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New Technologies Will Make Elevator Breakdowns a Thing of the Past

We often forget that elevators are the most used transportation and, statistically, one of the safest. Therefore, the global elevator market is a lucrative niche worth more than $90 billion and yields massive cash flows. Yet, the end customers still experience an average of five failures a year despite frequent service visits. So let’s explore how and why a technological shift in the elevator industry could eventually prevent breakdowns.

The elevator maintenance market is a giant — with feet of clay.

A well-off group of manufacturers (including Otis, Schindler, Thyssen, and Kone, also known as OEMs) dominate the industry. They make 75% of their profits from maintenance services. Many small and medium-sized maintenance companies (also known as independent service providers or ISPs) share the rest of the market. These companies operate on a local or national scale.

A model based on regulations

How do all of the OEMs and ISPs operate? During the first part of the previous century, elevator maintenance contracts became a widespread model for maintaining elevators under constant terms. Elevator maintenance regulations are similar across most countries. They are based on the following factors:

  • maintenance contracts with an entitled company are mandatory,
  • they should provide for a minimum of 1 to 12 maintenance visits per year,
  • third-party inspections are compulsory on a yearly or multi-year basis.

These regulations shaped the business models of the leading OEMs.

They rely on a fixed-term maintenance contract providing those mandatory visits and emergency interventions in case of breakdowns. They also sell additional services such as reparations, spare parts changing, and specific breakdown repair, on top of the initial contract.

All in all, the end customers (property owners or managers) purchase means (visits and breakdown response) and not results (guarantee that the elevator works).

When many industries and services have undergone a digital transformation, the elevator industry has yet to take the plunge into technology.

Many manufacturers still rely on breakdowns to profit, as they can charge expensive repairs. However, recent years have seen an unprecedented change in this OEM-dominated elevator sector. Indeed, independent service providers are slowly eroding the maintenance portfolio of the sector’s majors. How? By providing local support with a more personal touch.

Several models clash

The elevator IoT sector is in full development: it is expected to haul in revenue worth $56 billion by 2026, with a CAGR of approximately 15% for 2020–2026. However, it may at first appear challenging to grasp: there are many stakeholders, and technologies, in a market that can be hard to navigate.

All the major manufacturers have long deployed connected solutions on their machines. Yet, none of them has pushed the concept of predictive maintenance to its fullest. So, how are new technologies taking over, and what exactly is the IoT in the field of elevators?

The OEM’s propositions

Many solutions can be found on the market using different IoT technologies. The leaders of the industry have already deployed their own industrial IoT for predictive maintenance :

Let’s start with OTIS, the world’s leading manufacturer of elevators and escalators. OTIS took advantage of the IoT with the Otis ONE™ solution.

Smart sensors positioned on the elevators automatically collect the data. The data is interpreted in the cloud via extensive data analysis, which produces predictive algorithms. Equipment health, service calls, and account updates are organized in a dashboard application that assesses the elevator’s health and makes predictive maintenance recommendations.

This system connects via an API to other intelligent building systems, thus providing real added value to fleet managers and users.

Schindler’s IoT solution is also based on sensors.

Since 2018, Schindler has equipped all of its elevators with a connected box called the Ahead Cube, which makes it possible to anticipate malfunctions by relaying all data relating to the elevator. As a result, the customer has a personal online space dedicated to the complete supervision of their equipment in real-time. They receive notification of technical events (intervention, maintenance visit). They also can access a fleet performance summary and request an intervention via an application.

Kone, a Finnish leading elevator company, has partnered with IBM. They connected a box to the top of the unit, linked to the sensors. It transmits the data to IBM’s Watson analysis and sends recommendations or alerts to prevent failures.

Thus, all the significant leaders in the sector have already implemented preventive and predictive maintenance solutions. They are the fruit of their research, creating dedicated solutions for each brand, compatible only with that brand.

News solutions for elevator monitoring

The combination of AI with the IoT has the potential to reshape the way the elevator industry functions. Indeed, it allows running effective predictive maintenance operations to avoid breakdowns. Elevator IoT allows countless possibilities to track and analyze various data. This helps the technician to know which actions to take and when. AI-enabled machines can produce real-time insights, and their analytics are valuable to maintenance companies.

Several solutions are already available for monitoring elevators or even performing predictive maintenance. Two ways of tracking the elevators exist: adding sensors to the cabin and communicating with the controller, which acts as the elevator’s brain.

Control panels are used to control elevators. The control panels contain all the power supply units, orchestrate all operations, and ensure safety. In addition, the elevator control panels handle other functions, like making or canceling the car calls, door control, measurement of the weight and carload, and speed.

IoT versus Sensors

Let’s compare these two technologies.

All elevators are initially equipped with sensors. For example, there are position sensors in the shaft, door lock, temperature sensors on the engines, number-of-trips counter, and so on. They assure security and cabin control and confirm to the device that it can work properly.

These built-in sensors can detect excessive travel speeds, calculate the unit’s electrical consumption, and align the elevator to the correct floor height to prevent tripping hazards.

There are several types of sensors.

  • Safety sensors: for the elevators to have the least possible risk of hazards, there are many sensors on safety devices. For example, if it takes too much speed or the cables are not tight enough. These are the most critical sensors: if one of them does not behave in the right way, the elevator locks up. As a result, it will not give any order to move. They are, therefore, the most valuable sensors in case of breakdown.
  • Operating sensors, for example, a user has pressed the button on the 2nd floor and then on the 1st floor. Therefore, the elevator will stop at these two levels.

Sensors are sensible and subject to defaults. For example, cold or dust can impact and deteriorate external sensors. Besides, installing third-party detectors on an elevator can be very expensive to collectivity additional data. The technicians will also need extra knowledge to maintain it properly.

An elevator’s main electronic board — or controller — gathers valid pre-existing data. With the right tools, it is possible to access the machine’s logs. Therefore, we can measure the traffic (such as the number of trips, door openings, and floor usage), the functioning of the components (the engine starts and stops, and the cabin door cycles), the sensor data, and the statuses computed by the controller board.

Which of these two technologies is more reliable?

The controller data appears to be more insightful and valuable than anything you could get from third parties installed outside of the existing hardware. Since most elevators already have tens of sensors installed, finding a way to use them correctly was the best solution.

Additional sensors are often added afterward. However, they do not communicate with the elevator and serve to retrieve the same level of information. For example, the elevator knows how often its doors open and close. But if you do not communicate with it via the IoT, there is no access to this information.

Therefore, a new sensor must be added to count the openings and closings.

What is the main advantage of the IoT version? As soon as we manage to communicate with the card, we gain access to all this information from the original sensors.

With the sensors, the data is not 100% accurate. For instance, we will not see the doors open if a sensor moves and cannot count the door openings.

But that does not mean that this is the case in reality. Most of the external information sensors can provide directly from the controller, with redundancy. The IoT allows access to the same data without installing additional sensors. Sensors correspond to one information each, while the IoT provides access to all the information in a single connection.

How can the rise of new technologies reduce the number of breakdowns?

So, what do these new technologies add to the table?

One of the main objectives of effective maintenance is to reduce the downtime of machines or equipment as much as possible. To this end, using IoT for predictive maintenance is a huge asset for companies in terms of time, cost savings, and efficiency.

The machine produces data that the IoT device will collect. An AI will be able to use it to forecast possible breakdowns and to carry out remote checks. This ensures the elevator’s working condition without having to send a technician on site.

Let’s consider what we could call “rebellious elevators”. They regularly break down, and then they start to work again. This could be due to a component that overheats. The elevator stops working, then cools down when the technician arrives at the location.

The breakdown will be solved by itself, but eventually, it will come back after a few days or weeks because when the technician came, he did not see any sign of weakness. The IoT can solve these recurrent breakdowns by showing what part of the elevator has caused the breakage. Then, the technician can directly know where to look on the elevator and what role he should repair.

Breakdowns are still a widespread issue…

Despite €35 billion being spent on elevator maintenance, people get stuck for a combined 1400 years in the world’s 17 million elevators. Even if an elevator is well maintained or recently replaced, there is always a possibility of a breakdown.

However, most of them are easily identifiable, and a technician can solve them quickly. The leading causes of elevator breakdowns include power failure, door blockage, cabin overload, or electronic board problems. IoT technology makes it easier to identify them.

In some cases, it even makes them remotely solvable. Thanks to data analysis, the slightest anomaly is detectable at its earliest stages. Intermittent breakdowns, undetectable under normal circumstances, are now identifiable. Thus, they can be treated at the source with complete peace of mind. It is also, in the long term, a way of extending the lifespan of an elevator.

Conclusion

… but will it still be the case in the future?

The IoT innovation in the elevator maintenance industry can help provide around-the-clock, precise, and transparent data for technicians and customers. This could help reshape the maintenance delivery towards a more virtuous and transparent model.

This could eventually reduce breakdowns and other failures, increasing technical quality and decreasing costs. We are convinced that one day, thanks to this technology and a change of model in the maintenance sector, we will be able to eradicate breakdowns. Eventually, the future elevator will perhaps remain the same… but it will not break down anymore.

Feature Image Credit: Photo by 嵐 楓; Pexels; Thank you!

Augustin Celier

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