Tag Archives: PME

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.

Grand Opening Success

Grand Opening 1The official grand opening for Phoenix Modular Elevator was a tremendous success! Nearly 100 of our friends and partners came out for a celebration that included a ribbon cutting, a few words from Mt. Vernon Mayor Mary Jane Chesley and Phoenix President Allison Allgaier and facility tour.

For the first time the public was able to see the new 25,000 square foot manufacturing plant that is now the largest modular elevator manufacturing facility in North America. The visitors got to witness production and hear from the team that assembles the modular elevators. With the new building the factory is more efficient and the team has more room for larger jobs and more elevators. Allison Allgaier, in her short speech indicated that, Grand Opening 4“With the new factory we are expecting production to double this year over last year’s numbers.”  Mayor Chesley said that it is, “Wonderful to see a plant thriving and growing in Mt. Vernon.”

Phoenix Modular Elevator is proud to be the first resident of the new industrial park and is appreciative of the assistance received from the city, Jefferson County Development Corporation and many others that helped make the new plant a reality.

The new manufacturing site has already shown great improvements to the process of producing the world’s fastest installing elevator. Due to the larger production area and the fact Grand Opening 2that the factory is now on a single level, the process is smoother and easier.  It allows assembly and manufacturing areas to be more organized and keep all inventory lineside.  Multiple overhead cranes have streamlined the moving of elevators through the shop.  Since moving into the new plant, three full time employees have been added and future growth is expected.

PME is an elevator manufacturer that produces high-quality, commercial modular elevators. A modular elevator is comprised of a steel hoistway with the elevator car and components completely pre-wired and installed inside. They are manufactured horizontally, Grand Opening 3trucked to jobsites, craned into place and installed in less than a week. This makes PME elevators the fastest installing elevators available. The units are found across the United States and Canada and used in schools, medical facilities, universities, hotels, stadiums, amusement parks, office buildings, government buildings and churches. Phoenix Modular Elevator has been constructing modular elevators since 1995.

Click here for more info and photos. 

This is an example of an elevaotr machine room that need signifcant cleaning it is against code and dangerous.

It’s a Machine Room, Not a Broom Closet

colley-elevator-photo-machine-room2There is an old joke that the long in the tooth elevator folks repeat to the new guys. If they happen to make the mistake by saying an elevator has just one stop, the rookie will inevitably hear, “It’s an elevator, not a broom closet.” The veteran will be quick to point out that every elevator has at least two stops or it simply will be a broom closet with expensive doors. Unfortunately, they don’t have a similar joke about the machine room with the punchline being “It’s a machine room – not a broom closet.” Ba dum tshh.

Machine rooms don’t start out being a catch-all, but the open space is a tempting sight for everyone in a crowded building. The result is that some building owners or managers see lots of real estate in a machine room that is going unused, and they lick their chops with envy and desire to fill that void with all kinds of stuff. Just as often, it is well-meaning employees seeking a place to dump items they want to get out of their way. Lastly, the machine room can become a hiding place and lounge for refuge-seeking smokers on winter days and those looking for a quiet place to take a coffee break.

As a result, machine rooms often become a repository for cleaning materials, flammable liquids, brooms, buckets, mops, ladders, boxes piled to the ceiling, files and filing cabinets, banker boxes, rags, light bulbs, chairs, Christmas ornaments, newspapers, cigarette butts, books, magazines and old candy wrappers. You get the point.

clean-machine-roomBut the machine room is not a break room, storage area or broom closet, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) code for elevators makes it clear that the space needs to be left open and safe.

ASME is the American National Standard for elevators, or the Bible as far as elevator requirements are concerned. The current national standard states there must be a minimum of 18 inches to access the tank, or power unit, and 36″ clear in front of electrical components.  Furthermore, nothing is allowed in the machine room that is not elevator-related.

Simply put, buckets and mops don’t help the elevator run smoothly any more than flammable materials like paint and industrial strength cleaning fluids affect the elevator speed. So they aren’t allowed in the machine room.

The machine room door must also be self-closing and self-locking. This ensures that only properly trained elevator mechanics will enter it, and it won’t be a break room for employees hiding from the boss or the boss hiding from the employees.

Why so picky? For good reason. Untrained people could inadvertently damage equipment, or come into contact with high voltage.  Flammable materials could combust and start a fire, damaging the equipment. So the machine room needs to be emptied of all the extraneous items that might have found their way into the room, and non-elevator people need to stay out.

Lastly, each state may have additional requirements, which may exceed the national code. Massachusetts, for instance, requires 24 inches on two sides of the power unit in the machine room. Michigan requires that the machine room door be within 10 feet of the hoistway.  But none of them permit storing furniture and janitorial supplies.

You may be losing a broom closet, but you will be gaining peace of mind knowing that your machine room and all of its components are safe and sound!

(photo credit to Colley Elevator – Chicago, Illinois)