2-4 December 2024 | ExCel London

How the use of robotics in FM can help counter staff shortages

An article written exclusively for Facilities Show by Sara Bean, editor of FMJ

There is a recruitment and retention crisis within the facilities management sector, particularly within foodservice/hospitality and cleaning. 

Figures from consultancy CGA suggest that that one in six (16 per cent) of hospitality jobs now remain vacant, while the British Cleaning Council (BCC) reports that the cleaning and hygiene industry is suffering ‘severe’ staff shortages, with the rate of vacancies having increased dramatically.

Automation is already being used to good effect in both soft and hard FM — from CCTV and biometric entry systems in security, to the installation of AI sensors that monitor the performance of building assets.

Robots that clean

Now the cleaning and hospitality sectors are rolling out a number of robotic solutions. The creators of ‘cobots’ (collaborative robots), SoftBank Robotics, deploys a smart cleaning innovation, Whiz, which is suited for busy environments such as hotels, offices, healthcare and airports. Cleaning professionals can programme Whiz to perform vacuuming against memorised routes while they focus on more vital and high value tasks.

Medirest, the healthcare division of Compass Group, has partnered with cleaning innovation specialist, Killis, with a number of robots that support Medirest’s team of over 3,000 cleaners. They’re designed to enhance repetitive cleaning procedures in open spaces such as corridors, freeing up other team members to focus on touch point and cross infection hot spots forming the perfect ‘cobotics’ relationship.

Meanwhile, Chloe the robot has joined Sodexo’s cleaning team at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, part of Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust. Using cutting-edge technology, Chloe ensures the floors of communal areas, corridors, entrances and the children’s wards are kept spotless, while her human colleagues concentrate on sanitising touch points around the hospital.


Catering to every whim 

The foodservice sector has arguably been utilising a form of automation for quite some time, with the use of vending machines, but the installation of Karakuri’s Semblr, the world’s leading food service robot at Ocado’s headquarters last Autumn, moves catering provision in the workplace into a different league.

Run by Angel Hill Food Co, the specialist corporate catering division of Atalian Servest, the robot is designed to give the customer an unparalleled choice in what goes into their meals. With 2,700 different combinations of the dishes on offer, staff can specify down to the gram what hot and cold items, proteins, sauces and fresh toppings they want, something that is simply not possible in traditional restaurants and commercial catering.

While the ordering process is very straightforward, favouring the QR based app system we all got used to in pubs and restaurants during the pandemic, the most striking feature of the robot is its use of AI. This enables a prediction-based service on food demand and trends. 

 The end goal is that when there are hundreds of these machines installed in different sites you can aggregate the data and map it against things like weather forecasts, traffic analysis, the day of the month/week, where it is in the year, and in doing so understand food demand patterns. 


Robotics as a service? 

With this level of AI applied to other areas of FM services,  you can see what Karakuri’s CEO and co-founder Barney Wragg, a leading technologist and digital strategist, means when he coins a new term, ‘robotics as a service’.

Together, FM services can be enhanced by the application of robotics and AI to respond to the tasks that need doing immediately, predict what needs to be done next and fulfil some of those tasks that you’d normally need to hire people to perform.


 Sara Bean is editor of FMJ.
FMJ’s feature on the Karakuri Robot is available here: https://www.fmj.co.uk/automatic-choice/


Published 04/03/2022