Tag Archives: maintenance

New Sympathy When the Elevator Breaks

Bunker HillI was recently on vacation with the family. We did the Griswold family version of an eastern United States holiday tour. We hit all of the sites from Washington D.C. to Maine and, for a short time, I was able to put the elevator industry in the rear-view mirror and think about whale-watching and cannoli’s. But then came Boston.

The family and I loaded up on bottled water and all eight of us hit the Boston Freedom Trail. We started out at Boston Common, breezed past the Robert Gould Shaw monument and looked around the Park Street Church.  The cemeteries were interesting as was the King’s Chapel and the site of the Boston Massacre. Few dropped out of the tour and trudged back to the Commons.

But then came the USS Constitution, a few more turned around and the final blow to all but three of us loomed tall on the horizon. Bunker Hill. Myself, my son and his wife continued up through the winding streets until we were greeted by Colonel William Prescott, wielding a sword and a grimace in front of a towering obelisk.

I am not complaining. The tour was fantastic. We saw all the sites you could ever want to, but they neglect to tell you at the very end of all that walking is a monument at the crest of Bunker Hill. The impressive tower overlooks the city, the harbor and the surrounding area and sits there as a reminder of the Revolutionary War. But to me it was also a personal challenge to climb to the top. It was like Everest to Hillary and Norgay. I had to give it a go.

I started off strong, literally jogging up the first 75 steps (I know this because they are numbered), making way for others coming down the narrow spiral staircase and left my son and daughter-in-law in the dust. But, by step 150, they caught up and passed me as I slowed to a snail’s pace. But I persevered and dragged my weary rear-end the remainder of the 294 steps to the very apex of the monument. If I only had a flag to plant!

View from the TopIn my mind, when I finally reached the zenith, with my oxygen- depleted brain dizzied by the experience, my only thought was, “Where is the elevator?” After all the Washington Monument in DC has one; why not Bunker Hill?

When one was not available, I took it a step further and began thinking, “This is what it must feel like if your elevator is broken in your apartment building. Trudging up step-after-step, exhausted especially after a full day of work. And heaven forbid you have to carry groceries or deliveries. Or even worse, what if you have a disability of some sort?” For this reason the elevator repair business and elevator technicians are crucial; they need to be timely and ready to fix any problem. Thank goodness most are.

However, if your business or apartment complex is not having good luck with elevator repairs, remember my story about Bunker Hill and the people that need to take your elevators up and down. They are relying on you! To give good service, it is perfectly fine to complain to the repair company, call supervisors and shop for another service. If you are like most businesses, your elevator is in good repair and when it does fail, it is fixed right away, thanks to the guys that are keeping you moving up and down. They deserve a handshake and a thank you.

I had a choice as to whether I climbed 294 steps for a spectacular view of Boston. A person that lives in the fifth floor of an apartment complex doesn’t and they are counting on you.

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You Should Care – Non-Proprietary Please

The elevator door is the hardest working part of the elevator.The words “Proprietary” and “Non-proprietary” elevator components and parts and the costs associated with them can be a a bit cloudy depending on who you are talking to. Of course, big companies that provide non-proprietary parts are for them, and people that aren’t, see all the flaws. So what are the real differences between the two?

The best place to start with any question like this is with a definition of terms. In this instance, the definition of non-proprietary is the following, taken from an elevator spec sheet calling for a non-proprietary solution:

“All materials provided shall be serviceable by any Journeyman Elevator Mechanic, and, replacement parts for all equipment furnished shall be available on the open market. Access to diagnostic/troubleshooting routines shall require no secret codes. Provide any/all manuals, schematics, wiring diagrams and service manuals that are available to the manufacturer’s installers and service personnel. Any decaying circuits or devices requiring “factory re-charging” shall be considered a violation of this SPECIFICATION section; such equipment shall be removed and replaced with conforming equipment at no extra cost to the Owner. Technical help shall be furnished to the Owner, or Owner’s Agent as needed, for the life of the equipment. Controls must be of a type that does not require replacement of any other component (door operator, signal fixtures, etc..) in the event a controller replacement is necessary.”

All that verbiage translates into any qualified elevator mechanic should be able to work on the elevator with no problems, get the parts they need, and not have to jump through a million hoops to get things done, and if they do, the company that makes the elevator will have to pay out the nose for not telling the truth about the product.

Because proprietary parts tie you to one provider, there is significant push back, but companies still produce elevators with those systems. They do so to increase the total profit of the elevator in the long haul. This is because they have found that after unfair, multi-year service contracts that are virtually impossible to get out of, many wise building owners and managers do everything they can to change maintenance contract providers due to poor service or high cost. The original contractual rates are often extremely high; you can’t get out of the contract without an act of congress and there are annual automatic increases to boot! So to keep people from fleeing in droves and to lock you in forever and throw away the key, “Bigg Elevator” produces elevators that only they can create parts for or provide service for. Whether you like it or not, you have to come crawling to them for what you need.

But it doesn’t stop there. To sell more elevators with proprietary parts, often times they price the new elevator as low as possible because they know they will be making it up over the decades of service profit they will be realizing. Cheap upfront prices can cost you in the long-haul.

It is hard to believe that this scheme by Big Elevator works, but it does because of a couple factors. First, the architect (the person that often chooses the elevator) has got bigger fish to fry and often goes with what they know. This can lead to taking the path of least resistance. That’s right. In the construction trade it is called drag-and-drop-itis. Often rushed architects are so used to using the same elevator that they control-c, control-v, the elevator into the specs and drawings. Habits are hard to break when under tough deadlines.

The second reason is that the builder will not be paying for long-term contracts, so what do they care? They are looking to sell or move the building to a different owner or company shortly after the build is done. They want to keep the project under budget so they go cheap in the short-term on the elevator and stick the future owner with the bill. Everyone knows that the elevator contract is rarely the hold-up on any property deal so they will often opt for short-term cheaper cost, knowing the next guy will be paying for service contracts and proprietary parts. Their main priority is to get the job done fast and as inexpensively as possible. The familiar, cheaper short-term option is the choice.

With all that said, be very wary when buying a building that has an elevator. Always check and double check because, whether you like it or not, you may have a boat anchor around your neck in the form of proprietary parts and systems.

For the above reasons we recommend the purchase of non-proprietary equipment as it provides a more economical choice as a long term investment. As with parts that are proprietary, non-proprietary must conform with government standards and safety regulations so there is no fear of choosing lower quality or unsafe parts. It is unfortunately true that all the extra money that non-proprietary costs you, ultimately, gives no extra value.

So, to sum up, the differences between proprietary and non-proprietary elevator systems is only the cost (up front versus long term), being able to hire a wider variety of elevator technicians, and no difference in quality or safety. By buying a non-proprietary elevator system, owners get the freedom to choose the maintenance company they want and shop the price they wish to pay. Proprietary parts put you at the mercy of Bigg Elevator. If you choose to purchase non-proprietary equipment, it should be specified in your purchase agreement that the product being installed contains no proprietary hardware. We will always do that. Find another option if the company you are thinking about will not.

Don’t Guess – Know Elevator Maintenance

We have all had the experience: your car just stops going. The engine revs, but you just don’t go forward well at all. You “baby” it as best you can to your local mechanic, he hooks it up to a zillion diagnostic gizmos with plugs and wires, he updates the operating system, performs all the recalls and finally, after the plethora of the clamps and diodes are removed and the computer goes dark, your car is pronounced good to go. The problem is when you pick the car up, it makes it home, but the next day isn’t good to go at all. As a matter of fact, the vehicle isn’t going anywhere.

Guess what? Misdiagnosis.

Now you have to trudge back to the garage, make arrangements again to have it worked on, line up a ride and get ready to argue the bill.

In the world of elevators, building owners and managers see the same thing. The elevator is busted, a frantic call is made, tenants are freaking out and your phone is lit up like a Christmas tree with complaints. When the repair guy finally shows up, because you have seen this movie before, you strategically place yourself in the repair guy’s most likely path, with arms folded and foot tapping impatiently.  He fidgets with his tool belt as he walks, acting as if he is all set to dive in. As he nears, knowing that he can’t avoid a conversation, he spits out an excuse, a weak apology about being late and then says, “It probably just needs to be reset.”

Here we go again.

Then the waiting game begins as you pace like a striking teamster; all you need is a placard stapled to a strip of pine wood. When he finally emerges from the machine room door an hour later, he says, “All done, must have had a power surge.” After thank you’s all around and a hearty hand shake, he exits the premises. But then, not an hour later, it breaks down again. By this time it is after hours and the response is not so prompt.

DISCLAIMER: Before I go any further I just want to say that the vast majority of elevator mechanics are extremely capable and competent. I am talking about the small minority.

What was the problem? For some reason, the elevator mechanic was just guessing. The other options are limited. Either something else broke that miraculously presented the exact same symptoms, or the technician is just not that bright. So let’s be generous and assume incompetence instead of ignorance. How do you respond?

Rock and a hard place.

Let’s face it: at the time the elevator mechanic is in charge as only he can get the elevator running right then.  Only in extreme cases (or never) should a verbal confrontation ensue.  However, the next day, if you have seen this pattern repeatedly, specific actions should be taken:

  1. Contact the company that maintains the elevator. Go over the head of the elevator mechanic, other technicians, the sales guy or the dispatcher.  Especially if this has not been a one-time affair, consistent problems require a manager or owner of the maintenance company. Don’t settle for less.
  2. Don’t discuss the matter over the phone in detail. Instead express your displeasure and schedule an in-person meeting on your premises. If they won’t schedule a visit, it will show you how much they really care about your business. Skip to number 9.
  3. Prior to the meeting, review your contract! Know what you signed on for, before the meeting.
  4. Document, if you aren’t already keeping a list of ongoing problems and failures, costs associated, poor service, and failures of service do so or compile one. Check the elevator log in the machine room for visits and notes regarding the unit. Make a complete list of issues that need to be addressed.
  5. Don’t accept an apology until the problem is resolved. Far too often, the apology is just a tactic to diffuse a situation. It seems to be in everyone’s current customer service playbook. Instead, when someone starts with, “I understand how you feel, and I am sorry…” cut them off! Explain that the most important part of the apology is making the aggrieved party (you) whole. Sorry’s can be handed out, when the problem is fixed. “I’m sorry” has become meaningless, and the easiest words to speak in the English language.
  6. In the meeting, address the immediate situation first. Keep in mind, it is OK to ask for a different technician. Not all are created equal and you might have drawn the short straw when it comes to mechanics.
  7. Once the immediate problem has been resolved, start working on the longer-term or systemic issues.
  8. Take good notes, record action items and email a list of duties going forward so everyone is on the same page.
  9. Most importantly, regardless of how things have gone, send a certified letter to the elevator maintenance company and indicate that you wish to terminate the maintenance agreement. This will prove you are serious and give you leverage when negotiating future contracts. Also, if things prove to be an ongoing problem, then you have officially served notice. Keep in mind in most cases your letter will not kick in for a few years! That’s right you are tethered to this company for a while, but the certified letter will severe your relationship when the contract is up. Then you can find another, hopefully better company.

If you follow these steps, you at least can have a plan when it comes to the few times that there is consistent poor service provided.

 

Kids, iPhones, Technology, and Elevators

hal-gatewood-336679-unsplash
Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

Just seeing a small child with a cell phone drives me a bit crazy.  Maybe I’m getting old, but have you recently had to have a one-on-one or heart-to-heart with a young child or even a teen that is holding a cell phone? Because they are trained so young and distracted, rest assured the conversation will be a bit one-sided. You will see glazed-over eyes darting back and forth and fingers fiercely and frantically, fleetly flying from icon to icon. Forget finding depth of soul or a modicum of understanding. It is a wasteland of mumbles and stares and epitomizes the bane that is technology.

Based on the above, it is easy to see how the Luddite movement took hold among the English textile workers in the 19th century. They were so upset with technology and potential lost jobs that they vowed to destroy the weaving machinery in factories as a form of protest. Count me as  modern day Luddite. But before we smash the latest IPhone on the alter of dissent, we need to rethink the value of technology, because, whether we like to admit it or not, technology has and always will be a net-plus.

Technology increases productivity, employment in the long-term, wealth and knowledge. It makes our lives easier, in many respects, and often times better.

Take the example of a technology we rarely consider anymore because it is so common place: the lowly elevator. It is arguable that when Elisha Otis had that famous rope cut that was suspending him above the crowd on a platform at the New York Crystal Palace exposition, 1853 World’s Fair and it did not fall; the world changed forever.

Since then, New York and thousands of other metropolitan areas were literally able to grow “up”.  Before the safe elevator, the growth of cities was relegated to horizontal space or how high a person was willing to walk up, one step at a time. After old Elisha, the push of a button made it easy and quick to be whisked away to a different floor, sometimes hundreds of feet higher, in a matter of seconds. Even the term “skyscraper” was not in use regarding buildings until the elevator made it possible.

So why is this important? We are living in an age that has embraced the technology of elevators so much that we barely notice it anymore. “Ding” and we step in; of course unless the “out of order” sign is taped to the hall call. So when that elevator is down, it is more than an inconvenience.  We expect to push the button and to go up or down with ease and we are disappointed, and even angered, when it does not work like we want. When broken, we are forced to trudge up a flight of stairs or two. Oh, the inhumanity!

So, as a building owner or manager, making sure the elevator runs properly is a big must. People are relying on that technology probably more than a teenager and a phone, and the taller the building, the more reliance.

To make sure the elevator is functioning properly with precious few shutdowns, you have some work to do. You must stay in contact with the elevator company. They are more than a friendly face that pops in occasionally, they are your maintenance partner.  Hold their feet to the fire because your relationship with the users (your tenants and visitors) are reliant on them.  The elevator maintenance personnel must be able to do the following:

  1. Diagnose – If it takes multiple times to get the problem figured out, there is a problem. Are they diagnosing or guessing?
  2. Explain – No one wants a problem but when there is one, a courteous explanation is required. They must be willing to take the time, go over the issue, and explain it all.
  3. Solutions – Solving the problem is a must. Constant guessing and return trips shows a lack of experience or ability.
  4. Fast – The maintenance provider should be willing to stay longer and work harder when needed. No one should stand for a slow-motion repair.
  5. Honesty – This is often reflected on the bill. Sometimes, if you don’t keep tabs, you end up paying for dropped tools, long lunches and nap time, instead of repairs.

If you suspect a lack of ability in any of the above, send a certified letter canceling the service contract. You probably should do that anyway, so you won’t get stuck with another five year contract you can’t get out of and that has automatic rate increases (but that’s another blog post). Sending the cancellation letter will not get you out of your current woes; however, it will serve notice with your provider. Secondarily, open a line of communication. Don’t just rely on the person that shows up to do the job, to relay concerns, especially about them! Likewise the scheduler at the office is probably the wrong person to contact about your concerns. Start climbing the ladder. Eventually you will get someone that cares about your problems. If not, then aren’t you glad you cancelled?

 

 

Close the Door on Elevator Repairs

Sill
A clean sill.

Elevator doors open and close all the time. As a matter of fact, according to the Elevator History website, every three days, elevators worldwide carry the equivalent of the Earth’s total population. With a global population of 7.4 billion, that’s a lot of elevator trips! And that means there are lots of doors opening and closing.

Mechanically, elevator doors are very reliable, especially when you are considering the total use, but they can, and do, have failures. The good news is that not all problems with the doors means a catastrophic breakdown, and there are some very specific, easy and safe actions you can take if your elevator doors aren’t working as well as they could.

The simple maintenance tips below can help keep the elevator and its doors running smoothly without waiting for the elevator technician to show up. This is especially true if the problems include slow closing doors or doors that are staying open when they are supposed to close.

  • Clean the sill plate – The elevator door sill is the usually metallic plate that you step over every time you walk through the doors into the elevator car. What you may not have known is that this is not just a transitional piece of decoration. It is the actual track that the elevator doors slide back and forth on. A small plastic piece on the bottom of the door slides back and forth in the sill track, so a small rock or even heavy dirt build-up can cause the door to become jammed or slowed. The solution is a good cleaning. Use a soft brush or vacuum cleaner to make sure the track is debris free.
  • An obstruction is not the only thing to look for in the sill plate. Check for any sticky substances. Many times, because the sill goes unnoticed, building maintenance personnel don’t realize the groove in the sill plate is supposed to be clean. They see a brown goo in the track and think it has always been there or should be there. Especially in high traffic elevators such as hotels, we see tons of soda-pop spilled in the sill. This creates a sticky film that often gums up the works and can impede the door from opening and closing. This is a little harder to clean, but try some soapy water and a mild scouring pad.
  • In most elevators today, there are what looks like simple black plastic strips that are on the edge of the door and on the door jamb of the elevator car from the floor to the top of the door. These are more than just a single light beams like the old days. They generate an infrared light curtain that if interrupted by any object, tell the door to open. This is to prevent the door closing on people and reduce injuries. These infrared lights can be interrupted by dirt or wax build-up from the wrong type of cleaning fluid on the infrared sensors, paint or even something just hanging in the way and being blown into the light path.  Give the black strips a good cleaning and make sure it is not blocked by anything. Be careful, though! Even heavy scratches can cause a false reading.

Of course, if you are not certain about what should be in the sill track or how to clean the components, call the elevator maintenance team you are contracted with and get a better explanation or schedule an appointment, but a good cleaning can go a long way in the operation of the doors. One thing for sure, we have seen all varieties of obstructions from pen caps and bottle caps to coins and pencils. All can stop the door from proper functioning.

Remember that if you add these cleaning tasks to the monthly building maintenance schedule, it should help keep the doors sliding like they should and close the door on some of the elevator repairs.