Passing the Test – Elevator Hydraulic Oil

Usually when you hear about an elevator passing the test, you’re thinking about passing the annual inspection. Once you pass the annual, you get a certificate to slip into the picture frame in the elevator car noting you can operate the unit until the next time you are required to go through the routine testing again.  But that is just one test, and it largely surrounds the safety of the riding public. There is actually another test to pass that has more to do with the operation and longevity of the elevator itself, but it is rarely conducted. The test is of the hydraulic fluid, or oil, you find in the tank, jacks, and pipes.

Hydraulic fluid is literally the lifeblood of the hydraulic elevator. Without the oil, you have a fancy box sitting at the bottom of a tall, useless shaft. It is the fluid that makes the elevator go and, just like a blood test at the doctor’s office, your elevator oil may need a test, too.

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So here’s what you need to know:

First, hydraulic elevators are going to be used a lot in the future and will continue to be an extremely common solution because they are perfect for low and most mid-rise applications. The machine roomless (MRL) traction was supposed to put an end to hydraulic elevator’s reign of dominance for less than 50′ of travel, but they are hitting all sorts of roadblocks, including price and laws restricting placement. The entire state of California hasn’t taken a shine to the MRL and has a law prohibiting use due to limited access to the motor apart from the car top. Cost-wise, in our experience, upfront cost of the MRL traction is nearly 40% higher than a comparable hydraulic, and maintenance for a traction unit is 30% more expensive.

Second, the oil is extremely important to the entire operation of the hydraulic elevator. The oil lifts the car and passengers, reduces friction, transfers heat away from moving parts to keep the machinery cool and lubricates those parts as well. Also, most mechanical breakdowns of the pump, valves and submerged components can ultimately be traced back to bad fluid.

The hydraulic elevator is alive and well and will continue to be a mainstay of the industry for decades into the future, regardless of who is trying to push traction down the throats of unwitting customers. Of course, the push is for the benefit of the elevator company, not the building owner.

But all those benefits of low maintenance and high upfront costs can be mitigated quickly if the oil is not up to snuff.

So how does the elevator mechanic know if the oil needs testing?

  1. Believe it or not, the smell is a big indicator. Foul-smelling hydraulic fluid means it has been compromised.
  2. Problems leveling is another sign. If constant adjustment is not getting the elevator to level quickly, the oil may be filled with sludge or have viscosity issues, including breakdown.
  3. Hard stops, stalls, and not holding its position, especially under load, is another signal the oil needs tested.
  4. Leaky gaskets and fittings are yet another indicator.

If these problems are continual, laboratory testing of the oil may be utilized where viscosity and acidity is determined and the amount of oxidation, degraded additives, foreign particles and water can be measured. Once you know what the problem with the oil may be, a proper course of action should be taken, from filtering to water removal; replacing all of the oil and flushing the system may not be required.

Is this testing really needed? The unfortunate answer is yes. Bad oil can cause poor operation that can lead to catastrophic failure of the pump, valves, and even jacks. And problematic oil is more widespread than you would think. For instance, while researching hydraulic oil, I ran across a paper written by Stamatios Kalligeros for the Hellenic Naval Academy, Fuels and Lubricants Technology. He was trying to demonstrate the possibility of oil analysis helping in maintenance of elevators and, to prove his point, he analysed several elevators and their hydraulic fluid. It was an interesting article, but in the conclusion, the problem with oil and oil maintenance was clearly demonstrated. He indicated the following:

The results can be summarized as follows. All hydraulic fluids examined were not complying with the specification of the engine manufacturer. More specifically, for two of the elevators, the hydraulic fluid which was used has viscosity that does not conform to the classifications’ viscosity grade range. Additionally, one elevator was working with different grade of hydraulic fluid from the one proposed by the engine manufacturer. The elemental analysis of sulfur levels in the hydraulic fluid shows the maintenance intervals in the operation of the elevators. The analysis of zinc, phosphorous, chlorine and calcium, verifies that the oil which was used in one elevator is different from the oil used to the other two. Additionally, it reveals a significant wear to all the elevators as a result of the working environment conditions. 

It was a small sample, but is it just me, or does this mean that your elevator may need oil testing to make sure it is clean, has the proper viscosity, and is the right type required being put in? Check your maintenance contract and see if scientific testing of the fluid is covered. If not, ask how much it will cost. There are several companies that will do onsite testing for you.


It’s Not Easy Being a Green Elevator

Kermit the Frog was always a favorite of mine. He was ever the straight man to Fozzy Bear or the calm, cool, comedic foil to the ever hyperbolic Ms. Piggy.  He was the kinder and gentler Bud Abbott of Sesame Street minus the slaps and anger. He had depth and wit, even for a Styrofoam puppet, and demonstrated it often by his quips and readiness to break the fourth wall with a shake of the head and an unbelieving, deadpan stare straight into my captivated eyes at home on the other side of TV Land.  There, I would lay on my stomach at an unsafe distance from the glowing light of the picture tube with my chin propped up in my hands, laughing hysterically, and maybe learning about the ABC’s.

But ol’ Kermit had his serious side, too. I distinctly remember the quiet strumming of an acoustic guitar that opened a segment of Sesame Street with a bucolic country scene painted on a backdrop as the camera slowly pushed in for effect and a relaxed, yet pensive, Kermit quietly sings the poignant song, “It’s not Easy Being Green”.  I love that tune because green was always my favorite color and really still is. I now know that the purpose and meaning of the song goes much deeper than a favorite color, but at the time, it was about something I really liked: green!

As an example, I used green to color so often that in my 24 pack of crayons, the green ones were always whittled down to nubs (even yellow-green and green-yellow), while the red, blue, yellow and carnation pink were rarely touched.  I had a green key chain, my favorite shirt was green, and my favorite character from Captain Kangaroo was Mr. Green Jeans. I even had a pair of green bell-bottom jeans and wore them as often as I could (and my mom allowed).


So when Kermit said in the song, “It seems you blend in with so many other things,” I always found that perplexing. Yes, he mentions leaves, but green really stands out, at least to me, and always draws attention.

So imagine my delight when I ran across a photo of a green elevator from our friends at Monitor Elevator Products, and I mean green. This is not one that blends in but stands out, proud and loud. Keep in mind that this photo has not been altered in any way and Photoshop was not used to enhance the neon/lime/electric green in the photograph.  Green doors, green frames, green panel, green buttons…you can kill me now, because I will die a happy man as I have seen everything, and I am in heaven as I pictured it as a seven year old child.



Like Kermit said, “Its beautiful and its what I want to be.” Green.

Lastly, a shout out to Monitor Elevator Products ! Check out their website and a full representation of the work they do! They have some really great designs you can use. We can place their products or any other style or design that strikes your fancy. We have had cab interiors from glass to reclaimed barn wood and high profile fixtures to simple standards. Just give us a call and let us know what you want, especially if you want a green one like this.

Darren Woodson’s 4 C’s of Employee Attitudes

WoodsonBy John Hefner

If the first thing you notice is that the by-line doesn’t say Russ Ward, Congratulations, you are very observant!  Due to circumstances beyond our control, Russ didn’t get to go to the World of Modular in Fabulous Las Vegas so I am the guest writer! (also, I like exclamation points!)

Darren Woodson was the first of two guest speakers and although not a modular builder himself, he talked about winning at life.  Now what, pray tell, would someone named Darren Woodson know about winning in life?  He entered the National Football League in 1992 as a safety for a minor NFL team, the Dallas Cowboys, who then went on to win three Superbowls in four years.  During his speech, he handed the rings from said Superbowls to a Redskins fan so he would know what being a winner felt like. (Sorry Redskins fans; I had to go there).

One important point he talked about was a change in your environment and how people reacted to it.  He related the story of how, when Jerry Jones took over as owner of the Cowboys, he fired longtime coach and legend, Tom Landry.  Even though Tom Landry had coached some fine players in his day, he had started to fall off in the early 80s.  Jerry Jones brought in a college coach named Jimmy Johnson,  who immediately instituted team workouts during the off season so they could hit training camp with a vengeance.  Over 70 percent of the players went home because that was the way Landry had always done it.  When they came back, the players that went home overwhelmingly couldn’t do the harder training regiment that Johnson had instituted.  Johnson sent them home or traded them as contracts dictated.  His first year coaching-1989- was an abysmal year and they howled for Johnson’s blood and/or resignation.  But as training and buy-in to Johnson’s program increased, they won more games.  Woodson noted that in 1992, four years after Jimmy took over, they went to a Superbowl (also that he was a rookie in that year for Dallas, but no connection…).  Jimmy Johnson would win another one the next year, one of six coaches ever to win back-to-back Superbowls.

Darren Woodson attributed Johnson’s success to management of his people and recognized four catagories of attitudes, not just on the football field, but in the workplace.  He called this Darren’s Four C’s of Employee Types:

  1. Content – This is the guy that shows up to an 8:00 meeting at 8:05 wearing headphones.  He’s most likely doing this job until he finds something better and doesn’t engage with anyone about work.  Most likely, content employees are the first ones out the door at night.
  2. Compliant – This employee has no ambition beyond doing the job they have in front of them, but they show up for an 8:00 meeting at 8:00.  They will work their time, but only their time.  These employees don’t engage with other employees outside of work in a volunteer or marketing opportunity.  They are working to get their paycheck.
  3. Committed – These are the employees that come in and are fantastic at their job, but it is all about “their” job.  He compared this mindset to Neon Deon himself, who even when Dallas lost, would tell everyone how it wasn’t on him; he did his job.  Woodson talked about how there is no care whether the business profits or gets run into the ground; all these employees care about is hitting some external or internal goal they have set for themselves.
  4. Compelled – This is a star employee.  They not only set high goals for themselves but challenge others to do the same, pushing them to be the best they can be.  At work, they are the first ones in the door and the last to leave.  He reminisced about Michael Irvin, who tried to make Woodson look bad in practice all day, going full tilt, juking and stiff arming.  Irvin pulled him aside afterwards and reminded him that there are Jerry Rice’s in the world who aren’t going to take it easy on you, either.  Irvin felt he owed it to Woodson to prepare him for Hall of Fame talent when it wasn’t practice

His advice for these first two C’s:  Get rid of them!!!  Woodson specifically called them a virus that will infect other workers if given a chance.  If left alone and unchallenged, your whole workplace will become like this.  He recommended bringing them in, talking about their goals, and challenging them to want more; but, if they won’t change, part ways.

For the committed, he recommended pairing them with other like-minded employees, so for them to succeed, someone else, usually their rival, has to succeed.  The goal is to turn them into compelled employees as well and ultimately drive other employees to follow their leadership.

One of the other big statements Woodson made was about how the greatest thing Jerry Jones did in that first year was realizing he needed to bring someone in who not only knew the game of football but was doing it differently than traditionally thought.  He realized if you want extraordinary results, you have to bring in someone who doesn’t do it “like Dad did it”.  You have to stand out if you want to be noticed.

In 1995, three guys invented the way to ship an almost completed elevator in response to new regulations on handicap access.  In 2009, Phoenix Modular Elevator realized that these same elevators could be in new construction as well by bucking conventional thinking and delivering a hydraulic elevator to the jobsite eight weeks after approvals.

Give us a call at 618-244-2314 if you want to do your next job with excellence and are tired of getting the same old results.


Shakes, Rattles and Barely Rolls


You patiently wait after pushing the button in the hallway. One at a time, the lights above the closed elevator door illuminate, indicating that the car is creeping closer to the lobby, but it is not breaking any speed records while doing so. As each light flickers on and then off, you hope that it is just passengers getting on and off that is taking the car so long to get to the bottom floor. Glancing at the stairs at the end of the hall, you weigh your options, but finally, with a groan and a weak “ding”, the elevator door slides open.

You only wanted to go to the fourth floor and seriously considered taking the stairs and now that the doors reveal the inside of the elevator, you wish you had. The carpet is well past worn out with rips and stains from who knows where. The laminated panels that make up the walls are chipped and missing the edging with dust thick enough to write your initials in, several ceiling tiles are cracked beyond repair, and a rough heart shape has been carved into the stainless steel panel.  This makes you wonder who would be in an elevator long enough to scratch stainless steel? The one functional light above you buzzes like an annoying mosquito in your ear and flickers in a pale shade of green. Is this an elevator ride or an amusement park attraction? But you have already invested the time in the lobby, so you warily step inside.

You glance down to punch the button and hit the one with the faded number “4” right above the cracked number “3” and the missing assumed number “2” and while looking upwards to the broken and unlit numbers above the door, your eye catches a glimpse of the inspection certificate yellowed with age in the frame. It shows the elevator passed inspection alright…in 1994! Just as you are thinking, What have I gotten myself into?, and are still considering the stair option, with a shutter, the elevator rattles to life and the door abruptly slams shut. Like an old man stirred from a nap and trying to climb out of a broken-down recliner, the elevator seems to rock back and forth; then, with all the strength it can muster, flings itself up using all the momentum and a good bit of hope to find its footing. Your knees buckle a bit, but then the ride really begins.

The first three feet were relativity smooth, but then the elevator begins to shake, and not just any shake, but Apollo 13 kind of shaking. You fall back against the wall and grope for the handrail. It’s not sturdy, but at least it supports you as you sink back against the force of the rocking. The thought of Kevin Bacon and Tom Hanks stranded on the dark side of the moon starts drifting into your mind, but you have no ingenious team of super nerds to help you to your destination. Casting your eyes skyward in prayer, you realize you have made a grave error and are stuck in this little shuddering box as the shaking has now been complicated by an unnerving rattling: quiet at first but getting louder and louder as the elevator climbs. Without being able to watch the numbers click by, you are completely unaware of where you are and how much longer you will be boxed up in the death trap. The elevator is now in control. It decides your fate and your destiny. You are nothing more than a pawn in its game. As you realize your desperate situation, your grip tightens on the handrail and your eyes bug out, mentally begging for the car to come to halt and the door to open. It is almost more than you can stand!

Then, “ding”.

The door opens and you are at your destination. Needless to say, it will be stairs on the way down.

If you have an elevator that makes every trip an adventure worthy of a motion picture, is worn and needs serious attention, then you owe it to the passengers and the public that ride the elevator to make it safe. Don’t ignore the warning signs; contact a licensed elevator contractor before the worst can happen. Elevators should be safe and free from shakes and rattles.

Big Ten – Big Effort for Elevators

todd-greene-621688-unsplashLiving in East Lansing gave me the perfect opportunity to see the best the Big Ten Conference had to offer when it came to sports. Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, The Ohio State University, even the Fighting Illini and the others took the field or the court, and gave it their all.

You could see Spartans clash with Wolverines, Golden Gophers scrap with Hoosiers and Buckeyes bash with the Badgers. Every team, no matter what the standings were or what their Alma Mater, would come into East Lansing giving 100% effort. It was always impressive to see the teamwork and energy level. I am not of the opinion, as many cynics currently are, that those days are gone forever. There is always value in team work, digging deep and elbow grease. These are not a ghost of generations past; but still living and breathing principles if you are willing to look for them and not settle for second or third best. The teams I saw demonstrate clearly that a high level of sustained effort maybe difficult to obtain, but not impossible.

So in the elevator business when we see less than a best effort it makes us cringe. Just like substandard performance reflects on the whole Big Ten Conference. One bad or under-performing elevator company or technician can reflect poorly on the industry.  Recently our service team saw the kind of performance that indicated a lack of effort or worse a lack of caring. The previous elevator mechanic for unknown reasons left a real mess. The elevator was not properly maintained as as a result there was premature aging of several parts and pieces crucial to the functioning of the elevator.

Not only did this give a black-eye to all elevator mechanics; it can be unsafe for the public that uses the elevator. Although the elevator industry may have paid a price in pride and reputation, the owner of the building had to price a price too in dollars and cents. Yes, we did our best to soften the blow and keep the costs as low as possible, but to bring the elevator back up to proper standards was costly. We had to replace and clean many components of the door opening system, the hydraulic fluid had broken down and contained foreign material so it had to be replaced. Seals were leaking on the jacks filling the floor with oil and the guide rails were rough, sticky and out of line. I could go on and on listing all the missing, broken or substandard parts.

Keep in mind this is despite, supposed, monthly maintenance being performed.

If only the old maintenance crew, who fiddled instead of working knew just a little about digging deep and giving full effort; then the performance would have been applauded. Instead we are going to be doing our best to make up for the sub-standard effort to recover a bit of the reputation of the industry in the minds of the owner. Just one big take-a-way: If your elevator maintenance company is not performing at a high level or you even suspect it, get an independent elevator company to give your elevators an inspection with recommendations. If it looks like they have not fulfilled their end of the contract, officially notify them you are ending the contract at the earliest possible date. Then get a new company to keep your building safe.