More than Magic – Elevator Technician Check List

trick-859307_1920The elevator technician checks in at the office on the routine maintenance stop and then disappears for quite some time. You may see the tech coming and going but, more often than not, he seems almost Mercurial in his appearing and disappearing.  This leads many to wonder if another dimension exists beyond the walls of the hoistway or what tricks he may have up his sleeve and, if this is not the case, what exactly is going on between appearances or short walks to the service van.

Turns out, most of the time spent is not actually turning wrenches, but checking the elevator from head to toe or the top of the hoistway to the pit. All elevator technicians or their companies should be able to provide you with a comprehensive list of the things they look at and do every time they show up for routine maintenance. If you have not been provided with a comprehensive list, then ask for a copy; they should be more than willing to show you what they have been checking and where they keep the maintenance record book.

Keep in mind some of the records, including maintenance records, can now be electronic according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers – Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators, but clear instructions for access are required. Although the maintenance book will not cover all of the items examined, it is a good indicator of what is done regarding specific tasks, observations, or adjustments conducted during the visit.

The records are important because they are often the first place that problems show up and can establish a pattern of a problem on the horizon. The records can give the tech a necessary resource when trouble shooting or tracking down problems with the elevator.

So, here we go with a good, general list of a hydraulic elevator’s needed maintenance:

  • The door-close force. If they close too hard, it can cause injury.
  • Stopping accuracy to the floor level. This helps prevent trips and falls when entering and exiting the car.
  • Car stop switches, signal, buttons, and optional switches–do they all work properly?
  • Top-of-car operation, including the work light and work station–do all the switches up top work?
  • Car door and/or gate equipment–is there any wear and tear that needs addressing?
  • Car top, including guide shoes or roller guides, for unusual wear.
  • Lubrication of the guide rail.
  • Leveling devices and hardware. Again, safety first.
  • Hoistway doors tracks, gears and locks–are they all operating smoothly, with no obvious wear?
  • Clean and inspect the car top of debris. This can be an indicator of unwanted activity, mechanical or otherwise. Has the hatch been accessed?
  • Pit lighting and stop switch, the GFI outlet should be checked. Signs of corrosion and the buffer springs should be examined.
  • Sump pump tested and cleaned, where needed.
  • Oil recovery–how much oil has been lost and were leaks found?
  • The hydraulic jacks and the packing–are there any leaks or unusual vibrations to be concerned with?
  • The bottom of the elevator car. Roller guides or shoes for smooth operation and examine the traveling cable for cuts or too much tension.
  • Cleaning and inspecting the pit–are there water or hydraulic oil issues? Metal or nylon shavings? Debris that shows unauthorized access or mechanical problems?
  • Oil level–make sure you are within operating parameters.
  • Oil leaks around the tank and or piping.
  • Connections for the motor. All wiring needs to be examined.
  • Battery lowering.
  • Clean and inspect the machine room. Are there any signs of leaks, improper use, a clear path to the tank, and work area. Remove any extraneous items that do not relate to elevator operation.

But this is just part of the elevator. The technician also needs to pay special attention to the elevator car. The car should be examined for damage to the walls, floor, and ceiling. If there is damage, it should be reported, especially if the damage can cause a hazard; for instance, torn carpeting can create a trip danger.

All of the position indicator lights need to be in good working order and any burned out bulbs should be replaced. Also, the door restrictor should be checked for proper working condition. The buttons need to be checked for functionality making sure they do not stick or have light bulbs out.

Outside of the elevator, the hall stations should be checked for light bulbs and the door opening and closing should be smooth with consistent clearances. The fire service box should also be checked for functionality.

Once the inspection is completed, a written report with recommendations, if any, should be noted. All the comings and goings suddenly make sense and are not attributed to some astral plain or other dimension and certainly not in a false floor used by magicians. There is a reason for the time it takes for elevator maintenance, if it’s done right.

Speed Does Not Mean Fast

1_thumbRecently, it was announced that the CTF Finance Center in Guangzhou, China broke records as the fastest elevator in the world to date. Believe it or not, it travels at an astounding 46.9 miles per hour straight up! Wow! An elevator in Shanghai, China (Shanghai Tower) finishes in second place with a speed of 42.8 mph and the fastest North American elevator clocks in at a paltry 22.7 mph in comparison. It is located at the Freedom Tower at 1 World Trade Center in New York. It is a bit slower but the show you get going up and down is worth it.

As it turns out, the elevator in your building is not breaking any world records, but, unless you are in the Willis Tower in Chicago or the Empire State Building in New York, you probably don’t need a three million dollar monstrosity that can hit highway speeds. Keep in mind that the world record holding building has a total of 95 elevators and only two are the super fast ones and they only go from the first floor to the 95th where the world’s highest hotel resides. As a matter of fact, the CTF Finance Center has 52 medium and low speed elevators, as well as the two speed-demons.

So, if you can build an elevator that goes that fast, why aren’t all elevators designed the same way? Let’s start with the turtle like speed of most elevators you will find; believe it or not, most elevators are designed to travel at a blazing 100 to 200 feet per minute or between 1.14 and 2.27 miles per hour for buildings 10 stories or less.  This means that if you’re traveling between two floors that are 10 feet apart at 2.27 mph, the trip would take 3 seconds, right? Well, not exactly.

You are missing an important part of the equation. When you push the button in any elevator, it doesn’t immediately blast off at 2.27 mph. If it did, most people would be knocked to the ground; the elevator has to ramp up to top speed. Acceleration and Jerk (rate of change of acceleration) are human comfort considerations that must be taken into account when looking at elevator speed. The practical limits (for math geeks) are 4 ft/sec^2 acceleration and 8 ft/sec^3 for jerk. If you are a math nerd, or you’re wanting to test out your math skills, this is a good place to start. Keep in mind, these formulas represent the the very top limits of elevator movement and are aggressive but acceptable. Anything beyond these levels and the car becomes a roller-coaster or the Tower of Terror. To ensure a real smooth ride, technicians use around 70% of these levels.

Just for general purposes for a comfortable ride, the ramp up will take around 3 seconds. You also have to consider a similar ramp down for another 3 seconds. In other words, if traveling ten feet, the maximum speed may never be achieved due to the ramp up and ramp down before you arrive at the next floor.

Whether the elevator can go 2 miles an hour or the speed of light, there must be an acceleration that is comfortable for the people riding in it. That means that in most applications, with elevators starting and stopping at several floors, up and down, the elevator car rarely tops out at the possible speed it can travel. This, then, explains why there are 52 elevators in the CTF Financial Center that are low or medium speed.

So to answer the question “Why aren’t all elevators made to go nearly 50 miles per hour?” It’s because in most applications, other than extremely high high-rises, the cost is absolutely out of proportion to the benefit and, in most examples of elevators, the top speed would never be realized anyway.

Elevator Company Comments Out of Order

Out of OrderA recent news story focused on a major elevator company and poor service regarding a building with senior tenants. It revealed an unflattering look at the vertical transportation industry. In this case, despite having a current maintenance contract in place, the elevators in a 10-story apartment complex were frequently down. Unfortunately, the response from the elevator company made the elevator industry look like it was either hiding from responsibility or looking for a quick sale. Neither are good images.

As for background , when the story broke, the senior citizen tenants of the building were quickly labeled as victims by the media, while the elevator company was cast as the villain. No surprise. It portrayed people stuck in their apartments because the elevator maintenance was not prompt or completed improperly. When pushed by the media, the explanation for the apparent lack of service from the big elevator company shines a disturbing light on the industry. Below is the lone quote from the elevator service company:

“We are pleased to confirm the elevator is currently operational. In addition to providing scheduled and unscheduled repairs, we have recommended several modernization options to help make the elevators reliable. Our primary objective . . . is the safety of the people who depend on our products every day and we strive to partner with building managers and owners to deliver safe reliable service.”

The bold is for effect, as it is the primary point. In their statement, the elevator company opened with good news. The elevators are working! Congratulations, you did your job. And the close of the statement was good, too, as safety is always a great talking point. But the bold print in between says two things that would have been better left alone or dealt with outside of the media. Implied in the statement is that it’s not the elevator company’s fault and, if the customer would have just spent more money, things like this wouldn’t happen.

Beyond blaming the customer, the unintentional consequence of the statement is one we deal with often from people that call us confused over when a total overhaul is needed. For cost reasons, the owners want to squeeze a few more years out of the old unit but, when there is no trust, they do not know whether they are being sold a bill of goods or if there is a true need. Elevator professionals need to know that building owners and managers are in a tough spot, and they often feel like elevator companies are using breakdowns as an opportunity to up-sell new equipment. After all, from the owner’s perspective, they have in many cases been paying thousands of dollars each month for a maintenance plan and when they finally really need it, the elevator company blames the customer. It can seem as if all the elevator company wants to do is to sell, sell sell. This leaves the owner wondering whether the elevator company is being truthful.

There is good reason for the suspicion. Oftentimes, when elevator gets old, the knee-jerk reaction from an elevator company is to go down the modernization road. Each problem with the unit that surfaces after the recommendation becomes another “see-I told you so” moment. To be completely fair, in this case, the building probably was more than due for a modernization. It is a high-traffic apartment complex over 10-stories and only two elevators. Also, the elevators are original to the building that was erected in the late 70’s. However, the history of the particular location is long and replete with complaints, accusations and finger pointing. This problem was a long-building one.

I will make no claim of fully understanding all of the problems involved; however, from the news accounts, there was significant difficulty in finding a solution, and it became a time consuming mess for building management. The problems led to tenants worrying they would get stuck, or, if they left the building, face a long climb up the stairs when they returned.  Ultimately, the breakdown was more than just a problem with the elevator; there was a breakdown of trust. The word of an elevator company, it seemed, was mud in the eyes of the users and management. This could certainly have been exacerbated by the elevator company’s recommendation of the modernization and the owner balking at the expense.

How could this situation have been avoided, and how can these issues be avoided in the future? It takes two to build trust, and that is what was lacking. It also takes clear communication and explicit actions on the part of both parties. In this case, we do not know what “We have recommended several modernization options to help make the elevators reliable” means.  Also, it would be interesting to see if a written, long-term elevator plan was in place that met the needs of both the owner and the elevator company. It would also be illuminating to see what the current contract said about responsibilities and obligations.

From our experience, far too often, elevator professionals up-sell the good points of an elevator maintenance agreements and dismiss the downside. In addition, despite denials, there are those in our industry that feel an uneducated customer is a good customer. The myriad of calls and emails we receive are testament to that. But the fix to the problem goes beyond the elevator company. The real solution is honest communication from both directions. So on the owner’s part, it takes real effort to understand the elevator in general and all of the contract terms.

To sum up, the best solution is no more blame and no more up-selling; instead, long-term perspective and planning is needed regarding the largest moving object in your building. Phoenix Modular Elevator can help you research, and we are always available for conversations about elevators. An elevator consultant could also be a valuable resource when modernization is a consideration.

 

Keep Your Cool – Winning the Temperature Battle

Clean Machine RoomIn our office, there are a handful of dictators vying for power, and yes, they know who they are. They run roughshod over the whole office, seizing control, forming alliances and flexing more muscle than Mussolini in pre-war Italy. Because of the internal power struggle, there is more drama, intrigue and manipulation than in an episode of Game of Thrones as hopes are raised then dashed, and the struggle for control reaches a literal fever pitch.

What is the object of their desires? What do they wish to control beyond anything else? The office thermostat. Since the advent of modern history and the birth of Willis Carrier (of Carrier Air-conditioning fame), I feel I am safe by saying there is nothing that has affected more lives, created more tension and led to more divorces than the temperature control on a heating and air-conditioning unit. The problem is some like it hot and some like it cool, and they are willing to do anything to get their way.

When it comes to your elevator machine room, there is also a temperature struggle, and the consequences of that brawl may be more significant than just a little discomfort or office politics. The challenge is keeping the temperature inside the machine room within the set standards. Elevators need consistent temps and therefore, the thermostat needs to be a priority. Some sources note that temps need to be between 60 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit and this is backed up by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in a report entitled “High Temperature Operation of Elevators.”

But is that rule of thumb always the best for optimal temps for elevator operations? If you get it wrong, setting the temp too high or too low, it can lead to inefficiency in operation or ultimately even complete shutdown.

For a more reliable source, we should turn to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). They literally wrote the safety code for elevators and machine rooms and is the most reliable source for elevator operation. Their code calls for there to be a natural or mechanical means to keep the air temperature and humidity within the guidelines of the manufacturer. So what do you do, as the required temperatures can vary depending on who produces the elevator equipment? The code still has the answer. It requires that inside the machine room, permanently posted, there must be a sign that shows the temperature and humidity range for that particular machine.

Especially with summer heat on the horizon, now is the time to make sure the machine room air-conditioning and heat is in proper order and the temp and humidity fall within the proper parameters. If you have any specific questions or concerns, make sure and consult your elevator technician.

As for the office thermostat…buy a lock box, set the temp the way you like it and swallow the key. Remember the hand that controls the temperature controls the office.

Proprietary Equipment Driving Costs Up

Up arrowThe National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC) is now openly questioning practices involving proprietary equipment that can lead to increased costs for building owners. This is especially applicable if you are thinking about a modernization or new elevator. The following was taken directly from the NAEC website:

Members of the National Association of Elevator Contractors have observed over the last 50 years, a trend in the products and practices common in construction and modernization of elevators, that we believe can be contrary to the long term interests of building owner / managers – our customers. In an attempt to raise awareness of this issue, we have generated this document.

The elevator industry, like most, is under increasing pressure to supply products and services at ever more competitive prices. Driven by this, and rightfully so, all companies have worked hard to develop products that are less expensive to manufacture and install. All other things being equal, a lowered delivered cost is definitely a benefit to everyone involved in an elevator project.

If a building owner can buy an equivalent product or service at a lower price, that is a good thing, but too often we see a contractors lowered costs result in even higher costs for the building. With elevator systems, a savings at the initial purchase decision often results in substantial increases in cost over the life of the equipment.

Equipment that is designed with only lower manufacturing and installation costs taken into account can result in higher monthly maintenance costs, and higher overall costs, because:

  • The products can be very proprietary. When this is the case, the building often finds that there are no other (other than the installer) contractors able / willing to bid on monthly maintenance. A contractor can take advantage of this lack of competition.
  • It contains dependent components. When this is the case, the failure of a single component of the elevator system can necessitate replacement of other components.
  • Components cost more. When a contractor has only one source of replacement parts, the cost of those replacement parts is likely to be higher.
  • When products are designed with the manufacturing and installation costs as the highest priority, they may not have as long an expected service life.

Too often, and more frequently as time goes by, we see one or more of these scenarios befall a building if and when they do not understand the long term results of their initial purchasing decision.

The bottom line is that cheaper upfront costs for elevators may be a trap for longer term expenses.

It is our hope you thoroughly study all options when considering your vertical transportation needs. Whether you are installing a new elevator, modernizing an existing elevator or pricing an elevator maintenance package, you should consider your costs carefully.  Ask questions not only about the upfront costs, but also ways an elevator will affect long-term maintenance. Get several options before jumping in and always ask about proprietary parts and avoid them if possible.