elevator keypadThe cost of elevator preventive maintenance continues to be on the rise. Additionally, recent industry trends with maintenance agreements now containing obsolescence clauses have significantly changed maintenance coverage and whether all parts of an elevator system are or are no longer covered. Recent Code changes requiring a Maintenance Control Plan (MCP) have also impacted a service provider’s responsibilities.

To anyone involved in building management, this news offers no surprises.

Traditionally, a maintenance contract escalated with inflation based upon changes in the material price index and cost of labor. To the credit of the elevator contractors, they controlled these cost increases by introducing innovative maintenance delivery practices. These practices represented a major change in an industry steeped with tradition.

The most recent major change to traditional industry practices has been the inclusion of “obsolescence” clauses in preventive maintenance contrasts. This change is a radical departure from traditional “full preventive maintenance” contracts. To paraphrase, Obsolescence clauses generally state that the maintenance contract no longer covers repair or replacement of components where a ‘like for like’ component is not readily available from the original equipment manufacturer or approved secondary supplier. Also no longer covered are repairs to rotating equipment such as hoist machines and motor generator sets, or solid state drives that are no longer manufactured. Thus, full time comprehensive preventive maintenance is no longer that – comprehensive.

Traditional Preventive Maintenance Practices

Historically, elevator field operations all addressed management of the Complete Maintenance obligations in a similar manner – field professionals were allocated monthly time to perform, at their discretion, equipment surveys, housekeeping, parts replacement and repairs, adjustments, and customer service duties. Time was the barometer used to gauge quality elevator maintenance. Typically, this recipe for service operations produced safe elevator operations and maximized the service life of the equipment and elevator uptime. However, as maintenance costs and market pressures continued to increase, allocated exam time has been reduced to produce a business necessity – profit. As a result, both providers and customers have developed concerns for the quality of preventive maintenance.

During this same period, elevator designs and products changed dramatically. Traditionally, elevator designs were primarily mechanical relays, wire connections, mechanical selectors, and motor generators. All these components demanded intensive routine human inspection. Beginning in the mid to late ’70s, elevator engineers developed solid state elevator controls, LED illuminating signals, and self diagnosing systems, culminating in the current high tech, computer-based microprocessor offerings.
[pullquote]Even with the new maintenance methods, there are still absolutes in vertical transportation maintenance that must be completed on a timely basis to minimize liability. These absolutes can not be monitored remotely, minimized by modular maintenance or compensated away by performance penalties.[/pullquote]

Current Elevator Maintenance Strategies
With the elevator industry having shifted from massive mechanical designs to modern computer-based microprocessor systems, Preventive Maintenance practices were necessarily changed to reflect the demands of these high tech elevator designs. Industry members developed innovative techniques to focus the use of labor towards tasks that will maximize elevator uptime. These maintenance offerings take different forms depending on the provider, but common trends are as follows:

Remote Elevator Monitoring 
Modems are a part of everyday life for most building professionals. Elevator service providers are utilizing offsite monitoring to verify elevator availability, elevator starts (a variable used to anticipate parts replacement), and to diagnose the cause of shut downs. This allows systems to be monitored in a real time basis from both the branch and main engineering offices of the service provider in order to expedite repairs.

Maintenance Control Plans (MCP’s)
In recent years the ASME A17.1 Safety Code has instituted new requirements that service providers must provide a Maintenance Control Plan (MCP) specific to the equipment and operating conditions of each elevator. These requirements are outlined in detail in Section 8.6 of the Code. Included are requirements for proper maintenance of the equipment, required documentation of Statutory and Life Safety tests, acceptable means of providing the documentation, location on site where this documentation can be found, etc. Elevator service providers as well as Building Managers must be aware of these requirements and ensure that the required documentation is available for examination by Code authorities and 3rd Party Inspection companies.

Modular Maintenance
This maintenance methodology has been designed to minimize inefficient field time and focus examinations to optimize time spent in the building. Under this program, the field professional is assigned various task modules to complete during each visit throughout the year. Not all modules are completed during every examination. Some examinations will allow more time for door operation, machine room housekeeping or hoistway cleaning. Other examinations are of shorter duration, allowing time for completion of a visual review only. As a result, the building owner / manager will not witness the traditional monthly scheduled routine maintenance.

Usage Based Maintenance
Usage based maintenance provides a further refinement of maintenance processes by tailoring the maintenance program to the amount of use that any given elevator experiences. This allows service providers to allocate the appropriate level of resources and task modules by type of equipment (traction vs. hydraulic), location (downtown vs. suburban), type of building (office vs. hospitality vs. hospital), etc.

Specialist Service Technicians
This maintenance methodology maximizes employees’ strengths in delivering different maintenance tasks. A particular property may have one technician assigned to routine housekeeping tasks while another technician may be assigned o ensure that the elevator is properly adjusted. As a result, the building owner / property manager will see different specialist technicians in their building at varying times.

Performance Based Contracts
These types of contracts focus on results rather than on the traditional required number of maintenance hours. They do not tell the elevator professional when or how often to complete specific tasks or the number of hours required to properly perform their job. Rather, these contracts set standards for elevator performance, including door times, floor to floor times and elevator availability or up time. A reputable and reliable service provider is a professional who knows what tasks need to be completed to ensure that all of the performance criteria are met. Any deficiencies in compliance with the performance criteria are covered under a contract penalty clause that compensates a building manager / owner for the non-compliance.

Building Owners’ / Managers’ Responsibilities
Changes in any business processes, especially those involving culture changes, present challenges. Additionally, regardless of the maintenance delivery method, there is never a complete transfer of liability to a service provider. Consequently, building owners and managers must take an active role in the oversight of all delivered services to control liability, comply with Code requirements, and ensure tenant satisfaction.

First and foremost, the building manager needs to understand his or her contractual arrangement with the maintenance provider, what type of service is to be provided, who is responsible for completing the various Code required statutory safety tests and life safety tests, and the requirements of the Maintenance Control Plan (MCP). Second, the building manager must be aware of the type of equipment in their building, the vintage of equipment, and its capabilities, as well as its specific maintenance requirements. The building manager also should be aware which maintenance delivery methods are applicable to his or her equipment, how an obsolescence clause can affect the service provider’s contractual obligations to restore a unit to service in a timely manner, and their potential exposure to significant unbudgeted capital expenditures. Lastly, they need to have a partnership relationship with their maintenance provider. Both parties must have a clear understanding of the performance expectations as well as the methods used to meet those expectations.

If the maintenance provider is performing offsite monitoring, or has a modular maintenance program in place, the building manager needs to be familiar with the program and the timetable of when tasks are to be completed. If any tasks are not completed at the scheduled times, the service provider must communicate when they will be made up.

Even with the new maintenance methods, there are still absolutes in vertical transportation maintenance that must be completed on a timely basis to minimize liability. These absolutes can not be monitored remotely, minimized by modular maintenance or compensated away by performance penalties. These absolutes are:

  • Door Operation – The single greatest factor in elevator safety and liability is proper door operation. The National Elevator Code, ASME A17.1 and the Americans with Disabilities Act are very specific in terms of elevator door close speeds, door close pressure, and minimum door hold open times. Prudent building managers must ensure that their service provider looks after the doors to comply with these requirements.
  • Door Detection Devices – These are the primary public protection devices that are subject to door jams, vandalism, and misalignment. These systems must be routinely reviewed for proper operation.
  • Stopping Accuracy – A high percentage of elevator accidents are attributed to tripping when the car sill is not level with the landing sill. A slight variation in floor level cannot be seen from a remote monitoring service center; only human inspection of the car at each floor will guarantee that this safety requirement is met.
  • Life Safety Operations – Proper communication from within the cab is required by ASME Code. In addition, the Code requires monthly testing of the fire recall system.
  • Occupant Evacuation Operation – Occupant Evacuation Operation is a new elevator life safety control enhancement that is starting to be introduced in new office towers and other types of buildings. As existing buildings are modernized, it will also begin to be introduced in these buildings as well as an additional means of getting people out of buildings before an emergency situation potentially becomes catastrophic. Buildings provided with this enhanced level of public safety must have a specific plan in place and have trained building occupants on how to execute this plan during an emergency condition. As an enhancement to life safety operations specific testing of the control features will be required on a regular basis.
  • Hydraulic Oil Levels – A hydraulic system has various areas from which oil can seep and be lost. Over time, pressure points in the system have a natural tendency to leak. Monitoring of the oil level can be done via a remote connection. However, notification of oil loss may occur after the creation of a fire danger or after damage to the building itself.

Conclusion

The elevator service industry has changed significantly in the past couple of years in terms of product offerings, component coverage, and maintenance habits. The incorporation of today’s technology in product designs has resulted in positive changes to elevator maintenance delivery practices. Further, a Maintenance Control Plan (MCP) specific to the usage, performance requirements, and environmental operating conditions of each elevator ensures that a service provider’s maintenance modules are properly structured to the needs of each building. These new methodologies and processes, if followed properly, and with sufficient route time provided for completion of assigned maintenance tasks, can be good for the maintenance customer. Properly implemented, they will maximize equipment availability. It is essential however that the professional building manager be aware of these industry changes and actively participate in the management of their vertical transportation maintenance contract.

Jay Popp

As International Executive Vice President for Lerch Bates, Mr. Popp has extensive experience on high-rise buildings and major hotels in Buenos Aires, Dubai, the Middle East, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, China and Podolsk, Russia. He has been with Lerch Bates, the world’s largest and oldest elevator consulting company, for over 30 years.