Knowledge Day 2015 Association of Cleaning Research (VSR) marking Digital Revolution in Cleaning Industry

Knowledge Day 2015 Association of Cleaning Research (VSR) marking Digital Revolution in Cleaning Industry

Digital Revolution in Cleaning was the theme of the Knowledge Day of the Dutch Association of Cleaning Research (VSR). Smart Buildings, cleaning robots, sensors in trolleys, wearables, cleaning 4.0 and Big Data: just a few of the subjects that were presented and discussed on Wednesday 09 September during the VSR 2015 Knowledge Day.

Digital Cleaning & Cleaning Research

The Association of Cleaning Research held it’s bi-annual Knowledge Day in combination with a Summer Drink for it’s 180 members in Maarssen, The Netherlands. The outcome of this information day was that the application of digital and technological solutions for the cleaning industry is really taking off while, at the same time, the interest within the industry in robotising and digitising is growing rapidly.

Impact on contract cleaners

Both businesswise and privately there is no way around it: the process of robotising and digitization is happening everywhere around us and whether you like ot or not, will ultimately also affect our personal and work lives. What the impact and opportunities of these processes could be for the cleaning industry, was made clear during the Knowledge Day.

VSR had invited a total of 6 guest speakers who each viewed the theme of “Digitization of the cleaning industry” from their own perspective. From a scientific point of view to a practical cleaning application.   

Paul Harleman – Vileda Professional

Paul Harleman (VSR and Vileda Professional) who acted as Chairman for the day, introduced the theme of the day: “In 2011 we investigated the use of robots in the cleaning industry. Today we want to look at what has happened in the meantime. Judging from the large number of registrations we can conclude that this topic is very much alive today!”


Peter van Baalen – University of Amsterdam

Professor dr. Peter van Baalen (UvA) started his presentation by stating that the technological developments are happening rapidly. “We are now in the 4th industrial revolution en the 2nd machine era”, he stated. “This is all about replacing muscle power with  thinking power. The biggest jumps are made with genereric technology. Generic platforms like Uber and Airbnb are leading here. But the strange thing here is that Facebook does not write contents. Uber has no taxis, Airbnb owns no property. They are only platforms. We live in an era that we can digitise everything. Objects, contents, processes, infrastructures and networks. Everything can be reduced to ones and zeros”.  

Can a robot replace a cleaner?

“The process capacity of a chip increases all the time. The same counts for the internet bandwith,”van Baalen continued. “And finally we increase the storage capacity of data. When you put all these factors together and link them to internet, we can tie the physical and virtual worlds together. This is called the ‘Internet of Things’”. Aiming your growth strategy at this development means that you have to ask yourself how you want to work with smart machines, things and platforms warns van Baalen,”In the cleaning industry with contract cleaner this is not easily done. Can a robot really replace a cleaner?

Maybe simple tasks can be copied first? Maybe sensors can tell whether your rubbish bins are full or empty? Probably robots like Baxter can eventually have the adroitness that we are capable off. But before we automate the cleaning we need to standardise first. This means for example that I first have to clean up my room before I let the robot do it’s thing.” Then van Baalen asked: ”Who or what is the Uber in your branche?”. To which Harleman replied: ”Companies like Helpling and Book a tiger are coming up fast. These could become our Ubers”

Measure everything, including the cleaners…

Dirk Tuip of FacilityApps showed how Apps make the entire cleaning process easier. According to Tuip we should not think in terms of restrictions or competitors but instead of innovation and making datastreams accesible.”A building is not an object but a box and out of box we retrieve information”, he says, “ Client data (like complaints or suggestions), machine data, end user data (how satisfied they are for example). By digitising you become more transparant to the client, you immediately lower you costs and your are prepared for the future. On top of that 4 out of 5 people nowadays has a smartphone even though they are not actively used on the workplace as yet.”This offers enormous opportunities for professionalising the cleaning branche , “says Tuip, “and on top of that the return on investment time is getting shorter and shorter”.  

In addition Tuip indicated that apps can play an important role in the pre-cleaning phase (calculation, start up plan and planning), in the operational phase (working programs, instructions and logbooks) all the way to the post-cleaning phase (analysis, DKS/VSR and client feedback). When we compare this to sports for example, the cleaning industry still has a long way”, says Tuip.

”In sports everything and every athlete is measured continously: heartrate, jumping power and every week during the training and during the match, the number of correct/in-correct passes, scores and eventually, whether you have won or not. Why don’t we do the same for our cleaners? What is their individual performance, their efficiency? How many tables have they dusted, how many floors swept? How did the clients rate the cleaners performance? All this information and data can be used to positively coach the cleaners and their work processes”.

Jesse Scholtes – Robots don’t function without people

Ir. Jesse Scholtes (Technische Universiteit Eindhoven) showed the complexity of robots, what they can do today and how they obtain their cognitive intelligence like orientation, reasoning and problem solving. “For the cleaning branche robots will be able to perform repetitive tasks like floor maintenance or logistic tasks. But human supervision will always be needed,”he adds, “Robots perceive the world in pixels and on a flat screen it all looks the same. You therefore have to do a lot of programming to distill a glass of water from the ‘real’ world for example. The cognitive capability simple isn’t there.” Scholtes predicts that in 15 to 20 years time robots will really be capable of assisting the cleaning industry and showed working examples of clean-scrub and sweep robots already used.    

Richard Bormann – Fraunhofer Institute Germany

Richard Bormann of the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany cooperated with the largest German cleaning company. Duschmann, to do several advanced  experiments with robots for the emptying of bins and hovering o f floors. The outcome? Both tasks can easily be performed by robots. “The great advantage, “according to Bormann, ”is the fact that you don”t have to hire or train them. They are simply there and can work 24/7 with no holidays, weekends or rest.”  

Bormann created a robot equipped with a camera, a reacher and a vacuum cleaner. The tricky part was to actually detect the dirt. “But all in all we reached positive results”,he states”, A robot is capable of doing 100 square meters in one hour. That’s 5x as fast as a human being. So we have decided to continue the development and will add intelligence so that the robot is able to open doors or move chairs. In addition we will equip it with fixed, integrated arms and tools instead of the replacable ones we had sofar.”  


Add – Fraunhofer Institut robot clip


Paul Havinga – From fragrances and usage patterns to dust…

Professor dr Paul Havinga (Universiteit Twente, photo) talked about sensors specifically. According to him they can measure and detect everything. From fragrances and usage patterns to dust. “This way you have a network consisting of small devices”, he says, “ The telephone is a big sensor. And everyone has a telephone. In a large building you can therefore measure where it has been busy and, consequently, where it will be more dirty. Sensors like this have various functionalities: check, track & trace (control, follow) and detect traces (like lost goods). Thanks to sensors you are now capable to make the right decision at the right time because of the real-time onformation you receive”.


Peter Mudde – Vebego Innovations

Peter Mudde of (Vebego Innovations) presented the outcome of a test they deducted at Schiphol Airport. “We like to measure polution”, he explained,”This allows you to clean in a clever and focused way”. He added that in his opinion the use of wearables (clothing, smart watch, glasses and telephones) could be very interesting and worthwhile for cleaning tasks. With wearables for example you can make staff more productive and more efficient. In addition it’s much easier this way to instruct staff based on the level of dirtiness.

Worth investigating now….


Harleman finished the Knowledge Day with researcher Anton Duisterwinkel and OSB Chairman Piet Adema: “ It will be well within 20 years that robots will enter the cleaning space“ ,he predicts, ” But robotising is a subject you can, and should, be studying today”.

Various examples of digitizing, smart en big data, automation and even robotising are increasingly being deployed overseas. But to call it a Digital Revolution in the cleaning Industry is a bit far fetched, Adema says.  

“The current developments are still a bit too premature for this”, he says, “t he developments, no matter how exciting they are, they are still in the infancy stage”. To which Paul Harleman concluded: “The fact are nevertheless that the need exists and that interest is increasing”.


Food for thought

The VSR Knowledge Day and Summer Drink altogether proved to be an exiting event full of interesting speakers, new opinions, practical solutions, future pictures and all relevant facets of the upcoming digitalization and automation of the cleaning industry.