than often fatal, therefore it is the responsibility of the Client, Owner’s Association or managing FM company to exercise the correct prequalification and assessment of all Service Providers to ensure they meet all industry standards.
With more and more skyscrapers being built in the region, what kind of challenges do you face on the job?
MA: The number of skyscrapers is not the issue here. The main problem is that most of the new developments do not actually consider the cleaning aspect when designing their buildings. They are more concerned with the aesthetic appearance rather than the functionality, and this needs to be addressed in the design phase. We regularly face issues with new developments where it is only recognised after project hand over that there is no anchorage system in place. This certainly affects the cleaning costs in the long term as systems have to be constructed retrospectively, or the Service Provider needs to bring a portable system which is more costly.
JJ: Inspection is only one aspect of our work. The next step is repair, which requires skilled people to work on height often under difficult circumstance and at areas that are difficult to access. Our biggest challenge is convincing the market that façade cleaning is a method of preventive maintenance, it should form an integral part of the maintenance program and provides building integrity, safety and long-term cost saving. While the method is accurate, less time consuming, cost reducing, increase of safety and overall efficiency, it is often seen as a cost that is not incorporated in the maintenance cost of the asset.
What is the new equipment or technology entered the market?
JJ: The most advance technologies available today on the market are High Definition Thermography and Multi Array Ground Penetrating Radar Scanning. Thermographic survey is a non-destructive diagnostic technique, enabling the evaluation of the surface temperature by measuring the infrared radiation emitted by a source for example facades. Through the postprocessing and the analysis of the collected data, we obtain three different types of pictures for our inspection, visual, thermic and 3D-could point which can be overlapped to provide our clients with a comprehensive reporting.
MA: Nano technology has proven to be quite effective in cutting down the cost of cleaning as it works in keeping the glass cleaner for a longer period of time. This kind of technology has revolutionised cleaning tasks by introducing titanium dioxide into the cleaning substance. It’s activated by light and it is hydrophilic or water loving”. Water, instead of staying on the glass in drops, the water molecules spread out evenly across the glass in a very even sheet. So when rain or water hits a dirty self-cleaning window, it spreads across it like a great big cloth. Since the window is most likely vertical or mounted at an angle, the sheet of water wipes down it neatly and evenly, a bit like a rubber squeegee, and the glass dries without any streaks or smears.
When ultraviolet light hits the titanium dioxide coating of a self-cleaning window, electrons are generated. These turn water molecules from the air into hydroxyl radicals that make chemical oxidation and reduction reactions take place on the coating. In effect, the hydroxyl radicals attack organic (carbon-based) dirt and chop it up into smaller pieces that are much easier for rain or water to wash away. It is fancy stuff, but works a treat and we have used this on many of our projects including domes which are hard to reach and will not be cleaned as regularly as normal windows.
With robotics entering the industry what kind of impact has it left on the use of manpower?
MA: So far, all robotic solutions have failed to provide a noteworthy solution in the glass cleaning industry. Cleaning robots only work in perfect scenarios where the buildings are all straight with no deviations. The iconic and unusual architectural design of most of the UAE’S skyscrapers is such that this kind of technology is not feasible.
JJ: Facade inspection and cleaning is not a straight forward approach as many people believe. Façades are often difficult to access with robotics as they do not have a smooth surface and are often vertically placed and on heights. This provides often safety and logistical issues that are required to overcome. The drone inspection already eliminates a huge portion of our work as it eliminates physical inspection as well as it pinpoints these ar eas that require work or repair.
(This article first appeared in FM Today magazine)