What’s common across in every industry is the drastic change towards touchless technologies. However, cleaning professionals often face a dilemma - will touchless technologies prove to be a blessing or a bane. While many welcome this concept, others believe that a human touch is necessary to ensure proper disinfection, cleaning and ambience creation. Smart washrooms, touchless sanitizer and soap dispensers, sensor-based technologies and cleaning robots are preferred by some and negated by others. In order to fully understand the future of touchless cleaning, one must explore both sides of the coin.
The future of touchless in the cleaning and hygiene industry
Clean Middle East spoke to Aswin Sarang, Head of Robotics & AI, Reliable Robotics, to understand the future of touchless technologies in the cleaning space. He believes that at present, Ultra- Violet C (UVC), vaporized hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) disinfection robots are available in the market capable of fully autonomous disinfection based on preset time schedules and docking back to their charging stations once the disinfection functions are done. That is the current level of autonomy available as of now. But, these robots need to be manually filled with a disinfection medium, or the UVC lamps need to be replaced after the lamp lifetime is completed.
Also, the robots need to manually map the area before deployment, which can be done only by trained professionals. The future disinfection robots would be able to automate these processes as well along with creating ‘self disinfecting surfaces’. One such practice is by coating surfaces with heavy metals such as copper or silver that have innate antimicrobial properties.
Effectiveness of robots in cleaning operations for large facilities
Aswin says that deploying multiple robots across larger facilities both indoors and outdoors controlled by a cloud-connected robot fleet management system that is continuously monitored has proven to be extremely efficient.
Training to implement cleaning robots At present, special training is required to implement cleaning robots. A trained professional needs to manually carry out floor mapping on the robots, and dilution parameters need to be manually set as well based on the disinfectant used in the robot along with cleaning time parameters and manually defining the areas to be disinfected. The future would be an AI-based system that is capable of simultaneously mapping and navigating fully autonomously setting disinfectant usage and dilution parameters based on the area to be disinfected.
The potential pros and cons of using cleaning robots.
Cleaning robots have more pros than cons. The first one would be the autonomous capabilities and ability to operate under any preset schedule with continuous monitoring. With proper training, it's easy to operate mobile UV units. Most also come with occupancy sensors that will shut off if motion is detected.
The cons would be for UV Robots; the UV rays disinfect by line of sight, meaning any area that UV energy does not hit will not be disinfected. Also, UV does not penetrate through furniture or other objects. You will probably need to run multiple cycles in a room to make sure all areas are disinfected. Finding the right dose is also key in this process. Another one would be the labor requirement – someone has to man the system and move it from room to room for mapping. You should think about your staffing and whether or not this is a reality for your current staff or crew.
Resistance to change
The resistance is mainly due to the high initial cost of implementing cleaning robots, and many facility owners are not aware of the efficiency and better RoI of using cleaning robots. In this scenario, facilities owners can consider trialing the robots before purchasing to find their optimal value in terms of where to deploy them and what technology to use.
Many hoteliers say that although cleaning robots can provide optimum levels of cleaning, they cannot create a customised experience for the guests. However, demand for disinfection robots have spiked recently only in the fight against COVID-19, and more robotic companies are entering the market with disinfection robots due to the demand and further improving their disinfection robot products for better efficiency. “Currently, there is a tradeoff between providing optimal levels of cleaning and creating a customized experience for the guests as the focus was more on optimal disinfection and not on the experience itself, since we are experiencing a pandemic and taking steps in eradicating it as the immediate strategy. This gap will be reduced in the future after COVID- 19,” concludes Aswin.
The number of workplaces opting for sensor-based technologies is gradually increasing. This is to reduce the instances of employees having to touch possibly contaminated surfaces. A large number of hotels are also opting for smart washrooms because they understand the fact that this area is to house the most contaminated surfaces in your workplace. These surfaces are then often touched by employees and guests, who may then contaminate other surfaces or even other people they come into contact with. Touchless technology, as the name implies, reduces the risk of employees and guests touching contaminated surfaces. For washrooms, this implies toilets, dispensers, sinks and hand dryers. Once these surfaces are rendered touchless, the risks of infections spreading is minimized.
Benefits of touchless technologies
Touchless technology brings a number of practical benefits for any business.
• The health and wellbeing of employees is enhanced when the amount of surfaces touched is reduced.
• Touchless technology is more energy efficient, because it cuts off automatically, rather than waiting for human intervention.
• Because of enhanced employee well being, it leads to more productivity and profits.
• Touchless technology devices also enhance your aesthetic appeal.
• These technologies foster trust in terms of hygiene.
A Cleaning Consultant’s Counter Perspective
Greg Spychalski, Managing Director, Sigma Cleaning & Support Services Ltd., has a different perspective. “Cleaning and hygiene has always played a very important part in our life. In the light of the recent outbreak and fast changing environment, we could be easily distracted on what the future will look like when it comes to maintaining a clean, hygienic and safe approach towards new reality. As social distancing, fear of infection spread across the globe, contact and interaction between people became less physical. This created a need for changing direction to look for alternative ways to carry out our duties with less physical activity and contact with shared surfaces. To help with reducing the spread, it became obvious that cleanliness has never been more important than it is now.”
The question is whether new cleaning inventions, i.e., contactless technology, fogging or electrostatic spraying alone can really fully replace physical methods of cleaning? My answer is No. They can be definitely helpful only as an addition (second process) to boost physical cleaning, but for all these to work as one, a basic understanding of the cleaning regime is required - what is most important applied in the right order.
Would disinfecting a heavily soiled reception floor alone achieve better results than the same process applied on a floor previously deep cleaned? The answer is No. Looking only at the contactless cleaning and reducing physical cleaning activity will lead to further distraction, and will create a false impression of cleanliness. Is this really where you want to be? You can spend a lot of money on new tech gadgets/ devices or bacteria killers that promise you a miracle, in a short period of time, but if you do not apply them in a previously well prepared (deep cleaned) surface, you are wasting your time.
Let’s not be distracted by touchless cleaning methods or equipment. It is great that they are being developed and improved. Keep physical cleaning activity, focus on the effectiveness of your cleaning, monitor the results and constantly look for improvements. Before we start applying advanced technology, let’s ensure that we have basic in place. Let’s go back to basic - where everything starts.”
The cleaning industry is gradually moving towards touchless. To what extent it will be successful, remains to be seen. However, what stands out starkly in this entire debate is the requirement of three things before going touchless:
1. Clear understanding of the basics.
2. Cobotics - collaboration between people and robots.
3. Understanding the effects of sole dependency on touchless technology.