You Should Care – Non-Proprietary Please

The elevator door is the hardest working part of the elevator.The words “Proprietary” and “Non-proprietary” elevator components and parts and the costs associated with them can be a a bit cloudy depending on who you are talking to. Of course, big companies that provide non-proprietary parts are for them, and people that aren’t, see all the flaws. So what are the real differences between the two?

The best place to start with any question like this is with a definition of terms. In this instance, the definition of non-proprietary is the following, taken from an elevator spec sheet calling for a non-proprietary solution:

“All materials provided shall be serviceable by any Journeyman Elevator Mechanic, and, replacement parts for all equipment furnished shall be available on the open market. Access to diagnostic/troubleshooting routines shall require no secret codes. Provide any/all manuals, schematics, wiring diagrams and service manuals that are available to the manufacturer’s installers and service personnel. Any decaying circuits or devices requiring “factory re-charging” shall be considered a violation of this SPECIFICATION section; such equipment shall be removed and replaced with conforming equipment at no extra cost to the Owner. Technical help shall be furnished to the Owner, or Owner’s Agent as needed, for the life of the equipment. Controls must be of a type that does not require replacement of any other component (door operator, signal fixtures, etc..) in the event a controller replacement is necessary.”

All that verbiage translates into any qualified elevator mechanic should be able to work on the elevator with no problems, get the parts they need, and not have to jump through a million hoops to get things done, and if they do, the company that makes the elevator will have to pay out the nose for not telling the truth about the product.

Because proprietary parts tie you to one provider, there is significant push back, but companies still produce elevators with those systems. They do so to increase the total profit of the elevator in the long haul. This is because they have found that after unfair, multi-year service contracts that are virtually impossible to get out of, many wise building owners and managers do everything they can to change maintenance contract providers due to poor service or high cost. The original contractual rates are often extremely high; you can’t get out of the contract without an act of congress and there are annual automatic increases to boot! So to keep people from fleeing in droves and to lock you in forever and throw away the key, “Bigg Elevator” produces elevators that only they can create parts for or provide service for. Whether you like it or not, you have to come crawling to them for what you need.

But it doesn’t stop there. To sell more elevators with proprietary parts, often times they price the new elevator as low as possible because they know they will be making it up over the decades of service profit they will be realizing. Cheap upfront prices can cost you in the long-haul.

It is hard to believe that this scheme by Big Elevator works, but it does because of a couple factors. First, the architect (the person that often chooses the elevator) isn’t paying attention and takes the path of least resistance. That’s right. In the construction trade it is called drag-and-drop-itis. Often architects are so used to using the same elevator that they just control-c, control-v, the elevator into the specs and drawings. Habits are hard to break.

The second reason is that the builder will not be paying for long-term contracts, so what do they care? They are looking to sell or move the building to a different owner or company shortly after the build is done. They want to keep the project under budget so they go cheap in the short-term on the elevator and stick the future owner with the bill. Everyone knows that the elevator contract is rarely the hold-up on any property deal so they will often opt for short-term cheaper cost, knowing the next guy will be paying for service contracts and proprietary parts.

With all that said, be very wary when buying a building that has an elevator. Always check and double check because, whether you like it or not, you may have a boat anchor around your neck in the form of proprietary parts and systems.

For the above reasons we recommend the purchase of non-proprietary equipment as it provides a more economical choice as a long term investment. As with parts that are proprietary, non-proprietary must conform with government standards and safety regulations so there is no fear of choosing lower quality or unsafe parts. It is unfortunately true that all the extra money that non-proprietary costs you, ultimately, gives no extra value.

So, to sum up, the differences between proprietary and non-proprietary elevator systems is only the cost (up front versus long term), being able to hire a wider variety of elevator technicians, and no difference in quality or safety. By buying a non-proprietary elevator system, owners get the freedom to choose the maintenance company they want and shop the price they wish to pay. Proprietary parts put you at the mercy of Bigg Elevator. If you choose to purchase non-proprietary equipment, it should be specified in your purchase agreement that the product being installed contains no proprietary hardware. We will always do that. Find another option if the company you are thinking about will not.

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The Dangerous Business – Elevators

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Women console each other after learning about the deaths. Photo credit: clee@post-dispatch.com

News of two fatalities of construction workers in an elevator shaft in St. Louis highlights the dangers of working in and around elevators. Two workers, not elevator mechanics, were cutting pipes in a hoistway while being suspended by a construction basket. The basket fell and the two men perished, falling to their deaths. The old building, at 1501 Washington Avenue in St. Louis was being renovated to be used as a hotel.

Often in this blog, we can come down pretty hard on the elevator industry. We are part of the elevator business and see its many shortcomings and flaws. But all failings aside, the elevator business is a rough one to be in and dangerous for everyone but especially rookies and novices. The general impression of danger is confirmed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor.  They point out that elevator mechanics are put at risk of falls, falls from ladders, burns, and severe muscle strains associated with working in restricted spaces with heavy tools and materials. Because of the dangers not everyone is allowed or qualified to be in an elevator shaft and significant training must take place so people in the industry will respect the danger and know exactly what to do and how to do it.

People outside the elevator business should take heed and understand the training and knowledge keeps these professionals safer, even though it is very dangerous work. Remember that elevator installers and repairers are listed as the sixth most dangerous profession in the construction field, and elevator installers and repairers suffered the highest numbers of deaths in work on or near elevators, far above laborers, supervisors, iron-workers, and other professions.

So, let’s give the guys that keep you moving vertically a break. Remember that working in and around elevators is for professionals. Do not enter any hoistway or machine room unless you are trained to do so. Elevator technicians are highly skilled specialists and are owed respect for their training and hard work in less than ideal conditions.

Don’t Guess – Know Elevator Maintenance

We have all had the experience: your car just stops going. The engine revs, but you just don’t go forward well at all. You “baby” it as best you can to your local mechanic, he hooks it up to a zillion diagnostic gizmos with plugs and wires, he updates the operating system, performs all the recalls and finally, after the plethora of the clamps and diodes are removed and the computer goes dark, your car is pronounced good to go. The problem is when you pick the car up, it makes it home, but the next day isn’t good to go at all. As a matter of fact, the vehicle isn’t going anywhere.

Guess what? Misdiagnosis.

Now you have to trudge back to the garage, make arrangements again to have it worked on, line up a ride and get ready to argue the bill.

In the world of elevators, building owners and managers see the same thing. The elevator is busted, a frantic call is made, tenants are freaking out and your phone is lit up like a Christmas tree with complaints. When the repair guy finally shows up, because you have seen this movie before, you strategically place yourself in the repair guy’s most likely path, with arms folded and foot tapping impatiently.  He fidgets with his tool belt as he walks, acting as if he is all set to dive in. As he nears, knowing that he can’t avoid a conversation, he spits out an excuse, a weak apology about being late and then says, “It probably just needs to be reset.”

Here we go again.

Then the waiting game begins as you pace like a striking teamster; all you need is a placard stapled to a strip of pine wood. When he finally emerges from the machine room door an hour later, he says, “All done, must have had a power surge.” After thank you’s all around and a hearty hand shake, he exits the premises. But then, not an hour later, it breaks down again. By this time it is after hours and the response is not so prompt.

DISCLAIMER: Before I go any further I just want to say that the vast majority of elevator mechanics are extremely capable and competent. I am talking about the small minority.

What was the problem? For some reason, the elevator mechanic was just guessing. The other options are limited. Either something else broke that miraculously presented the exact same symptoms, or the technician is just not that bright. So let’s be generous and assume incompetence instead of ignorance. How do you respond?

Rock and a hard place.

Let’s face it: at the time the elevator mechanic is in charge as only he can get the elevator running right then.  Only in extreme cases (or never) should a verbal confrontation ensue.  However, the next day, if you have seen this pattern repeatedly, specific actions should be taken:

  1. Contact the company that maintains the elevator. Go over the head of the elevator mechanic, other technicians, the sales guy or the dispatcher.  Especially if this has not been a one-time affair, consistent problems require a manager or owner of the maintenance company. Don’t settle for less.
  2. Don’t discuss the matter over the phone in detail. Instead express your displeasure and schedule an in-person meeting on your premises. If they won’t schedule a visit, it will show you how much they really care about your business. Skip to number 9.
  3. Prior to the meeting, review your contract! Know what you signed on for, before the meeting.
  4. Document, if you aren’t already keeping a list of ongoing problems and failures, costs associated, poor service, and failures of service do so or compile one. Check the elevator log in the machine room for visits and notes regarding the unit. Make a complete list of issues that need to be addressed.
  5. Don’t accept an apology until the problem is resolved. Far too often, the apology is just a tactic to diffuse a situation. It seems to be in everyone’s current customer service playbook. Instead, when someone starts with, “I understand how you feel, and I am sorry…” cut them off! Explain that the most important part of the apology is making the aggrieved party (you) whole. Sorry’s can be handed out, when the problem is fixed. “I’m sorry” has become meaningless, and the easiest words to speak in the English language.
  6. In the meeting, address the immediate situation first. Keep in mind, it is OK to ask for a different technician. Not all are created equal and you might have drawn the short straw when it comes to mechanics.
  7. Once the immediate problem has been resolved, start working on the longer-term or systemic issues.
  8. Take good notes, record action items and email a list of duties going forward so everyone is on the same page.
  9. Most importantly, regardless of how things have gone, send a certified letter to the elevator maintenance company and indicate that you wish to terminate the maintenance agreement. This will prove you are serious and give you leverage when negotiating future contracts. Also, if things prove to be an ongoing problem, then you have officially served notice. Keep in mind in most cases your letter will not kick in for a few years! That’s right you are tethered to this company for a while, but the certified letter will severe your relationship when the contract is up. Then you can find another, hopefully better company.

If you follow these steps, you at least can have a plan when it comes to the few times that there is consistent poor service provided.

 

Kids, iPhones, Technology, and Elevators

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Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

Just seeing a small child with a cell phone drives me a bit crazy.  Maybe I’m getting old, but have you recently had to have a one-on-one or heart-to-heart with a young child or even a teen that is holding a cell phone? Because they are trained so young and distracted, rest assured the conversation will be a bit one-sided. You will see glazed-over eyes darting back and forth and fingers fiercely and frantically, fleetly flying from icon to icon. Forget finding depth of soul or a modicum of understanding. It is a wasteland of mumbles and stares and epitomizes the bane that is technology.

Based on the above, it is easy to see how the Luddite movement took hold among the English textile workers in the 19th century. They were so upset with technology and potential lost jobs that they vowed to destroy the weaving machinery in factories as a form of protest. Count me as  modern day Luddite. But before we smash the latest IPhone on the alter of dissent, we need to rethink the value of technology, because, whether we like to admit it or not, technology has and always will be a net-plus.

Technology increases productivity, employment in the long-term, wealth and knowledge. It makes our lives easier, in many respects, and often times better.

Take the example of a technology we rarely consider anymore because it is so common place: the lowly elevator. It is arguable that when Elisha Otis had that famous rope cut that was suspending him above the crowd on a platform at the New York Crystal Palace exposition, 1853 World’s Fair and it did not fall; the world changed forever.

Since then, New York and thousands of other metropolitan areas were literally able to grow “up”.  Before the safe elevator, the growth of cities was relegated to horizontal space or how high a person was willing to walk up, one step at a time. After old Elisha, the push of a button made it easy and quick to be whisked away to a different floor, sometimes hundreds of feet higher, in a matter of seconds. Even the term “skyscraper” was not in use regarding buildings until the elevator made it possible.

So why is this important? We are living in an age that has embraced the technology of elevators so much that we barely notice it anymore. “Ding” and we step in; of course unless the “out of order” sign is taped to the hall call. So when that elevator is down, it is more than an inconvenience.  We expect to push the button and to go up or down with ease and we are disappointed, and even angered, when it does not work like we want. When broken, we are forced to trudge up a flight of stairs or two. Oh, the inhumanity!

So, as a building owner or manager, making sure the elevator runs properly is a big must. People are relying on that technology probably more than a teenager and a phone, and the taller the building, the more reliance.

To make sure the elevator is functioning properly with precious few shutdowns, you have some work to do. You must stay in contact with the elevator company. They are more than a friendly face that pops in occasionally, they are your maintenance partner.  Hold their feet to the fire because your relationship with the users (your tenants and visitors) are reliant on them.  The elevator maintenance personnel must be able to do the following:

  1. Diagnose – If it takes multiple times to get the problem figured out, there is a problem. Are they diagnosing or guessing?
  2. Explain – No one wants a problem but when there is one, a courteous explanation is required. They must be willing to take the time, go over the issue, and explain it all.
  3. Solutions – Solving the problem is a must. Constant guessing and return trips shows a lack of experience or ability.
  4. Fast – The maintenance provider should be willing to stay longer and work harder when needed. No one should stand for a slow-motion repair.
  5. Honesty – This is often reflected on the bill. Sometimes, if you don’t keep tabs, you end up paying for dropped tools, long lunches and nap time, instead of repairs.

If you suspect a lack of ability in any of the above, send a certified letter canceling the service contract. You probably should do that anyway, so you won’t get stuck with another five year contract you can’t get out of and that has automatic rate increases (but that’s another blog post). Sending the cancellation letter will not get you out of your current woes; however, it will serve notice with your provider. Secondarily, open a line of communication. Don’t just rely on the person that shows up to do the job, to relay concerns, especially about them! Likewise the scheduler at the office is probably the wrong person to contact about your concerns. Start climbing the ladder. Eventually you will get someone that cares about your problems. If not, then aren’t you glad you cancelled?

 

 

Recently modernized elevator car. New fixtures and interior are just part of a modernization.

Tips – Dealing with an Elevator Modernization

Recently modernized elevator car. New fixtures and interior are just part of a modernization.
Recently modernized elevator car. New fixtures and interior are just part of a modernization.

The cost of a complete pit to roof-top machine room makeover can easily run in the tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the total travel distance, type of elevator, and work to be done. But writing the check is just the tip of the hatred iceberg.

Why the hate? Because modernization comes with a myriad of problems. As the building owner or manager, you have to make all sorts of decisions and accommodations, coordinating the intricate dance of building tenants with elevator personnel. Some need to get in and out and others up and down. Schedules have to be merged, communications opened, storage areas coordinated, parking and unloading allowed, inconveniences avoided, and ruffled feelings assuaged. Patience is the watchword, as modernization work can drag on from a couple months to often over a year. In that time span, patience can wear as thin as crepe paper. Then the anger and hate sinks in as reasonable people become less so.

It is best to snuff out the reason for the hate before you get hip deep, and proactive communication and understanding can keep you from that point of burning rage. Two lines of communication need to be opened, maintained, and nurtured, first to the tenant and then to the elevator company.

The Tenant

For the manager and building owners, it is important not to forget the tenant. These are the people that the elevator folks seem to forget to the point of being considered a near nuisance. The elevator techs feel that the tenants want in or out of the building in the middle of a crucial aspect of the elevator work, or that they interrupt the work with questions and complaints. However, it is important to remember that they, the tenants, are in essence paying for the modernization, as their rent is where the funds come from. But too often, their concerns are ignored or given the back seat. In both apartment buildings and office complexes, reliance on the elevator is the reality for the people who use and pay rent in the building.

Keep in mind that early on, for a day or so, hoofing it up a flight or two doesn’t seem all that inconvenient.  But a week and a couple bunions later, you’ll see the best of tenants question the need for the new elevator equipment and wonder why it is taking so long. Be aware, of this and go the extra mile in communication and convenience. Part of that is being ready and willing to discuss the following in an open and forthright manner if you are the building manager or owner:

  1. Why the update is needed. Is it safety? To bring the elevator up to code? Both? More? Be ready to explain everything, warts and all, pluses and negatives.
  2. The timeline agreed to. Nothing is worse than mentally preparing yourself for a big inconvenience and then having it drag on for weeks past the promised deadline. Give updates often.
  3. The noise. Let the tenants know that working on an elevator can be loud. There is sometimes drilling and hammering involved and heavy equipment being moved.
  4. Dust, dirt, and grime. Let the tenants know that, although every effort will be made to contain the mess, some will sneak through. It is a work area.
  5. Tenants’ needs. Ask how you can help your tenants out or if they have a significant need on the horizon. Sometimes it is nothing more than hiring some strong backs to do extra lifting or getting a hand truck.
  6. Safety.  Remind your tenants to follow directions and signs that warn of dangers.

The Elevator Contractor

There is a similar list for dealing with the elevator contractor. Often they will hedge, but a reputable and experienced elevator company will be able to give you the following information:

  1. An honest timeline in writing. A day or two leeway is nice and forgivable, but beyond that and you should lower the boom. If the contractor is off the target more than a couple days, they either don’t know what they are doing, didn’t do a good job with the site survey, or didn’t follow the Modernization Checklist produced by NAEC. The bottom line is that if they are days or weeks off, it is not your fault but theirs. Let them know about it.
  2. A list of your responsibilities. This should be contained in the contract you sign. Highlight them and make sure you are not the problem. If you promised the contractor after-hours access, then you must provide for that. If you promised them onsite storage, then you must give it to them. Don’t get in the way of the job finishing on time.
  3. Special concerns or needs in writing. Memories are short, so don’t rely on yours. Also, no contract is carved in stone. Add anything that you want to make sure you are clear on compensation and to see to it that the concerns are addressed.
  4. Comparative contracts. Let’s just say that you need to keep everyone honest. Sometimes they all come in close, but watch out if one is really low. They could be missing something big. Check what they are going to do in comparison to what the other companies are offering in writing–not just a nebulous “replace jack,” but each step and item required.
  5. References. No, really, check references.
  6. Non-propriety parts. Proprietary parts are nothing more than a gun to your head for a lucrative, one-way maintenance agreement with the installer. Don’t budge on this point; non-proprietary parts will cost you more in fees and maintenance over the life of the unit than the cost of the unit itself overall.

I know these lists of pointers cannot fully extinguish the angst of dealing with a modernization, but I certainly hope it helps. Whether we like it or not, every elevator will need updating at some point. So take your time, consider how you can help, and drop the hate.