High altitude business: Will automated cleaning outstrip manual practice?
Dated: 26-11-2013

Despite stiff competition from manual cleaning service providers, factors such as reduction in recurrent expenses, safety, quick access are favouring robot cleaning The business dynamics of high altitude cleaning industry in the Middle East is set for a major shift. With the automated cleaning system making its foray into the high rise/facade cleaning market, the traditional manual cleaning service providers shrug it off. Will the cost and safety factors play a vital role for automated cleaning equipment manufacturers’ advantage in the price-sensitive high rise/facade cleaning segments, discusses Sreenivasa Rao

The Swiss-based robot cleaning equipment manufacturer is upbeat on growing demand for automated cleaning. However, the company sees stiff competition from the manual cleaning service providers. Marcel Niederberger, Head of Sales and Marketing at Serbot AG, said: “The demand is huge due to increasing cost pressure and importance of safety at work. The main competition is from the traditional cleaning practices like manual cleaning with a boom lift, alpinists or water fed poles. There is no comparable solution on the market for automated facade cleaning.” However, some cleaning service providers are not enthused with the latest automated cleaning systems. “Robot cleaners are as yet still an unproven entity,” opined Mazen Harake, Managing Director, Spider Access, which is a Dubai-based cleaning service provider to high rise buildings.

Cost factor

Robot cleaning equipment makers are confident that the cost factor will be a major advantage for them in the region’s price-sensitive cleaning market. Serbot says the amortization of investment is 10 years if a company adopts automated cleaning system. Whereas, the costs escalate every year in the manual cleaning system. On an average, it takes 326manhours to clean a 9,800sqm surface, and if four cleaners were deployed, it would take 81 hours i.e.10days. Whereas in automated cleaning system, it would take only one day to 2.5days depending upon the automated cleaning model.“Hiring a cleaning company e.g. twice a year can be a costly, recurrent expense for a building owner. Imagine you have a fully automated cleaning solution on your building. It might be a bit higher in investment, but it pays back over time thanks to the automated operation.

No need for hiring a time consuming and expensive cleaning service anymore,” says Niederberger. The Swiss company sees variation in the Middle East region’s conditions in the market requirements of customers with other parts of the global market. “Main differences are regulations in terms of job safety, installations, authorization, etc. Labour cost for cleaning personal also varies. The other differences include kind of soiling on the buildings, affinity for automated solutions, buying power, etc,” explains Niederberger.

Shrugging it off, rope access cleaning service providers continue to bank on manual system only. They say that majority of skyscrapers prefer manual cleaning method as rope access systems can offer considerable advantages over other methods of access. These advantages include speed of installation, low manning levels, flexibility, reduced process down time and above all safety factor. Rope access cleaning service provides such as Spider Access are expanding their operations to meet the growing demand in the region.

As part of its GCC expansion plan, Spider Access has opened its office in Kuwait. The company has recently been awarded a three-year maintenance agreement with EMAAR to undertake maintenance on the Boulevard Plaza. The Boulevard Plaza epitomizes style and status on the most prestigious square kilometer in the world with its elegant design and prominent position next to the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall. Spider Access opened its office in Kuwait in 2012 as part of the company’s plans for expansion within the GCC.

Cleaning service providers are upbeat on the current recovery and future prospects of Dubai. “The UAE is one of the fastest growing economies in the world today. With Expo 2020 rapidly approaching and the football World Cup in Qatar contributing to the accelerated growth in the hospitality sector, demand for specialised cleaning companies like Spider Access will only grow. At Spider Access we pride ourselves on our highly trained, professional staff and our stringent compliance with current regulations and guidelines, which means that we are continuously ranked as a top provider of high level cleaning and maintenance,” explains Harake.

Owners of high rise buildings and major properties prefer professional cleaning service providers only. Considering this, cleaning service providers are developing their own customized cleaning solutions catering to the specific requirements of customers.

 “Employing a highly-trained and professional team, Spider Access offers a full spectrum of services tailored to the needs of its clients. These range from building handover cleaning and ongoing cleaning services ,such as, façade and water pressure cleaning, through to the more complex maintenance services, which includes checking, repair and replacement of aviation lights, silicon filling, glass and lighting systems and activities around painting, blasting and associated building fabric maintenance,” said Harake

Technology applications

With the advent of technology advancement, the cleaning industry is witnessing a series of news developments in the processes. Of late, the focus has been on Green practices. As a result, chemical-free cleaning methods involving microfiber, etc, are gaining momentum. The other products and processes focusing on saving water, energy, costs, time, etc, are also much in demand. Spider Access is keen on developing technology applications such as self-cleaning windows.

Nanotechnology / Self-cleaning glass

The latest buzzwords in the technology applications are nanotechnology and self-cleaning glasses. For instance, Spider Access is opting for nano technology applications in the cleaning process.

Generally, nanotechnology companies are exploring three methods for improving cleaning products. These are:

First method: The application of film on surface of glass or windows that make it easier to keep surfaces clean.

Second method: Using nanoparticles in soap that makes it work better, while producing less environmentally harmful byproducts.

Third method: Using anti-bacterial materials in the cleaning process. The anti-bacterial materials are based on silver nanoparticles. Note that there is interest in regulating the use of silver nanoparticles. Because of the concern that they may harm useful bacteria in groundwater, such as lakes, when released.

Nanotechnology helps the cleaning industry keep windows cleaner longer than traditional window washing as the latest applications provide an invisible protection to the surface of glass. The nanotechnology brings a protection to the glass surface that is hydrophilic, allowing water to create a sheeting action that washes away dirt and grime. These revolutionary technology applications would also accelerate drying time, resulting in virtually spot and streak free windows.

Self-cleaning glass comprising an invisible coating on them that makes then clean themselves by using the UV rays from the sun. The UK-based NSG Group manufactures self-cleaning glass under Pilkington brand. These self-cleaning glass products are yet to take off in the market.

Huge task for manual cleaning

Another point of view is that limited methods in the traditional cleaning system. The possibilities of architecture are almost endless. Serbot says that it’s estimated that there are more than 80,000 multi-story buildings with over 12 stories globally. Over 30 per cent of them have glass facades. Cleaning these from hand is time-intensive and exposes cleaning personnel to considerable risk. In addition, there are many surfaces that are difficult to access and can’t be cleaned at all.

The costs for a facade cleaning depend on many factors, including the characteristics of the facade, total area, interval between cleanings, labour costs, etc. According to a research paper from Germany, the average cost of cleaning one square meter is often defined to be about 8-9euros. A typical building with 12,000sqm costs about 100,000 euros per cleaning. The use of an automated cleaning robot can substantially reduce these costs.

 With the cleaning robot GEKKO, Serbot offers an outstanding solution to help building owners respond to these challenges. The cleaning robot can be easily integrated into current installations of existing buildings. Ideally however, the cleaning concept is included in the plan at the beginning of the project.

In addition, the robot can be deployed from a lifting platform, such as a cherry picker. This variation is well suited for cleaning firms who want to offer an automated service. To complement the cleaning robot, Serbot offers traditional building maintenance units in all variations as well. These systems have been proven reliable in widespread use on various buildings in the world.