Cleaning up after robots

6th November 2017
Lanna Cooper

Breakthrough Funding comes across innovation stories every day. The vast majority relate to new products or services; often they are ideas that exploit the latest technologies and trends or provide an answer to a problem that is so simple that it makes you wonder how it could have been overlooked for so long. We know that what an organisation creates and delivers can bring enormous value, but we should never ignore the fact that how a business operates can be equally impactful.

Every business has the potential to be innovative in its processes and procedures. Be that operationally, through the tools and equipment it uses and how they are employed, or in other areas such as marketing, where an innovative approach can help to open up new markets or deliver a stand-out presence.

It was exactly this type of innovation that was used by cleaning firm, Cleanology. Cleanology operates in the highly competitive contract cleaning market. In the 15 years since the business was formed, it has grown into one of the top 50 cleaning companies in the UK, with a staff of 500.

The sector is extremely price-sensitive making it hard for businesses to get a return on significant investment in innovation. However, the cleaning market is also changing as workplaces evolve, with trends towards flexible working and the current desire for open spaces, with a raw and industrial themed design. And so, for a business like Cleanology, remaining competitive means innovation is essential, to continually evolve how they work to stay ahead of an ever-changing landscape.

For Cleanology, innovation manifests itself in a number of ways. The company is constantly reviewing the latest technologies and equipment for ways to more efficiently and competitively deliver value to its clients.

Robot technology has been on its radar for some time. Robot cleaners are becoming a more widely used tool in the cleaning sector, but to date, they are typically utilised on large scale projects; large open spaces where they can work unhindered. Cleanology were the first to use them on smaller sites of up to 3,0002, where it has employed the domestically focussed Roomba.

The cleaner does have its limitations, but where a cleaning contract includes open spaces the cleaning operative can set it about its task while they concentrate on other aspects of the contract. Of course, this means a job can be carried out in less time.

Other innovations embraced by Cleanology have come in response to changes in the sector. The growing trend towards ‘funky’ office spaces - modelled on Google’s slides, breakout areas and meeting pods - has seen a significant change in office design trends.

Gone are the white-tiled suspended ceilings, replaced by exposed pipework and industrial style fittings. They look great and create exciting environments. That is until you have to think about how they will be cleaned.

To combat this change, a recent addition to the Cleanology armoury is the SkyVac; a machine designed for vacuuming at extreme height.

It has a series of extendable tubes that attach to the vacuum unit, allowing it to reach up to 12m. With the pipes made of carbon fibre, it is lightweight and easy for a single cleaner to operate. Coupled with a set of attachments designed to cope with various shapes - like a banana shaped tool for cleaning the top of pipes - the SkyVac is ideal for this new trend in interiors.

Again, this use of innovative solutions offers the business and its clients real benefits. On a recent contract, with exposed pipework suspended from the ceiling over a stairwell, it would previously have needed to use two cleaners, ladders and a range of safety equipment. With the SkyVac one cleaner can do the same job. It’s easier, faster and so cheaper for the client; and of course safer for the cleaner.

One of the innovations set to have the greatest impact on Cleanology is one it has developed itself.

The company has been using bio-cleaning products in the business for some time. Indeed it was one of the first commercial cleaners to adopt them. Bio-cleaning products use good bacteria that produce enzymes to digest chemical and organic waste material. The by-product is harmless water and carbon dioxide.

As well as their immediate cleaning power, bio-cleaning products can continue to work for hours or even days after they have been applied. In addition to their cleaning power, these products are typically safer for the user and the environment, and they are increasing in popularity.

The Cleanology team, however, identified an issue when using these new cleaning products. The cleaners were overdosing the cleaning solutions. The staff thought that was a good thing, using the logic that ‘if one cap is good, two caps must be better’. But that’s not the case, particularly with bio-cleaning products. The overdosing didn’t cause any harm for the cleaners, or the areas they were cleaning, but, the waste was costing the company a significant amount of money.

Needing to find a solution that enabled Cleanology to control the dosing of the cleaning products, it hit on the answer with packaging. It identified a company that was able to take bio-cleaning products in bulk form and re-package them into single dose sachets. An elegantly simple idea, it meant the exact dose could be used, and as an additional benefit, they were lightweight, easy to transport and easy to store.

This packaging approach also enabled Cleanology to tackle another issue, which was caused by the proliferation of mobile devices. Desktop computers and phones all remain in the office at the close of business and so can be cleaned. However, items like mobile phones, laptops and tablets are taken home at the end of the day - missing out on the cleaning routine.

When you discover that several studies have shown that mobile phones carry significantly more bacteria than public toilets - including MRSA and E. coli - it becomes apparent that these devices can need cleaning the most.

To tackle the problem, Cleanology took its packaging idea a stage further and included sachets containing wipes impregnated with cleaning solution. The single use wipes could be left on client’s desks for staff to use with their mobile devices when they were in the office.

The small change in how Cleanology packages its cleaning products has allowed it to make considerable savings, while the introduction of the wipes is giving them a significant competitive advantage. The sachets are not going to be marketed as a product, but the company is using its own innovations to benefit the business and those of its customers. And it's a strategy that appears to be working well.

So, next time you turn your thoughts to innovation in your business, don’t ignore the potential to change the tools that you use and to change how you do what you do.

Cleanology has worked with Breakthrough funding, a company that helps UK SMEs achieve R&D tax credits - a government scheme created to enhance and reward innovation amongst UK businesses. Could you be eligible? Click here to learn more.

For more information, click here.

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