by Jon Adkins — Originally published in the June/July 2019 issue of ISSA
Editor’s note: This article is the first of a two-part series in ISSA Today, with this article focusing on general adoption rates and overall perceptions of autonomous cleaning equipment from industry end-users. Part two, scheduled to be published in the August 2019 issue of ISSA Today, will include findings from those cleaning organizations that have implemented and/or actively use it. The complete survey report is available online for ISSA and AACEM member access exclusively at www.issa.com/autonomouscleaning.
A walk through the aisles of the exhibit hall at a recent ISSA Show North America event might lead one to believe that autonomous cleaning and robotic devices are widespread in commercial cleaning applications, based on the many product displays and demonstrations.
But what is the status of autonomous cleaning equipment and technology in day-to-day cleaning applications? Is it just beginning to emerge on the scene, or is adoption truly prevalent in commercial and institutional settings?
In February, ISSA and subsidiary membership organization American Association of Cleaning Equipment Manufacturers (AACEM) sought to answer those questions and more with a study on autonomous cleaning equipment. The two collectively released a survey to building service contractors (BSCs), in-house service providers, and facility/property managers with ties to the commercial cleaning industry, to gauge the perceptions of the end-users and adoption of autonomous cleaning equipment.
For the purposes of the study, and this article, we define autonomous cleaning equipment as equipment that enables cleaning to be performed in unstructured environments without continuous human guidance. Examples of autonomous cleaning equipment include autoscrubbers, robotic large-area sweepers, vacuums, etc., which may be used in a variety of commercial and institutional environments.
Survey methodology and respondent profile
ISSA and AACEM distributed the AACEM/ISSA autonomous cleaning survey to a group of nearly 23,000 BSCs, in-house service providers, and facility managers in February. Final survey results included complete responses from 250 individuals, which represents a margin of error of 6% at the 95% confidence level. This means that the survey results generally reflect the views of the target market the groups sought to identify. To simplify these statistical terms further, if 40% of respondents answered with a “no” response to a particular question, a margin of error of 6% denotes that between 34% and 46% of the target market believe the answer is “no.”
Survey respondents represented a balance of those who provide cleaning services on a contract and in-house basis, along with facility and/or property managers who oversee their cleaning service providers:
- BSCs: 39%
- In-house service providers: 37%
- Facility/property managers: 19%
- Others: 5%.
Autonomous cleaning equipment adoption
When asked the fundamental question whether their organization uses, or has used, autonomous cleaning equipment, responses varied:
- Yes, we currently use it: 27%
- Yes, we have used it in the past: 7%
- No, we have not used it: 66%.
Of those respondents who have not used autonomous cleaning equipment, responses were mostly consistent regardless of the nature of the operation of respondents. Notably, 62% of BSCs, 68% of in-house service providers, and 69% of facility/property managers said they have not used autonomous cleaning equipment. The breakdown of those respondents who have used autonomous cleaning was similar, with BSCs representing the greatest percentage at 31% compared to 24% of in-house service providers and 26% of facility/property managers.
Familiarity and perceived benefits
The group of respondents who have not used autonomous cleaning equipment tend to be somewhat familiar with the technology and its application (66%), while 24% are not at all familiar with it and 10% said that they are very knowledgeable or familiar with it. Familiarity levels were consistent across organization types (BSCs, in-house service providers, and facility/property managers).
Respondents who have not used autonomous cleaning, but are familiar with it to some extent, perceive the major benefits of the equipment to be:
- Labor savings (73% of responses)
- Productivity (66%)
- Cleaning efficacy (52%)
- Technology (39%).
Additionally, when asked what products this group uses today in place of autonomous cleaning equipment, the predominant response was scrubbers at 50%. Vacuums (18%), large-area sweepers (14%), and sweepers (7%) rounded out the additional product categories.
Future adoption and other considerations
As about two-thirds of survey respondents have not used autonomous cleaning equipment to date, anticipation surrounding future use of this type of equipment varied among this group: 26% of the group expressed some likelihood of using autonomous cleaning in the next 6-12 months. Just 5% indicated they are highly likely to adopt, while 29% were somewhat unlikely, and 40% were highly unlikely to begin using autonomous cleaning equipment in the next year.
Of those who have not adopted autonomous cleaning but might consider it in the future, quality (69% of responses) and price (64%) ranked among the top business considerations, followed by value (31%), innovation (21%), and brand (7%).
On a similar note, the top factors that would influence these organizations to purchase or use autonomous cleaning technology are:
- Labor savings (77% of respondents)
- Price and cleaning efficacy, respectively (64% of respondents each)
- Productivity (59%)
- Technology (50%)
- Usability (41%).
Finally, concerns about cost and budget considerations were resonant themes in the survey results, and due to the nature of autonomous cleaning equipment and technology at this stage in its lifecycle, return on investment (ROI) can be a pivotal factor in deciding to adopt, regardless of company type or operation.
As it relates to ROI in autonomous cleaning products, respondents who have yet to adopt the equipment generally would not expect an immediate payback. While 27% of these respondents said expected payback should be 12 months or less, 23% expect to see a return between 13-18 months, 20% between 19-24 months, and 16% expect a positive ROI in two years or more.
Summarizing the initial results
The survey results indicate that while autonomous cleaning equipment adoption is in an infant stage, about one-third of the respondents who have yet to adopt these products expressed some likelihood to in the next year. This anticipated adoption and demand for robotics and autonomous cleaning devices will be interesting to follow in the year ahead, especially as contract cleaning firms and in-house operations alike contend with labor shortages, budget maximization, and demands on cleaning for health and safety from their customers.
About the author
Jon Adkins is the vice president of marketing with ISSA. He can be reached at email@example.com.