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  • Chip Nyborg

7 Common Mistakes When Modernizing An Elevator

Article written by Chip Nyborg, President of Tri-State Elevator, June 1st, 2018

When the building owner decides it is time to rejuvenate their elevator system the first question is always how much does it cost? The answer is it depends. It depends on what equipment can be retained and reused and what equipment must be replaced. It depends on design considerations, changes in car speed, car capacity and adding additional landing(s) among many other considerations. Avoid the common mistakes below and you can save plenty of money over the life of the equipment and minimize time sucking problems, aggravation and complications.

1. Using Proprietary Equipment

Without a doubt the biggest mistake when modernizing an elevator is getting a low cost solution via proprietary equipment. In general, the major manufacturer’s will low ball their modernization bid or to drive away their competition. They make up for the low initial price by charging excessive amounts for the ensuing maintenance, repairs, and call backs after the modernization work has been completed. Once one of these major manufacturer’s has you locked up in their maintenance agreement, it is all over. You are stuck with their high price and commonly sub standard service. There is no free lunch. The major manufacturer’s design and manufacture their own equipment and software. Access to such from an independent elevator contractor is costly both in terms of money and time delay thus preventing the building owner from shopping for better service and better pricing.

There are many dissatisfied owners and property managers, frustrated with poor response time, extremely expensive parts and repairs from their existing major manufacturer. The owner or manager wants a better job for less money, they are in a desperate bind. The initial low cost is now a noose around their neck. The major manufacturers also controls the cost and availability of parts, thus keeping a tight control over their competitor’s ability to step in and take over the maintenance and repair of their elevators. Do not buy proprietary equipment, ever, especially from one of the major elevator manufacturers.

2. Retaining Obsolete Components

In an attempt to keep costs down and minimizing the shut down period, some elevator equipment can be retained and re-used. Keep in mind, re-used equipment will need to operate for another 20-40 years until the next modernization. So if the equipment considered for refurbishing is already 50-70 years old, what will happen to that equipment when it approaches 90-110 years of use? Do you really want to use an elevator with equipment that old? I don’t want to fly in an airplane with 100 year old equipment, I don’t want to ride in an elevator with 100 year old equipment.

When an owner decides to modernize the elevator equipment, it is based upon the premises that the newly modernized elevator will not need up grading for 20 or more years [depending upon use]. It is best to replace as much of the existing installation as possible. Commonly re-used equipment includes: guide rails for both the elevator and counterweight, counterweight frame and weights, car sling, car safety, and entrance assemblies.

3. Installing unproven Equipment

Many elevator contractors and consultants like cutting edge technology, however many times it comes with a hidden cost. Often times a contractor can get a lower priced, newly designed piece of equipment less than the cost of established and proven equipment. New equipment design, enhanced features, better user/installer interface are always promised with the launch and pitch from an established or new elevator equipment manufacturer. There is limited availability to thoroughly test new equipment for durability and reliability from any elevator parts manufacturer. At some point, they have to introduce a new product to the market. As a new product gains initial acceptance within the elevator community, sales increase and the installation of such components begins to gather critical mass. If all goes well, the product performs as promised, other times, not so good. Don’t be the Beta tester! Wait for the 2nd generation or use a proven design. New doesn’t always mean better, and in the elevator industry, building owners are constantly subjected to designs that have not been thoroughly vetted.If the equipment is relatively minor, say a door re-opening device, than iIn the end, the problem is either resolved thru the replacement of the part, or thru modification. The problem is if it is a major component, like the controller or machine, the owner may be trapped for years, enduring constant service calls until the product replaced! Thus paying twice! Ouch. I know first hand that a great modernization can be sunk thru over promised hype from a component vendor. The vendor by the way has been paid in full, while your building provides the design testing and feedback!

4. Waiting too long

A big mistake building owners make is waiting and pushing back the inevitable project of modernizing their elevator(s). All equipment has a useful cycle life. Once a component reaches that useful life, it begins to fail more often. The failures then take longer to find and correct. All the while owners are exposed to potential entrapments, lengthy and untimely repairs. If your elevator equipment looks like it belongs on the set of a Frankenstein movie, you have waited too long. Allow me to contradict this statement; some older components are superior in construction and surpass the quality of new equipment, and may continue to provide exceptional service, provided the service technician is familiar with equipment that was designed and built 40-70 years ago! Likely you are modernizing because the elevator is no longer providing reliable service. The repair costs when added up over 3-5 years can be really expensive, equaling 10 – 20% of the modernization cost. How horrible to sink bad money in to a band-aid repair, only to rip out the POS equipment at the time of modernization.

Don’t wait until the problems mount, be proactive, modernize the right equipment as soon as possible, lock in the Elevator and Building Code requirements sooner rather than later when more requirements are heaped upon the building owner. Schedule the modernization work that best fits the building’s needs.

5. Majors using non-proprietary equipment

Major manufacturers bid on modernizing elevators using non-proprietary equipment. Typically a consultant mandates the use of non-proprietary equipment for the benefit of their client. This is smart. However, the technicians trained by the major manufacturer’s are primarily trained to work with their own equipment and have the most experience working on such. It is like asking a factory trained Ford mechanic to work on a Dodge. Yes he is trained, but no he does not fully know the best methods and techniques to properly complete the work. In general, independent elevator contractors install, modernize, repair, test and maintain non-proprietary equipment, they are more experienced than their major manufacturer’s technician and will deliver a better result. In some parts of the country the major manufacturer’s have bought one or more independent contractors and have retained their technicians and in such case, if you are aware of it, you can expect a decent modernization. The ensuing maintenance and service will likely be sub-standard from the major manufacturer and again, it will be costly.

6. Placing priority on down time vs. getting the right job

I often hear “ we have only one elevator and rely on the elevator daily” , “there are infirmed residents on upper floors how will they get thru this? “, “there are doctor’s offices on the top floor, they won’t be able to see patients”.

With self imposed pressure from any one of the above the scenarios, owners and managers look to minimize the shut down duration of the modernization period. This is logical and smart. However, the proverbial train jumps the track when the scope of work gets compromised to shorten the downtime. Even worse, the scope of work is not reduced and the only way to minimize the down time is by cutting corners. If the right job requires approximately 300 team hours to complete, and the building can’t allow the elevator to be out of service for that long, the contractor has to either reduce the scope of work, cut corners, or work overtime. Many times, owners forgo the expense of the overtime and reduce the scope of work. Reducing the scope of work might be a smart solution, provided you schedule the remaining work to allow for the proper job to be completed, albeit in phases. Don’t reduce the scope at the cost of down time. Residents, tenants and guests, always get thru the process. If you haven’t waited too long, see item #4 above, than you can chose the start date of the project, plan to minimize the impact and make the process as tolerable as possible.

When you can decide on the start date of the project, you can forewarn the building occupants, they in turn can make alternative arrangements, change their schedule, and plan for the temporary interruption. Bite the bullet, pay the overtime, do whatever needs to be done to get thru the modernization completely. Don’t cut corners to minimize shut down time it rarely pays off.

7. Climate control

Many elevator control rooms are located on roof tops. This location is subject to extremes in climate. New elevator controllers, the “brains” of the elevator are built with solid state components. Solid state components need a stable climate to operate best and provide the greatest useful life. Imagine how your laptop will perform when it is subjected to heat in excess of 120 degrees F , or less than 32 F, now imagine these temperature swings repeated season after season, year after year. Sure new equipment will initially perform within tolerances and expectations, but for how long? How many years can the fragile components survive in such extremes? Every controller manufacturer provides a temperature and humidity range their equipment can reliably operate in. Failure to provide climate control hastens the early end of the useful life expectancy of the controller. The elevator machine room is relatively small, and reducing the peak temperatures from 120 down to 100 or raising the temperature from 20 to 40 does not require large and expensive heat pumps and air conditioners. In fact the HVAC equipment today is more efficient than ever, don’t skimp on climate control, get the most life expectancy from your new purchase with adequate climate control.

Manufacturers and elevator contractors will not warranty the equipment if adequate climate control is not used. Controllers today can come equipped with their own tiny HVAC unit to cool the cabinet enclosure only. I am not a fan [no pun intended] of this feature for several reasons. First if the unit fails, will there be excessive heat, condensation dripping off the solid state boards? Elevator technicians are not HVAC technicians. Ask yourself, who is best at maintaining the HVAC system? I can assure you, not an elevator technician. Secondly, what happens if the condensation is not evaporated, will the condensate drip onto critical components in the controller or leak out and drip onto other component? This solution has not been fully worked thru in the elevator industry, see item #3 above.

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