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Deploying Automated Floor Cleaning Robots in Facilities Management

POSTED 04/20/2021

 | By: Avidbots

Introduction

Innovation in Facilities Management is accelerating through the power of technology. Throughout the connected building, new capabilities, new experiences and new efficiencies are being unlocked through the introduction of intelligent, automated systems and devices. Smart lighting, HVAC and cleaning technologies are creating healthier environments for customers and coworkers, while facility leaders reap the rewards of reduced management effort, cost savings, productivity gains plus the delivery of higher operating standards and a better customer experience.

If you’ve yet to take your first steps in automation, adoption may seem daunting. Understanding available technology, business case development, change management procedure and, of course, the human factors involved in adoption can be perceived to comprise a significant challenge.

At ISSA 2018, we held a panel at which four recent Avidbots customers shared their stories of planning and deploying the Neo automated floor-scrubbing robot at their facilities. These business leaders, from industries including education, retail, food service and commercial real estate, shared their perspectives on transitioning from legacy solutions to the future of commercial floor cleaning Neo.

In this eBook, we are bringing that discussion to you. You’ll read real-world perspectives on the challenges facing facilities managers today, the strategic goals being set, and how automated technologies are helping drive transformation in facilities management.

In this book, you will discover:

  • How the journey to automation began; including deployment strategies, drivers to automation and creating a culture to embrace automation.
  • A discussion on data, safety, and managing implementation of the robotic automated floor cleaning solution.
  • How Neo is transforming business today and into the future, including delivering significant ROI.

Get an inside look at how Neo is not only revolutionizing floor cleaning for these organizations but also boosting productivity and profitability, through maximizing human potential.

Meet the Business Leaders

Commercial Real Estate

Kimberly Train is the Director of National Programs at Oxford Properties Group. Kimberly’s experience comes from her work with commercial landlords and business relationship management in the areas of shopping centers and real estate development. Oxford Properties Group is a global real estate firm with assets in North America and the EU with over $55 billion in assets under management.

Manufacturing

Craig Rudin has spent the last 30 years in the chemical manufacturing and distribution business. Craig is the CEO of Superior Solutions Group, a GDI company. GDI is one of the largest facilities management companies with over one billion dollars in revenue, providing customers with end-to-end solutions that drive a cleaner, healthier and safer environment at lowest total cost.

Education

Derek Sylvester has been in the facilities field for over 15 year currently as the Director of Building Environmental Services at Rochester Institute of Technology, USA. Derek’s team of 120 staff supports 70 buildings with over five million square feet of cleanable education space.

Food Services

Paul Rocha is the VP Operations for Eurest Services, a division of the Compass Group, a global food service industry giant with holdings around the world. Eurest provides global clients with customized facilities, solutions and services.

Thanks to all our ISSA 2018 panel participants and attendees for sharing their perspectives and experiences in deploying the Neo floor-scrubbing robot and other automated solutions.

What Were Your Drivers to Automation?

Craig: We have about 25,000 employees that work within our commercial cleaning business. Part of our business is in Canada, part of it is in the U.S. For us, a cleaner now costs anywhere from $35,000-$45,000. The cost of labor is becoming very, very expensive.

The ability to get labor and get labor consistently is becoming more and more of a challenge. 12-15% of our workers don’t show up every day, so think about juggling that over millions and millions of square feet, trying to please clients and do what we do every day.

Automation is really the next holy grail for us. In our business, it’s innovate or die. By having robots do repetitive, monotonous work, we can then have the humans do more important work, which is interfacing with the clients, being more intuitive, and it’s a huge part of our strategy going forward.

Kim: As a large landlord, our biggest motivator is return on investment and saving money, as well as the quality of the output of the cleaning we receive. It’s something that directly touches all of our customers, and so it weighs very heavily on how we’re perceived as a landlord.

Derek: We’re fortunate enough at our school that we’re continuing to grow. We’ve added at least one building every year with two more already planned. Like a lot of industries, we’re expected to do more with either less or the same amount, so we have to think of other ways to get that work done, and automation was the perfect fit for us and has made a huge change in our operation.

Paul: Automation helped us find a more efficient way to produce our service with the consistency of labor that we had, and that continues to be our motivator.

What Were Your Concerns About Automation?

Paul: As far as risk goes, it’s technology. It’s moving so fast, the decisions we needed to make and what it was going to look like tomorrow, and the investment that was going to be required. The commitment that it took on everybody’s behalf to be able to deliver that.

Derek: The hardest pitch we had upfront was convincing everybody that this wasn’t to replace people’s jobs. This is to enhance what they can do and allow them to do things easier, quicker, take some of the monotony out of their work. It was a tough sell. We really started talking about it, about a year before we got our first robot. By now, everybody’s fine with it. It’s commonplace and actually, people are asking for more because they see the benefits of it.

Kim: The biggest challenge I had within our company was trying to understand who should be responsible for the purchasing of the equipment because historically, it’s the cleaning companies. If it’s a third party cleaned site, they typically purchase the equipment that they’re using.

In an ideal world, it would be the landlord, in my mind, who does the initial acquisition to get the cleaning companies accustomed to using the robotics, but then moving forward, once everybody has become comfortable with the technology, it really should go back to being part of the service that they offer. They could even achieve a revenue opportunity on top of it with the landlords.

Craig: For us, the most important thing out of the gate was safety. Are these things safe? If we’re going to run them during the day, are we going to have problems? Will they fall down stairs? Will they do things that are unpredictable? That was the first major thing that we wanted to get through.

You’re either going to wait for something perfect or you’re going to lead the way and pioneer. When you pioneer, you have to be able to communicate to the stakeholders that it’s not going to be perfect and that, “We’re going to have to invest in the process, and we’re going to have to learn about deploying robots. We’re going to have to be smart about how we deploy these robots.”

Half of our staff is a union staff. Our clients are very important, but our associates are really important to us, because they got to show up and do the work every day, and so we didn’t want to alienate them on the fact that we were putting in stuff to replace them. The message was, “We’re going to have machines do the stupid work and we’re going to have you guys do the smart work, but you’re managing the machine, the machine’s not managing you.”

What Challenges Did You Experience When Deploying a Floor-Scrubbing Robot?

Craig: The first challenge is you have to map the robot and that means you have to teach the robot the cleaning path. Do you take the same cleaning path that our folks were doing for 20 years and just now teach the robot to do that? Or do you look at a smarter way to do the cleaning path? You take it as an opportunity to optimize your cleaning and change the process. That was a big part of what we had to accomplish. You can’t have the humans watching the robot work because that isn’t going to give you your ROI. You have to be smart about how you deploy the robot, and what the humans do while the robot’s doing its thing.

Kim: I’m not a directly hands-on person when it comes to the implementation. However, I can speak to the challenges of mandating the technology for our cleaning companies. We’ve done the return on investment for all our retail sites, and so we specifically state how many units to actually have with the RFP. Mandating the technology hasn’t been easy on our relationship with the cleaning companies and there has been a lot of back and forth with the company in getting them accustomed to it.

Derek: Fortunately, being a science and engineering school, it’s been really well-received by staff and faculty and the students. I think our situation is a little unique being in a university because we have kids that like to touch and play and try to make things difficult for us. We were concerned about that initially, and whether or not they were going to stand in front of it to make it stop. Now that they’ve become accustomed to it, it’s pretty funny. They just accept it as part of what they see around campus.

When the kids get out of class, it fills up the hall and the robot comes down and it’s like parting the water. All the students just stand against the walls and stay on their phones doing what they’re doing. The robot goes by, and they just go back in the middle of the hall and keep going. It was an initial adjustment, but it’s been well-received. They even decorate it at Christmas and take selfies with it.

Paul: As far as people go, it is education. We need to educate them on what we’re trying to accomplish and get them to buy-in. The biggest implementation thing we found out is that depending on the ability of that robot and its capabilities, we had to change our practices, we had to change our scheduling, we had to change the way we had always done things from whatever time the floor was swept to when we picked up waste. Implementing the robot means having to change the way things have always been done. And change is hard because you’re disrupting everyone’s routine. Everyone within the building is impacted by the deployment of that robot. Understanding the robot’s capabilities to help the people, and finding a way to get that message across, that’s what we’re really focusing on as well.

How Important Is Data to You and to Your Organization and How Are You Using It?

Craig: In today’s world, data is huge. They say, “If you can’t measure something, how are you going to manage it?” We’ve traditionally been a very low-tech industry. We staff statically, so if somebody comes up with a spec which says, “Here’s your task frequency times units,” that determines your workloading, that determines how many staff. Somebody puts out a tender, they spec that staffing pattern, and so it’s very static.

For us to be able to use data, we now have an ability to dynamically staff so that we can put labor where the people are, and that we can clean stuff that needs to be cleaned and not clean stuff that doesn’t need to be cleaned. The ability to switch out our workloads and focus on delivering a product to a client that excites them is an ability to do that without spending more money, so it’s a reallocation of effort and workloading through data.

Kim: The data reaffirms where the cleaners have been, and when they’ve been there. We’re actually trying to follow where the cleaners go and have them align in a proactive way to where they need to be, and not just in a scheduled way. So that they send the cleaners exactly where they need to be, when they need to be there.

Derek: Data is extremely important. From my perspective, I get into the labor and the cost, so when I know exactly how long it’s taking, what it would have taken for a human to do it, I can break it down to the per foot on cleaning, and then present that to our senior management, which hopefully will help me expand the fleet in the near future.

For us, the upfront capital expense is not a big a deal as the continuing operational expense compared to a human need for wages and benefits. The expense of the robot is completely justified.

Paul: The biggest thing with technology is the fact that we truly know what was done last night. A cleaner in the past could tell you it was done, you’re not on site, you’re not exactly aware of what that person has accomplished, but with today and the technology of Avidbots, we truly know what that robot has done, what areas were cleaned, even what areas weren’t done so you can react accordingly.

How Important Is ROI in Automated Cleaning?

Paul: We know every second that the robot runs and when it’s running, how long we can maximize the efficiency of that machine. If you have the space and they’re available, you can run that robot 24 hours, so you can workload and you know where that machine has gone. So, the return on investment is maximizing the runtime available within your property, and those are the decisions that we look at when we’re made the decision to purchase or not.

Derek: We’re running it only one shift a day right now, that’ll be changing as we move forward, but we’re saving half a full-time employee (FTE) already, and without even really putting a lot of effort into it, so the ROI is less than two years. As the minimum wage keeps increasing, it’s gonna get less and less, so it’s perfect for us to start planning ahead and maintaining a robot fleet.

Kim: Our return on investment tends to be between $30,000 and $150,000 per year with this technology, based on the number of robots we have on the site, the common area square footage, the productivity, and when it’s run during the day which obviously affects the productivity, or whether it’s run at night.

Craig: We know every second that the robot runs and when it’s running, how long we can maximize the efficiency of that machine. If you have the space and they’re available, you can run that robot 24 hours, so you can workload and you know where that machine has gone. So, the return on investment is maximizing the runtime available within your property, and those are the decisions that we look at when we’re made the decision to purchase or not.

Did You Have Any Surprises in Your Implementation of the Avidbots Robot?

Paul: The process of that step one to step two or where to start the machine, that was our biggest challenge, understanding and making it fit with our operation.

Derek: I don’t know if we had a lot, only because we did stay ahead of it. We were researching it and looking at things and for those of you who’ve been here, there’s numerous types of robots that are out there. We really did a lot of homework on it to make sure what we were getting was what we wanted and what was going to work best for us.

When we were able to decide Avidbots was the right choice for us for sure and implement it, there really wasn’t a lot of surprises. I think it’s the communication with the staff and the faculty and other stakeholders, however you need to get it out there to make sure when it does come onboard, that they’re aware and ready for it.

Kim: Well, the biggest surprise for me was the resistance that I had from the cleaning companies, and their desire to not want to change how they did their business. It really shouldn’t be surprising because they’re a labor-driven business, and so something that threatens the labor aspect of the business, especially in a unionized environment, which the majority of our sites are, can cause a little bit of friction. Embracing the technology and changing the business model was the biggest challenge that surprised me. Only because I’m constantly being told, through the RFP process, how innovative the companies are, and what the latest and greatest things are that they’re doing.

Craig: We were surprised at how well our associates embraced the concept. This is frontline cleaners, managers, supervisors that were actually excited to deploy the technology, because all they want to do is please their client. We thought we were going to get a bunch of pushback on changing process, changing the routines, now putting in a robot, and we actually got the opposite, so that was actually the most exciting thing.

Meet Neo, the Autonomous Floor Scrubbing Robot

Powered by Avidbots, Neo automates commercial floor cleaning to lower labor costs, increase productivity, and deliver clean, dry, streak-free floors throughout your facility. Neo takes the burden of floor scrubbing off your cleaning staff, freeing them to focus on more value-adding tasks.

  • Automated navigation and first-class cleaning. Neo uses preinstalled cleaning maps and an array of smart sensors to navigate and clean your facility. Neo detects and works around obstacles in its path, so requires little supervision. A discussion on data, safety, and managing implementation of the robotic automated floor cleaning solution.
  • Safe and simple operation. Intuitive touchscreen controls allow easy operation in automated or manual cleaning modes. Integrated safety features prevent collisions, protecting people and property.
  • Maximum uptime, minimized costs. Up to six hours run time and twin 120L water tanks maximize operating time, with limited maintenance required. Enhanced cleaning productivity, floor coverage and consistency boosts customer experience and your bottom line.
  • Keeps you in the know. Take the guesswork out of facility management. Avidbots Command Center monitoring portal provides unprecedented insight into cleaning performance and status, allowing instant access to productivity metrics and coverage maps after every clean. Monitor one or an entire fleet of Neo robots remotely to enhance and maintain operating standards.
  • World-class support. Our team of expert map editors, support engineers, deployment specialists, and account managers work in partnership with your operators to launch and optimize your cleaning program. Get help with initial training and configuration needs, request revisions to facility maps, and access 24-7 remote monitoring and software updates.
  • Learn more about Avidbots Neo and smarter business cleaning at Avidbots.com

Introduction

The rapid growth of e-commerce and expansion of global sourcing, together with growing expectations of near-instant delivery, have created unprecedented demands on supply chains. To respond, warehouse and logistics managers must focus on productivity and efficiency improvements across their operations – including material handling, packaging, and even facilities management activities such as cleaning.

Warehouse Management is Hard More and More Managers are Turning to Automation

WAREHOUSE FACILITY CHALLENGES:

  • Growing demand for increased efficiency, quality and measurable results.
  • Limited management time for workload planning, supervision and reporting.
  • Difficulty recruiting and retaining custodial workers.
  • Increasing labor cost, sickness, absence and turnover.
  • Stringent health and safety regulations.

NEO FLOOR-SCRUBBING ROBOTS CAN:

  • Improve the quality, consistency and efficiency of warehouse cleaning.
  • Boost productivity while reducing operating costs.
  • Minimize labor demands and worker fatigue.
  • Improve ROI with clear performance reporting and measurable results.
  • Support a safer working environment for employees.

With an acute shortage of qualified workers in the logistics and supply chain industry, hiring personnel to keep up with demand is no longer a viable option. For warehousing operations, automation and robots are the new solution to productivity, quality and cost pressures.

In fact, this shift to automation and robotics has already begun. Warehouses across all industries and models have adopted automation at an unprecedented pace over the past five to ten years. According to a recent Warehousing and Logistics Robots Report from Tractica, the number of robots deployed in warehouses and manufacturing facilities will reach 620,000 by 2021, up from 40,000 in 2016. The 2019 Material Handling Industry Annual Report indicates that robotics and automation have the greatest potential to disrupt supply chain practices, even more so than other innovative technologies such as the industrial internet of things (IIoT) and artificial intelligence (AI).

The rise of automation in logistics and warehouse facilities has helped companies improve productivity and reduce costs, making their operations faster and more reliable. Automation and robotics have also allowed these companies to address the chronic shortage of supply chain talent by repurposing workers to focus on activities and decisions that are more valuable and complex. In fact, leading supply chain and 3PL managers across the globe have realized greater efficiency and productivity by deploying Avidbots Neo autonomous floor-scrubbing robots in their cleaning operations.

Technology is a Key Ingredient for Success

For Christie Lites – a leading supplier of lighting equipment for television, theater, and trade shows – the key ingredients for success are flawless logistics, teamwork and creativity – all supported by the latest, most appropriate technologies. This applies not only to the operational functions of the warehouse, but also to the facilities and maintenance functions. To this end, executives and personnel at Christie Lites are always looking for ways to improve operational efficiency, and when a company executive saw Neo in action at a major airport, they immediately recognized its potential to increase productivity in their warehouse cleaning operations.

Christie Lites recently doubled the size of their Las Vegas warehouse, from 80,000 ft2 to 160,000 ft2, making their legacy, walk-behind floor cleaner even less attractive from a cost and efficiency standpoint. Naturally, more space means more personnel are needed, but hiring qualified workers is one of the biggest challenges currently facing the supply chain industry. Add to this their desire to extend operating hours while reducing the need for long employee shifts – which have detrimental effects on employee well-being, such as fatigue and injury, not to mention morale – and it became evident that it was time to look at automating some of their facilities management functions.

The company already had experience with automation, using automated forklifts and racking/palletizing equipment in storage and retrieval operations. But Neo would be the first piece of fully automated equipment in their operations. One key thing they wanted in a floor-scrubbing robot was that it be thoughtfully designed from the ground up – not a “retrofitted Roomba.” As a purpose-built, floor-cleaning robot – not a retrofitted ride-on or walk-behind floor scrubber – Avidbots Neo fit the bill. Christie Lites contacted Avidbots, and the process of implementing the Neo robotic floor scrubber at their Las Vegas warehouse began.

Christie Lites is the largest privately-owned equipment rental company in North America, with 13 locations across Canada, the US, and the UK.

Christie Lites recently doubled the size of their Las Vegas warehouse, from 80,000 ft2 to 160,000 ft2, making their legacy, walk-behind floor cleaner even less attractive from a cost and efficiency standpoint.

As a purpose-built, floor cleaning robot – not a retrofitted ride-on or walk-behind floor-scrubber – Avidbots Neo fit the bill. Christie Lites contacted Avidbots, and the process of implementing the Neo robotic floor scrubber at their Las Vegas warehouse began.

Neo Robotic Floor Scrubbers Improve Quality, Productivity and Safety

Christie Lites operates differently than traditional warehouses and distribution centers – every piece of equipment that is rented out is also returned, making their logistics even more complex than the typical one-way flow of goods in a traditional warehouse. As a result, the operation requires significant “flex space” to accommodate both inbound and outbound equipment. It’s also very rare that the warehouse is empty for cleaning – there are no slow periods when you’re servicing the showbusiness industry.

To meet the need for flexibility in cleaning operations, Neo’s intuitive touchscreen controls allow Christie Lites to choose between using the autonomous cleaning mode or doing what Dan Souwand, Vice President of Equipment, Systems and Warehousing, calls “guerilla cleaning,” or opportunistic cleaning. That is, when an area is available, facilities personnel can manually send Neo to that area to clean. And for unique cases such as Christie Lites’s, where products move around the warehouse from day-to-day and even hour-to-hour, Neo’s ability to scan its environment and update the cleaning path accordingly ensures maximum cleaning productivity and quality. Between regular, autonomous cleaning and “guerilla cleaning” sessions, Neo cleans every part of the warehouse one to two times per week.

In the Las Vegas warehouse, the number of workstations and amount of product to navigate is tremendous, not to mention both human and forklift traffic that must be avoided. With the ability to designate no-go zones (where the robot should not clean) and slow down zones (where the robot should reduce speed and proceed), Christie Lites found that Neo is perfectly designed to handle this set of challenges. Neo is safe to operate around sensitive equipment and storage materials, with the ability to detect objects as low as 16 cm (6.3 inches) from the floor. Rubber front and side safety bumpers help prevent damage if a bump or impact does occur. All of these features allow Neo to work in the challenging environment of a warehouse without compromising speed and efficiency, and, most importantly, without compromising safety.

With Neo, Safety is Built-in

Alongside a sophisticated sensor array that enables Neo to detect and navigate around obstacles or automatically pause operation, additional safety features protect people and property at your premises. They include:

Emergency Stop button

A physical button on the rear of the robot can be quickly activated by an operator. This immediately pauses Neo’s operation. The operator can then investigate and resolve the issue before continuing the cleaning operation.

Safety bumpers

Front and side safety bumper switches detect if Neo touches a fixed obstacle, such as a wall or other object. At this point, an emergency stop is triggered, and operation pauses immediately.

Electronic brake

To prevent damage to Neo or other property, the robot remains partially powered down until a human operator confirms that it is safe to continue cleaning.

The Benefits of Robotic Floor Cleaning Go Beyond ROI

Regardless of the industry or application, the decision to automate a process or task is always scrutinized through the lens of cost or more specifically, return on investment (ROI). This was the case with Christie Lites’s decision to use a robotic floor scrubber. Although the company sees the value in technology investments, they have to make financial sense as well.

After calculating the ROI they would get by implementing Neo, it was clear that automating the floor scrubbing part of their operation made financial sense. Another benefit of deploying Neo was that Avidbots’ Command Center provides data on every clean, by every robot, in every sector; measuring and tracking key performance indicators (KPIs), such as cleaning productivity and water consumption, became a simple task – something they couldn’t get from their legacy, walk-behind floor scrubber.

But, the financial analysis was just one piece of the decision. Christie Lites recognizes that their warehouses are the company’s face to the clients. Clients visit the warehouses to pick up and return lighting equipment. Having an organized and clean warehouse is not only beneficial for safety and efficiency, but it’s also a key part of the company’s marketing strategy.

An App Fit for a Fleet of Autonomous Robots

Thanks to the ease of implementation and the improvements they’ve seen in quality, productivity and cost with Neo, Christie Lites plans to deploy more Neo robots in the near future. Fortunately, Avidbots’ Command Center online app makes it easy to monitor and manage one, two, or an entire fleet of Neo robots, all in one location or deployed across a network of locations globally.

The Command Center also provides in-depth performance reports, so facilities managers can track and optimize cleaning performance. Users can also manage cleaning maps and plans remotely via the Command Center, to adjust for changing floor layouts or cleaning requirements.

"When the CEO of a production company comes in (to one of our warehouses) and sees the level of professionalism, including cleanliness, they’re more likely to want to work with us over our competitors.”
– Dan Souwand, Vice President of Equipment | Systems and Warehousing

Technology is Changing the Nature of Jobs – Not Replacing Jobs

Once Neo was delivered, Avidbots personnel made a visit to the Las Vegas warehouse to deploy the robot and map the facility. The Christie Lites personnel responsible for Neo’s operation were also trained, and within a week, Neo was doing its job. Souwand says the company was impressed with how fast the process was from purchase to implementation.

When asked how the staff at Christie Lites received Neo, Souwand said, “Terry (the cleaner who primarily uses Neo) has a new piece of technology that’s made his job easier.” The employees recognize that technology is changing the nature of jobs rather than replacing jobs. Neo has eliminated the need to have one person focused solely on floor cleaning. By employing Neo,Terry’s productivity has increased significantly – now he can focus on other areas or more important cleaning and maintenance projects.

Souwand also says that adding Neo to their operation has improved worker morale. Christie Lites’s staff take pride in their work areas, and they’re now keeping their areas even more clean and tidy so Neo can do its job better.

Neo Robotic Floor Scrubbers: The Next Step in Warehouse Automation

Regardless of the task involved, automation can, and is, transforming warehouse operations. Robots improve efficiency, increase productivity, ensure consistent quality and alleviate the health and safety concerns that plague traditional workers in jobs that require heavy, repetitious work. What automated forklifts and automated storage and retrieval systems have done for supply chain operations, Neo is doing for facilities management functions in these same warehouses.

For Christie Lites, deploying a robotic floor scrubber has not only increased the cleaning team’s productivity and made their jobs easier, it serves as a day-to-day example of how the company values and embraces technology to improve the customer experience.

Why Avidbots?

Buying an Avidbots Neo isn’t just buying a floor scrubber. It’s investing in a technological future that can redefine your cleaning function, making it more productive, more cost effective and easier to run. More importantly, our robotics and AI technology open up new opportunities to make your business even more successful. We realize this isn’t just about buying a product, or a technology, or even a business proposition. You want to buy into a trusted partner who can take you into the future of automated operations using cutting edge robotics. At Avidbots, we work side-by-side with our customers to earn that trust and realize all the benefits that robotics can bring them.

About Us

Avidbots is a robotics company with a vision to bring robotic solutions into everyday life to increase organizational productivity and to do that better than any other company in the world. Our groundbreaking product, the Neo autonomous floor scrubbing robot, is deployed around the world and trusted by leading facilities and building service companies. Headquartered in Kitchener, ON, Canada, Avidbots is offering comprehensive service and support to customers on 5 continents.