It’s not that Jon Hill and Pat Manuel want to do away with the human equation when it comes to facilities cleaning. Rather, the cofounders of LaserClean Systems LLC want to elevate and advance the perception of the janitorial industry, as well as create a more engaged and stimulated workforce. To accomplish both objectives, the pair (along with a third cofounder, William Dillon), are focusing on technology, what they refer to as “human assisted automated solutions” or HAAS for short.
Located in Richmond, Virginia, the two-year-old company has embraced mobile robots; specifically, those designed for floor care, says Hill, LaserClean’s CEO. Their robotic inventory includes two TASKI Intellibot Swingobots (1850 and 2000) and the TASKI Intellibot Aerobot 1850 — all from Diversey Inc., Charlotte, North Carolina. Along with this equipment LaserClean’s inventory incorporates more conventional — yet, still advanced — equipment, such as touchless cleaning machines, backpack vacuums and pulse mops.
The founders came to this effort from very different backgrounds. Dillon, chief innovation officer, has nearly four decades of experience in facility services, and serves in an advisory capacity; Hill worked as a CFO for the original Intellibot startup; and Manuel, director of operations for the company, spent 32 years in public schools as a teacher and coach.
At the time they met, Hill was working on a business model involving robotic cleaning and Manuel was still teaching. However, as luck would have it, the county he taught in had recently outsourced all their facility operations and as Manuel puts it, the results were a “disaster.” Nothing was getting clean, he recalls. It was bad for the staff and for the students.
He shared his dismay with Hill and the two began talking about some of the issues related to facilities maintenance and the challenges associated with the industry, in particular the often transient nature of the workforce.
“The work tends to be very physically difficult and the pay tends to be low,” says Hill, of the factors contributing to the high turnover that characterizes much of this industry. This can lead to increased hiring and training costs for companies, expenses related to injuries and workers’ compensation, as well as unsatisfactory outcomes for clients and the subsequent loss of business, he adds.