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.

Elevator Keys – Ring Full of Questions

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 companies, components, location and function.  For instance, here is a catalog of keys and locks from a company often used when manufacturing commercial quality elevators. There are dozens of locks and keys for a wide variety of applications. As a matter of fact here is just a partial list of the number of available keys based on the manufacturer:

  • Adams Fixtures (40)
  • Armor Elevator (16)
  • C.J. Anderson (9)
  • Chicago Lock (29)
  • Dover Elevator (37)
  • E.R.M. Fixtures (13)
  • EPCO Fixtures (38)
  • GAL Fixtures (6)
  • Haughton Elevator (7)
  • Innovation Fixtures (19)
  • KONE Elevator (11)
  • MAD Fixtures (7)
  • Medeco / Assa Abloy (1)
  • Monitor / Janus Fixtures (256)
  • Montgomery Elevator (52)
  • Montgomery KONE (13)
  • National Elevator Cab & Door (252)
  • NCL / National Cabinet Locks (1)
  • O. Thompson / Payne Elevator (5)
  • Otis Elevator (14)
  • PTL Fixtures (30)
  • S.E.E.S. Inc. (4)
  • Schindler Elevator (13)
  • ThyssenKrupp Elevator (13)
  • Universal Fire Service Keys (10)
  • US Elevator (9)
  • Vermaport Ltd (1)

If you’re keeping track that is over 900 in just a partial list. Making a comprehensive list and description of what each and every key does would fill volumes. So rather than focus on what specifically each key, it is much more important to see what the rules are that govern key use. To get specific instruction on what a key may do, contact us at Phoenix Modular Elevator, your elevator technician or the company you work with that services your elevator.

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. You 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.