Opening the Door on Elevator Service
By Lynn Proctor Windle - October 2005 - Equipment Rental & Tools
What goes up, but won’t come down? If the answer is “the elevator,” consider asking some questions of your own.
Facility executives in need of elevator repair, maintenance or upgrades have at their disposal a plethora of services to keep the system running safe and efficiently. Most elevator service companies provide a menu of plans designed to fit most budgets. Minimal contracts offer little more than the assurance that a technician will show up if there is a problem. Comprehensive contracts manage all facets of elevator operation for facility executives. And there are a variety of options between those extremes.
The challenge for facility executives is to match appropriate service levels to keep elevator operations running smoothly while staying within a monthly budget. Meeting those goals means researching elevator service contracts and the companies that offer them. Among the issues facility executives should investigate are finding providers and services that meet the strategic needs of the building, checking a provider’s background, surveying the types of contracts available, and understanding how a provider might help plan for elevator upgrades and replacements.
Sizing Up Strategy
The first step in selecting services that meet a facility’s needs and budgetary requirements is to look at a building’s function, population and demand on its elevators. An office building with a single tenant or a small population that leaves at the end of the day places less strenuous demands on elevators than a hospital where the elevators operate continuously, says Rod Hoyng, vice president of service marketing and national accounts for Schindler Elevator.
After that, facility executives should evaluate the existing elevator equipment, says Bruce Norden, vice president of service sales for KONE Elevators and Escalators. The review should note the manufacturer of the original equipment as well as its age. Equipment installed within the last five years has different service requirements than equipment installed 20 years ago.
“Some equipment is so old that it needs more attention than a new elevator with solid-state controls,” Norden says.
What’s more, aging equipment might require facility executives to develop an asset management plan to extend its service life until funds are available to pay for upgrades.
“Equipment will get older,” Norden says. “It will need upgrades, and it will need modernization at some point. Service isn’t a life-time answer. You need to have a good preventive maintenance plan and a good asset management plan to make sure you’re doing upgrades.”
As part of the investigation into equipment life and asset management, facility executives should consider the owner’s plan for the building. If the owner intends to sell the facility in a year or two, then a basic plan probably is a better fit than a comprehensive plan that covers elevator components that wear out every 10 years or so, Norden says.
Finally, facility executives should evaluate how operating expenses and capital improvements are funded. Sometimes, the terms of a lease, particularly triple-net leases, require tenants to pay for building repairs and upgrades, Hoyng says.
The Search Begins
After reviewing these steps, facility executives should have some understanding of their needs for a given building. Gaining that understanding is important because it sets the framework for determining what type of services to seek from providers.
“You should get the service responsiveness that meets the needs of the building without paying for services that don’t add any value,” Hoyng says.
When searching for a provider, look first to see that the contractor is accredited to work in a given market, Hoyng said. Accreditation requirements vary around the country. Some states require service providers to have a contractor’s license. Others have specific licensing programs for the vertical transportation industry, which includes elevators and escalators. Research the company to make sure it has proper insurance coverage because elevators open the owner to substantial liability. The provider also should have the financial strength to follow through on its service commitments for the life of the contract.
Next, review the company’s engineering experience. Ask whether it has an adequate inventory of spare parts and the logistics to get them to the job site. Find out how many service technicians are available to respond to calls, even if the call comes at 2 a.m. Pin down prospective service providers on response time, says David Sandoval, corporate service vice president of ThyssenKrupp Elevator.
“Response time is important,” he says. “A typical response time during normal business hours should be 30 minutes or less. After hours, expect them to set a standard of within an hour or less.”
Ask too about the contractor’s technical training program.
“If they don’t have an ongoing tech training program, don’t go down that path,” Hoyng says. “This industry evolves rapidly. If they’re not state-of-the-art, they’re going to be slipping, and you’ll be behind the times as well.”
The company’s technicians should be intimately familiar with the building’s original elevator equipment and have access to spare parts, necessary software, wiring diagrams and other documentation, Sandoval says.
A good service provider, however, will do more than just meet the technical requirements of a contract. Service providers should be willing to make recommendations for upgrades and improvements to meet current or future standards, Norden says.
“Service providers owe it to customers to educate them about what’s going on in the industry,” he says. “You’ve got a piece of equipment permanently installed and always running. They’ve got to keep up with the latest code revisions for safety.”
Although a significant amount of effort is spent selecting service providers, an equally arduous task is evaluating options the provider offers. Historically, the vertical transportation industry has offered two types of service plans: inspection agreements and inclusive contracts. Recently, service companies have begun offering variations of these plans to better suit customer needs.
A basic plan typically covers an inspection and report of necessary repairs. Some of the basic plans include lubrication of system parts, earning such agreements the moniker “oil-and-grease contract” within the industry.
The contracts are most attractive to facility executives who oversee buildings with older equipment. The price point on replacement parts make other options cost prohibitive, Sandoval says.
A second type of agreement, called an on-demand contract, is a variation on the basic contract. This plan establishes a more substantial connection between the facility executive and the service company. No work is performed, however, unless it is requested. With this kind of contract, labor rates usually are pre-determined, but not included in the contract fee. Parts are extra as well.
The final type of contract, known as an inclusive contract or full-service maintenance plan, includes parts, labor and preventive maintenance. If the building’s function and equipment dictate a full-service maintenance plan, the facility executive should develop specifications for routine visits. These specs might include how frequently a technician will be on site to perform maintenance and what exactly will be done.
“Do not leave it open-ended,” Sandoval says. “You want documentation in elevator equipment rooms. You want log books on every controller. The technician should document all work performed.”
All-inclusive contracts are the most expensive type available. The service company bears the risk that an elevator may need significant repair because it charges one set monthly fee, Sandoval says.
“The money sometimes may look like a lot as a one-time payment, but look at what is included and what you’d have to pay extra for,” he says. “It’s like an insurance policy.”
Variations on the inclusive plan include different arrangements for labor costs. Some cover labor costs only during normal business hours. Premium versions include overtime costs as well. Another version includes no labor costs at all, making the facility executive responsible for both straight time and overtime.
In addition to labor agreements, service contracts can include a performance clause for response time. For example, the contract might promise a two-hour turnaround on equipment failure and one-hour turnaround on entrapments, Norden says.
Performance clauses also can guarantee a specific amount of uptime or a maximum amount of downtime. If the company doesn’t perform as promised, the customer receives a credit.
“In this day and age, it’s not about the number of visits or time spent, even though many contracts dictate time and visitation,” Norden says. “That is not a true measurement of how the equipment is performing or whether you’re getting good maintenance. Equipment availability is the true test of a performance contract. It gets away from hours on the job, but it’s a true measure of performance. It looks at availability and how quick the elevator gets back up.”
Part of those response time guarantees, particularly with inclusive plans, may include value-added items such as remote monitoring, 24/7 call center services and interactive Web sites where facility executives can track activity. These services can usually contracted for individually as well.
Service companies can remotely monitor each elevator around the clock and automatically dispatch help, often before trouble is reported to the facility staff. Sensors are hooked up to critical mechanical and electrical components. When a component fails, the sensors automatically report the problem to the service provider’s monitoring center. This technology typically is deployed in facilities such as hotels and health care facilities where elevators are in service around the clock.
Internet-based monitoring tools allow the facility executive to monitor equipment status in real time from almost any computer. With these tools, it’s possible to see which cars are functioning normally, which cars are broken or which cars have been stopped for freight or emergencies. Facility executives can even manage performance based on traffic patterns on any given time or day. Some Web tools also track service call history and invoicing.
Some maintenance contractors will even answer help calls from passengers trapped inside a stuck elevator. All elevators are required to have voice communications equipment inside the elevator cab, but, typically, these calls are routed to the front desk, security guards or a generic answering service. The person who takes the call has to figure out who to call and try to explain the problem.
With some monitoring systems, voice communications are answered 24 hours a day by a dedicated call center staffed with people trained to handle emergency situations. When combined with equipment monitoring, these service representatives know where the elevator is located and what the problem is. As a result, they can immediately dispatch technicians and others to rescue passengers.
While monitoring offers significant safety advantages, it’s not always possible. Sometimes, remote-monitoring capabilities are limited by equipment age and lack of manufacturer support, Norden says.
When it comes to safety upgrades, normally it is the facility executive’s responsibility to proactively arrange for improvements. The problem is, the facility executive doesn’t always know what improvements should be made.
A good maintenance plan can help keep facility executives abreast of safety upgrades and code changes, even when those changes don’t necessarily apply to equipment in a specific facility, Norden says.
“The best thing you can do to keep safety at the highest level is to have a good maintenance plan and keep up with code changes,” he says. “A lot of times, code doesn’t say that you have to do something. Often, an elevator is grandfathered, so no one’s forcing you to make changes. It’s easy to put off. But if you’ve got a piece of equipment that’s out of date, compared to the current code, you have to ask, ‘Is that the safest it can be?’”
Analyze the return on investment of safety upgrades and treat them as business decisions, Norden says. “What is the ROI if someone is permanently injured? Accidents have happened and will continue to happen.”
Sandoval agrees that a solid relationship with a service company can save facility executives much grief in the long run.
“The fact that you have a maintenance contract is the first step to ensuring that elevators are safe,” he says. “Having a certified elevator company maintaining your equipment ensures you are safety compliant. With a good maintenance contract, the responsibility falls on the maintenance company.
Lynn Proctor Windle is a freelance writer who has written extensively about facility management issues.