IoT and Smart Lifts
In this Readers’ Platform, your authors contend that IoT-connected lifts offer new opportunities.
by Enrico Scarrone and Marco Cogliati
Developments in the digital sector, increase of connection speed and expansion of data networks have improved telecommunications technologies. Today, exchanging and storing information is much easier and more sustainable for everyone. Several research companies attribute 25 billion connected objects in 2020 to this phenomenon, and by 2023, such objects are expected to number more than 40 billion worldwide, and in all market sectors.
These objects, these “things,” interact with each other and with complex remote systems. In the vertical-mobility sector, the two closest terms directly linked to IoT are “smart building” and “smart city.” Intelligent buildings and cities are composed of different systems and are integrated, connected and controlled via the network, offering new services and improving the existing ones.
In the lift sector, after a past based on electromechanical technology, the first “avant-garde” switchboards were equipped with systems that communicated with the outside world by sending SMS messages to the company or directly to the technician. The information sent was just basic data on the status of the system, but still very important for maintenance companies. The evolution then saw an improvement of this communication, giving way to emails and direct connections from the lifts and the computer of the technical office. The information exchanged was mainly about error signals resulting from malfunctioning, but it was already possible to obtain more in-depth information about the parts connected to the lift (locks, motors, doors, etc.).
Today’s market, thanks to technological progress and increasingly affordable costs, offers control panels with computerized and always-connected systems, which are able, in real time, to send information about the status of the lift to the service center (and to the touchpads/smartphones of technicians), including statistics, errors, telemetry and faults.
In general, in the industry sector, we have been talking about “preventive” and “predictive” maintenance for years, and these concepts, which aim to improve production efficiency, are strongly linked to the collection, storage and interpretation of data from machines. Today, through AI, we are able to directly process data from the lift and its parts; the algorithms “grind” the information and, based on the user’s (maintenance company’s) requirements, return processes and actions to improve the service offered to the end user.
This improvement of maintenance processes of the installations allows the companies to organize their personnel in an optimal way, becoming more effective and efficient in their interventions, reducing action times and limiting downtime; moreover, the management of the supply of spare parts in the warehouse could be improved.
What has been described above will only happen when the system is able to store a large amount of data about all the components that make up the lift, including construction, operation and wear characteristics.
The experience gained in the industrial sector in reading and managing data from machines and improving maintenance processes is, therefore, becoming an important part of the vertical-mobility sector. New devices are proposed today to be installed on lift components to capture and return remotely a series of information such as motor temperatures, car vibrations or current absorption.
IoT-connected lifts also offer new opportunities to the company engaged in the lift market. The interconnection with multiple IoT systems improves business management and allows new links to be created between owners, building managers, operators and end users, including third-party companies. This allows the creation of new services and new business models.
We are generally oriented toward using the tools focalized on our direct needs. IoT changes this paradigm, enabling the exchange of a large amount of data and of the information contained in the data in an interoperable way.
It creates the opportunity to use data in a different way: If desired, the data can be made available to “neighboring” systems so that the lift system can be a part of a more complex whole. To better explain this last concept, think of a large manufacturing company where the fundamental data could be the energy consumption of its elevator, their correct operation or no. For the control room of a railway station or airport or hospital, the fundamental data could be “only” the efficiency of the lift and/or escalator. Other examples could be a smart building with a single coordination for the operation of all internal systems (access, air conditioning, security, lifts, etc.) or a smart city monitoring the energy consumption of buildings, checking the efficiency of transport systems and the flow of people.
From a regulatory point of view, CEN (European Committee for Standardization) had previously approached these issues with standard EN 627:1995 “Specification for data logging and monitoring of lifts, escalators and passenger conveyors,” defining the substantial characteristics of the systems for recording data exchanged from the lift or escalator operating panel to the outside world, specifying and encoding a basic set of signals and events.
In 2017, with the support of the European Federation for Elevator Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EFESME) and Small Business Standards (SBS) experts, in the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), a working table on “Smart Lifts” was opened in the SmartM2M Technical Committee (the ETSI group competent for development of standards in the IoT sector) with the target of understanding the requirements of the lift sector with reference to the IoT world.
In April 2020, ETSI published the Technical Report TR 103.546 “Requirements & Feasibility study for Smart Lifts in IoT” describing the behavior of connected lifts by means of a series of detailed use cases.
The results of the report underlined the need for the remote management of the lifts, including remote-maintenance ones. More relevantly, the technical report recognized how vertical mobility, today, is a very important aspect in different contexts, such as the previously mentioned smart buildings and smart cities where lift installations are integrated with data connections and are essential components in the wider IoT context, becoming what is defined today as “smart lifts.”
The EFESME, SBS and ETSI experts worked from May 2020 for about a year to develop the Technical Specification TS 103.735 “Smart Lifts IoT System,” which was published in March 2021 and is freely available on the ETSI website. This is a comprehensive and detailed standard that specifies the technical aspects to be addressed when developing an IoT system for lifts.
Starting from the “user cases” in the technical report, the experts have designed a reference architecture and a set of configurations that make the lift part of the wider IoT systems, including the data exchanged by the lift, by third-party systems (sensors, devices, external software) and by the platform services.
The architecture is focalized on the data coming from the central unit of the lift (switchboard), but is extended also to the companion systems, such as management and administrative platforms.
Creating an “open” smart lifts architecture makes possible the integration of advanced lifts implementing proprietary technologies (including interworking with external proprietary platforms by means of dedicated gateways).
Even more relevantly, it also foresees the integration of the data provided by older-generation lifts, potentially integrated by dedicated retrofit sensors. The core part of this standard is the section that specifies the signal exchanged by the smart lift installation, consisting of a series of tables that group together according to the type of data, and all the characteristics required by the system to be able to process the data itself: identification and unique data to recognize the lift, geolocation, administrative data, installation characteristics, configuration settings, regulatory references, electrical data, movement signals, faults, alarms, fire alarm, signals from the two-way communication system, statistics and commands to the lift. This is just some of the data mapped in the specification.
The communication aspects, including interworking, API formats, security, communication management and integration with IP and cellular networks, are based on the reliable communication framework offered by the IoT standard developed by oneM2M (These specifications are freely available at onem2m.org and etsi.org).
The documentation produced to date is intended primarily as a tool for companies that want to get in touch with these new digital systems; the use of this standard can make it easier for the world of vertical mobility to approach the creation of integrated IoT systems.
One possible future development is to evolve it to a European norm dedicated to the world of vertical mobility and the IoT.
The SmartM2M Technical Committee is currently evaluating additional requirements to address new technologies under development for smart buildings and smart cities, and the creation of a “twin” technical specification that takes into account escalators and moving walks.
ETSI is responsible for European standardization in the area of telecommunication. Together with the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) (electrical engineering) and the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) (other technical areas), it forms the European (EU and EEA) system for technical standardization.
oneM2M is a global community that develops IoT standards to enable interoperable, secure, and simple-to-deploy services for the IoT ecosystem. oneM2M standards are open, accessible and internationally recognized. Its technical specifications are published by ETSI as European Standards and in China, India, North America, Japan and Korea by the respective regional standard organizations.