Fire-Up Those Vacuums
Energy Remains an Innovation ConcernWith California's struggle with power generation remaining a more than passing public - and governmental - concern, it's no small wonder that vacuum manufacturers continue to consider better ways to run more powerful professional-level vacuums through more innovative uses of less power.
Is the solar powered vacuum on the horizon? Not likely, agree the manufacturers we spoke with, but battery technology might be a better bet. Still, there is no question that these manufacturers are putting the development of energy-friendly vacuums on the front burner.
According to John Shanahan, Eastern Zone manager for Minuteman International (www.minutemanintl.com), Addison, Ill., a manufacturer of critical filter vacuums and floor machines, California's power concerns of the last year represent mostly localized power generating limitations, which have not affected present or future vacuum development - for a very unscientific reason.
"Most vacuuming is done in the late afternoon or overnight, when power draw is low," explains Shanahan. "There is also the limitation of what current battery technology can accomplish."
He describes the vacuum motor as "a thirsty, free-wheeling type of engine that consumes battery power at a swift rate." This, Shanahan says, limits the operational time batteries can provide. Cost is also consideration in battery technology.
"The true answer for this venerable tool of the cleaning industry is to match the correct features for the application," he says. "In many cases, it is a blend of several different machines to reach each of the challenges in any given building."
Sherri Cadeaux, Marketing/Customer Care Manager for Muskegon, Mich.-based Pacific Steamex (www.nextwaveofclean.com), manufacturer of the industry's first dual-voltage backpack vacuum, views vacuum efficiency as an ongoing R&D (research and development) concern. While not a lot has been done in the area of reducing requirements for cord-electric machines in response to energy issues other than experimenting with battery technology, Cadeaux says the automotive industry could very well pave the way in this area.
"The introduction of hybrid cars that run on alternate power sources holds great promise for many industries, possibly ours as well," she says. "It's entirely possible that some day we'll see a hybrid machine that operates alternately on battery and solar power."
Pie-in-the-sky? Maybe. But Cadeaux isn't alone in considering such cross-industry refinements, which could offer more application possibilities for the cleaning industry.
Windsor Industries' (www.windsorind.com) Bob Abrams, business manger-Soft Floor Products, takes a similar view. Even as the Englewood, Colo.-based manufacturer and marketer of commercial and industrial floor cleaning equipment experiments with cordless battery-operated vacuums, Abrams says most prototypes remain "a little heavy and don't have that long of a charge," rendering them impractical for professional cleaners.
However, battery technology is becoming more sophisticated, thanks in large part to government subsidies to the automotive industry. "We're paying attention to battery technology, but unfortunately, the floor care community isn't going to take the lead. The automobile is financing that industry for the most part, with money from the federal government."
In the end, innovation in vacuums that might be graced with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy's Energy Star label, may be far off, but it's not in the realm of science fiction either. Still, Steve Thompson, director of Commercial Accounts and National Sales Training for The Eureka Company (www.eurekaco.com), a maker of high-filtration, high-performance uprights, is more pragmatic in his assessment.
"Vacuum power consumption is not a large number when compared to such everyday use items as air conditioners and electric ranges," he says. "The efficiency of vacuums is already rather high, and more training of the commercial customer in proper maintenance of the products will result in maintaining high efficiency."
Efficiency by any other name is cost-savings, and one means to that end, says Larry Shideler, CEO of Boise, Idaho-based Pro-Team, Inc., a manufacturer of backpack vacuums, is "team cleaning."
He points to the 153,000 student body Fairfax County Public Schools, the 12th largest school district in the US. It implemented team cleaning, and recorded the cost savings. Team cleaning increases the speed and quality of cleaning through the use of specialized work-loading techniques and equipment, such as backpack vacuums and wide area vacuums. The method also allowed the district to turn off its lights sooner, saving electricity.
The result: The three-year savings on night lighting in the district's more than 200 buildings amounted to $167,000 in fiscal year 1998, $95,000 in FY 1999, and commensurate savings estimated for FY 2000.
'Team cleaning is first created on paper, based on a building analysis," Shideler explains. "From this blueprint or schematic, team cleaning's "parts" -workers, tools, skills, schedules, job card assignments, and building areas or quadrants - are made to precisely mesh and coordinate producing clean, healthy buildings at the lowest expenditure of time, energy, and other resources."
Tony LaGreca, president and owner of the Commercial Division of New Orleans-based Oreck Corporation (www.Oreck.com/oreck/home.cfm), doesn't see battery technology as a godsend. Instead, he agrees with Minuteman's Shanahan that the cleaner is in charge of efficiency and power restraint.
" When someone says they want a vacuum with high amps, I ask why buy a vacuum that sucks the most electricity," says LaGreca. "People should look at efficiency ratings rather than these stickers that say 12 amps."