Tag Archives: elevator maintenance

Elevator U Report: Maintenance – It’s Just Business

Elevator U FinalRecently, I sat in on a great discussion at Elevator U regarding elevator maintenance. Elevator U is an organization that has an annual gathering of elevator personnel from colleges and universities around the country. The conference is a great opportunity to meet and greet some great folks in the elevator business and to learn a lot of valuable information through taking part in the various seminars and breakout sessions about the industry. One of the speakers this year was Dr. Clemense Ehoff, an accounting professor at Central Washington University. He is a published writer on information specific to the elevator industry, especially elevator maintenance.

During his presentation, Ehoff made a couple of important points about the vertical transportation industry that ought to be paid special attention by those that own buildings with elevators who might be looking to buy an elevator, or by those in charge of maintaining them. It was definitely a necessary commentary for colleges and universities in attendance as many of the points have practical application regardless of the type of the elevator this information might be applied to.

The first comment he made that many may not be aware of is that an elevator manufacturer is losing a huge chunk of change if they do not procure the maintenance agreement when they sell the elevator to the building owner. It is not unusual for the maintenance agreement to be more profitable for the company over the life of the elevator than the elevator itself.  From this simple comment, one can see that when negotiating the price of maintenance and initial cost, this knowledge may be valuable and well worth keeping filed in the back of your mind. It could come in handy to know where their profit and, therefore, their motives come from.

He also expounded on the language of a standard elevator contract. The “full- maintenance” and just “oil and grease” contracts are intentionally unclear.  “Full- maintenance” specifically, according to Ehoff, has murky wording and most companies restrict performance information in the language of the contract. The contracts are very legalistically written in their own “legalese,” and the big elevator companies intentionally use words like “periodic” and phrases like “as we consider necessary” to confuse and cloud instead of enlighten and explain.

In addition, lots of exclusions are listed especially when compared to duties and guarantees. Specifically what is missing is any requirement for any quality and/or standards. Ehoff maintains this is intentional and no accident at all as the elevator manufacturers have set themselves up as the experts and everyone else is at the mercy of their opinions. Ehoff said that the only measure for quality is “call backs” for additional repairs and the fewer times the elevator tech is “called back” the better quality. Unfortunately, there is no standard in the industry to measure these call backs for repairs. Is one call back per month too many? More? And what about the time spent? There are no measures for these questions in the industry or, if there are, the companies are not sharing them. The result is that the quality of the elevator, quality repair, and fair contracts are hard to assess and ultimately assessment is what Ehoff wants to see: concise data about repairs.

To build an unbiased database, apart from the manufacturing companies, Ehoff finished his presentation with a request for help. He was hoping that the participants of Elevator U could help him gather data on maintenance that he and others could use to determine the effectiveness and quality of elevator maintenance.  To be a participant in the study or to find out more about his work, here is a link to his information online.

After all, without a standard and good quality data regarding “call backs” from the elevator owner, there is really no way to know if you are being played or not when it comes to maintenance agreements. In other words, how do you know if your frequency of breakdowns and “call backs” are reasonable or not? The answer is that until there is reliable, independent data, we will never know and will be in the dark as to the quality of the elevator and the maintenance being performed and forever in the control of elevator companies.

In the mean time, while the data is being collected, do the unthinkable…read the maintenance contract and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification and changes if you are uncomfortable at all with any of the terms. Pay special attention to automatic increases and renewals. Also, we have lots of resources regarding contracts available here. Remember the elevator company wants your service contract business! They may be more than willing to make exceptions to the rule. Lastly, if you are not sure you want to renew with the current company providing service, check your contract for the renewal date, mark it on the calendar, and send a certified letter to the provider to cancel service. This will give you more flexibility in coming to a better agreement for you.

Elevator U: The Myth of Maintenance Teamwork

pierre-etienne-vachon-116891 (1)
Photo by Pierre-Etienne Vachon on Unsplash

Long-term planning for elevator maintenance takes cooperation from several parties and often is equated to teamwork. However, the idea that a team is always the solution to the problem often misses the bigger point. At the recent Elevator U conference we learned a lot about the various people that make elevator maintenance systems work but, surprisingly, the word team was never mentioned.

This is may be because when you hear the word “team,” you think of a group of individuals all dressed in the same uniform striving for victory, all pulling in the same direction. Even though everyone’s in-game goals may be different, victory for the team is always the objective, so they cast self-wants aside for the win.

Baseball is a great example of this. The goal of the pitcher is to strike people out, force a simple ground ball or “can of corn” pop-fly, but sometimes they have to intentionally walk an apposing player to ensure a win. The batter always wants to drive the ball for a hit, but every once in a while a sacrifice is required above the attempt at a dramatic homer. A selfish player or someone that has goals apart from on field victory is never a welcome addition to the team, even if they are great players. The goal should always be the win; not the individual’s desires.

Although we would like to think that elevator maintenance is a team sport, with everyone pulling in the same direction and willing to sacrifice for the good of the team, oftentimes it is not. The result is that managing elevator maintenance needs to come with the realization that everyone might just be dressed in different uniforms and they may not be playing on your team at all. This is not because people in the elevator business should be considered corrupt or lazy and out of hand; it is because the various components needed to have good elevator service usually have differing goals. The people it takes to keep an elevator running are sometimes working in opposition to each other so instead of a team, it should be looked at as a partnership.

This is why it’s important to ask: Who are my partners and what are their motives?

The elevator company – They are who you have the actual maintenance contract with and their goal is to make money by providing good service and products. If keeping you happy makes them money, all is good. When you cost them money…well, that’s another story. To confirm this fact, look over your current contract and see who the language favors. You will find that it is a very lopsided document. There is nothing wrong with them wanting to ring the cash register as often as possible. They have a lot of responsibilities which cost them dearly: they employ people with their revenue, provide upgrades and improvement, and even engage in R&D to make elevators safer and better functioning. Making money is not evil, but it’s important to realize that it is their goal.

The repair personnel – Sometimes they are on your team and other times they are not. Often times the technician’s goal is to simply make it though the day with their sanity intact. They have lots of stops to get to and there’s pressure from the company to maintain lots of different elevators plus special projects. They also must be efficient, punctual, and represent the company in person to you, all while making money for the company. They must live in the impossible world of making each customer their number one priority or at least feel that way. They can be reliable and loyal, but their bread is buttered somewhere else. Keep in mind they straddle this fence all the time and a good relationship is a plus. But be warned! You can’t fire them, but you can make sure they are where they are supposed to be and repairing what they are supposed to. Also, all techs are not created equal and you may have drawn the short straw.

Next in the line up is the building maintenance or facilities department – Their goal is, first and foremost, to solve problems, keep their job and avoid pain. A person responsible for maintaining the whole building may know very little about an elevator, but has the nearly impossible task of keeping it running (with the help of the certified elevator tech) and assisting with or making long-term decisions on the elevators in general. Recently, I had an opportunity to meet several of these great folks at the Elevator U conference. The conference is for college and university staff, administrators, facility managers and elevator technicians to learn about and discuss challenges and gain information to problem solve. I was surprised by the number of first time attendees there were and many had no background in the elevator business at all. You may find that a facility manager has technical training in another trade all together or may specialize in business or management and may completely hate the elevator responsibilities as it may not be their bailiwick.

Sometimes they have little or no time to deal with the issues raised regarding elevators and so they acquiesce to the wishes of experts (elevator techs) for expediency purposes. Modernization can roll off the lips of the facility department personnel, because they may not be as concerned with the bottom line.  Also, remember this department or individual is the first line of defense when it comes to complaints from both users and superiors and that’s something else they have to deal with on a day to day basis.

Finally, the building owner or facility manager – This partner has the goal of keeping the elevator running as smoothly as possible with as few shut downs for as little money as they can spend. They may actually break out in a rash if “modernization” or “major shut down” is even uttered. They feel like the elevator is a money pit and essentially believe that, since installed, the elevator keeps costing money in service contracts, shutdowns, and repairs. They know that the elevator is necessary, but ultimately they have the job of running a business or organization in the black and out of the red which leaves them with little patience for stoppages.

This disparate group of misfitting parts makes up the partners (or team) that have the duty to provide a safe, efficient elevator for the public. Holding them together may just be an impossible task.  But understanding their professional goals is a good place to start and always keep in mind that consistently reminding each other of the ultimate goal of providing safe vertical transportation at a reasonable cost. This may lead to more appreciation of each other and, who knows, maybe a little sacrifice every now and again for the benefit of the team.

Elevator modernization is for safety and saving.

Decision Factors for an Elevator Modernization

Modernizing elevator components is important for elevator safety.
If your elevator controller looks like this, it maybe time to modernize.

So your Elevator Contractor has recommended that your aging elevator is due for a modernization.  If you don’t know what this means, then get educated here.  A modernization is expensive, so this post will explain the benefits so you can decide if they’re worth the cost.

The benefits of elevator modernization fall into 2 buckets:  improved safety, and improved technology.

Codes & Safety:  As people have been injured on elevators over the years, manufacturers have developed safety solutions that reduce risks.  The elevator code gurus ultimately make these “solutions” requirements for new elevators, but older elevators are traditionally grandfathered in and are not forced to adopt the upgraded code. This means that over time, an elevator can be significantly out of code and not as safe as it should be. Your elevator may need the following for safety:

  • Phone – If you get stuck in an elevator, it’s nice to know that there is a phone that dials a 24/7 monitored location that can send for help to get you out.  But you also want to know that the phone will work when you need it to.  The 2010 version of the elevator code adds a feature that tests the phone line every hour, and an indicator light on the hall station blinks if the phone line isn’t connected.
  • Fire Service – This is a feature tied into the building’s fire/smoke alarm system that, when an alarm triggers, sends the elevator to the main egress floor, opens the doors and shuts off.  This gets everyone out of the elevator safely and prevents additional people from using the elevator.
  • Door Restrictor – A door restrictor stops  the car door from opening when it shouldn’t. This means that in between floors, the doors will remain closed, so that passengers can’t squeeze out and fall down the shaft.
  • Light Curtain – Some elevators still have the old bump pads.  Sometimes, frail people get hurt when these whack them on the shoulder or leg.  The current version of this safety feature is infrared beams that form a curtain of light that sense when someone is in the doorway.  No physical contact, so no one gets hurt.

Note that you can install most of the above on their own.  But replacing an entire component can give you updated technology plus the safety features above ride along for free. For example, a full modernization will replace the equipment that opens and closes the doors.  All new door operators have door restrictors, so you’d get that included.  If you replace all the fixtures (button panels), you’ll automatically get a phone and fire service.

New Technologies: Safety is the biggest reason to modernize an elevator. However, a second consideration is new technology that increases elevator efficiency and responsiveness.

Shorter Travel Times: It’s not only speed that governs how long it takes you to from Floor A to Floor B.  Electronically-controlled acceleration and deceleration and smart dispatching systems that distribute cars on different floors and collect passengers efficiently decrease the wait time component of travel time.

  • Elevators that Learn – It seems Orwellian, but modernization can provide elevators the ability to learn traffic patterns. This allows the elevator car to be positioned at high-use floors during peak times. Then they take over the world.
  • Acceleration – It is true that top speeds have generally stayed the same, however, modernization can allow for quicker acceleration and deceleration. If this is coupled with quick opening and closing doors, the elevator will be much more responsive.
  • Destination Dispatch – Instead of repeatedly pushing the elevator button on the ground floor, why not tell the elevator where you are going? With a destination dispatch system, passengers type their destination floor onto a screen and the  elevator will group passengers by floors, and send them to specific elevators that will get them there with fewer stops.  Also, each tenant or rider can have a programmable card that would eliminate punching the lobby hall call buttons.  More efficient trips mean lower electric bills too.
  • Green Motors – A newer motor may cut total electric consumption for the elevator by 40%, according to some industry analysts. Also, newer motors run cooler, reducing the cost of air-conditioning.
  • Regenerative Drives – It your elevator is over 20 years old, it can be retrofitted with a regenerative drive that translates braking force into usable energy. This usable energy is then transferred back into the building’s systems.
  • LEDs in the the Car – Changing the lighting in the car to LED makes the elevator greener and less costly to run. The LED generally lasts five times longer than an incandescent bulb and uses half the amount of electricity.
  • Buttons – LEDs can also be used in call buttons and elevator car buttons. There is less savings than the car lights, but their use will save some energy cost.
  • Hibernation – Most new systems have a “sleep mode” which allows elevator cars that are not in use to turn off the lights and fan. The car is always ready to spring into action when called but keeps from burning electricity when not needed.

Keep in mind that modernization can save money over time, but each elevator will have its own return on investment (ROI) depending on age and current equipment.  Hiring a qualified elevator consultant can give you a closer estimate of ROI and can advise on whether you need one.   You can also get more than one elevator company to give you an assessment and estimate.  Multiple opinions can often give you a broader perspective and help you make a decision.

If you decide not to modernize for now, keep in mind that elevator safety should always come first.  You can still install the improved safety features listed above and ensure your passengers ride safely.

Candles on the Cake: When is it time for Elevator Modernization?

Birthday cake with candles on color background

We all get to that age when we have more candles on the birthday cake than breath to blow them out. We sit and wonder, as the glow of the cake outshines a 50 watt light bulb, where did all the time go? Your elevator is getting older, too, and although we don’t usually bake a cake to celebrate each anniversary, the years can stack up just the same and faster than you think.

Your trusty elevator may be 25, 50 or 100 years old and as the calendar pages turn, it seems to run fine. Every time it breaks, your elevator mechanic manages to resuscitate the old machine and get it going again. But last month, after wrestling with finding parts and managing the repairs, the mechanic comes to you with the a radical recommendation…modernize “Old Faithful.”

Just one glance at the cost and you immediately wonder what a modernization is exactly and if there are any benefits to you and your riding public. Weighing the factors means knowing the facts because it may be time to bite the bullet and write the check for an update.

First, a modernization does not necessarily mean redoing the aesthetics seen by the public:  the interior of the elevator car, lobby, hall calls and door openings.  Doing this will certainly update the overall look and feel of the building.  But the visible finishes are not the main goal of a modernization.  An elevator modernization means replacing the key components that make your elevator run with parts that meet current codes and utilize current technology.

Components that are typically replaced in a full modernization include:

Controller:  This is the electronic brain that manages all the other components.  Older elevators have mechanical relays and contacts, while current controllers use solid-state

Elevator Rust

electronics. Time and corrosion can hurt the function of the mechanical relays.

Power Unit (hydraulic):  This is the pump/motor/valve assembly inside the tank.  Newer valves are an improvement because there are fewer moving parts, meaning they require less maintenance and are easier to adjust.  They also function better at temperature extremes and offer increased efficiency of the elevator. That means more money in your pocket instead of the elevator company’s.

Hoist Machine or Motor (traction):  This is the component that drives the ropes back and forth, to move the car up and down.  Updating the motor at the same time as the controller will provide better travel times, smoother operation, fewer shutdowns and less maintenance.

Fixtures:  This is all the buttons, including the car operating panel, hall stations and position indicators in the hallways.  Older fixtures, especially in the car, may not have all the features that current code-compliant fixtures do such an ADA phone and button panel with proper sizes, locations and dimensions. Also, if you have a very old unit, the bulbs may be incandescent. LED lights will provide a small amount of energy savings, but will last much longer, saving replacement cost.

Door Equipment:  This includes the door operator, clutch, and pick-up rollers.  A loud opening and closing door could mean that significant wear and tear has occurred and an overhaul needs to take place. There are motors, belts, wheels and gears that turn to open elevator doors and these wear out.  Quality routine maintenance can keep them working for a long time, but if they have been neglected, full replacement (modernization) may be needed. Also, safety regulations are updated periodically. Current codes require door restrictors, which old elevators often lack. To make your elevator doors, safer a modernization should take place.

Because many of the above are electrical components, newer ones may need more wires, so typically traveling and hoistway cables are replaced at the same time so all the wiring is new.

Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to do a full modernization.  Any of the above components can be replaced individually without a complete overhaul.  However, you get more bang for your buck if you do multiple things at once.  If you’ve ever done a “while we’re at it” kitchen remodel where you start with wanting new counters, decide to replace the cabinets they’ll sit on, and then opt to install new flooring while the cabinets are removed, you’ll understand this.  If you replace parts that are wired into the existing controller, it may be difficult to retrofit the wiring to work, so you need to run new wiring.  Or the controller may not know how to work with some of the new features because they weren’t invented when it was born.  And so on.

How do you know when it’s the right time to take some candles off the cake?  You should always talk with more than one elevator contractor to get their recommendations.  And you should read our next post, which will tell you the potential benefits  so you can decide if they’re worth the cost.


The Guts of a Hydraulic Elevator Tank

A hydraulic tank with a submerged pump, valve and motor.When it comes to hydraulic elevators, there is a crucial piece of the system that often goes unnoticed. It gets little attention because on the outside, it looks like a big rectangular box.

Little do most people know that this box is actually filled with the components and the oil that make the elevator move. Without the tank and all of the parts inside, the jacks won’t go up or down and the elevator won’t move. So let’s peek inside the box and see what makes everything work.

The hydraulic tank consists of the following components:

  1. Tank
  2. Submersible Motor
  3. Pump
  4. Master Control Valve
  5. Negative Pressure Switch
  6. Integrated Ball Valve
  7. Vibration Damping Mount
  8. Dip Stick
  9. Oil Return
  10. Muffler
  11. Hydraulic Oil


Tank Final-01
A basic tank diagram.

Tank  – The tank has the primary purpose of holding the oil that raises the elevator, but it also houses the other important components. The size of the tank is dependent upon the number of floors and the components required, and Phoenix Modular Elevator has several sizes of hydraulic tanks to meet any need. In general terms, most two-stop elevator tanks hold approximately 80 gallons of oil.

Submersible Motor – One of the reasons that a tank seems so unremarkable is that the primary components all fit inside the tank, including a motor designed to remain submerged in hydraulic oil. The motor powers the pump that pushes the jack up, while gravity does the work coming down.

Pump – In a hydraulic elevator, the main function of the pump is to push the oil into the jack to lift the elevator. The pump is submersible and attached to the master control valve with a length of pipe called the pump/valve connection pipe. When powered by the motor, the pump pushes the oil through the valve and into the cylinder (jack) or hydraulic jack system.

Master Control Valve – This valve is where the motion profile is set, which is a fancy way of saying this component makes the elevator run smoothly, efficiently and safely when delivering its payload. Without properly setting this valve, the elevator would either run too fast or too slow without easing into starting and stopping. This would increase Dramamine sales but decrease the enjoyment and safety of the elevator ride.

Negative Pressure Switch – Part of the master control valve, this switch ensures there is always pressure in the system so the hydraulic elevator will not fall rapidly due to decreasing pressure. Keep in mind, failure of a hydraulic elevator is rare and this component makes it even less likely there will be any unexpected drops.

Integrated Ball Valve – This is a shutoff valve located in or just outside the tank between the master control valve and the pipe that leads to the hydraulic jack. The purpose is to give licensed elevator mechanics a way to conveniently and safely shut off the flow of oil when servicing the elevator or replacing parts.

Vibration Dampening Mount – With a motor and pump powerful enough to lift an elevator, there has to be a little bit of shakin’ goin’ on. To combat the bad vibes, everything is mounted on pieces of metal suspended by neoprene donuts that cushion the parts and reduce shaking.

Dipstick – Inserted in every tank is a dipstick that has markings to indicate the maximum and minimum oil levels required for safe operation.

Oil Return – When the elevator comes down, gravity does the work, but the oil has to get back to the tank. To do this, the oil returns to the tank in the same pipes it went out until it gets to the master control valve. Once there, the valve again regulates the speed of the descent by controlling the flow of oil back into the tank.

Muffler – The oil flows in pulses and can create vibrations and loud sounds. To combat this, a muffler is placed either in the tank or just outside the tank to quiet the flow pulses and minimize noise.

Hydraulic Oil – Hydraulic oil used to be petroleum based but now vegetable based oil is also available to ensure it is environmentally safe should a leak occur.

To function properly, the tank should be set level, be free from leaks, be set away from walls and be clean. Also, the tank should be in a climate-controlled machine room. The tank is the heart of the hydraulic elevator and needs to be cared for to ensure a long life of dependable service.