The changing face of cleaning practice

The hope for many is that robotics will provide a cheaper outcome, but the real value will be in the predictability of the cleanliness outcome.

Cleaning is a fundamental practice of mammals. All mammals, and most animals, engage in cleaning of their environment to enhance their survival. But only humans do the cleaning for the aesthetic reasons.

The cleanliness of the surroundings also causes humans to engage with respect to cleaning and cleanliness in a way that distinguishes us from other primates – because we talk about it and complain about it, if the cleanliness is less than we prefer or not up to our expected standards.

Some people want a sweet smell after cleaning processes, while others want no smell at all. Some people react to the slightest smell of bacterial degradation, whereas other people are affected by mould. Most people react to poo on your shoe, whereas some people work willingly and well in sewerage plants.

So, the standard of acceptable cleanliness varies from person to person and often also from place to place. This makes the job for cleaning service providers a constantly moving target.

Cleanliness standards are set by humans, not by robotics. While cleaning tasks may be undertaken (increasingly) by robots, the acceptability of the cleanliness is determined by the humans and not the bots. Cleanliness is still fundamentally defined through a human interface.

At trade events you will see some of emerging technologies in robotics and automation but have no misunderstandings – cleaning standards will remain a human domain.

That is why trade events such as the ISSA Cleaning & Hygiene Expo remain – and will continue to remain – essentially human and face to face in nature. And thankfully so.

The platforms selling and marketing cleaning products, including social media and trade shows, still have personal contact issues as the number one priority so far as choice and decision making is concerned.

This applies to both sides of the cleaning contract divide, where humans make the ultimate decision on cleanliness for cleaning contractors or those employing cleaning contractors.

There are also important changes with of our natural world including the growing recognition of the problems with Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR).

The implications of AMR for cleaning companies are still very poorly appreciated, and again this applies both sides of the cleaning contract divide.

As the importance of AMR is better understood and managed, and integrated cleaning validation systems ensure more reliable outcomes, the role of robotics will increase.

This is because you can program a robot and rely on a robot to provide a standardised methodical cleanliness output.

Variation is minimised provided that the parameters of the cleaning processes and standards for acceptable cleanliness are mutually recognised.

The great hope for many in the cleaning sector is that robotics will provide a cheaper outcome, but the real value will be in the predictability of the cleanliness outcome.

Robots that integrate into cleaning systems, and the cleanliness platforms in a practical and reliable manner will provide a major step forward, but it will be the reliability and not the cost that drives the process. In that way, humans will continue to tell the robots what to do, and not the other way about.

Dr Greg Whiteley is executive chairman of Whiteley Corporation

This first appeared in the September/October issue of INCLEAN magazine 

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