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Indoor Sweeping

Choosing Sweeping Equipment

Best Practices: Warehouse Floor Maintenance 101

Sweep before you scrub, buy equipment that's easy to use, and strive for three Michelin stars when developing a strategy to keep your warehouse and DC floors clean and clear of debris.

Modern Materials Handling logoThis article originally appeared in Modern Materials Handling and is archived here in perpetuity for the sweeping industry. It was written by Bridget McCrea, the publication's Editor.

Richard Bodo cringes when he sees warehouse employees repeating a mistake he's seen time and time again: forgetting to sweep before you scrub. It sounds simple enough—and most of us already know the value in this from cleaning our own homes—but this is still a widely overlooked step when it comes time to clean facility floors at the end of the day, week or month.

"In a warehouse or DC, about 80% of the soils infiltrating the environment are dry particulate soils," says Bodo, director of training for Karcher North America. That soil not only wreaks havoc in "high appearance" areas (such as a Class A office building), but it also damages surfaces and creates a dirty appearance on warehouse and DC floors.

To clean that dirt up, most companies regularly run a scrubber up and down the floors to pick up the gritty materials. In reality, what they should be doing is sweeping first. Doing so ensures that the dry particulate doesn't get caught in the scrubber pads and basically become "one large sanding disc," says Bodo.

"Scrubbing first will remove any gloss that's on the floor," says Bodo. "Plus, any soil that's not picked up ahead of time has a tendency to accumulate along the scrubber's squeegee blade and inhibit the machine's performance." And that, says Bodo, is why getting dry soil up before scrubbing is so important, "and yet it is one of the most overlooked parts of any floor maintenance program."

Picking up the dirt and debris

Warehouse managers and maintenance supervisors put time and attention into making sure their forklifts work, conveyors operate properly, and dock doors roll up and down smoothly. But due to their expansive, high-volume, around-the-clock nature, warehouse and DCs aren't always easy to keep clean. Floors, in particular, endure a lot of wear and tear on a daily basis, but aren't always maintained properly. From fuel spills to forklift tire damage to other types of debris, the warehouse floor can quickly turn into a safety hazard and/or eyesore pretty quickly.

Bodo says one of the main reasons companies should factor floor maintenance into their regular activities is because doing so keeps products cleaner. "Dust, sand and grit blows into the warehouse or DC every time you open a door," he points out. "No one wants to have to handle and ship products that are dirty and dusty."

But that's exactly what happens when floors are left unkempt, says Bodo, who encourages warehouse managers to first determine what they expect their floors to look like: Is this a high-appearance location where customers come for regular visits? Are you shipping and handling products that must be kept clean? Are workers picking up pallets and racking to clean around them regularly, or is dust gathering in the corners? Are forklifts leaking fluids all over the floor (with no one cleaning them up)?

"I've been in logistics centers that are some of the cleanest places I've ever seen in terms of just general cleanliness," says Bodo. "I've also been in some that are just disgusting."

With those expectations laid out, Bodo says the next step is to develop a program that includes regular sweeping (focused on getting dry particulate off the floor) and scrubbing. The two main categories of sweepers are direct throw (which works similar to a lobby pan and broom used by movie theater workers) for fine debris, and overthrow sweepers (which pick up the debris and throw it over the broom and into a hopper). The latter works well on large debris, according to Bodo. "If you're dealing with anything larger than small pallet chips, you probably want an overthrow sweeper," he suggests, "which will let you clean a large area without having to empty the hopper."

Of course, maintaining a "very high appearance level" facility will require a bit more elbow grease. According to Bodo, that means having the floor cleaned regularly to remove stains plus gloss restoration. Other best practices include picking up any pallet chips, cleaning up debris and blotting/removing any spills. These simple moves can help prevent slips and falls while also maintaining the company's investment. "As far as oily spills go," says Bodo, "anything that someone could slip and fall on should be removed immediately."

In most cases, Bodo says, poured concrete floors that are polished—as are found in many warehouses and DCs—will require this two-step process. "As long as someone is covering these two bases," he says, "there really isn't too much more to basic floor maintenance." Benefits for customers and employees

Cleaning the floor may be an afterthought for many logistics facility managers, but ignore the task long enough and you could be lowering the total cost of ownership of your building. "It's like anything else," says Erich Schroeder, product manager at Nilfisk-Advance, "in that if you maintain it, you won't have to repair it as often."

And even if the facility isn't playing host to a steady stream of customers on a daily or weekly basis, it still pays to keep it clean "just in case" one decides to pop his or her head in the door. "There is a huge benefit when it comes to attracting new customers by just having a clean, orderly facility," says Schroeder. And it's not just customers that will enjoy walking on and having their products resting on a clean, glossed floor; employees will appreciate it, too.

"It spills right over into job satisfaction and employee attitude," says Schroeder. "If you take care of your facility, it shows that you care about your business and that you also take care of your employees."

The problem, says Schroeder, is that pretty much any business that isn't a cleaning service views clean floors as a "necessary evil," to be dealt with only when something goes wrong (or, when someone complains, slips or falls). "They know that they have to clean, but they don't want to think about it because they're focused on distributing products," says Schroeder. "As a result, they wind up picking the wrong equipment." That misstep can get pretty costly on the labor front, where a too-small machine may require additional hours to get the cleaning job done right.

"By far the most expensive part of the cleaning process is the cost of labor," says Schroeder, "and yet companies will buy the cheapest piece of equipment that they can find to get the job done—not even considering the 'forever cost' associated with the labor needed to run that machine." In the end, Schroeder says, companies should focus on saving on those labor costs, keeping operations happy and safe, and creating less employee turnover.

"There's a lot of payback when it comes to getting the right tool for the right application," says Schroeder. "In this case, that means finding the right scrubber, sweeper or other piece of machinery for your facility."

4 Steps to Selecting the Right Floor Cleaning Equipment

Eric Schroeder, product manager at Nilfisk-Advance, tells warehouse and logistics managers to keep these four things in mind when buying floor cleaning equipment:

  1. Aim for high productivity over lowest price. "In some cases," says Schroeder, "the most expensive piece of equipment may yield the best ROI because your productivity will be high, and you'll save on labor costs."
  2. Look for flexible equipment. From a cleaning power sense, facilities aren't evenly dirty. There are some places that are much dirtier than others, and then some places that are quite clean. "To effectively clean, you need a machine that—on the fly—can adjust its cleaning power at the touch of a button," says Schroeder, "from a down-pressure, water flow and chemical strength perspective."
  3. Get a machine that can grab nuts, bolts and pallet chips. If your floor tends to get cluttered with large debris, look for a cylindrical-type scrubber that can capture those large pieces while scrubbing. "That way, you can get a deep scrub and sweep the floor simultaneously," says Schroeder.
  4. Factor in operator safety and ease of use. Realizing the most cleaners are awarded the task because, well, they have the time to do it, Schroeder says companies should factor operator safety and ease of use into their equipment-buying process. "Look for options that have very low learning curves," says Schroeder, "knowing that the people using it probably won't have Ph.D.s in facility cleaning."

How many Michelin stars would your DC earn?

Knowing that floor cleaning is the kind of task that can be pushed aside when a large order needs everyone's attention, someone calls in sick, or a facility is running 24/7 to keep up with demand during the holiday season, Ian Alexander, associate marketing manager for the Americas at Tennant Company, says none of those are very good reasons to ignore regular floor maintenance and cleaning. "Ultimately, floor maintenance supports a facility's overall efficiency and productivity goals," says Alexander. "It may not be the one thing you're trying to accomplish as a company, but cleaning does support an array of 'general' activities in the warehouse or DC."

Using the Michelin star system of ranking high-end restaurants (where establishments are awarded 0 to 3 stars based on anonymous reviews) as an example, Alexander says those restaurants strive for consistent excellence, day in and day out, no matter what. "Those immaculate kitchens, where everyone and everything has a purpose, draws a similarity to how supply chain professionals think about their overall processes," Alexander notes. "It's a drive to consistently deliver excellence and whether that means cycle times or fill rates or floor maintenance, it's one and the same."

To managers who would rather just sweep as needed or throw some water down to mop up a spill once in a while, Alexander says a better approach is to take a step back and think of floor maintenance just like you would any other potentially "high priority" supply chain or logistics process. "It supports the facility's overall goals," says Alexander, "and it's necessary because it helps you deliver excellent products, whether that's means your cycle times or meeting and exceeding customers' delivery expectations."

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