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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.

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.


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.

Merry Christmas! – Leave Bikes and Elevators to the Pros

bike-christmasby Russ Ward

When your child reaches the age of three or four, one of the biggest challenges any parent faces is putting together a bicycle on Christmas Eve. Searching the house for all of the tools, trying to keep all of the parts in one place and not cussing when you bust your knuckles tightening the front wheel is all part of the fun.

I was able to fail at all three one year.

Because I couldn’t find my crescent wrench, I used needle nose pliers to attempt to tighten the front wheel. When my hand slipped, I not only busted my knuckles, but the needle nose pliers came out of my clenched fist and hit the pile of miscellaneous nuts and bolts, the very nuts and bolts still required to put the bike together. They went flying all over the room and into the floor vent to the furnace. Needless to say, ho, ho, ho was not the first thing that came out of my mouth. To this day, I am still haunted by that night.

By our third child, some department stores got smart and decided to offer a service where they put the bike together for you. They had the right tools for the job, all of the correct parts and probably a better vocabulary. The Christmas Day bicycle for child number three was no sweat thanks to the friendly elves at the department store.

This Christmas ritual got me thinking about how hiring the right service tech is smarter and better. Not only does the professional have a better understanding of the parts and work involved, but he is more likely to put the bicycle together correctly, making it safer for the child riding it. The same logic can also be applied to elevator maintenance and repair. While some routine fixes may seem simple, if you don’t understand how all the components work together to make a door function, making an adjustment to one might knock another one out of kilter and make the problem worse.  Tweaking some wiring might inadvertently override a safety feature and cause injury to a passenger.  Believe it or not, there are some building owners and managers that conduct elevator maintenance and repairs themselves or have an employee already on staff doing the work instead of calling professionals.

The reluctance to call the service provider may be due to convenience, cost or a poor, one-sided contract. However, none of these are good enough reasons to keep the work in-house unless your staff includes trained and certified elevator mechanics.

If it is the inconvenience of waiting around for the elevator technician and they are always late or fail to show up, open a dialog (not a shouting match) with your provider. Go over specific problems, with examples, and ask that each be addressed.

If it is cost, you may be in a maintenance plan that doesn’t fit your needs, or you might have fallen prey to the phantom repair guy that shows up at will, without checking in, and performs costly repairs without authorization. Like the mercurial Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Future, they come and go on a whim and appear in their own good time and disappear just as quickly. The only evidence they were there at all is the bill left on your desk. If this sounds familiar, take charge of this situation and demand a check-in before work starts, ask for an explanation regarding work needed, and refuse to pay for any work that has not been pre-approved. Also, know your contract and what is paid for by monthly fees.

If it is a poor contract that keeps you from calling, start now by notifying the provider, in writing, you are discontinuing the service, even if it is up in a few years, and shop for an alternative. There are many great companies that provide top notch service and fair contracts.

Just keep in mind there are better alternatives to elevator maintenance available, and problems can be addressed in a proactive way to ensure the largest moving object in your building stays safe and efficient. I know if I would have found the better alternative when putting together those bikes on Christmas Eve, everyone would have been better off. I would have no busted knuckles, no need to wash my mouth out with soap, and I would have avoided wishing my kids, “Merry Christmas, I hope the wheel stays on!” The only good news is that I was able to blame Santa Claus.

Merry Christmas from Elevator Schmelevator!

The elevator door is the hardest working part of the elevator.

How Elevator Doors Work

The elevator door is the hardest working part of the elevator.
The front of an elevator car. You can see the wheels, control arms and safety sensor.

If elevators could sweat, most of it would drip from the doors. The doors are definitely the hardest working part of the elevator. Each and every time the elevator stops at a floor, a car door and hatch door need to open and close efficiently without complaint.  This hard working part of the average elevator opens and closes 200,000 times per year according to a major door manufacturer.

That produces a lot of wear and tear on the equipment that opens and closes the doors, especially if it is not properly maintained. As a result, elevator doors are the cause of over 70% of all service calls.

So here are the basics of elevator doors, the hardest working element of the vertical transport system.

Types of Doors

There are several different kinds of doors. They are usually described by the number of panels the door has, and range from single panel to four panel.  The panels recess to the side when open, so the car must be at least twice as wide as the door to allow the full recess.  If more door width is needed than the car provides, then multiple partial-width panels are used.  They telescope together when open, so a 48″ 2-panel door only needs a 24″ recess.

When there are multiple panels, each moves at a different rate so they are called single speed, two speed and so on. The panel furthest from the edge where the door closes (otherwise know as strike side) moves the slowest.  The leading panel moves faster to “catch up” when opening, so that all panels hit the fully recessed position at the same time.

Doors can open to one side (called side slide doors) or from the center (center parting doors).  Both side slide and center parting doors can have multiple panels.

While there is a single door on the car that travels with it, every stop has a door called a hoistway or hatch door that keeps people from falling into the hoistway when the car is not there. These hatch doors must open and close at the same time that the car doors do.

How the Doors Operate

Elevator Car Top
The operator and motor is located on top of the car.

Of course there is an electric impulse from the elevator controller (the brain of the elevator) that causes an elevator door to open and close when the car is safely at the proper floor; however, most action in the door’s operation is mechanical.

The car top houses a machine called the door operator.  When the car and hatch doors are lined up, a clutch on the back side of the car door slides down (or up) over pickup rollers on the back side of the hatch doors.  The operator then drives the car door open, engaging the pickup rollers and taking the hatch door with it.  To close, the operator drives the car door closed, pulling the hatch door along.

When the equipment is adjusted correctly, this is a smooth, unnoticeable process. When there are problems, it is very noticeable. The problems can be evidenced by doors not opening all the way (or at all).

An adjustment of the clutch and/or pickup rollers, to make sure they’re aligned, as well as the linkages that connect the moving parts, can correct this.  These parts do not typically get out of alignment by normal use.  Rather, misalignment is usually caused by someone forcing the door open or otherwise hitting or vandalizing it.

The hatch door has nylon or rubber wheels that run along an overhead track.  If these are worn, the opening and closing of the door can be squeaky or grinding or bumpy.

Rollers Track
Wheel in the upper car track.

The bottom of the door has gibs, which run along the grooves in the door sill.  When there are obstructions in the sill, this can prevent the door from opening or closing.  If a gib breaks, it can cause the door to be misaligned and bind when opening.

Let’s look more closely at the door operator itself.  When told by the elevator controller to swing into action, it an electric motor spins a wheel connected to arms that are attached to the door. The arms move the car door along its track to the open position, taking the hatch door with it. The operator controls the speed with which doors open and close, and can be adjusted by a technician.

The belts or chains that drive the door operator do get worn from all their exertion and need to be changed every few years.

Because there is the potential for a breakdown of all of these moving parts, the door equipment needs to have regular inspection and maintenance. The tracks and sills should be cleaned, rollers and gibs inspected for wear, and linkages checked for alignment.

There are dozens of moving parts so to keep this hard working part of your elevator in top condition.  Don’t let a problem with opening and closing doors fester.  If you are having trouble with an elevator door call a technician. It is a matter of safety.  Most problems can be fixed with some simple adjustments.

If consistent routine maintenance is completed by a certified technician, your elevator will keep giving you great service for a long time, without even breaking a sweat.