Cleaning Trends - Tornado Industries

Cleaning Trends
Floor Machine History—Evolution to Innovation
Author: Dave Frank
For many in-house professionals, facility managers, and building service contractors (BSCs), floor
machines become so valuable that they are like a part of the family. But, as with many cleaning tools,
little is known about early floor machines, how they have evolved, and what is on the horizon.
The first useful electric-powered floor machines date back to the early 1900s. Coincidentally, this was
the same time that the Hoover Company introduced a vacuum cleaner light enough, powerful
enough, and inexpensive enough for professional cleaners to consider buying.
Pushing and Pulling
The first floor machines were known as “divided-weight” machines. With these machines, the bulk of
the weight of the machine was on its rear wheels, which remained on the floor during operation. The
buffer rolled in a push-pull fashion over the floor for both scrubbing and polishing.
These early machines used brushes made of Tampico and Bassine, vegetable fibers used for centuries
for floor scrubbing and polishing. To polish floors, carnauba wax would be applied to the floor then
polished to a shine by going back and forth over the floor with the buffer.
The Future Is Cylindrical
Cylindrical floor care machines have counterrotating brushes on each side and rotate at 1,000
RPM at 3.5 psi (pounds per square inch), which
is five times the contact pressure provided by a
rotary machine and works well in most floor
care situations.
Divided-weight machines lacked sufficient speed, weight, and pressure over the brush to produce a
high-gloss shine. The major benefits for the user were that the machines were easier and faster to use
than polishing a floor by hand.
These early machines reached speeds of 175 rotations per minute (RPM), the speed often found on
buffers today. Early tests indicated that speeds above 200 RPM caused the cleaning solution to spray
from the brush because of centrifugal force. Not only was this spraying marring customer walls and
furniture, the effectiveness of the scrubbing solution decreased as it was flung from beneath the
Swinging into the 1920s
It was not long before manufacturers realized that the more pressure on the brush, the better would
be the scrubbing and polishing action. This led to the “swing” machine, which centered its weight on
the brush; the rear wheels lifted off the floor during operation.
Getting accustomed to these new machines took some time. Often the cleaning professional’s first
time on a swing buffer was more like riding a wild bull at a rodeo. These machines seemed to have a
mind of their own, and if the nearest wall was where they wanted to go, only training and skill could
stop them.
Because using the swing machine was a completely new technique, it was met with considerable
reluctance at first. However, as improved floor finishes were introduced requiring a more versatile
machine,BSCs realized that swing machines were needed.They also found that they could substantially improve worker productivity with the new machines—once workers got the hang of them.
The Wet Look and Rock ’n’ Roll
Throughout the mid-1900s, it was the floor chemical manufacturers that were driving the need for
faster and heavier floor machines that would work better with their new products. But by the late
1950s, equipment manufacturers began taking the lead, introducing the first high-speed, or variable
speed, floor machines. The operator could adjust these machines to rotate at 175 to 350 RPM, depending on his or her needs.
As floor machines, new polymer technology used to produce the floor finish, and pads began to
advance in unison, the level of shine produced took on more of a “wet look”than ever before.This shine
could be maintained by regular “spray buffing,” which meant maintenance crews were able to develop a complete floor maintenance system, not requiring the custodians to strip and refinish floors quite
as often. BSCs, their customers, and facility managers appreciated this, and high-speed machines
quickly became the new floor cleaning standard.
Floor technology continued to advance, further extending the length of
time required between refinishing. By the 1970s, rotation speeds of 750
to 1,000 RPM were common. Because of the higher RPM, some floor finishes “fractured” or “powdered” under the faster machines and often
pads would quickly degrade because of the speed. Improved floor pads
were introduced, and innovative chemicals produced an even highergloss shine. Ultimately, the pad and chemical manufacturers introduced
products that would hold up well with electric machines producing
1500 to 2000 RPMs.
Watch for “Low Areas”
Hard surface floors are often installed over newly laid concreted
floorswhich has a tendency to settle unevenly. If a standard VCT
floor is installed over the cement, it may become slightly uneven
as the cement below settles.The problem this creates when refinishing the floor is that it is difficult for the standard rotary buffer
to remove finish and dirt build-up in these areas. Finish and solution can build up in these areas causing them to darken. In time,
these areas make the floor look uneven as if it has waves.
Blown Fuses, Battery Packs, and Propane
Floor equipment manufacturers realized that ultra high-speed machines
produced the best shine. But roadblocks soon emerged in the form of
blown fuses. Sufficient amperage to power the faster, heavier machines
was usually not available.
To address this problem, manufacturers turned to battery-powered
machines. Using battery-powered machines at large facilities such as
retail stores, hospitals, and large grocery stores, floor maintenance crews
could improve their floors’ appearance without the need to bolster
power amperage. Removing power cords also helped reduce safety concerns.
Battery packs did solve problems initially, but because the batteries produced a short run time and substantially increased the weight of the
machines—making them difficult to transport—a new power supply
was sought. By the early 1980s, propane-powered buffers became a
viable alternative. Several manufacturers began adding propane buffers
to their product line, often purchasing the propane units from other
manufacturers and private labeling them under their own name.
Propane units became quickly popular because of their extended run
time, their consistent rotation speeds of 2,000 RPM, and the increased
pad pressure—up to thirty pounds—that they produce on the floor.This
pad pressure is double that of battery and electric machines. All of these
advances increased productivity significantly.
The propane unit’s productivity and “wet look” results created the new
standard for the industry. However, they had limitations:
High noise levels
Increased equipment maintenance needs
Exhaust emissions, which prevented them from being used
in many facilities
The Future Is Cylindrical
The evolution of floor care has been like a slow freight train pulling out
of the station. “In the future, in large floor areas such as factories and
shopping centers, we will see riding equipment becoming more common,”said Tom Sawyer, of Mid-Michigan Supply Company in Jackson,MI.
“This will include riding autoscrubbers and burnishers.”
However, for more typical floor maintenance work, Sawyer believes that
cylindrical machines will become increasingly popular. Cylindrical floor
care machines have counterrotating brushes on each side and rotate at
1,000 RPM at 3.5 psi (pounds per square inch), which is five times the
contact pressure provided by a rotary machine and works well in most
floor care situations.*
Cylindrical machines are designed to line up right against baseboards
and walls to provide excellent edge cleaning. In tests at Colorado State
University, custodial supervisor Janet Vigil said, “I used it to strip a hallway that was damaged pretty severely. It worked well in getting into the
doorways, and there was no splattering of slurry against walls or even
the baseboards.”
The cylindrical machines, though “smooth as a Cadillac” to operate
according to Sawyer, still has spot removing power. In tests at Iowa State
Prison, maintenance supervisor John Gultrop said that he was very
impressed with how the cylindrical machine was able to remove spots
and stains, which the standard rotary machine had not been able to
Sawyer said that the cylindrical machine he used was versatile and
worked on a variety of different floor types.“It had a very low profile, and
it was easy to get in and around restroom partitions, counters, and
benches where many machines cannot go.” Similar to what was reported at Colorado State University, there was no need to “tape-off” edges
and baseboards to protect them from the machine’s solution splatter, a
common problem when stripping with a rotary machine.
This compactness makes the machine ideally suited for environments
such as hospitals,nursing homes,kitchens,school classrooms,hotels,and
so on.“I would try it in office type areas,” added Vigil.
Cylindrical machines have multidirectional capabilities. This means that
they can be operated side to side or back and forth in a straight line.The
machine Sawyer used comes equipped with a 0.8-gallon/3-litre solution
tank or a larger 2.6 gallon/10-litre tank is available as an option.The tank
allows the operator to re-wet an area while stripping and adds about 20
pounds to the machines, both increasing worker productivity. An addon weight for even heavier scrubbing or buffing is also available.
“The cy l i n d ri cal brushes themselves are quite an innovat i o n ,” said
Sawyer. According to the manufacturer, they can out last 100 conventional pads and do not need to be cleaned, or obviously replaced, as
often. This is a major savings for the facility manager or BSC.
“I believe cylindrical floor machines are the floor care systems for the
21st century,”said Sawyer.“Your first test drive will sell you on them.They
incorporate the best of the floor machines that have come before but
are lighter, more versatile, much easier to maneuver, and more productive than any machine before.”
* Specification provided by Tornado Industries.
About David Frank
David Frank is known as “the high impact speaker who motivates.”Every year he presents over 100 seminars specifically designed for the cleaning industry. He is a nationally recognized authority with over 25 years of experience in cleaning system design,
motivation, leadership, facility management, indoor air quality and numerous other
topics for cleaning organizations. He is the president of KnowledgeWorx, a consulting
and training firm dedicated to developing leaders at all levels of the cleaning industry. A visionary and leader, he has worked with the foremost cleaning organizations,
manufacturers and distributors, gathering experience from all levels of the industry.
David is an active member of the International Sanitary Supply Association who has
served on the Indoor Air Quality committees for the Carpet & Rug Institute and
Underwriters Laboratories to establish standards for healthy building designs, cleaning standards, and environmental remediation. He brings a wealth of information,
ideas and knowledge that will take your organization to the next level of business
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