Robotic edge cleaning saves work of 1 person per hour


“All edges and corners at the MyZeil shopping centre are now being maintained by a Wetrok cleaning robot. As a result, we can do the work with one person less per deployment hour.”

Michael Hopf of the facility cleaning company UNIVERSAL is the project lead for all cleaning at the MyZeil shopping centre in Frankfurt. In May of this year, he welcomed a new member to the team: Robomatic Marvin, the cleaning robot. Michael told us everything about the personnel hours he saved, some show interludes for the public Marvin performed, and about the type of objects benefit the most from robotic cleaning.

On the UNIVERSAL company website it says that you only use the latest in cleaning technology – is that why you went ahead and invested in a cleaning robot?
Yes and no. Sure: We are very open-minded when it comes to new technologies. But that’s not just because we enjoy innovation, but rather what we can gain from using it. In other words: Innovation really is only interesting to us if it helps reduce costs.

What exactly is your role at UNIVERSAL?
I have been working in facility cleaning since 1968. I have had leadership positions in many cleaning companies here and abroad. I joined UNIVERSAL in 2014 as project lead for the MyZeil shopping centre in Frankfurt/Main, and help shape company strategy as part of the management team.

What is it that sets UNIVERSAL apart from other facility cleaning companies?
The depth of our know-how. Our team includes a number of masters in cleaning technology, who have learned their trade from the bottom up. These people have made a name for themselves and find solutions for the most tricky cases. For example: If you ask ten facility cleaning specialists about how to correctly clean an aluminium window frame, nine will likely not have an answer for you – but we are number ten, and we know exactly what to do.

Wetrok’s Robomatic Marvin has been in deployment at the MyZeil shopping centre since May 2023. Was cost savings – as you mentioned early on – the main reason for the investment?
Everyone wants to reduce costs with a robot. Full stop. Anyone, who says it isn’t so is lying. After all, the machine does cost quite a bit, and as a company, we are profit-oriented. The expectation is therefore that the machine will save personnel hours here and there. We are currently in a situation, where – due to lack of personnel – the robot is picking up the slack wherever we don’t have enough people working. The labour market is becoming increasingly precarious, which is why employees in facility cleaning companies need not be afraid of robotic competition. Both are needed, just for different tasks.

Let’s be more specific: How much do you actually save by deploying a robot?
As humans and machines work side by side, at MyZeil shopping centre, we are able to save one person per deployment hour. Marvin cleans the edges and corners, one person looks after the surface areas – we used to have to deploy two people to do these jobs.

Are there any other reasons for choosing the robot?
Actually, deploying a robot is a definite plus when creating a quote, or when we speak to prospective customers for the first time. Having a robot in our fleet shows that we are deploying solutions for the future today, that we prioritise a rational and high-efficiency cleaning process, and that we can guarantee continuously high cleaning quality results. Our customers are definitely on board with that!

Why did you decide to purchase a cleaning robot by Wetrok, a Swiss company?
My father was a master in cleaning technology. He worked with his first Wetrok machine in the 1970s. His conviction: A Wetrok machine is the Mercedes among cleaning machines – powerful, indestructible, and robust. For him, decades of using that machine, combined with the great cleaning quality it provides, have made perfect economical sense. He gave me that machine when I started my first own facility cleaning operation. I was basically brought up with a passion for Wetrok’s great products.

What are the robot’s areas of application at the shopping centre?
It cleans all the edges and corners – in the entire shopping centre, on all floors and in the wash room facilities.

So… all the robot cleans is edges and corners?
Exactly. But I can tell you: Marvin is really busy doing “only” that, considering each floor at the centre has a footprint of around 4000 square metres. He also does spot cleaning as needed.

What kind of spot cleaning can Robomatic Marvin do?
On rainy days, we have to deal with a lot of water puddles on the top floor. We programmed Marvin to follow the exact route where most of the puddles occur. He ensures non-slip floors and minimises accident risks for passers-by.

Then you are satisfied with the performance of the cleaning robot so far?
Satisfied is an understatement – we are downright DELIGHTED (beams). The robot has been working since May without a single hitch. It helps save personnel hours, delights the visitors at the shopping centre, and cleans edges and corners better than they have ever been cleaned. But then… we never expected anything less of a Wetrok product (winks).

Why did you decide not to get a fully autonomous robot?
The infrastructure at MyZeil is not ideal for a fully autonomous solution. For example, there aren’t any suitable areas for loading, emptying, etc.

Who does the programming for Marvin and who puts him on his daily routes?
The object leads or supervisors take Marvin on his route along the areas to be cleaned on each floor one time, and store the information in his memory. The cleaning crew can then position Marvin at his starting position each day, switch him on, and he will follow his saved cleaning routes autonomously.

And what does the human personnel do while he does his thing?
The crew will complete other floor cleaning tasks while Marvin works along the shop windows – they will do e.g. dust-binding mopping or clean the complete floor area using a ride-on scrubber-dryer. They will additionally take care of other cleaning tasks above floor level: Empty rubbish bins, clean billboards, polish banisters, remove marks from lift buttons, etc. The biggest difference with Marvin: The robot has a significantly larger audience while cleaning than do his human counterparts (laughs).

What do you mean? How do passers-by react to the robot?
Marvin has become a star attraction at MyZeil! Numerous fans are taking pictures of him every day. People of all ages take videos, and stand in the robot’s way to see if he will really stop or move around them – which, of course, he does 100% of the time. Shopping centres are always somewhat of an event centre, and Marvin makes sure that facility cleaning becomes an entertaining live show. Another great plus for the centre’s perceived innovativeness!

How did you clean the floors in the centre before Marvin?
The traditional way, highly personnel-intensive – with push-sweepers or ride-on scrubber-dryers.

How frequently do you deploy the robot and on what types of floors?
Marvin cleans the edges and corners on all floors of the shopping centre. That takes him around 2-3 hours per day – six days a week. And then there are as-needed deployments for spot cleaning. He handles all the cleaning on terrazo, vinyl, tiles, and artificial stone floors.

What types of dirt does Robomatic Marvin remove?
You would be surprised to know what kind of things are lurking in hidden corners on the floors of shopping centres. There’s dust, spots of grease, traces of spilled drinks, urine, faeces, and even blood stains. Most commonly – thankfully – there’s dried out ketchup stains to get rid of (laughs).

What challenges would you consider characteristic for shopping centres?
Change. A shopping centre is much like a living organism that is constantly changing. There are seasonal changes regarding decorations, location changes for advertising areas, and even the seating areas are moved around. You never know if a bench will be in the same spot from one week to the next. Robomatic Marvin is just perfect for continuously changing surroundings like these: The robot is reprogrammed by the object lead with minimal effort to adapt to the changed environment – no need for external experts to come around to do that. I mean – I say “programming” – in actual fact, all the object leads have to do is take him on his new route. That’s it. The simplicity of his operation is really a luxury!

Do you think that this robot would be a good choice for other industries or object types?
Absolutely! Basically anywhere, where there are long, quite narrow corridors. For example hospitals, schools, or airports. In a lot of these places, the mopping is still done by hand. But Marvin has such a compact design that he could very easily automate these manual tasks.

Will your company invest in additional Wetrok robots?
Right now, we are still waiting for the end of the testing phase at MyZeil. If the robot continues to prove its worth and saves us money, then we will buy one for every shopping centre. And we’re talking 30 of those, as we are one of the biggest shopping centre cleaning providers in Germany.

Learn more about the robot:
Robomatic Marvin