How to select the perfect sweeper for your environment

The specifying and purchase of indoor and outdoor sweeping equipment has many components. Since both ride-on and walk-behind sweepers can cost many thousands of dollars and represent a major capital purchase for most companies, great care should be used in selecting the right size and type of sweeper for the plant environment.

By Joel Crenshaw, American-Lincoln

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Keeping industrial facilities free from dirt and debris has both aesthetic and economic value. Parking lots and sidewalks that are free from sand and gravel, and factory floors that are free from dust and debris are safer than dirty ones. In addition, a facility that is clean, inside and out, creates a good image for employees, vendors and customers. This often pays dividends in the form of higher worker retention and productivity, and better relations with your customers, vendors and community. In short, a clean facility reduces certain liabilities and risk factors while increasing upside business potential.

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Today’s modern walk-behind and ride-on sweepers not only reduce the amount of labor involved in keeping a facility clean, but they do a significantly better cleaning job than an army of workers with push-brooms. And, although large ride-on sweepers may cost in excess of $20,000 to purchase, this investment pales in comparison to the cost of labor to do the same job manually or with inadequate or antiquated equipment. Over time, a new machine will pay for itself many times over in labor savings alone. A modern power sweeper cleans faster and more aggressively. It also collects fugitive dust that would otherwise become airborne and be breathed in by employees with possible health consequences or settle on cars, shrubbery and equipment where it affects appearances and operation. In order to select a sweeper that is best suited to your facility, you will need to evaluate your sweeping needs.

Purchasing equipment vs. contract cleaning

One of the first decisions to make after identifying that you have a sweeping need is whether to purchase equipment for employee use or hire a contract cleaning service. If you buy a sweeper and operate it with in-house personnel, you have control over timing.  When you own the equipment, you have the flexibility to clean whenever you need to. If you purchase, you will have the initial equipment costs plus maintenance and the cost of keeping trained personnel on staff. On the other hand, if you contract for services, the contractor bears the equipment costs and has trained operators who know how to clean. However, if you contract to have the sweeping done every Friday evening and your facility is dirty on Tuesday, you still have to wait until Friday night to get it cleaned. 

If you only need to sweep your facility two or three times a year (say, in the fall and in the spring), then contract cleaning may be the economical choice.  However, if you have to sweep your facility four or more times a year, then owning your own sweeping equipment is likely to make economic sense. If your parking lots get a fair amount of car and truck traffic year-round, then sweeping four times a year is typically a minimal schedule.  In the snowy northern areas of the country, many facilities only sweep their parking lots twice a year—once in the spring to get the sand, salt and gravel, and once in the fall to pick up leaves. In areas where it snows and then melts off and on during the winter, parking lot sweeping must be done much more often to eliminate the possibility of slips on loose sand and gravel.

Some facilities have a greater need for sweeping, both indoors and out. A parks department or a sports stadium usually sweeps after every event. A large parking garage in a major city may be sweeping every day due to the constant in and out traffic. Certain industrial facilities require near-constant sweeping — such as food processing plants, cement batch plants and dry industrial materials processing plants. 

Fugitive dust needs to be controlled so that it doesn’t drift onto adjacent property or roads or get into groundwater or sewers. Many industrial plants are monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make sure they keep hazardous dust under control — and frequent sweeping with good dust control is a key to staying in compliance.

Surveying your sweeping needs

The process of specifying and purchasing a sweeper begins with identifying your cleaning demands. Some sweeper manufacturers or local distributors will conduct a formal cleaning survey to assess your cleaning needs. This survey asks specific questions about your facility and its use in order to recommend the most efficient equipment for the job. Typical topics covered in this survey include:

• Square footage to be cleaned
• Indoor surface type
• Outdoor surface type
• Type of debris
• Steepest grades to be swept or traversed
• Equipment maneuverability requirements
• Estimated cleaning schedule and daily run time
• Current cleaning practices, problems, issues
• Number of operators, training requirements
• Debris disposal issues
• Equipment maintenance issues

Square footage to be swept

The primary factor in determining whether you purchase a walk-behind or a ride-on sweeper is the size of the area to be swept. For example, if the area is 50,000 square feet or less, then a walk-behind sweeper with a 36-inch wide sweeping path may be a good choice. If the area is between 50,000 and 75,000 square feet, a compact ride-on sweeper with a 50-inch sweeping path is suitable. From 75,000 to 130,000 square feet, a midsize sweeper with a 60-inch sweeping path is appropriate. Finally, areas over 130,000 square feet require the largest ride-on sweepers with a 66-inch sweeping path. See Figure 1. These large sweepers are often used by such facilities as big-box retail distribution centers and large automotive manufacturing plants. About 70% of all sweepers are purchased for sweeping outdoors. If sweeping needs are primarily indoors, companies often buy a combination sweeper-scrubber machine that sweeps ups debris and scrubs and dries the floor in a single pass. If you have both indoor and outdoor sweeping needs, you need to find a machine that meets both needs or purchase two different machines.

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