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Cleaning machines on a constrained budget? Possible!

Satish Mahajan, Vice President, Comac India Pvt Ltd

For any startup, acquiring cleaning machines may seem a daunting, financially challenging task. In this forthright interview, Satish Mahajan, Vice President, Comac India Pvt Ltd gets down to the brass tacks of assessing, choosing, budgeting for and procuring cleaning machines.

With many start-ups facing a funds crunch, why should they invest in relatively more expensive machines rather than make do with tools?

The relative costliness of a machine must always be seen in the context of the customer’s needs and the offered benefits. If a client wants their premises to be cleaned quickly, efficiently and at a high standard, this is only possible with mechanisation.

Not all cleaning jobs can be done manually. Machines are indispensable in deep cleaning of floors, daily maintenance of vast floor areas, road sweeping, restoration of marble, descaling of washrooms, sanitisation of kitchen areas. Besides, startups will need to adopt innovative cleaning methods to acquire new clients.

The complete solution for a client is a combination of the right tools, chemicals and machines.

If the client has investment constraints and the focus is only on conventional methods, startups should not overplay on mechanisation to bag contracts, but try to achieve a balance of machines and tools.

What are the basic categories of cleaning machines a startup should procure?

One should be well-equipped with basic machines which are used for deep cleaning or intermittent cleaning jobs like deep scrubbing, polishing, crystallisation of floors, cleaning of wet floors and washing of exteriors/paver blocks and washrooms etc. These machines include single-disc scrubber, wet and dry vacuum cleaner, high pressure washer, injection & extraction machine. They can also invest in a walk-behind scrubber-dryer for daily floor maintenance.

Startups should analyse the conditions at a client’s facility and then propose a mechanised solution. If the client is not at all using mechanised methods, propose the aforementioned basic machines to start with, to help reduce cost of cleaning, improve cleaning standards and perceptions of facility users.

Procurement of machines apart from those mentioned above should depend on the client’s needs, their investment appetite, compliance or regulatory requirements, safety standards etc.

How should startups assess the products available in each category?

They should acquaint themselves with the cleaning science, processes and standard methods. There are a lot of cheap products available in the market, which come at a very low and attractive price point, but during their life cycle, the cost of repair and maintenance will be very high. Everyone should assess products with respect to 1) Quality 2) Cost of repairs & maintenance 3) After sales service support 4) Availability of spares/consumables 5) The consistency of the supplier in staying aligned to a single brand 6) Unique features and benefits of machines which could deliver high performance to the client.

How should startups assess life cycle costs, including power/fuel costs, before making a decision?

The following data is generally available with the supplier:

  • Life of consumables in hours: Typically of brush and squeegee blade, and depends on the type of floor. For example, a polypropylene (PP) brush of 0.6 mm bristle diameter should typically last for 300-400 hours on an epoxy-coated or vitrified tile/granite/marble floor, but the same could be consumed fast if used on cemented/trimix floors, as cement is abrasive in nature.
  • Fuel/power consumption per hour: It depends on the size of engine; bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.
  • Any critical components which are consumed or fail during the lifetime of the machine, such as electronic control cards.
  • If possible, they should check on references or pay a visit to existing customers of the OEM/supplier to avoid surprises in the future.

What should a startup look for to assess the durability and longevity of a cleaning machine?

For example, Comac India offers four walk-behind scrubber dryers; if you compare them based on measurables like scrubbing width, tank capacity, squeegee length etc, they are more or less the same, but each is made to cater to different needs. They differ in their construct: the entry level model is built on three wheels, which is good for the commercial and retail market segments; the second best is built on four wheels and is more reliable when deployed in a challenging industrial environment; the third one, which is built on a chassis (painted steel) is most desirable when you have a heavy cleaning job at hand. The fourth one is the best one and is built on an aluminium chassis – it comes with antibacterial tanks, water level indicator and can be equipped with Comac dosing system.

Likewise, when a startup wants to buy a simple walk-behind scrubber dryer, they should assess the type of floor, the area that needs to be cleaned, how much brush pressure is required etc.

Each machine is designed with a specific application in mind; the one-size-fits-all approach is a big problem and should be avoided by startups. The selection of machines should not be based on price point. Durability and longevity depend on the application of the machine for which they are deployed, and on the construct.

What are the Top 3 mistakes startups make in selecting and procuring cleaning machines?

  • They buy machines with a short term objective, or at times don’t buy the right machines or machines based on application.
  • They don’t pay enough attention to understanding cleaning science; the approach needs to be a solution to a problem; not just cleaning but the right cleaning.
  • They want to acquire contracts by offering mechanisation at the lowest possible rental/amortisation due to competition from big players.

What advice would you give startups for making the most of their cleaning machines budget?

They must survey the client’s premises along with the OEM’s trained representative, who can guide startups in choosing the right mix of machines, understand their needs and analyse the existing cost structure before allocating a budget for machines. Sometimes, sales people may want to bag the contract at any cost by overlooking the cost of machinery. Once the contract is bagged, pressure comes on the supply chain team to buy a machine within the available budget; not the right machine. The operations team cannot manage with small machines or fewer machines and ultimately, nobody is happy.

If resource allocation is appropriate, budgets will not be a constraint. Personnel should be regularly retrained on the right use and maintenance of machines to ensure a long life cycle and high ROI.

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