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Window cleaning at the world’s tallest building

The world’s tallest and arguably most impressive building, the Burj Khalifa Dubai has some unique requirements regarding cleaning and maintenance, notably to the windows.

To date, the 23,000 glass panels that make up the Burj Khalifa’s exterior have only been cleaned by rope access, but 18 building maintenance units (BMUs) with specified cleaning ranges have been installed that allow workers easy maneuverability to clean the building’s exterior, says the Gulf News.

According to the report, under normal weather conditions, with all 18 BMUs in operation and 36 men manning the machines, the entire facade of the Burj Khalifa will take approximately two to three months to clean.

Depending on the level, Cox Gomyl, manufacturer of the Burj Khalifa’s BMU, has installed a variety of systems. The parapet-mounted sliding BMUs, which have been custom made for the Burj, are designed to access the lower levels up to 380m above ground level. Positioned along three levels, the machines, when not in use, are designed to be parked inside the building and then travel on customised tracks to the outside of the building. The cleaning operators then travel down the facade in order to carry out their cleaning and maintenance duties. They are also fitted with a ‘materials hoist’ which is used to replace broken glass panels on the Burj Khalifa Tower.

Hawk gantry machines

Further up, the Telescopic Boom Unit works between 643mt and 682mt. These are stationary and can rotate as well as extend and retract in order to reach all surfaces. With an ability to clean between 701mt and 740mt high are the hawk gantry machines which have jibs that can rotate to clean the glass surrounding them. Davit systems which are placed between 749mt and 759mt high are the highest point where a BMU can be installed.

Under normal weather conditions, with all 18 BMUs in operation and 36 men manning the machines, the entire facade will take approximately two to three months to clean.

Rope Access

The very top of the Burj which is unreachable by ordinary window-washing cradles, is reserved for more adventurous window cleaners using rope access. The Burj Dubai has specific rope access anchorage on areas such as the spire that enable safe access to change the building’s aircraft warning lights, aesthetic lights and general surface cleaning. Cleaners are able to access the very top via an internal ladder equipped with a fall arrest device, up the 110-mt high and 2-mt diameter spire. A hatch gives access to the anchorage from where the ropes can be rigged to access the areas below.

“Surprisingly enough, there is not a lot of difference between cleaning and maintaining the 16th floor, as opposed to the 160th floor. The only consideration really is the wind where more points of attachment were required to ensure the abseilers’ safety during wind unpredictability that is more frequently experienced at that height,” Daniel Gill Business Development Manager at Megarme, a rope cleaning specialist contractor explains. Megarme, which has technicians with an excess of 15 years’ experience, is currently attempting to secure the tower’s ongoing maintenance package.

All rope-access technicians are trained from scratch. The industry is governed by a number of global associations, the more respected and reputed being IRATA International (Industrial Rope Access Trade Association).

Sun protection

To protect themselves from the sun, the technicians have to carry with them hydration packs supplying an electrolyte sport beverage and wear specialised clothing resembling moon suits. Work is planned around the positioning of the sun by using the natural shade of the buildings.

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