Skilling up to get ahead with the cobotic revolution

Thursday, 23 November 2023

Cobotics. It may be a term you’re unfamiliar with, but it might just be set to revolutionise the cleaning sector. And it’s not some far-off technology of the future – cobotics is providing new, practical solutions to the industry now. 

Here, Alastair Scott, director of sales at Robert Scott, explores what cobotics means for the cleaning industry and the opportunities the technology is bringing to the sector today. Scott also provides insights on how cobotic technology can be introduced into existing cleaning regimes and advice on how to alleviate any workforce misconceptions about the new technology.

Collaborative robotics
The rapid emergence of cobotics (collaborative robots, to give it its full name) represents a watershed moment in the UK's industrial history. 

At its core, cobotics is all about augmenting human workers rather than supplanting them. By doing this, it can deliver new productivity boosting opportunities without the threat of making existing workforces or manual skills redundant. 

This is because cobotics fuses human intellect with robotic precision. Intelligent machines, equipped with state-of-the-art sensors and artificial intelligence, complement human capabilities – collaborating seamlessly with workers in cleaning settings. 

A helping hand
The goal of cobotics is to enhance the productivity of industries, without sacrificing the human touch – which is exactly what the cleaning sector needs. It's something to be excited about, but misconceptions and a hesitancy to change can create a sense of concern. 

Understanding the potential of cobotics, and its unique potential to work with and enhance existing human skillsets, is key for leaders in the sector to alleviate any workforce fears and instead help employees make the most of the new opportunities on offer.

Cobotics in cleaning
So, where exactly does cobotics play a role in the cleaning sector?

As Europe’s largest manufacturer of mopping equipment there’s not much we don’t know about commercial cleaning. And we quickly identified the potential of cobots in areas such as autonomous floor cleaners. For that reason, we’ve moved into the cobotics sector by teaming up with Metabots. 

Metabots has been a leader in cleaning machine manufacturing for decades and today is at the forefront of the cobotic movement within the cleaning industry. The company’s technology includes the Meta-Scrub 60, an efficient autonomous scrubber dryer of which we are the sole distributor in the UK.  

These machines are designed from the ground up to deliver an optimum clean and they’re easy to operate, making them perfect for floorcare – particularly over large areas like retail spaces, hospitality, airports, sporting venues, educational facilities and more. 

Sparkling resume
Cobots offer a wide range of performance benefits to the cleaning industry, including:

High quality results: Impeccable cleaning results are, of course, key to the sector and central to everything that Robert Scott stands for. Cobotics deliver a high-quality finish in the same way as any other premium floor care solution, but with a key difference: they can handle the entire process. 

The Meta-Scrub 60, for example, includes different attachments that can scrub, mop, sweep, polish and dry a floor surface. The machine can detect objects as small as 5cm high, has dynamic obstacle avoidance and a zero-degree turning circle to access narrow areas. It can even dispose of wastewater and refills with fresh clean water from its integrated charging station.

Workforce efficiencies: Cobots can take care of cleaning large, open spaces, freeing up human time for spot cleaning, disinfecting, deep cleaning and so on. By allowing human workers to concentrate on the more skilled and satisfying elements of the job, this can support everything from overcoming short-term staff availability issues to improving long-term employee retention levels.

Ease of monitoring: Machines such as the Meta-Scrub 60 typically provide detailed information on what they have cleaned and when, which is useful for both internal processes and also providing added value to the end customer. And, with cutting edge machines having the ability to be monitored and directed remotely (via tablet or desktop for example), operators can get on with other tasks while still maintaining rigorous oversight.

Reduced environmental impact: Cobotic solutions generally use less cleaning products and water than traditional floor cleaning approaches. In fact, some require no water whatsoever, using bacteria-removing microfibre to clean floors. This helps reduce slip risks as well as cutting down on wastewater. Modern battery charging cobots can be powered for as little as 35p per hour, with a battery life of up to 20 hours.

Employee benefits
Cleaning operatives are an increasingly valuable resource – and the goal of cobots is to maximise the efficiency of that resource. Cobots free up capacity for instances where a human touch is needed or areas where a machine can’t reach. Human workers’ unique skills can then be put to use on those tasks that deliver the greatest impact.

And with cobots allowing employees to concentrate on the more skilled, nuanced and interesting tasks, there is an increased potential for employees to upskill and focus on higher value aspects of their work. This, combined with less monotonous tasks, can improve job satisfaction and, ultimately (for employers), retention levels.

Making the most of cobots
Cobots such as the Meta-Scrub 60 are also surprisingly easy to adapt to and simple to use. While the technology can seem daunting to start with, after a short period of time users will be confident and competent in its use. 

To make the most out of the opportunity, however, a proactive approach is required to communication and training to ensure a smooth and positive transition. 

Key tips to help workforces adapt include:

Work closely with your cobotic supplier: Our cobotic division, for example, provides all initial product training and installation. We set up the machine for our customers’ spaces and the tasks that the machine will need to carry out. We also train their supervisors on how to make any required further adjustments, should a space change. 

Operators are given a password which allows them to carry out any new mapping and task inputting. This can be useful if, for example, a new pop-up is installed in a space. 

Where needed, we also provide extensive further support and troubleshooting guidance.

Ensure good maintenance: Maintenance isn’t difficult either – simple regular interventions which can be carried out by the operator onsite will keep cobots in good health. Outside of a formal servicing regime, all operators need to do is wipe the pads every day and inspect attachments and flush out the hose once a week, as well as empty the filter every few months.

On the subject of services, we’ve partnered with the UK’s leading engineering service provider, Veritek, to offer servicing and repairs across the country for the Meta-Scrub 60.

Up to speed with cobotics
Cobotics has the potential to revolutionise the cleaning sector. While there can be misconceptions that cobots are complex, time-consuming or will displace human workers, nothing could be further from the truth.

Cobots can help businesses clean more effectively and efficiently while supporting their workforces and overcoming key issues like staff shortages and environmental impact. By working with the right supplier, leaders in the cleaning sector can also be reassured that they have a supportive partner there to help them make the most of the opportunity every step of the way.