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Autonomous cleaning: Looking ahead

15 March 2019

Much of the technology necessary to conceptualise and advance autonomous cleaning was developed and tested by other industries decades ago. Nilfisk shares its views on what the next five years will bring for the cleaning industry.

The Nilfisk Group has been at the forefront of autonomous cleaning machine development recognising that self-driving cleaning equipment is the answer to a myriad of challenges that cleaning professionals face. These include employee turnover, poor productivity, inconsistent cleaning results, and high labour costs. Indeed, with labour now accounting for over 70% of cleaning costs and with Brexit on the horizon this is not likely to decrease.

Within the cleaning industry however, there have been a significant number of roadblocks that have slowed progress. For example, existing autonomous technologies had to be adapted to the cleaning environment. The costs of those technologies made them largely cost-prohibitive and customers were resistant to changing their deep-rooted cleaning methods, habits, and patterns. It is fair to say that the cleaning industry has traditional roots and is not quick to change.

Early self-driving cleaning solutions were very expensive and failed to deliver on their promise of autonomy. They were robotic, yes, and they cleaned to some extent without a driver, but they lacked intuition and an ability to adapt to their environment. A key stumbling block was there inability to move around an unexpected obstacle. This invariably gave end users a good reason to stick with their old, familiar cleaning methods. If they still needed a monitoring member of staff, what was the point?

These early solutions disappointed on many fronts but just like within other industries these early prototypes opened the door to greater innovation. The kind of innovation that can effectively reduce labour costs by streamlining cleaning processes, improve employee turnover by creating a more exciting work environment, drive productivity by handling repetitive tasks, and satisfy customers by delivering a consistently clean facility. 

This heightened drive for innovation within the industry comes as the availability and adoption of automation and autonomy continue to grow in workplaces, homes, and communities across the globe. Robots that stack shelves in retail stores to self-driving cars and artificially intelligent home electronics. The revolution in the cleaning industry has begun.


Nilfisk’s research estimates that 20 to 30% of a contract cleaner’s equipment fleet will be autonomous within the next five years. They also believe that the addressable market for autonomous cleaning equipment is more than $3.5 billion, which is roughly 40 percent of the global professional cleaning equipment market. It is anticipated that autonomous cleaning solutions will constitute up to 10 percent of the Nilfisk Groups revenue by 2025.

Industry data further supports this argument, with a study by Markets and Markets projecting that robotic cleaning solutions will be a $4.25 billion business by 2020, with robotic floor cleaning solutions accounting for $600 million of that growth. 

Additionally, the market is starting to see solutions that not only independently clean floors but that extend autonomy to machine maintenance such as adding their own cleaning chemicals, filling and emptying their own water tanks, and recharging their own batteries. 

The commercial cleaning industry has made significant strides in the last decade, innovating at an unprecedented pace to bring to market compliant autonomous solutions customers want, need, and are now demanding. It is clear the coming years will bring continued advancements in autonomous solutions that will disrupt, elevate, and revolutionise the cleaning industry and its entire eco system.

For more information www.nilfisk.co.uk