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Mechanised cleaning for More efficiency

An year and a half ago, when CIJ visited Baddi, it was observed that many manufacturing facilities were unaware of mechanised cleaning or about the concept of outsourcing. Nicholas Piramal, though had invested Rs 50 lakhs in equipment, did not use professional operators.

Some plants got into deep cleaning of the facilities only at the time of auditing but did not invest in machines for periodic cleaning. For the last two decades, Fourrts India Laboratories Pvt Ltd, Chennai, has been stripping floors every five to seven years to meet cleaning standards. A scrubber-drier could have very well done away with the necessity of stripping.

Many companies are still using traditional methods of cleaning and are sceptical about mechanisation.

Labour efficiency and costs

“Our office is rather small, we don’t need machines to clean. We have five-six boys who do the cleaning – sweeping and swabbing. Was there a need for cleaning machines in olden days? Then why do we need them today? If you are talking of increased dust levels or infection, a little bit of phenyl or light detergent should suffice.”

Most of the client companies take shelter under the above ‘quote’ when it comes to finalising a contract. Are they unaware of mechanised cleaning or are they doing it to cut costs?

“With mechanised cleaning, labour cost per person goes up besides the initial high investment on machines,” says Suresh Nair, Corporate Security, former regional manager-facility, Siemens. “What one needs to understand here is that while labour costs go up, the number of labourers required reduces. The machine value depreciates in three-five years, thus, recovering costs. And yet the machine continues to work except for the costs incurred for upkeep and maintenance. The initial capital investment and the entailing maintenance cost cannot be equated to labour costs. Over and above that machines can be upgraded. It thus becomes an asset.”

But the misapprehension of mechanisation leading to withdrawal of labour has left clients evasive. When Anupam Facility Management proposed cleaning machines and reduction in labour by 20% at one of its client’s factory, the labour union stood the gun. That is not the case, clarifies Suresh. “Labourers being withdrawn can be deployed in more productive and constructive activities elsewhere.” The industry at any rate is facing a crunch for skilled labour.

“With mechanised cleaning, the dignity of the labourer also improves, as he is operating a machine. He is able to support himself with higher wages, as mechanised cleaning requires skilled labour. It’s a win-win situation.”

Mechanisation is a healthy investment that also reduces attrition levels. If the 64,000 sqmt Kalwa factory of Siemens, which is cleaned by 20 labourers in two shifts of eight hours, deploys a road sweeper, it would result in at least 50% cost efficiency, says Suresh.

“Mechanisation definitely improves labour efficiency,” says Ralph Sunil, VP-Administration, Essar Steel Ltd, Gujarat, “as the machine can be put to use during the day shift and also the night shift.” Around 40 labourers were cleaning in a single shift the 8km road stretching across the township of the Hazira plant. But with mechanisation, 11 workers operate on Pelican and TPS road sweepers to clean the roads. This results in around 23% cut in labour costs.

Simply stated, the transition to mechanised cleaning results in decreased chemical consumption, increased worker productivity and reduced expenses on consumables, all the while raising customer satisfaction approval rating to nearly 99%.

One labourer, cleaning manually, used to cover one kilometre in 20 minutes; he can now cover the same with the machine in less than 10 minutes. The quality of cleaning and efficiency improve.

“In manual cleaning, there is the possibility of spillage while collecting waste and carrying it to the dump yard. Hence, there is always a need to clean one more time and the time required to clean manually doubles,” adds Ralph. Whereas, with mechanisation, the very requirement to carry waste is removed, as the machine sucks in everything and unloads the same at a designated spot. Hence, manual intervention is reduced.

“The road sweeper alone has many advantages leading to quality cleaning and efficiency. It comes with water spray and enables wet cleaning in a much better way compared to manual cleaning, where the whole road could get messy. Cleaning with a road sweeper is also a very fast process. And when going for ISO Certification, machines have a lot of value.”

Amrut Badale, National Head-Manufacturing, ForbesPro, Eureka Forbes Ltd, has listed down the work efficiency achieved through mechanised cleaning versus manual cleaning methods.

The cost implications of mechanised cleaning can be understood, through the following cost calculation.

The average productivity of cleaning a mall of 60,000 sqft manually is 6000 sqft per hour per day. In mechanised cleaning it would be 60,000 sqft per person per day. Hence, when it comes to running a scrubber-drier, the productivity of mecahnised cleaning can be easily 10 times more than manual mopping or sweeping.

Competitive edge

Indian companies are resorting to mechanised cleaning to meet international cleanliness and hygiene standards or to take a leadership position in a highly competitive market.

The director of Chandigarh Industrial & Tourism Development Corporation Ltd wanted to change the look of the 10 lakh sqft area bus stand at Chandigarh. “We want it to look like a Metro station or an airport” was the requirement given to Vishal Goel, Managing Director, Sunrise Facility Management Company, Haryana. “We took up the project. The bus stand, consisting of eight lakh sqft open area, two lakh sqft office area and 36 washrooms, was being manually cleaned by over 80 workers. An open area with high footfall, the bus stand cleaning definitely was a challenge.” With one ride-on scrubber-drier, three walk-behind scrubber-driers and a couple of single disc and high pressure jet machines for washrooms, Sunrise cut down manpower by 25% and maintained the facility ‘almost flawless’.

But have the State authorities understood the need for mechanised cleaning at the bus stand? “Not exactly,” says Vishal. Though Sunrise was given the project, all the government jobs are based on tender, which “usually goes in favour of the lowest bidder”. In keeping with the statutory norms, labour and machines, Vishal did not think it feasible to quote 30% lower as given by his contenders. This would be cost efficiency at the expense of the labourers’ salary and quality performance. “The good thing is, the director of CITDCO has asked us to continue the project for one more year.”

The cost efficiency in maintaining such public areas is much more. If washrooms are kept hygienic, it can help reduce the spread of diseases and thereby reduce costs even at the macro level, says Vishal.

Cost efficiency varies from place to place. Only a judicious, scientific and effective use of mechanised cleaning products can be cost effective in the long run and can result in 15-20% reduction in expenses. “At times, housekeeping companies tend to use machines ‘just for the sake of it’. We tend to overdo by trying to sell the mechanised cleaning products. Cost efficiency cannot be reflected in such cases,” says Vishal.

International standards

At the CMC Hospital in Chandigarh, it was manual cleaning until the new management consisting of officials from Walmart, expressed unhappiness on the way the hospital was being maintained. The 80-year-old building was being maintained manually simply because the vendor insisted that “such old structures cannot stand mechanised cleaning”. Says Vishal, “Initially, we were allowed to maintain only 25% of the structure but today we are managing over 70% of the premises. We have invested around Rs9 lakhs in this project where 60 people are deployed.”

A few years back, the client would have asked the service provider to bear the cost of mechanisation, but today it is not the case. “Machines have depreciating charges which are recovered in three years time. Over and above, with changing technology, machines that were working on power are now operating on batteries. This directly improves efficiency. A scrubber drier, for instance, has more power back up today and takes lesser time to recharge, thus saving on energy costs.

“Being in this industry for over 12 years, we know exactly the kind of machine and the brand that are suitable for a particular application. JohnsonDiversey has its strength in single disc; RCM scrubber-driers are good and reasonably priced; Karcher and Eureka Forbes have better high pressure jets and Steco and JohnsonDiversey have good vacuums. Some clients do find Taski expensive but when it comes to single disc, we use Taski. The costs can be recovered, provided the service provider has the confidence that he can survive at least three years in a project.”

Sunrise introduced mechanised cleaning at Infosys and has been maintaining the premises for nine years now. Similarly, Sunrise began maintaining HDFC bank, the day it started operations and today, it services 205 branches. “Well, only when we provide quality products and services, the client will retain us,” says Vishal.

Capital investment

The huge money spent on buying equipment is a capital investment made once in a time. Says Ralph, “The machines we bought initially is holding good for the past 12 years now. The amount of cleaning achieved in terms of existing and expanded area, the number of workers put to work in a day – all put together with efficiency cannot be measured in terms of cost, both tangible and intangible.

“Even though machines are a better option to human intervention, in India, complete mechanisation is not feasible. The people, especially the labourers, are not so disciplined. Be it the common area or the work area, people ignore the ‘Keep Clean’ signboard. For example, after smoking a cigarette at the bus stand, though it is put large on a board to throw it in the trash bin, people in India tend to stub it on the ground.” Human intervention thus is required at any point of time.

Machines simplify operations. With automation, the cleaners are at ease and the in-charge or supervisor confident. “The supervisor can give instruction to the operator and move on to other areas. If we have proper drivers and operators, we can do away with double supervision. Supervision is also reduced, saving manpower and costs. In operating costs we are cost effective close to about 20-30%.”

Today, machines are customised with advancements… With the recent developments, cleaning machines are more compatible and smaller, paving the way forward for India to join the ranks of the developed nations. “To reach there, my appeal to the construction fraternity is to make roads that are environment friendly. Never should a road meet the sand, the road should end with a curve stone, there should be proper drains planned, corners done properly, storm water drains provided…,” says Ralph. In Singapore, the roads are so constructed that because of the movement of vehicles, even a micro dust is pushed to the sides of the road. The plants on either side of the roads are provided with proper water draining system. Such high level of self sufficiency reduces intervention of both man and machine.

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