On the edge of tomorrow05 December 2018

Sensors mounted in and around lift components provide data that can give early warning of potential problems. This speeds up the process of diagnosis and repair, helping to improve reliability and minimise downtime

Lifts – or elevators – and escalators are getting smart. The advent of low-cost sensors, computer processing power and IT connectivity services are forming the backbone of a widespread digital transformation that is sweeping through every industry and business sector. For asset owners and users it heralds a new era of reliability.

As the world’s most used form of transport, lifts are subject to safety standards that require stringent and regular maintenance programmes (see box). Historically, lifts and other systems have been operated under a regulated scheduled maintenance programme. Parts were inspected, serviced or replaced periodically, irrespective of condition.

Recognising the inherent inefficiencies of such an approach, lift operators now typically take into consideration conditional variables like duty cycles and an increasing volume of data on the health of the asset. This allows a more predictive maintenance regime, where components are serviced or replaced only as required.

Major OEMs like Thyssenkrupp, Schindler and Kone have already announced initiatives to exploit these capabilities, and are increasingly applying technologies like the cloud, AI and machine learning to automate the analysis and decision-making in a predictive way.

Through a programme of ‘digitizing’ assets and collecting the data needed to help make better maintenance decisions, OEMs are gaining unheralded insights into their products and yielding significant gains in productivity and quality.

A vast installed base
There are many millions of lifts and escalators in service around the world currently; many are decades old. As a result, most of the major OEMs offer servicing programmes on both their own and other manufacturers’ equipment.

The sheer scale of the industry means reliability issues lead to staggering socio-economic impacts. Hyun-Shin Cho, head of digital transformation at Thyssenkrupp Elevator, says: “We’re a very conservative industry; in the past 160 years basically nothing has changed. On average, across the industry, elevators shut down almost four times a year. We have about 12,000,000 elevators in place, so this easily accumulates to 190,000,000 hours where the asset is not available.”

However, recognising an opportunity, several years ago OEMs began exploring digitization across the fleet. In 2017, Schindler presented its digital platform. Designed to enable more flexible management of elevators and escalators, and to serve as a future product and services development platform, Schindler partnered with GE Digital and Huawei.

Using technologies such as the Internet of Things, edge computing and advanced analytics, tailored apps enable building owners and facility managers to check the real-time status of their equipment.

Christian Schulz, group head of operations at Schindler, explains: “We are equipping our elevators with sensors and Schindler Ahead Cube, a smart communication hub with edge computing, which allows us to transfer data and information into the cloud. There, our back-end systems using big data analytics and AI technology to convert that into insights. This technology trend is a general one in the service industry. Schindler is equipping all of our new elevators with this technology. We also now have a solution, a modular sensor kit, that can be fitted to older lifts of any make or brand.”

It is not alone. A partnership between Thyssenkrupp and Microsoft to retrofit digitization equipment and sensors was launched in 2015. To date, 120,000 elevators in four countries are already connected to their Microsoft Azure cloud-enabled platform.

Cho says: “We set up this partnership and started developing some of the technologies that are now deployed. They gather all the data from our elevator, transmit that data to the cloud through our IPN network, and then store and analyze this data, before giving it back so that they can actually take action.”

Elevators have been retrofitted with a custom-designed data acquisition device. This has a built-in machine-to-machine modem provided through a strategic partnership with Vodafone. “We built up a private IPN network on this device, so no matter where you take it in the world, you turn it on and it will connect to the cloud.”

Cho adds: “The elevators that are leaving our factories will be equipped with this new system, but it’s not enough. If we want to give customers a value in the short-term we need to retrofit. We are pursuing both strategies.”

About 28,000 additional elevators are set to be connected to its cloud-based solution, called Max, as Brazil recently announced plans to join the network.

Kone’s 24/7 Connected Services offering, launched in 2017, is based on an IBM Watson platform. It is said to monitor over 200 lift parameters, including lighting, vibration, and speed, among others.

Building reliability
New data streams are allowing OEMs to know when and where units have failed, allowing earlier intervention and diagnostics. But the latest generation of analytical approaches is offering far more.

Schulz explains: “It’s much more intelligent. For example, it not only allows us to schedule maintenance visits differently, it also guides the service technician on-site. Also, it enables us to identify in advance any problems that are likely to occur on a particular elevator model in the future. That way, we can prepare component availability and even equip the service technicians ahead of time. There are a lot of advantages.”

Cho echoes: “For over three years we have been collecting this data, which we are processing in real time. We not only identify if an elevator shuts down, [but also] analyse the data and create concrete recommendations for the technician. In parallel we do the predictive maintenance: analyzing performance or scoring the systems daily to flag the elevators that will have a failure in the imminent future and being very specific about it. As the connected base of units is growing, the information is getting more reliable.”

For OEMs, there is clearly a benefit associated with sensor packages, connectivity and paying for bandwidth, cloud storage and subsequent analysis. There are gains for users too.

“Reliability,” Schulz says in a word: “The cost-benefit varies from building to building. Obviously, there’s a cash value associated with reliability if you’re the building operator or a company; yet there are situations where reliability is non-negotiable.” Hospitals is one example.

Access to data by expert technicians in remote centres is another key benefit emerging from the new smart lift fleet. Adds Schulz: “The data can also flow to our R&D department. There, we analyse the data to understand where errors stem from and that, in turn, helps shape the design of new elevators.”

Maximising big data benefits
Automation is likely to have a growing role in assisting servicing, contends Cho: “You have to automate this process; this is where AI machine learning comes in. Our models and algorithms look at the data, they will then select the elevators that will require specific attention.”

However, as these machines are heavily regulated, some jurisdictions do not allow remote diagnostics and instead require physical on-site inspections. This is changing, but remains a challenge.

It is clear that the digital transformation will impact on every aspect of the product, design, maintenance, and troubleshooting for lift manufacturers, users and service engineers, offering more transparency and increasing the quality and safety of equipment. “This is the foundation for everything to come,” concludes Cho.

BOX OUT: Regulations
Lifts installed in the last year or two are subject to two new groups of regulations:

First, Stannah Lifts reports that new European standards EN81-20 and EN81-50 apply to the construction and testing, respectively, of lifts installed from September 2017: https://is.gd/utunoy

Second, the UK’s Lift Regulations 2016, in force since December 2016, implements European Directive 2014/33/EU. It makes safety requirements of installers, manufacturers, representatives, importers and distributors. Lifts installed before that time are still governed by Lift Regulations 1997, according to the document: https://is.gd/efevep

Finally, owners of both new and old lifts are required to do periodic inspection and thorough examinations as part of the LOLER and PUWER regulations. HSE guide: https://is.gd/oxolus

David Appleyard

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