Tag Archives: maintenance

This traction elevator is one we toured at Elevator University.

Safety: A Primary Concern of Modular

Traction Elevator OU
All safety gear is a must.

If you work in construction at all, you’re probably familiar with the the term “workplace falls”. Two past headlines concerning workplace falls involving elevator shafts include: “Worker Critical After Fall Down Elevator Shaft” and “Man Recuperates After Surviving Fall Down Elevator Shaft.” In the first example, the scaffolding the man was working on collapsed. He fell down the shaft and suffered two broken legs and a broken pelvis. He is expected to make a full recovery.

The second man didn’t fare as well. He was finishing concrete near an elevator opening when he lost his balance and fell 45 feet, breaking both his vertebrae and ribs. Fortunately, he still has feeling in his legs and plans to walk again in the future. A third recent accident is under investigation, but it seems that it was an accidental fall down a hoistway as well, this time resulting in death.

The first two are the  luckier elevator hoistway construction accidents, as the workers did not lose their lives. But, like all workplace accidents, these injuries could have been avoided. Part of the problem involves traditional stick-built elevator construction. The old way of how the elevator shaft is built is inherently dangerous. The shaft is constructed in the building and as a result, hatch doors are open for months while other construction trades work around the shaft. They are to be closed off with appropriate warnings but, because installation takes so long, the openings for the elevator doors are often ignored and result in a hazard for anyone who visits or works on the job site.

This has a negative impact on both the employee and even the employer. An unfinished and hazardous elevator can mean accidents that drive up costs and lost man hours as well as the human toll of injury or death.

One way to avoid many of these accidents is to have a complete modular elevator brought to the site, craned into place and then installed in a week or less. Modular elevators have all the doors on the elevator hoistway closed and locked until the elevator is installed and functioning. This prevents falls down the shaft. Also, there is no long wait time for the elevator to be installed. It arrives at the site and is fully functional in less than a week. It can even be placed before other construction begins on the building. Modular, in many circumstances, is the solution to the safety problems that are experienced when dealing with an open elevator hoistway.

Another example of the danger of old-fashioned elevator installation are the rails. The modular elevator comes as a completed unit with all the components already installed–there are no rails to put into place. Elevator installers will tell you that because there is heavy lifting involved, as well as working in a cramped, vertical elevator shaft, rail installation is one of the most hazardous tasks to tackle in a traditional installation. With a commercial quality modular elevator, they and the car are installed in the factory which leads to another safety advantage.

However, if you must work around a stick-built shaft, follow these tips to avoid becoming a statistic and taking a long fall down the open hoistway:

  1. Stay out – If you are not a licensed professional, stay out of the elevator hoistway. If you are an elevator professional, remember your training, don’t get sloppy and never risk injury.
  2. Personal fall arrest system – If you are working in an area where you can fall more than six feet, a deceleration device or body harness is needed. Safety nets may also be part of the system.
  3. Cover the openings – Most of the falls involving elevators are missteps through open shafts or openings for elevator doors. Cover any floor hole where people are walking and make sure it is clearly marked “hole.” If you are working near an open elevator door, make sure it is marked well and a guardrail is put into place.
  4. Have an extra spotter – When you are directing a crane operator or moving an object where you cannot see your feet, get extra help to watch out for holes and openings, and objects or terrain that could cause a stumble.
  5. Training is a must – Make sure everyone on the job site has had the proper safety training. Proper safety gear and techniques can save lives.
  6. Get help for any heavy lifting – Rail installation is not a one person job, so don’t try to be a superhero.
  7. Analyze the job site for potential hazards before you start work and make sure you are well acquainted with any dangers or risks – Make a plan to deal with those risks and follow that plan.

According to OSHA, of the four fatal accidents (falls, struck by object, electrocution, caught in/between), falls account for a third of construction fatalities. Do what you can to eliminate the possibilities of a job site fall. Lastly, if the safety of the construction crew is a high priority for your project, consider an alternative to stick-built elevators. One option is a quality commercial modular elevator as an alternative.

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.

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.

Elevator Technician – Mr. Friendly Says Hello

mrEveryone wants to see the friendly elevator guy with the big smile and the big handshake. After a merry greeting and traditional backslapping, he disappears down the hall and goes to work. Thirty minutes later, you hear the familiar sound of the tool belt jangling toward you and you know you are about to get a full report. But, after 40 minutes of discussing the weather, family, friends, fishing, the best BBQ in town, the nuances of abstract animation in the film noir era, oh and the elevator, he leaves. Both of you are the wiser for solving the world’s problems, but are you lighter in the pocketbook for the casual conversation.

This may be happening more than you think. How often do you actually look at the contract or repair bill and compare it to actual time spent on the elevator itself?  Or do you know exactly what the contractual terms of your agreement are? Some may be billed a flat fee for certain maintenance regardless of time spent, but others may be paying for every five-minute increment. The terms are very important to know.

Each and every person who hires an elevator contractor understands that they will pay for time to repair and maintain elevators.  No shock there. This normally comes in the form of a flat monthly fee with some exceptions for work outside of the scope of the contract. Others choose more comprehensive contracts that cover nearly all costs other than vandalism, intentional destruction or “Acts of God.”  Also, hourly rates can vary widely depending on the geographic location and availability of technicians. Shopping the hourly rate may be a great place to start when looking at cutting the expense of maintenance, but actual time on the job may be hiding a bigger problem. Time actually spent on the job may not be matching what you are paying for.

Here are some things to be aware of that can increase costs.

  1. Forgotten tools – Have you had to pay for trips back to the shop or to the hardware store? Do you know if you have?
  2. Chitchat time – Are you forking over fees to find out what the weather is like in Bemidji or how the Bears did?
  3. Extra assistance – The elevator guys shows up with a team. Not sure if it is training or “bring your extended family to work day,” but you need to find out.
  4. The magic act – The incredible disappearing elevator mechanic. First you see him and then you don’t. Where was he for the past two hours? You checked the machine room and elevator and no one was to be found. Did he dematerialize into another dimension only to reappear suddenly just in time to go home?
  5. Lunch break, coffee break, smoke break – It is hard to swallow paying for all three of these in an hours time but it can happen.
  6. Whoops – The elevator professional drops his pliers from the top of the car and they end up in the pit. Oh well, one more unneeded trip to the dungeon.

These are just a few things that you maybe paying for that you are not even aware of. But, there are somethings you can do to alleviate the problem.

  1. Know your contract. If you are paying a monthly fee that is all inclusive and the elevator tech is a chatty Cathy and you like the banter..who cares. Enjoy the conversation. On the other hand, if you are being charged for every second that ticks off the clock, it’s time to reassess.
  2. Insist on a sign in and sign out every time they come and go. This will accomplish a couple of things. First, it will help alleviate the disappearing act.  It will keep you informed on progress, it will make the technician more responsible and you will have a chance to find out what is going on with the elevator.
  3. Always check the maintenance log! It is your right and if “routine maintenance” is all that is written and it took two hours, there is a problem. Also insist that a log is kept in the machine room. This should be added to your elevator plan.
  4. Open a dialog with the technician. When he seems to be working a long time, safely track him down and ask what is going on. Remember, this is your building and you are granting him and his company the privilege of working on it.
  5. Open a dialog with the dispatcher or supervisor. Do this before problems start if they ever do. You should be on a first name basis with the person that tracks the time and services of the technician. This may also get some of your basic questions answered for free.

Remember the vast majority of elevator technicians are hard-working, want to fix problems right and have integrity when it comes to the people they service. However, that does not mean that you shouldn’t check their work and build into your routine a time to do some follow up and re-reading of the contract.