Elevator Consulting as Value Engineering

Your author (left) providing value engineering at a product demonstration

Now more than ever, brains, brawn and beauty are important to every aspect of elevator manufacturing.

For years, I have been speaking and writing about “the 3 B’s” (brains, brawn and beauty) as the primary factors on the manufacturing side of the elevator industry. But they also apply to consulting, especially today, as architects design ever-more esoteric elevators, often without the code awareness required to build a compliant and safe elevator for the benefit of the servicing mechanic and the riding public.

Questions facing an architect at the drawing board can be many; for example, “Are all the materials that I’m using nonflammable?” “What about security issues, such as locking out certain floors?” “What kind of glass must I use to avoid cracking under motion-induced stress?” “Is my finished cab sufficiently light to avoid impacting the capacity and the reaction load?” “Will my cab withstand a standard drop test, so my suspended ceiling and lighting don’t come loose and fall on passengers?” “Are the gaskets and pressurization in my shaft compliant with code relating to flame spread and smoke development?” etc.

It is imperative the architect has a deep knowledge base to ensure beauty is not negatively impacting brains and brawn. The consultant can play a vital role in bridging this gap, which has evolved into vital factors in the industry today. This evolution can be traced back over a half century to pre World War II, when allied professionals – such as mechanical, electrical and landscape architects – often provided smaller or individual architects the knowledge they required to develop a comprehensive plan, especially for high-rise buildings. The post-war years saw a mass exodus to the suburbs, with the booming late 1940s-1950s driven by returning veterans searching for housing, shopping malls, strip malls, hospitals, hotels, motels and high-rise apartments. This “boom” ultimately overburdened architectural firms struggling to keep up with the demand and led increasingly to the outreach for mechanical and professional consulting services.

The prewar period had seen this with the construction of now-iconic art deco creations such as the Chrysler and Empire State buildings. This awakened the entire world to new architect opportunities. In the U.S., architects dreamed and designed concepts that challenged the mechanical trades to offer new products and opportunities. By contrast, in Europe, the approach to this “boom” was the reverse (just trying to catch up), with the mechanical trade professionals telling the architects what “they would get” for their budgets and designs. It has taken many decades for the rest of the world to catch up to what the U.S. construction industry pioneered.

Over the next couple of decades, major architects partnered with mechanical and structural engineering firms for comprehensive, intellectual and experienced input. Concurrently, the elevator industry went through an evolution in providing newer, faster, economically designed equipment to keep up with the surging, exponentially growing market.

Post WWII, the comprehensive mechanical engineers could not keep pace with the new technology coming out of the elevator industry. They, in turn, could not tolerate the major elevator manufacturers’ glossy catalogs dictating to them what they should have (as in Europe) and sought external assistance. For example, mechanical engineers Syska Hennessey could not fit an Otis gearless machine into the space the architect provided for the Prudential Building in Boston, so Westinghouse provided the equipment. Jaros, Baum & Bolles pioneered the use of drywall material for 2-hr.-rated shaft walls for Chicago’s Willis (then Sears) Tower by the efforts of its employee Bill Lewis, formerly of Otis and F.S. Payne Co. In my opinion, these two mechanical-engineering firms opened the doors to what now is the elevator-consulting profession. Additionally, Charles W. Lerch, Bill Lewis, George Strakosch and Robert S. Caporale were pioneers who championed the “expert to the experts,” ultimately driving architects to achieve new heights in design.

Were it not for the elevator-industry architects, such masters of modern architecture as Eero Saarinen, Oscar Niemeyer, I.M. Pei and Cesar Pelli would have been frustrated (if not severely limited) by purveyors of mechanical services who told them, “This is what you get for your project!” Without this “revolution,” would we have the architectural wonders we see today in the Middle East and Asia, the likes of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and the multitude of apartment structures in Hong Kong?

Today, in addition to architects, elevator consultants provide direct services to building owners and managers. I am one of those consultants. In 1996, I personally experienced an “awakening” after working through a serious health issue and happily emerging with a “second chance.” After decades of manufacturing elevator entrances and cabs under the Columbia Elevator Products Co. banner, I opted to turn over the reins to the next generation and move into elevator and management consulting to the elevator industry. My primary and major client remains my son and successor, Louis “L.J.” Blaiotta, Jr., president of Columbia, with the balance of my time devoted to building owners/managers and independent elevator contractors.

Having served on the American Society of Mechanical Engineers elevator-safety code committee from 1963 to 1995 and currently serving as an appointee to the Honorary Members Committee, I remain abreast of the cutting-edge issues in our industry as they evolve. With a humble tip of the hat to the original “expert to the experts,” I am endeavoring to provide such service to the industry today. As such, my services include advising architects and specification writers on the merits of code-compliant products and procedures. Put another way, my objective is to polish/refine, accommodate and maximize what is readily available in the elevator industry.

My specialty is value engineering – advising building owners on how to achieve excellence, economy and expediency in the execution of their architect’s dream. As a rule, elevator consultants (former employees of major elevator companies) tend to lend their expertise on the brains (controls) and brawn (driving machine, either traction or hydraulic), rarely wishing to challenge the architect or interior designer with the beauty segment. Elevator consultants’ emphasis is to utilize the newest, fastest, highest-technology and most-expensive control systems.

The beauty item is what the riding public sees, with little knowledge or caring about the other segments. The entrance and cab of an elevator are the primary architectural experience after entering a building’s lobby. Yet, this segment tends to be the least and last item on the agenda for design professionals, and, ultimately, the most costly alternative for the architect and building owner (notwithstanding the loss of rental income because of late move ins due to poor value engineering).

“Value engineering” denotes my concept of achieving the most practical outcome for the least cost in money and time. Over the years, I have been confronted with situations bordering on the ridiculous; for example: Why would a building owner use a traction (machine-room-less or conventional overhead or underslung machine) to travel 15 ft. at 200 fpm when – taking into account acceleration and deceleration speeds – it is nearly impossible to attain 200 fpm across 15 ft.? Why would the owner have to pay 40–50% more, and why must an architect be compromised in his or her entrance, cab and fixture designs by specifying the inappropriate driving-machine options? Why would the owner want to pay higher maintenance fees for the rest of the elevator’s lifespan – usually, 35 years or one million cycles? What building owner wants to pay for a Ferrari that looks like a Toyota?

Enter value engineering. One does not need to purchase or pay needless maintenance on a computer-driven, proprietary controller to travel 15 ft. to the next floor just because that is what you get with a glossy catalog “package.” Those packages, unfortunately, may be less expensive when mass produced with components from Asia. The bottom line is there are many ways and alternative products to achieve an architect’s dream, with an eye on practicality, cost efficiency, time efficiency and safety.

I began this article with “the 3 B’s,” and I leave you with yet three more that capture my philosophy: better bang for the buck, plus “3 E’s”: economy, excellence and expediency!

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