Docking stations: 3 questions you need to ask yourself
If you’re in the market for a floor cleaning robot for commercial and industrial environments, docking stations seem like a good match. Let's take a closer look.
Similar to base stations for household robot vacuums, simply place the floor scrubber in its designated position and let the docking station perform routine maintenance tasks.
There are two approaches to docking stations with autonomous floor scrubbing robots:
- Electric-only station: These docking stations charge the floor scrubber. An operator must fill the machine with a cleaning solution and drain the recovery tank — in addition to other regular dock maintenance tasks.
- Electric and water station: These docking stations charge the floor scrubber, fill it with cleaning solution and dispose of dirty water. An operator is required to complete additional regular dock maintenance tasks to ensure optimal cleaning.
- No station: An operator manually drains the recovery tank, refills the cleaning solution and charges or swaps the batteries.
A docking station sounds great, right? After all, who wouldn’t want these tasks automated?
What may seem like a helpful feature on paper plays out differently in the real world. Docking stations and their alleged convenience potentially come with a price: to your facility, to your return on investment and to your operations as a whole.
Here are three important questions you need to ask yourself when considering whether a docking station is right for you.
1. What’s the return on investment?
The primary benefit of docking stations is their alleged cost savings. If the robot can “pit stop” without human assistance, you’re saving labor hours every day on a routine task.
However, this is only one part of the picture, and an incomplete one at that. Installing docking stations within your facility comes with significant costs attached.
Your plan needs to consider the upfront costs of purchasing and installing essential supporting infrastructure. It should also include building renovation expenses, as well as any costs resulting from disruptions or downtime during the installation and renovation process.
Clearly, these costs can add up fast. Consider the construction work required in a typical commercial facility.
Labor & other cost considerations
Work to be done
Digs a channel through concrete floors and installs a sewer line from the docking station
Repairs and/or replaces the removed flooring
Runs water line and tears open a wall to install a water supply line to the docking station
Runs a new circuit to the docking station to supply power for battery charging. The electrical panel will also need to be modified to add circuit breakers.
Repairs the drywall from above work by plumbing contractor and electrician
Repaints the wall once the drywall repair is completed
Purchase building permit for above renovations
Project planning and management by your team or a third party
Now, these renovation costs will vary depending on the existing infrastructure in your facility, but the total bill could reach into the thousands — if not tens of thousands — of dollars before the docking station itself is even purchased.
Assuming a loaded labor rate of $25 per hour and one 10 to 15-minute “pit stop” per day to exchange the water and charge the batteries (43 hours per year), the total annual turnaround labor cost is approximately $1,075 per year. At this rate, you may not break even for a decade.
2. Does your facility operate continuously?
In highly dynamic environments, such as warehouses, airports and hospitals, continuous and consistent floor care isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. Given how these facilities operate, a clean environment is crucial to the quality of their service and the health and safety of their staff and guests.
As a result, any cleaning downtime resulting from unavailable equipment can be detrimental. But rather than maximize your robot’s uptime, docking stations can limit it.
For facilities that require prolonged periods of continuous scrubbing, swappable batteries are an easy and effective way to extend cleaning time. Moreover, because this task only takes minutes, there’s little downtime between when the batteries are low and when the new ones are up and running.
For docking stations, however, the robot will take hours to fully charge. During that time, how do you clean your facility?
So, while changing water and emptying the recovery tank may only take minutes, charging its batteries takes significantly longer; your robot will be docked in one for hours at a time. In effect, docking stations cause your robot to lose hours of productivity every day, further weakening your return on investment.
3. Where do you place the docking station?
Where do you store your floor scrubber? Likely out of sight and out of mind. For docking stations, though, this can be a problem.
To allow your floor cleaning robot easy access to the areas you want to scrub, you need to locate your docking station within arm's reach of them. However, this isn’t always possible in many locations, where floor layout and building infrastructure make docking stations an imperfect — and sometimes impossible — fit.
Indeed, installing them close to their operating areas isn’t always a sensible option either. For example, placing docking stations in retail locations sacrifices valuable floor space for an item that generates no revenue. More worryingly, placing an expensive piece of technology where it may be prone to tampering does not come without risk.
No docking station offers complete automation
No docking station can fully replace a human operator. Whether you have a docking station or not, your robot still requires routine maintenance to ensure consistently high cleaning standards. For example, staff should perform these maintenance tasks daily:
- Fill with fresh cleaning solution.
- Drain and rinse recovery tank.
- Empty solid debris from debris bins (if applicable).
- Rinse out brushes or replace floor pads (to avoid smudges or dark spots).
- Clean squeegees (to eliminate streaks or water trails).
Even the most sophisticated docking stations can only perform some of these tasks. At best: fill, drain, rinse and charge. At worst: nothing but charging.
Without routinely performing these chores, cleaning quality will suffer: debris can be left on the floor, marks or streaks might be present and water trails may remain after the machine has passed.
Not only is this inconvenient, but in these examples and more a human operator is responsible for fixing the mess.
If your goal was to free up labor hours and realize cost savings by taking your employees out of the maintenance loop, docking stations cannot regularly deliver on that promise.
Maximize productivity and ROI with Neo
At Avidbots, we focus on automating the dull, dirty, monotonous and potentially dangerous task of riding or pushing a floor scrubber for hours on end.
Our floor scrubbing robot Neo helps short-staffed teams reallocate labor to productivity-focused, revenue-generating activities while Neo cleans your facility.
As technology advances and the labor market continues to change, it may eventually become sensible to adopt robot docking stations for cleaning scrubbing robots.
At present, though, docking stations can struggle to meet the ROI objectives, operating conditions and productivity targets of many organizations.
When docking stations make financial and practical sense for our customers, Avidbots will continue to lead the way and help businesses operate more efficiently and productively.
Until then, however, we encourage you to evaluate whether a docking station helps you reach your strategic goals.
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