To Modernize or Leave It Be

One of the most common questions elevator consultants are asked by facilities and property managers is when to modernize a system. What are the influencing factors in such a decision? Let’s be honest. Elevator modernization or replacement is an expensive proposition, not to mention an inconvenience for users when the project is underway.

Whether to invest in elevator modernization needs careful consideration from facilities and property managers, and a detailed report outlining the reasons for an upgrade and benefits to the building must be supplied to allow for correct planning, scope, timing and budgeting. However, very little information or training is available in this area, especially for facilities and property managers just entering the field. This article provides a broad overview to assist in determining when an elevator upgrade is appropriate.

Some of the main considerations include:

• Safety of the existing elevator for passengers and technicians

• Elevators’ compliance with applicable country or state building codes, regulations and occupational health and safety (OHS) requirements

• Provision of suitable facilities for disabled passengers

• Ride performance

• Acoustic performance

• Aesthetics

• Longevity

• Reliability

• Serviceability

• Building owner/occupier needs

Assessing a building’s elevators using the above criteria is a great starting point. The points are discussed in further detail below.

Safety of the Existing Elevator

Safety must be the first and most important factor that drives the decision to upgrade. One should look at the original equipment’s inherent design. This may include, but is not limited to, issues that could result in a catastrophic equipment failure such as a runaway elevator. Issues that can only be eliminated through replacement may have been previously identified in gearboxes, machines, brakes, sheaves and other major components.

There are many design issues related to older elevators, such as poor floor-leveling accuracy, that can only be eliminated by modernizing the controller and drive mechanisms.

Compliance with Applicable Building Codes, Regulations and OHS Requirements

Code and occupational compliance is a serious issue. The pitfalls of only addressing code and OHS issues, versus the benefits of a full modernization, need to be considered. For example, a building owner recently accepted an elevator company’s proposal to eliminate the code and OHS hazards on equipment at a cost of more than US$77,700. The contract included full controller and machine guarding, residual-current circuit breakers to various circuits, additional safety switches to the pit, cutout switches to the governor-tension sheave and oil buffers, and a rope brake, among other items.

The existing hoisting machine, controller, car fixtures and landing fixtures, all older than 50 years, were retained. By undertaking this job, the property managers reduced risk and presented themselves as good corporate citizens. However, a better solution would have been to invest in a full elevator modernization, as many more hazards would have been eliminated.

For example, a new controller would already be fully guarded, and a new hoisting machine would have two independent braking means, eliminating the need for a rope brake. A full upgrade would have also addressed other hazards and requirements, such as improved floor-leveling capabilities, reliability, longevity and serviceability. From an overall budget point of view, a full upgrade, while costing more upfront, would have provided significant long-term benefits and cost savings.

Provision of Suitable Facilities for Disabled Passengers

Facilities for people with disabilities may include improved floor-leveling accuracy (which may only be achievable with drive or major controller replacement), appropriately positioned and designed car and landing buttons, better illumination/audibility, and clearly visible landing/car position indicators.

These items should be considered part of any upgrade to provide access to all users. Such features also enhance a building’s perception and leaseability, as many government and corporate tenants will only rent space in buildings that are handicapped accessible.

Ride Performance

Ride performance is measured in terms of an elevator’s ability to transport people with maximum comfort and minimal vibration. The design standard for ride performance varies depending on a unit’s speed. An elevator consultant will be able to measure an existing unit’s performance and compare it with modern elevator systems, in turn advising the client on the benefits of a modernization.

Acoustics Performance

The maximum noise level within an elevator car traveling at full speed should be no greater than 55-60 dB, and the elevator car superstructure should not creak or rattle. It should attenuate external noise originating in the shaft. Once again, this can be measured by an elevator consultant.

Aesthetics

The design of elevator interiors and appointments need to be of good quality and meet market or user expectations for the type of property.

Longevity

Longevity is the number of years the elevator can provide the building with efficient vertical transportation without the need for further major upgrades. In most cases, this should be at least 15 years.

Reliability

Reliability is measured in terms of the number of breakdowns or faults on the elevator that require corrective action by a maintenance technician. Modern elevator services should provide a level of reliability, represented by a standard not exceeding seven callouts each year for its entire operational life.

An elevator consultant should be utilized to analyze the reasons and type of breakdowns that occur. Poor reliability, in itself, may or may not be reason for an upgrade. Other factors, including a proper and in-depth, root-cause analysis of breakdowns, must be undertaken to determine if the maintenance contractor has fulfilled its requirements in this area.

Serviceability

There are two major considerations when it comes to assessing serviceability. The first is serviceability of the existing equipment, and the second is serviceability of proposed new equipment. Serviceability of existing equipment is based on two major factors. The first is the availability of spare parts. Are they readily available in commercial quantities, or are they obsolete?

The second is the availability of technical expertise. Most technicians who have experience with old relay-logic or early electronic controllers, for example, have long since retired or left the industry. It might be worthwhile to ask the elevator company representatives or technicians how many elevators with the same control system they maintain. If other buildings that once had systems similar to yours have been modernized, your building may become a one-off for the route technician. This means the technician has limited exposure to technical problems that might occur. Lack of spare parts or expertise will result in longer downtime as spare parts are sourced or rebuilt, or while faults are diagnosed.

Should one choose to modernize, there are many modern software-based elevator control systems available that have been specifically designed to make servicing by companies other than the OEM more difficult. Thus, the design of any new elevator equipment should be such that there are always at least two maintenance companies able to properly service and maintain the equipment for the duration of its operational life.

Building Owner/Occupier Needs

Commercial, residential, government, senior-citizen, medical and transit buildings all have different needs. These must be considered in detail by the facilities or property manager, from the aesthetic appearance of lift interiors to attract the level of tenant desired, to people movement, waiting times and time to destination.

A conventional system versus a destination-control one should also be considered. Again, this will depend on people movement and should be subject to a full traffic study by a consultant, such as one well versed in ELEVATETM software.

To assist the facilities or property manager in evaluating whether an elevator system needs to be modernized, your author has provided two checklists in Tables 1 and 2, which should be used only as a broad guide. One is advised to engage an elevator consultant to assist in providing an in-depth report.

Dean Morgan is director at LML Lift Consultants Pty. Ltd. in Australia. Prior to this position, he was National Business director for Schindler in Australia and held various positions at Otis.

Table 1
Table 1
Table 2
Table 2

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