“With the Wetrok robot, we save 44 minutes every day on cleaning – that gives us half a day per week that we can now use for other tasks”

Dieter Heiniger is a caretaker for the Municipality of Härkingen. His problem in the past: a tight time window for cleaning a double gym. In February, he acquired the cleaning robot Robomatic Marvin. In the interview, he reveals what the staff can now accomplish in the time they’ve gained and why the Wetrok robot was the best solution for his cleaning problem.

You work as a head caretaker for the Municipality of Härkingen. What are your responsibilities?
As Head of Technical Services, I am responsible for the school building, the kindergarten, the community centre and the multi-purpose hall. The multi-purpose hall has an upper and lower gymnasium, and the upper hall is also used as an event hall (with stage and kitchen). The “Fröschensaal” room on the ground floor is used for public and private occasions, general meetings and community meetings, as well as by the military. This room also has an attached industrial kitchen. The multi-purpose hall also houses a playgroup on the upper floor. This involves tasks such as locking and unlocking the property, building maintenance, organising and carrying out repairs, upkeep of exterior facilities as well as cleaning. In this work I am assisted by a four-person team of part-time workers.

What is the biggest challenge when cleaning your gym halls?
The tight time window for cleaning. Both halls are used from early in the day until late at night: From 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. by schoolchildren, then from 5 p.m. to around 10 p.m. by associations. Due to this heavy use, the gym hall has to be cleaned every day. Our mission: We have to fully clean the gym halls as well as the lockers by no later than 8:30 a.m. every day. This limited time window is extremely demanding for our scheduling and requires an optimally efficient organisation of work.

Is that why you decided to purchase a cleaning robot?
Yes and no. We had two aims: Gaining time and increasing the level of hygiene. Our primary focus was not on buying a robot but rather on achieving these goals. In the end, we accomplished this with a robot: Robomatic Marvin.

How long have you been using Robomatic Marvin?
Our department head for properties and I first saw Marvin in August 2022 at a Wetrok event. Our eyes lit up right away and it was clear to both of us: We’ve got to get one! In February 2023, we were able to test Marvin in our gymnasium. We were so impressed that we made the decision to purchase it that same evening. The robot was delivered in late February and has been cleaning our double gym ever since.

Why a Wetrok robot?
We purchase the majority of our cleaning equipment from Wetrok – from vacuum cleaners to cleaning products all the way to microfibre cloths. This is because we are very satisfied with the quality of the products, we are taken seriously even as a small customer and we receive assistance whenever problems occur. Unfortunately, this is far from the case with many manufacturers. Excellent service and a trustworthy partner are essential when working with a robot – which is why we were interested in Wetrok’s robotics solution.

What soiling does the robot remove in the gym?
Dust, stains from sports drinks, black scuff marks and occasionally a blood stain. Robomatic Marvin thoroughly removes all this soiling in the same quality every day and without skipping a single line.

How exactly do you use the robot?
Every morning, I first place Marvin at the starting point in the lower gym. While it starts up, I quickly clean the edges with a dusting unit. Then Marvin starts working on the outermost line and I take care of dusting the free area. While Marvin goes through its rounds, I move to the locker room and carry out all the cleaning work required there. In the middle I take a quick break, because I have to bring Marvin by lift from the lower gym to the upper gym. Then the same process is carried out there. The gyms including locker rooms have to be cleared by 8:30 a.m. at the latest. Since we have Marvin, we manage that without a problem.

How does the robot increase your level of hygiene?
In the past, we were unable to clean the gym floors and locker rooms every day. That was simply impossible within this tight time window in the morning. We had to decide on a single task each day as required: the locker rooms or the gym hall. At the same time, the hall users wanted a higher level of hygiene in the halls. With Robomatic Marvin, it is now possible to clean the gyms as well as the locker rooms every day. We have already received positive feedback from the hockey team that their braking paths are considerably shorter since we increased the cleaning intervals (grins).

What made you decide on a partially autonomous robot instead of a fully autonomous robot?
We decided on Marvin because it is compact, it achieves a high level of cleaning hygiene, it is ideally suited for our space and we can also use it as a manual scrubber-dryer for maintenance cleaning of the narrow locker rooms. On the other hand, a fully autonomous robot could “only” be used as a robot, would not fit in our lift and would be considerably more expensive. As a result, Robomatic Marvin solves our cleaning problem better than any other robot.

Where do you use the robot manually?
To clean our locker rooms, the wet areas and for spot cleaning. Believe me, after a spaghetti get-together or raclette evening in the hall, we really need Marvin (laughs). Often we even go over the room or heavily soiled areas twice with Marvin. In future, I would like to let the robot run autonomously in the “Fröschensaal” and teach it to clean our corridors as well. We are also planning a new gym hall – and we will use Marvin here as well. I am of the opinion that we should exhaust the full potential for the use of autonomous technologies.

The Wetrok robot was developed so that no programming knowledge is required. Is that true?
Yes, I would agreed with that. Operation is very easy: I go over the cleaning route for the gym with the robot working in lines. The robot saves the process. The next time, I just have to put the robot at the starting point and it cleans the gym independently. But you have to stay very focused when you teach the route to the robot – it needs to be a perfect sequence, after all the robot will then repeat the route every day exactly the way I taught it.

What area can you cover with a single battery charge?
As a test, I fully exhausted the battery life once by cleaning both halls twice. This means: With one battery charge, the robot can cover four standard gyms. That’s fantastic performance!

How did your staff react to the robot?
Very well! The team was very curious and wanted to see what Robomatic Marvin was capable of right away.
We are proud to have such a fantastic modern cleaning robot.

Were there any fears that the robot could replace cleaning personnel?
Never! That’s not its purpose. The employees considered the robot as a tool or team assistant from the start. I have the best team in the world – a robot could never replace these excellent people and their hard work!

How did the associations and schoolchildren react when you brought in the robot?
Marvin attracted an audience immediately. The seniors from the seniors’ gym watched Marvin attentively as it went the rounds. The response: “I want one of those at home!” (laughs). The schoolchildren as well are often glued to the windows watching the self-driving robot. I once let a group come in while Marvin was cleaning. That was a lot of fun: The kids jumped into Marvin’s way unexpectedly, sat in front of the robot and did everything they good to put obstacles in its way. But Marvin was dependable: The robot flawlessly dodged all unmoving obstacles (e.g. gym mats, balls) and stopped in front of moving obstacles (people). The schoolchildren were very impressed!

How big does a floor area have to be to make a robot worthwhile in your opinion?
For a single gym hall, I would not use a robot, and for five large halls I would need a larger model. This means that the Wetrok robot is ideal for our – soon to be – three standard gym halls.

What does that mean in numbers?
For our double gym, we compared the costs for three variants: Manual cleaning with the mop costs us 12.60 euros per square meter every year, manual cleaning with the scrubber-dryer costs 6.50 euros and cleaning with the robot costs 8.80 euros. In this calculation, the high acquisition costs of the robot have a major effect, yet the time gained by accomplishing parallel tasks thanks to the robot is not yet included here. If you do this and extend the calculation for a few years, the costs for the robot fall considerably – and are ultimately lower than for manual cleaning with the scrubber-dryer.

Can you describe the savings achieved by parallel work in terms of time?
Of course! Marvin takes 22 minutes per hall every day – those are 44 minutes during which I and my team can accomplish other tasks in future. This makes almost half a day that we are “given” every week.

What are the other tasks that the cleaning staff take care of?
While the robot cleans both PVC floors in the halls, the employees work on the locker rooms. This means: Emptying waste bins, removing stains from mirrors, cleaning surfaces, cleaning wet areas and WC facilities etc. Sometimes during those 44 minutes while the robots clean the halls we also manage to start with the corridor, or after an event we are able to start cleaning the “Fröschensaal” including the kitchen.

Do you see room for improvement with the Wetrok robots?
I really am a big fan of Robomatic Marvin. It is a highly modern robot that has more than proven itself in daily use. If I could ask for an extra feature, I would say an easy option to change individual parameters in the learned programs. Then I could easily change the brush pressure, water dosage and dosing of the learned route easily and thus switch between single-step and two-step scrub drying as needed. At the moment, I have to teach Marvin two different processes for this – even if they are for the same cleaning route.

Will cleaning only be carried out by robots in ten years?
Definitely not! For floor cleaning of medium-sized and large areas, robots offer great support and assistance. But there are still tasks for which people and their judgment capacity are essential. For example: emptying waste bins, opening doors, cleaning small, angled floor surfaces, sanitary cleaning, spot cleaning and visual inspection. After all, during floor cleaning the robot can’t see that there is still a thick chocolate fingerprint on the glass door from the children’s birthday party held at the weekend. At the same time, he doesn’t want to sneak a piece of the remaining birthday cake during his break either (laughs).

Here’s how Dieter Heiniger uses the Wetrok robot