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Warehouse With Clean Floors

How Technology can Help Create a Cleaner, Safer Workplace

Nov. 7, 2022
Amid labor and other challenges, businesses must find ways to work smarter, not harder to provide a clean workplace for all employees.

It’s no secret that manufacturers and warehouse facilities are being tasked to keep pace with the rapid growth of e-commerce and the expansion of global sourcing. At the same time, the labor market has struggled to keep up with the demand for increased workers.

As a result, many employees are being tasked to do more with less. They are also challenged to juggle multiple tasks, all while maintaining high health and safety standards.

With an acute shortage of qualified workers in the logistics and supply chain industry, simply hiring additional personnel to keep up with demand is no longer a viable option. Therefore, many facilities are turning to automation and robotics as the solutions to supplement worker fatigue and help meet productivity, quality and cost pressures.

Automation and robotics have allowed these companies to address the chronic shortage of talent by focusing employee efforts on activities and decisions that are more valuable and complex. Here are four ways technology can help.

1. Address worker fatigue and burnout

To combat these challenges, many companies are turning to automated cleaning solutions. For cleaning staff working around the clock, adding a floor scrubbing robot can produce benefits for both employees and warehouse facility managers alike.

Typical manual floor scrubbers require employees to walk behind or ride on the floor cleaner. That’s a significant amount of time that can be better spent elsewhere. And, when covering a vast amount of warehouse space, employees risk potentially working extended hours performing a repetitive task.

By equipping cleaning staff with an autonomous floor scrubbing robot, companies can lessen employees’ workload—and fatigue levels—while raising cleanliness standards. This can allow employees to focus on higher-value work and hopefully help lower the likelihood of burnout.

2. Provide regulatory agencies with measurable data

In highly regulated industries, such as food processors, pharmaceutical manufacturers and medical equipment suppliers, keeping distribution centers and manufacturing environments clean is paramount to doing business.

Many variables must be considered, including:

  • keeping products sterile and free of dust, contaminants, and bacteria;
  • ensuring cleaning staff and workers follow industry-wide safety rules and standards for disinfecting and cleaning processes; and
  • maintaining a safe and clean environment for employees to work within.

The consequences of not upholding industry cleaning regulations could result in production line closures, or worse, facility closures that would further impede productivity.

Manual floor scrubbers are subject to the direction of the human operating them and reporting on their performance. However, advanced robotic floor cleaners can quantify and qualify what, when and how well it was cleaned as well as what wasn’t cleaned and why.

With an advanced robotic solution, the cleaning plan will be unique to the facility and not subject to human error. By utilizing an onboard suite of sensors that compare the facility in real-time versus the original cleaning plan, optimal cleaning routes are determined to maximize productivity while minimizing human intervention.

Some autonomous floor scrubbing robots come equipped with software that allows you to track the robot. For example, with some robotic floor cleaners, every cleaning operation can be monitored, measured and optimized over a period of time. In highly regulated industries, this type of reliable and measurable clean is especially critical because the data can be easily shared with cleaning auditors or regulatory agencies.

3. Deliver advanced workplace safety

Warehouses and manufacturing facilities are not only concerned with reporting and maintaining cleanliness standards. Safety metrics regarding injuries and incidents must also be reported and tracked to stay in compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), private industry employers reported 2.7 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2020. In addition, the BLS also reported that overexertion; contact with objects or equipment; slips, trips, and falls account for more than half of all nonfatal injuries and illnesses involving days away from work.

Today, these risks can be easily mitigated through automation; however, some warehouses and third-party logistics companies continue to delay implementing this advancement. While traditional autonomous equipment, such as pallet movers and material transport cars, were confined to fixed paths—and personnel avoided placing products or equipment on these paths—today’s automation technology has come a long way and evolved significantly.

Advanced robots are truly autonomous, determining the safest, most efficient path based on the real-time location of obstacles. This is especially important in manufacturing and warehouse facilities, which are intrinsically higher risk environments.

Employees must be vigilant when navigating through blind intersections, narrow passageways, and around other people and equipment that are moving 24 hours a day through crowded aisles. Modern autonomous floor scrubbing robots may come equipped with robust design, safety features and an advanced AI system. These types of robots may include:

  • leading edge 3D cameras, lasers and sensors to avoid collisions;
  • programmable "slow-down zones" to protect people, inventory and equipment; and
  • direction-indicating safety lighting to navigate safely around employees, equipment and blind corners.

These enhancements have modernized automation and can make today’s workplace a much safer environment for employees and equipment. A safer work environment lessens employee absences due to injury and product loss due to preventable accidents, thereby leading to improvements in overall productivity.

4. Higher productivity and employee satisfaction

An often-overlooked consideration for implementing a robotic cleaning solution is the benefit of cleaner environments to employees. Naturally, it’s important to maintain cleaning standards for items stored in warehouses or produced in manufacturing environments. However, employees also value working in environments that they can trust are clean, which allows them to focus on their job and worry less about the air they breathe. 

Robotic floor cleaners are especially effective at removing dust and other airborne particulates, which can significantly improve air quality and reduce allergies. This can also help improve employee morale and retention.

A clean work environment doesn’t just benefit employees; other robotics appreciate it as well. In order for autonomous guided vehicles and forklifts to operate properly and efficiently, warehouse floors need to be free of heavy dust and debris. Otherwise, autonomous guided vehicles that go up and down the same track each day can slip.

Without a clean track, the tires will spin and burn out before their typical maintenance schedule, requiring the vehicle to be out of service. Downtime such as this can burden productivity, not to mention pose serious safety risks

In some instances, warehouses will even have robotic floor cleaners work alongside autonomous guided vehicles to keep the floors free of heavy dust that can impede performance. Automation is an increasingly viable part of the productivity and efficiency of warehouses around the world. Automating the cleaning process is something employees and other autonomous mobile vehicles are beginning to demand.

More and more warehouses and manufacturers are making the connection that automation can lead to improved metrics, increased safety and better employee workplace satisfaction. Cleaning automation technology benefits companies by strengthening their businesses, both now and into the future.

Faizan Sheikh is CEO and co-founder of Avidbots, a company that designs, manufactures and services autonomous cleaning robots.

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