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Docking station for the autonomous scrubber: is it really useful?

The idea of developing docking stations for the autonomous scrubbers seems to be attractive; all the autonomous drive machinery are going towards that direction so why the cleaning world should not do the same?
We pondered a lot about that here in Adiatek and we think that, for now, this is not a technology suitable for our sector. From an in-depth analysis it came out, in our opinion, that there are several reasons why this solution is less profitable that it seems.
The concept behind our skepticism is very simple: the autonomous scrubber is autonomous and efficient when talking about the operation of cleaning. It relieves the operator of a heavy and repetitive task, giving him time to do some other activities. However, it is not autonomous for what concerns its maintenance, still requesting the human intervention for simple but necessary activities.
Let us elaborate on this concept, that brought us to consider that today it is better to think twice before investing on a docking station for autonomous scrubbers, below.

The costs to install a docking station

A floor cleaning machine is an instrument dedicated for the maintenance of the working environment, not directly for the work performed in that environment. This means that when the machine is not operated is stored in secondary places, sometimes far from the activity area. It is in those places that the docking station should be installed, then.
At this point a question must be asked: the autonomous scrubber would really be able to run, autonomously, the track from its docking station to the workplace (and forth)? Can it autonomously pass through doors, stairs, and elevators and with people around?
Think, for example, about commercial galleries or warehouses: those are environments where scrubbers is present only when it has to work and is then stored in other spaces, sometimes even on different floors of the same building.

Furthermore, and it is not secondary, to install a docking station requires to work on the hydric and electric systems of a building in addition to find also a waste disposal system.
In light of the fact that often the scrubbers are given away with a rental contract which, in the best-case scenario, lasts about 5 years, is it worthy to invest in such interventions? When the machine will be replaced, maybe with a new model, will the system be suitable for that scrubber too?
In conclusion: one of the main obstacles when to install an autonomous docking station for autonomous scrubbers is surely the challenge represented by its installation.

Replacing the operator: a common misunderstanding

It is common to think about autonomous scrubbers as a complete replacement of the human operator. Actually, this type of machine, even though is autonomous in the cleaning operation, requires the intervention of an operator for any maintenance activity, which has to be done after every usage (or nearly so).
Cleaning, checking, and replacing the brushes and the squeegee rubbers, controlling the filter, the pipes and the tanks…these are all activities that, as for today, needs to be carried out by an operator at a given frequency.
The technology that is currently available would allow the possibility to automatize also all these processes using robotic arms, precision sensing, suction and collection of the waste residuals and waste liquids. All tasks that currently would be very expensive, to automatize operations that a human operator would easily do.
Adopting a realistic point of view we need then to ask ourselves: is it an effort that, as for today, has a real significate or it would be just a technological virtuosity?

Lack of operator cost amortization

Who proposes to install a docking station often justifies the expense with the savings on the manufacture costs. However, as we saw, the introduction of the autonomous scrubbers does not involve automatically the removal of an operator.
The autonomous scrubber surely relieves the operator from the simplest cleaning operations giving it time to perform other tasks (like cleaning areas not accessible to the robot, cleaning higher surfaces such as benches, shelves etc.). But the intervention of an operator is necessary even on the autonomous scrubber itself, which as we said, is not autonomous on the self-maintenance that it needs to keep being efficient.
Buying a robot to save money on the labor by replacing the operators, for us, is not a viable option. We conceive the robotics as an help for the human work, not a replacement to it.

Focus on quality and efficiency

We, in Adiatek, start with assumption that the main scope of the floor-cleaning machines, included the autonomous ones, is to clean surfaces. Every effort, every investment and innovation, goes towards an improvement of the quality and the efficiency of the cleaning process.

That is why a significant investment on the autonomous charge will make sense only if it brings real advantages also on the efficiency and the performance of the cleaning. As for today, it is not like this. Today, developing an autonomous docking station would require expensive interventions and such investments, in our opinion, would not be repaid from particular cleaning benefits: there would not be, in fact, less management costs or an improving of the cleaning quality.

The main question is: right now, would it worth it? Do we really need an autonomous docking station?
We go even further and, to our interlocutors we ask also: do you really need an autonomous scrubber?
These are the thoughts we like to have with our customers, to give value to their investments and really put technology at the service of humans.