Category Archives: Know Your Elevator

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.

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.

What Are All These Keys For?

Firemans KeyYou just got a brand new elevator or completed an elevator modernization. On the way out the door, the elevator technician gives you a quick demonstration and a ring full of keys. As the maintenance supervisor, property manager or building owner, you already have enough keys on your chain to drown if you fell into the swimming pool, and the elevator guy just gave you five more! What do all these keys do, and do you really need them all on the key chain you carry around everyday?

The problem is that the answer to this question varies due to elevator components, location and function.  For instance, here is a catalog of keys and locks from a company often used when manufacturing commercial quality elevators. As you can see, there are hundreds of locks and keys for a wide variety of applications.

The most common keys are for fire service and access to the elevator, lights, and fans. But do you need to keep these keys handy, hanging off your already sagging belt? The answer is a resounding no. Elevator keys are specifically designed to be used for servicing the elevator, making the elevator inoperable or for firefighting purposes only. Unless you are a trained elevator technician or firefighter, you should not use the keys at all and should keep them in a safe location away from the public. In other words, do not use the elevator keys!

To be completely technical, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators addresses keys for elevators. You can find the information in ASME A17.1 – 2013, Section 8.1, where it designates that the elevator keys shall be kept on the premises, readily accessible to the proper personnel, but not accessible to the general public.

The keys do a number of things that primarily involve only the elevator technician and firefighters. Rather than unnecessarily adding to your growing key collection, keep them in a safe place away from the public.

Benefits of the MRL Elevator

fixed-mrl-motorIn 1996, Kone introduced the world to its first Machine Room-Less traction elevator (MRL), and worldwide, this design has become common for medium-sized buildings. While regulations, code requirements and new product hesitancy have made growth slower in the United States, we are now seeing steadily increasing installations.

The MRL elevator is attractive due to emerging technology that significantly reduces the size of the electric motors normally used with traction elevators. This gives elevator manufacturers the option to replace the large machine room used to accommodate the motor with a small, more efficient motor placed in the overhead at the top of the hoistway.  Instead of accessing the machine via ladders onto a roof, it is serviced from the car top.

However, just because it is becoming a common choice doesn’t mean the MRL is the right elevator configuration for your project.   Below are some of the advantages and disadvantages of MRLs to consider when looking for a new or replacement elevator.

  1. Energy savings – Some of the early claims were an energy savings of up to 80% compared to hydraulic units. However, closer examination has revealed those numbers may be inflated. This is especially true when comparing travel up and down, as hydraulic units are extremely efficient when going down. It is now thought that the running costs are reduced about half as much as previously thought, depending on use.
  2. Space saving – There is no doubt that without a traditional traction machine room, construction is simplified, as there is no need for rooftop access and the hoistway protrusion above the roof is smaller.  Architects may appreciate this flexibility.
  3. Comparable durability, ride and safety – Early concerns were the MRL would not be as safe or as durable as a standard traction elevator, or the quality of the ride might suffer. MRLs have proven to be just as safe and comfortable as standard overhead traction, though they haven’t been around long enough to prove or disprove long-term durability.
  4. No hydraulic oil used – Currently, there are some environmental concerns with oil usage and possible oil seepage or spills, especially in elevators with in-ground jacks. MRL’s can alleviate those concerns. However, many of those concerns are now overstated, as all in-ground jacks must be contained in PVC liners. Also, hydraulic oil can now be made from biomass instead of petroleum.

Some of the downsides of MRL’s to consider:

  1. Higher initial investment – They simply come with a higher price tag for low and medium rise applications.
  2. Higher standby power requirement – While in operation, they are an energy saver, but when they are inactive, they use more energy than hydraulic elevators.
  3. Higher maintenance costs – MRLs, like traction elevators in general, have more moving parts and are thus more complex to service.  Thus maintenance costs are typically higher.
  4. Higher repair costs – Due to part availability, repair time could be longer and more expensive. Also, many components must be refurbished or repaired at the manufacturer.
  5. Harder to service – The basic thought is that the elevator car top will serve as the service platform for the motor. If the elevator car cannot be moved to the top of the hoistway, getting to the motor safely may be a problem. Access to the motor needs to be considered before installation.

The takeaway is that there are several positives and negatives when it comes to making a decision about MRL’s. Depending on the project, age and condition of your current elevator, an MRL may make sense in the long run. On the other hand, in some circumstances, a hydraulic system is superior in initial investment and long-term maintenance.

It is important to gather information before you decide, and it helps to know the amount of traffic you are expecting, the total travel distance and what, if any, environmental concerns you have when thinking about a project. To get more guidance on the decision, we recommend you get an unbiased opinion from a company that offers a wide variety of elevators, including both MRL and hydraulic options or elevator consultant. The engineers and consultants at Phoenix Modular Elevator are ready and willing to discuss all of these elevator possibilities at any time.

Elevator Evacuation: What You Should Know

sfmlogomainpageLife is full of choices, from the clothes we wear to the cars we drive. Americans love having the freedom to do as they choose. But in some things, for good reason, we have no choice but to follow rules and laws that ensure public safety. This is especially true when it comes to regulations for elevators and other modes of vertical transportation. One of the most important regulations is the elevator evacuation plan, and every elevator owner is required to have one.

For the safety of all who use them, elevators are highly regulated. In Illinois, the Elevator Safety Division is responsible for implementing the Elevator Safety and Regulation Act through the registration, inspection, and certification of all conveyances in use. They also make sure those working on elevators are qualified by licensing contractors, mechanics, inspectors, inspection companies and apprentices.

Their jurisdiction extends to all of Illinois except the city of Chicago, and they work to ensure conveyances are correctly and safely installed and operated throughout the state. They regulate the design, installation, construction, operation, inspection, testing, maintenance, alteration and repair of not just elevators but also dumbwaiters, escalators, moving sidewalks, platform lifts, stairway lifts and automated people movers in accordance with all applicable statutes and rules.

Just one part of their regulation includes the elevator evacuation plan. It is one of the more crucial parts of the law that building owners must understand and implement if elevators are used. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) literally wrote the book on the evacuation plan, and it was codified by the state of Illinois, making it the law of the land that the Elevator Safety Division of the Illinois State Fire Marshal oversees and enforces.

In ASME Code A17.1-2007 – Section 8.6.11.4 Emergency Evacuation Procedures for Elevators, Section 8.6.11.4.2 – “A written emergency evacuation procedure shall be made and kept on the premises where an elevator is located.  It is the responsibility of the elevator or conveyance owner to develop such procedures. Note that there is no single procedure that applies to every site and every elevator; there are variables to consider when developing your evacuation plan.”

It is the responsibility of the building owner to produce an evacuation plan to meet the needs of each specific building and elevator.  To help with formulating a plan, the Office of the Illinois Fire Marshal provides the following information on their website:

In preparing your evacuation procedures, please consider the following:

  • Is the site located in a heavily populated or remote area?
  • Are personnel available to open the building after regular business hours?
  • If the building employs a security company or answering service, how might they be useful?

Written Procedures:

  • A written emergency evacuation procedure shall be made and kept on the premises where a conveyance is located.
  • The procedure shall identify hazards and detail the safety precautions utilized in evacuating passengers from a stalled elevator.
  • These procedures should be available to authorized elevator and emergency personnel.
  • You should have the contractor’s number readily available to building personnel.
  • The procedure should include the actions to be taken if a situation is life-threatening.
  • Situations requiring the use of the local fire department should be included in the procedure (medical emergency).

Training and Education:

  • In a catastrophic situation, in order to insure that a rescue by other than experienced elevator personnel is performed safely, the conveyance owner must select and train their employees in the proper evacuation procedures.
  • Building personnel should be given training in the proper procedures for evacuating passengers in an emergency/disaster. When training personnel, advantage should be taken of the experience and expertise which may be provided by the State licensed contractor servicing the conveyance.

Communication:

  • Prior to conducting an evacuation, the following steps should be taken:
  • The rescue team should verify that these steps have been taken, and while the rescue operation is in progress, the occupants of the conveyance should continually be kept informed and reassured of their safety.

Lack of an evacuation plan is a violation of the law that is designed to make sure that everyone using an elevator is safe. To read more about elevator evacuation plans, go to this link. The Illinois State Fire Marshal Office – Elevator safety Division website offers a tremendous amount of helpful information that can be accessed any time.