Escalator Safety v. Darwinism

There’s only so much an inspector can do.


Broken Westinghouse Hoistway Door Interlock

This is why inspectors and mechanics should test the mechanical locking of EVERY hoistway door on their units – especially if they are the “good-ole” kind. It takes half a second while you’re doing your car top inspection – just part the sight guards. There is no reason to not do this. So why aren’t you doing it? Do it. Just do it.

Shout out to my hat provider for that day – Canton Elevator.


Elevator U Conference 2012

Elevator U Banner

Last week I attended the 2012 Elevator U conference, an annual elevator show for university facility directors. Also in attendance – many other facility guys from various big-campus settings such as the Smithsonian and larger hospitals. This year, the conference was held at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI (go spartans).

I like this conference for a few reasons… It’s laid back, the attendees are eager to hear about the elevator industry outside the campuses, and, lastly, the receptions are a lot more fun. Don’t get me wrong – I love a room full of elevator consultants and a chocolate fountain as much as the next guy. But having a mini beer-chugging contest at an open bar with a university elevator mechanic – now that’s fun stuff (I won, by the way).

You also learn a lot about vertical transportation in a school campus setting (which is fairly important since about a third of our consulting work comes from universities). Students trying to bypass door locks so they can have a drunken car top ride, kicking in hoistway doors while roughhousing, and third-party contractors jumping out door interlocks during modernizations were a few topics this year. We also talked light bulbs, maintenance control programs, incidents, electronic door restrictors, and suspension ropes (which was surprisingly more interesting than one would imagine). I got to speak on a panel (a first for me) during the maintenance control program talk and share my experiences as an inspector and software developer with the MCP and maintenance record data. More on that here.

My friend Doug Witham, VP of Sales and Marketing at G.A.L., was also at Elevator U this year. He reminded me I still had a little space on the internet – and it was in dire need of an update. He’s got his own blog rolling at dougatgal.wordpress.com. I suggest you check it out.

Fun fact: The Elevator U logo was created by one of my best friends, Cody (non-elevator industry muggle), after the organization name change from “The Vertical Transportation Conference for Colleges and Universities” (VTCCU) to Elevator U. I also admin the elevatoru.org domain name (although I forget I have it in my stack from time to time – thank God for autorenew).


I declare today: Stairs Day.

Another year, another January inspection trip to DMC land, Missouri. Only two days this year – it seems elevator inspect’ing has become a popular alternative to mechanic’ing when the bench gets full or retirement comes a-knocking.

At any rate, I rarely require the use of red tags in Missouri – mainly because I usually am seeing two-stop hydros and there’s not much that will make these units “unsafe” as defined by the State of Missu’reh. However, I ran across a little DMC-like unit (yeah, I’m not giving out company names) that served as the exception to this rule. Among the boring violations (like emergency lighting not working), a total of 5 safety switches simply… didn’t work. We started at the car top:

Top floor interlock – check.
Gate switch – check.
Car top stop switch…. no. ok, well, maybe that switch is bad. moving on.
Emergency exit switch – nada.

At this point, the top-of-car part of the inspection stops and we reconvene in the machine room searching for jumpers. Alas, nothing is jumping out at us (I promise, no more puns).

So we continue the inspection with the pit stop switch, the in car stop switch, the controller stop switch. None of them have any affect. At this point, the mechanic grabs his laptop, hooks it up to the controller, and runs into a brick wall when it asks for a password… which of course is not the default. *Obscenities*

I’ve got another mechanic up north waiting on me so I slap a red tag up and jet with promises of being available in a couple hours after these other inspections.

Eventually the mechanic figures it out, we re-check it, remove the red-tag, and when I ask him what was wrong I am told (from what I remember), “a couple wires were crossed and they were just jumping things out to get it to run.” Oh. Ok.

Now, from Tom Sybert – my friend at www.elevatorradioshow.com poses these questions: “Man how does this happen? Why would a mechanic not make sure all the stop switches are working correctly in the hoistway. This is where he’s working!”

To that, I’d say that I honestly don’t think this route mechanic permanently jumped these switches out. I know the guy, I’ve inspected with him, safety really is #1 to him. I believe it was a repair crew that MAYBE accidentally, permanently defeated these switches.. or.. something. Whatever it is, Tom has a point. These switches primarily serve to provide a safe environment for mechanics to service the elevator from the hoistway. Needless to say, the mechanic was more than understanding when the unit’s disconnect adorned this big red Missouri tag.

Missouri Elevator Red Tag

Just to stop the non-union hate at the pass (not that I endorse or condone it. I am completely neutral. Call me gray) – this was one of the majors.


“Good Samaritans” Prying Open Elevator Doors

Because he’s the hero Houston Club deserves, but not the one it needs right now… Sam Barraza that is.

It was a slow news day here in Houston when video of a bunch of people frantically shoving a pole into the hoistway doors of an overloaded elevator that had overshot the first floor a couple feet showed up. During this brave rescue attempt, Sam Barraza put his 300-lb body into action and broke the doors open heroically saving those being tortured inside. Well, they were standing still for 5 minutes, it can get old I guess. It looks like it was overloaded. The elevator braking system did exactly what it was designed to do in case of overload – it safely lowered and held the car. A17.1 requires the brake to be tested with 125% of capacity and that the car should run on normal operation from an “upper landing” (any landing above the lowest landing) to the lowest landing. The driving machine must safely lower, stop, and hold the car with this load. Exactly what this over-exerted elevator did. A17.2 actually says that the elevator is not required to attain rated load performance (leveling) under overload conditions.

Oh yeah, the news guy contacted mi madre and quoted her around the 2:50 mark.

Of course those from the industry cringe when we see “good samaritans” pry open hoistway doors to free passengers when the elevator is not at the landing. So many things could go wrong. The brake could release, the elevator could take off, etc. In this case, the interlock looks like it was torn from the door and may have remained electrically closed, but you have the gate switch which theoretically would have stopped the car if it decided to go somewhere. Either way, it’s never a good idea for the general public to go on rescue missions – especially when the only danger to those inside is a leg cramp or something.


Alabama Elevator Inspections and the Maintenance Control Program

I was in Alabama last week doing some inspections on units at a fairly large nursing home and a hospital. I use the word “inspection” lightly here- mainly because Alabama state law only requires an inspection after the test. Inspectors do not  witness tests, rather, we witness test tags being present on controllers or in the machine room. Now, I’ve witnessed a few elevator tests with mechanics in my time, and assuming they know what periodic tests A17.1 2010 requires is a bit… generous. Not to say they don’t know what they are doing, but I am always hearing “What next?”; “We have to do that???”; “That’s dumb. Tests are dumb.”; “Pressure switch?” But hey, maybe they are differently trained here in Alabama. Maybe they read A17.2 bedtime stories and get QEI-certified and derive joy from doing annual tests and have an unlimited amount of time outside of their regular maintenance route. (Before I get yelled at, I know there are great mechanics out there who take tests seriously. This is just the pessimistic realist in me).

Anyway. Most of the time, elevator companies that do the tests don’t even accomplish the actual putting of the updated tag on the controller every year – the case at these particular locations. Also notable was the missing maintenance control program – a new staple of the machine room, starting in A17.1 2007. This beast of a code requirement brought many a question to the inspecting and maintenance world and if you think you’ll understand the requirement by the end of this blog post, I assure you one thing: sore disappointment.

A17.1 2007 requires a written maintenance control program which will act as a plan to keep the unit in compliance with all of 8.6 – the maintenance section of A17.1. It goes on to say that it will include, but not be limited to, the scheduled intervals at which tests, maintenance, and examinations are required. Then it lists what these intervals are to be based off of (design, usage, age, etc). Instructions for lubrication, testing, reporting corrective action necessary to the responsible party, and locating the actual maintenance control program are also required. You think it’s straight forward? There was an entire book just written on A17.1 – that ONE section – by John Koshak.

So first of all, it has to be written. Written is defined as a mark on a surface, right? So it can’t be in a computer somewhere. It doesn’t have to be in the machine room, but it does have to be kept at “a central location” and instructions on how to get to this “central location” must be on the controller. What is a “central location?” Is that different from a “left-ish location?” It must be accessible to elevator personel (hey, that’s me). I think it’s pretty vague.
-What if I, as the inspector, wanted to see the MCP and the directions to the location on the controller was actually a map and key to a storage unit place up the road 10 miles where I had to wade through the boxes of other unit’s MCPs just to find the one belonging to the unit at which I was looking? Better yet, what if it was kept at Otis world headquarters in Farmington, CT? I mean, that could be defined as a “central location” – central for them, at least.
– What if my maintenance control program was to contact an elevator maintenance company to do model-specific maintenance quarterly? Would posting a sheet of paper on the controller saying just that (along with lube the rails, contact the maintenance company to report necessary corrective action, etc) meet the requirement? Why not?
-Also, as the author of this maintenance control program, are you not basically guaranteeing the proper and safe operation of the equipment as long as your plan is followed and barring any vandalism-type interference?

I did run across this response to the MCP violation written up last year:

Obviously a satisfactory MCPOk, so maybe the largest elevator company in the world really is trying to tell me straight-faced that the MCP (or even Maintenance Records which is a whole ‘nother ballgame) for this particular elevator is on a server in Russia somewhere. They printed it off and left it next to the Soviet-era server, which meets the written requirements. They’d also let me into their Russian server room, so now it’s accessible to me. But I (always the pessimist) am thinking we just had a Chili’s lunch date we had to get to instead. That or the temp in the office forgot to order the MCP booklets. Either way, repeat violation.

P.S. Got a 94/100 on my NYC building director’s exam. Background investigation up next.

P.S.S. Oh yeah. RTR!


Concrete Elevator Jungle – The NYC DoB Private Elevator Inspector Exam

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been swamped. I studied for and took two back-to-back engineering finals with a start time of 5:00AM (Control Systems and Lift Component Applications), bought a new company car from a dealership 600 miles away and had to retrieve it (we got a Prius, woot), and started prepping for my NYC inspector’s exam. All the while having a never-ending sinus infection and a PACKED Houston inspection schedule.

So. I am currently licensed in 5 different AHJs; City of Houston, State of Texas, Alabama, Illinois, and Missouri. These licenses are fairly easy to obtain and maintain requiring just an annual day-long meeting with each AHJ (and of course some fees) – I have my national QEI license with NAESA International. However, NYC plays by its own rules and requires QEI-type certification through NYC’s Department of Buildings. So on November 8th, I will be taking my NYC DoB private elevator inspector’s exam. The whole process of getting your license takes a year or so and I am a little less than halfway done. The application process took a while and the background check after the exam will also take a few months.

Needless to say, I’m excited. NYC is that one puddle of sewage in which I would so happily drown. I absolutely love the city and cannot wait until I will be financially able to move into an (non-cardboard box) apartment in Manhattan. The inspector’s exam is a huge step because it gives me job opportunity in the city. From the looks of the website, the NYC DoB is a great AHJ to work with. My favorite: they have a “Top Ten Elevator Offenders” list which maybe sounds like a list of most-occurring violations. No. This fairly-updated list shows the ADDRESSES and OWNER’S NAMES of the buildings in its jurisdiction with the most violations, complaints, fees, and recorded uncooperative actions. That’s awesome.

new york



Building Owner Meets Elevator Consultant

Inspired by various conversations…


NAEC Convention and Expo

NAEC Expo Floor Shot

Elevator trade shows have always been a part of my post-high school life. Besides making my feet hurt, these shows serve many purposes; from providing a face-to-face opportunity to threaten bodily harm upon that comm vendor that hasn’t delivered to your consulting client, to drinking and eating an obscene amount of free beer and ice cream. Networking takes place at night parties in crowded alleys/patios among industry players dressed in football jerseys as well as in little spaces dotting a large convention floor – although GAL/Hollister Whitney had their usual larger presence showing up with two full elevator setups and an upper deck with yet more beer and pretzels (their MRL machine is pretty badassk). Classrooms were also full of people like Tom Sybert updating the.. erm.. young-at-heart of the elevator industry on social media and Don Vollrath giving his drive presentation (which actually made a lot more sense to me this year after taking my lifts components class – yay for learning)

The regulars were there: John Koshak, Bob Caporale, John Rearick, etc. We actually ran into a powdered sugar-powdered Zack McCain coming back from Cafe Du Monde. Speaking of food – alligator, gumbo, jambalaya, beignets, catfish, shrimp poboys, pralines – a gorging like no other. That’s another thing about conventions, I’m always sick of eating when they’re over.

United:Atlantic City is next year. Email me if you’d like to sponsor a child (at the Caribbean Stud table).

Daniel Swett in front of a stainless steel COP

the finish on this COP is hot


Dover Corporation and Adios for a Bit?

dover elevator tag

We’ve all seen this before. The (newer) Dover Blue-almost-painted-data tag on the bottom of the traction car sling (also where the brilliant minds of the Dover engineering department *cough*sheilaswett*cough* decided to place the SOS- but that’s another post).

Today I did an inspection on some old Dover units. What caught my eye was the words “Elevator Division.” I was somehow under the impression that all Dover made was elevators, or at least what it made mostly. I also thought that ThyssenKrupp bought Dover back in 2000. NOT TRUE. TKE bought Dover’s elevator division but there is still today a Dover Corporation going strong selling “innovative equipment, specialty systems and value-added services for the industrial products, fluid management, engineered systems and electronic technology markets.” And they still use that familiar little logo. To be fair, it’s actually just a global conglomerate made up of about 40 different companies trading under the symbol DOV on the NYSE with a market capitalization over $10 billion – a far cry from my view of a little company with a factory and test tower in Horn Lake, MS.

Here is their website: www.dovercorporation.com

Oh, and it MAY be adios for a bit. The pipeline is getting clogged up. I started a little company last month (another post, just wait) and I have 2 major-ish projects on which I am working.  I also have two final exams on the 27th of this month – Lift Component Applications and Lift Control. They start at 5:30 AM. Yes, ante meridiem. The good news is: after these two exams, I only have a case study and my dissertation and I will be done with this little graduate educational journey. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.

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