Tag Archives: elevator maintenance

A view from under the elevator car of an in-ground jack.

All About Elevator Jacks

A view from under the elevator car of an in-ground jack.
A view from under the elevator car of an in-ground jack with the piston extended.

When it comes to many elevator applications, especially for buildings between 2 and 5 stories, you will find a hydraulic jack is a common, yet crucial part of the system that drives the elevator up. As a matter of fact, approximately 70% of all elevators installed are hydraulic in nature and contain jacks.  The jacks are part of a system that includes hydraulic fluid, tanks, motors, and pumps with the jack being the final piece of the system.  So, understanding the basics of the elevator jack is crucial if you are considering buying a new elevator or modernizing the jacks in an existing elevator.

Depending on the system you have, the distance your elevator travels, and the space available, you have several options available. This article will explain the various types of jacks and the advantages and disadvantages associated with each.

  • Single Stage Holeless – Many times when new elevators are being placed, you can’t drill a hole in the bottom of the elevator pit or it is cost prohibitive to do so. Enter the holeless elevator jack. The most common jack used for short travel distances is the single-stage variety. A single stage means that it is one piston that goes up and down and it does not telescope when it reaches a certain height. These can be used for passenger or freight elevators.

The benefits of this type of jack (often called a twin-jack and used in tandem on either side of the elevator car) is that they are lighter and easier to put into place, are the most economical choice, and can be designed to carry very heavy loads. On the downside, because you are often dealing with two jacks, more adjustments must be made and it takes a bit more maintenance. Also, because the jacks commonly go on either side of the car, and there is no hole for the jacks to retreat in, there must be more space at the top of the hoistway above the car.

  • Single Stage In-Ground – This option is very common, especially when you can drill a hole in the bottom of the pit and want to travel multiple floors.  Because it does not telescope, the moving parts are limited and it is, therefore, reliable. It has also been around for a very long time as a solution and has a solid track record.

The good things about a single stage in-ground jack is that it is easy to install, fairly economical, especially for mid-rise projects, has a huge capacity, and maintenance is limited to one jack.   They also provide a very smooth ride. On the downside, the jack is in a hole. This can lead to leaks of hydraulic fluid into the underground water supply or contamination of the soil. Keep in mind that most of the contamination issues have been resolved with new technology and regulations. However, the threat remains: units can have a cracked PVC casing which can cause flooding of the pit and some fluid leakage. Also, old corroded sheaths that the jacks reside in need to be replaced, usually at a significant cost.   Also, the depth of the jack must be equal to the travel of the elevator car. This can mean an expensive, deep hole.

  • Telescopic Jacks (Holeless and In-Ground) – Telescopic jacks can have up to four pistons, each traveling inside each other. These are used when a more compact solution is needed for either freight or passenger elevators. Telescopic jacks going in-ground will reduce the depth of the hole required, but can sometimes be more costly in and of themselves.

The big plus is that there is a reduced drilling cost for an in-ground application and a higher travel distance than for holeless projects.  Also, the installation is usually fast as the jacks are compact and easy to handle. The disadvantages include the obvious; there are more moving parts, so initial set up may be more complicated (bleeding the jack completely, is required). Depending on overall travel distance, follower guides will be needed, requiring additional engineering. Long-term maintenance may be more costly, as well. Finally, there are simply more packing and seals due to multiple pistons.

Jack Travel-01

Each of the above jacks have their place and purpose depending on travel distance, but, as you can see in the chart, there is overlap based solely the height the elevator needs to go to. Other factors include price, the ability to drill, and even personal preference (some feel the ride is better in elevators that have an in-ground jack).

The best way to determine the optimal option for your building project is to contact an elevator consultant or an unbiased company that can provide any type of elevator.  They should welcome all your questions and be willing to break down all possibilities by price or other factors important to your project. If you would like to talk with us about elevator jacks, visit us here.


Elevator U Report: Maintenance – It’s Just Business

Recently, 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 pe

Elevator U Final

rsonnel 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…Click for the whole report.

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.  See how elevators equates to baseball by clicking here.

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.