Tag Archives: modernization

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.

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.