The impact of automation and AI on soft services
The rise in popularity of automation and robots in the cleaning space is beginning to have an impact in the Gulf, fmME examines its prominence
It is estimated that there are more than 1,500 registered facilities management companies in Dubai. And several integrated FM companies grimace about the protracted figure as they believe these companies aren’t offering ‘FM’ services as a majority of them offer either janitorial or cleaning services only. It's also believed that these companies don't adhere to evolving cleaning trends and standards.
Cleaning, however, continues to be the mainstay function of FM. The popularity of which is on the rise thanks to the growth of urban environments. And lately the regional cleaning sector has embraced technological advancements and automation. The transformation is also helping FM companies balance the ultra-price sensitive cleaning sector.
Looking at the uptake of technology on the outdoor cleaning space, Dubai Municipality has taken the lead and purchased 15 new environmentally-friendly machines. These 'giant vacuums' run purely on electricity and will clean Dubai's streets, albeit with an attendant piloting the machine.
The private sector is also moving into this space as Dubai-based FM company ServeU announced it will use robotic cleaners — from Avidbots — along the streets of Dubai Motor City. The company says that the "extensive testing of the machinery is complete with the final implementation already in place."
The Avidbot Neo is a purpose-built floor scrubbing robot that integrates sensor technology, lasers and 3D cameras, along with AI navigation. This is the first instance where a private FM company has turned to a fully-automated street cleaning system. Although ServeU has stated that the system such as this is ideally suited for use in large open areas, which are normally maintained by cleaners physically using handheld equipment.
Gary Reader, general manager, ServeU says: “Using these robots will allow ServeU to provide a higher level of quality service with less actual cleaners. In addition to decreased physical strains for our staff, innovations like these would also mean less wastage in consumables leading to reduced costs and reduction in risk of environmental degradation.”
ServeU estimates that through the implementation of Neo, the firm can replace the menial responsibilities of five to seven cleaners over one shift.
He adds: “Net savings are then reflected in yearly cost reduction sharing plans, which see mutual benefit to both ServeU and its customers.”
In the indoor robotic cleaning space, LG grabbed headlines 12 months ago when it trailed two robots in Seoul’s International airport — one of the bots offered floor cleaning services. LG said that the bot was able to “detect the areas that require the most frequent cleaning, store those locations in its database and calculate the most efficient routes to get there.”
In the following months LG trailed its robots at different international trade shows making a strong case for itself in the service industry as its bots have managed to address more service related functions such as porters.
Meanwhile, a report released by McKinsey & Company last November suggested that by 2030, as many as 800 million workers globally could be replaced by robots. Even if automation adoption is slower, as many as 400 million people could still be affected, the report stated.
The GCC, however, has always had a high availability of workers, but the client's perception is changing now. As Initial Group managing director Mohammed Bundakji says “Clients aren’t interested with FM companies throwing staff at a project.”
Quality is an increasingly growing requirement and a norm by which the success of KPIs are determined. In the wake of this evolving landscape, what impact will automation and technology have on cleaning? Only time will tell.