Zack McCain on Elevators 101 and Life in the Industry

ELEVATORS-101-COVERElevator World recently interviewed Zack McCain about the publication of the third edition of Elevators 101. Ever since it was first published in 2004, it has remained on Elevator World’s best-seller list. McCain was kind enough, not only to speak about his book, but also to share his heart for the industry he has been serving for decades.

EW: ​What was your inspiration for writing Elevators 101?
ZM: Back in the 1960s, when I had facility-management responsibilities, I started trying to learn the basics of elevators and escalators. There was little to no information available, and those working in the field either did not know much or were not willing to share what they knew. My goal for Elevators 101 was to provide a resource for managers, persons new to the industry and those in the industry who could use a ready reference to identify equipment and the requirements in various codes and standards.

EW: How did you go about writing it? Did you have a process you followed throughout the project?
ZM: I imagined myself in the position of needing to know the basics of elevators and what I thought would be most helpful. I then developed a rough outline, keeping the goal stated above in mind. Then, I started putting things together on my computer. I discussed this project with many people in the industry to get their help and suggestions. I am indebted to Richard Baxter, Jim Coaker, Edward Donoghue, Robert B. Peelle, Jr., Albert Saxer, Robert Seymour and many others in the industry that provided both encouragement and advice. I could never have completed this task without their support and encouragement.

EW: How does it benefit readers?
ZM: I have strived to provide the reader with an unbiased presentation of equipment functions, terminology and sources for requirements for various categories of equipment. Actually, I find myself reaching for it to refresh my memory about specific equipment or the location of a requirement. For example, the table on page 25 lists the location of requirements related to elevators in the IBC and NFPA-5000 building codes.

EW: What is new in the third edition?
ZM: This third edition includes information on fire service access elevators, occupant evacuation elevators, updates on references as well as other changes such as a discussion on varying the speed of escalators and moving walks.

EW: How have you seen the elevator industry change over your lifetime?
ZM: The industry as a whole has grown to have a global interest. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the major manufacturers were U.S. or Canadian based. But now, even the U.S.-based companies have large interests throughout the world. The U.S. and Canadian codes were harmonized in the early part of this century leading to improvement for both standards.

The introduction of electronics in controls and drives has improved equipment and changed maintenance requirements. Computer-aided design has improved design and reduced component size. Both of these have opened the door for new innovations such as machine-room-less elevators, and improved evaluation and performance standards. On the whole, the industry is more open to change than it was in the 1960s and 1970s.

EW: What has been one of the highlights of your career?
ZM: Participating in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Code activities and teaching classes on elevators for ASME professional development — both of these have been satisfying and rewarding. I have made many friends and met many interesting people in the process. These projects and relationships have led to many other areas such as working with Elevator World, the National Association of Elevator Contractors and the International Association of Elevator Consultants, just to mention a few.

EW: What challenges have you faced over the years? How did you overcome them?
ZM: Over the years, I have experienced many failures and disappointments. I have learned not to dwell on them but to move on. I recently read a quote from Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” This is a reminder that you should never let failures and disappointments stop you from trying.

EW: What is your advice for young elevator technicians in the industry?
ZM: The elevator industry performs a vital service to businesses and industries throughout the world. It is rewarding work, both financially and in terms of job satisfaction. Technicians have a responsibility to perform the best they can to ensure the equipment is safe and reliable, and should be prepared to continue learning and improving throughout their career.

Purchase your copy of Elevators 101 in our online bookstore here.


Elevator U 2015

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The 18th annual Elevator U (EU) Conference took place June 22 – 25 at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

Elevator U supports and encourages the exchange of ideas and information relative to vertical transportation in academic facilities. Membership includes university facility mangers, consultants, vendors and others with ties to the elevator industry. Visit to find out more.

This was my first industry conference and I must say it was awesome! I was able to finally meet in person many people who I previously only knew their names. The conference itself was well received by everyone. The educational and technical presentations were well attended and met with enthusiasm. On Wednesday was a round table discussion on in-house versus contract maintenance on academic campuses. This session really proved why Elevator U is such a valuable event, as attendees were able to see how other universities handle this issue. This led to new ideas that they could bring back to their workplace to incorporate.


One of the main events was the opportunity to tour OSU’s massive renovation project of the North Residential District, which includes several new elevator installations and modernizations. Their goal is to expand on-campus residential capacity to ensure availability for all first and second year students.

This year’s social event was Casino Night (play money of course!) and featured several game tables along with entertainment provided by Cincinnati Circus. In addition, the evening’s winner of the 50/50 raffle returned his earnings back as a gift to the Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation (EESF).

The expo portion of the conference was constantly buzzing with discussions as well as everyone checking who was outbidding them for the Silent Auction (which would again, raise money for the EESF).

Some of the items were Fitbits, an Apple Watch and various Gift Cards to places like Lowe’s and Best Buy.


On the final evening of the expo, two prestigious awards were presented. The first was for the newest Honorary EU Member, which was awarded to Dave Flint from the University of Michigan. This award is for those who go above and beyond with their contributions to helping EU grow and succeed. The second was the John W. Blatt Memorial – President’s Choice Award. This year’s recipient was Elevator World’s own Brad O’Guynn. Through his skills in marketing, Brad has shown tremendous dedication to EU by continuing to spread the word and never missing an opportunity to make the organization more successful year after year.

Everyone is already looking forward to the 2016 Elevator U conference, which will be held in Quincy, IL and hosted by Illinois State University and Hollister-Whitney Elevator Corporation.

For the full event coverage of the 2015 Elevator U Conference which includes more photos, information on OSU’s project and an overview of the many informative presentations, just check out the September issue of ELEVATOR WORLD magazine. You can click here to subscribe today!

Thanks for reading,

– Caleb


The U.S. and the VTIP

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 12.42.15 PMElevator World’s Vertical Transportation Industry Profile (VTIP) is a semi-annual study on the global elevator industry. We gather as much data as we can on the number of elevators and escalators around the world, and publish our findings along with market reports and analyses. Collecting data for the project afforded me the opportunity to go on a virtual tour of the U.S. In recognition of Independence Day this week, I thought it appropriate to share some of my experiences in the world of U.S. elevator inspectors with you.


Like many aspects of American private and public life, the elevator industry is marked by fragmentation. Different laws governing elevator inspections reflect different cultural mores and political ideologies. For some areas of the country, it is a matter of public versus private regulation. States like Delaware, Kansas, New Mexico, North and South Dakota and Virginia could not provide any data, because they don’t have a law mandating statewide elevator inspections. In those cases, I had to go county by county or city by city, trying to contact a fire marshall or other building inspector who might have information on elevators in their jurisdiction. It was fascinating to see how different the websites were for different cities, counties and states. Some midwestern cities would list the population on their website. It is true that there are towns that have just a handful of people living in them!

To further complicate matters, inspectors in states such as Ohio, Oklahoma and Washington will inspect all the elevators except those of its large cities. So, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, for example, have their own inspectors. Interestingly enough, New York state does not have a state elevator inspector but New York City and Buffalo do. Mississippi had just got on board last year with statewide inspection, and was eager to participate in the survey. Different states adhere to different versions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) elevator codes. In a couple cases, states follow very old versions of the code.

Bureaucrazy and Personalities

Some states function on a highly bureaucratic scale. In many cases, this is understandable due to their population size, governmental system and political climate. The only challenge is that the point person may be virtually inaccessible or extremely busy. Or, if you are unsure who the point person is, you may go from person to person, trying to find the right contact with the information. You may be sent to a records keeper. Talking to that person often provides the opportunity to give and receive empathy. You realize that departments suffer limitations in staff, and are affected by the state of the industry in their jurisdiction. Some inspectors face a backlog, because the man power to service and repair broken elevators is lacking.

Inspectors may have the records in front of them but it is a challenge for them to extract the kind of data we are looking for. Their own system may be inadequate or ill-equipped to tell you, for example, how many moving walks there are in their jurisdiction. In compiling and maintaining their records, they give priority to tracking certain aspects of the units, while we are simply looking for their total number. Some states were happy just to send their excel spreadsheets with the data for me to process. In some cases, extracting data from reports off and online was arduous work, explaining why state agents were not eager to provide the information I was looking for.

The personalities of the state elevator inspectors are predictably representative of each area of the country. In most cases, this is an enjoyable part of the research. In those cases where it is not, you simply have to find the humor in it. With regards to my interactions with them, you could map an inspector’s personality in one of four quadrants:

friendly and compliant
friendly but noncompliant
unfriendly but compliant
unfriendly and noncompliant

Washington state was friendly and compliant. It was an absolute pleasure talking to Jack Day. There was at least one state that was friendly but noncompliant. My brother, who lives there, simply told me that it is the state’s “way.” A few states were unfriendly but compliant. That was okay, I thanked them and simply moved on. As for the unfriendly and noncompliant states, I had to figure out a workaround. Anything else would have been a waste of time.

What was that workaround? Sometimes, persistence paid off, other times it called for submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to who you know. I received data for one state that I had completely given up on after a contact in the industry who lives in that state got the information from the right person.

See For Yourself

Some states take pride in efficiency. Indiana’s state website claims that it is, “A State That Works.” When it comes to inspecting elevators, they are not kidding around. The states below make their records publicly available online:

And, if you haven’t done so already, you can purchase a copy of the VTIP 2014 in our online bookstore.


Have you ever noticed?

One of my favorite pastimes is reading — reading on all sorts of topics and in different formats, as I have many interests. A longtime favorite has been the web comic XKCD by Randall Munroe (I’m actually currently reading his book What If? – Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions)

Out of curiosity, I searched the archive for something relevant to the elevator industry and once again XKCD did not disappoint and presents us with comic #897: Elevator Inspection


Even governmental elevator inspectors get bored halfway through asking where the building office is


There is more to his comics than meets the eye however; and it’s in the form of ‘hidden text’ (or ‘image title’). Just put your cursor over the image and it will appear. The title text for this particular comic reads:

“Even governmental elevator inspectors get bored halfway through asking where the building office is”

This will probably cause you to pay a little closer attention the next time you step into the elevator – whether it is at your apartment complex or work place. The countless reasons why building owners should pay to have their elevators inspected and maintained regularly can be summed up into one word: SAFETY

So: Have you ever noticed an out of date certificate or a sign stating something similar to the comic above? This comic is a few years old (2011) but this issue is still ever present in the U.S. Just as recently as November 2014, Massachusetts was experiencing a major backlog of inspections. Most of the owners however did apply for and pay the inspection fee only to have it delayed due to the government division overseeing the inspections. Most. Several did not apply. This obviously presents several problems and creates potential for disaster.

Take a closer look on your next ride and don’t be afraid to say something or grab your fellow riders to go on a journey to find the certificate!

Thanks for reading,

– Caleb


EW Hosts The NEII Safety Committee

Safety Committee1On October 22-23 the NEII® Field Employee Safety Committee met at the Elevator World office to discuss and review important changes that will be made to the new 2015 Elevator Industry Employees’ Safety Handbook.  The Safety Handbook (for short) has long been considered “the” safety standard for protection of field employees on construction or maintenance jobs. The new handbook is scheduled to be made available to the industry by March 2015.  For updates on this new manual and additional jobsite safety information click here.  To purchase the current 2010 (with 2011 revisions) Safety Handbook click here.  To learn more about NEII you can visit their website here.       


A Most “Fundamental” Elevator on Display in Venice

Chilean miner elevator

Acclaimed architect Rem Koolhaas gives elevators and escalators their due as part of his Venice, Italy exhibition, Fundamentals: the 14th International Architecture Exhibition, open to the public through November 23. It features such architectural elements as door handles and exposed machinery in a hanging, domed ceiling. Along with elevators and escalators, these are elements Koolhaas believes should become an integral part of architectural thinking. And some of them play a literally vital role, such as the missile-shaped elevator shown here. One of three designed by the Chilean Army and the U.S. space agency NASA, the capsules were used to rescue 33 trapped miners during the 2010 Copiapo, Chile, mining accident.


Escalator Math Problem

Feel like using the left side of your brain today?  If so, I have something just for you.  I recently stumbled upon this math problem that uses escalators as an example.  So, I thought that I would pose the problem  to our readers.  Let’s see how well you studied in school!  You can find the answer and explanation here but give us your answer in the comments section first, then take a peek.

A and B walk up an escalator. The escalator moves at a constant speed. A takes six steps for every four of B’s step. A gets to the top of the escalator after having taken 50 steps , while B( Slower) takes only 40 steps to reach the top. If the escalator were turned off, how many steps would they have to take to walk up?
a. 80
b. 100
c. 120
d. 160

So, what do you think?


This Is Why We Need To Support The EESF!

This shocking video footage from Istanbul shows a 4-year-old boy who fell from the top of an escalator when he climbed up the wrong way and dangled precariously off the handles.  The boy is seen holding onto the rail up the side of the escalator staircase as he’s lifted from the ground floor of a mall–and gets whisked away to the second story of the building. A quick acting shopkeeper ran underneath the boy and caught him as he dropped. Thankfully no injuries occurred.

This is a prime example why we need to support the Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation, the industry’s non-profit organization whose sole mission is to educate the public on the safe and proper use of elevators, escalators and moving walks through informational programs.

According to their website, as of May 25, 2010, they have sent program materials to 555,442 children in the United States and 36,094 children in Canada, for a total of 591,536 children!  The goal is 700,000 children this school year.  Visit their site today and show your support! 


Rope Traction — Theory and Practice

untitledRope Traction – Theory and Practice is the newest edition to Elevator World’s continuing-education products.  This DVD is a seminar presentation by George Gibson, a 50year veteran of the elevator industry. You can earn contact hours by viewing this presentation and completing the assessment examination online.  Order now through November 1st and receive a special pre-publication price of $50.00 (regular $65.00).  For more information or to purchase, click here.