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The educational sessions encouraged discussion and questions from the floor.

Elevator U gathers at UA for its 21st annual conference.

The weather was hot, but elevator maintenance supervisors and technicians from colleges and universities around North America picked up on plenty of cool information as they gathered at the University of Alabama (UA) in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on June 18-21 for the 21st annual Elevator U (EU) Educational Conference. The meeting gave these professionals the opportunity to network with peers, share information about problems and socialize in a Deep South setting replete with live oaks, regional cuisine and the area’s legendary hospitality. Of course, learning is the name of the game on campus, and a dozen educational sessions — many of them eligible for continuing-education credit — were presented over the course of three days. A golf outing at Tuscaloosa’s Ol’ Colony Golf Course, followed by a board of directors meeting, kicked off the conference the day before its official opening.

On the first day, attendees were greeted by Brent Marley, director of elevator maintenance at UA. He then introduced UA Vice President for Financial Affairs Matt Fajack, who gave the official welcome. Fajack presented a brief video of UA’s year in review and noted the campus’ tremendous student-body growth over the past decade: from about 22,000 in the fall of 2007 to more than 38,500 in fall 2017, a 75% increase. With this growth has come a construction boom, which means, of course, more elevators. He said the campus has 290 pieces of vertical-transportation (VT) equipment, of which about 60% is traction elevators, 30% hydraulic elevators, and the rest, various devices such as freight lifts and dumbwaiters.

Maintaining this equipment, he said, is a department that has 15 full-time employees — seven Certified Elevator Technicians (CET) (including an elevator systems coordinator), seven apprentices and one facilities associate — plus three student associates (a staffing situation Marley would address in a later session). Then, with a shout of “Roll Tide!” he turned over the floor to EU Board Chair Terri Flint of the University of Michigan.

EU President Eddie Morris presented board member Don Ross with the John W. Blatt President’s Choice Award in recognition of “outstanding contributions to the goals and continued success of EU.

Flint made note of upcoming activities, including a social event and tours at Bryant-Denny Stadium, home of the Crimson Tide football team. She then noted that this year’s EU Conference saw a surge in first-time attendees, who she asked to stand and be recognized. A substantial number of people rose from their seats to the applause of the scores of industry professionals filling the room.

EU President Eddie Morris of the University of Virginia then took the stage, noting the 12 high-quality educational sessions on the agenda for the next three days and pointing out that many of the presentations were worth continuing-education credit sanctioned by the National Association of Elevator Contractors and NAESA International.

The first session was led by Kevin Brinkman, vice president for codes and safety at the National Elevator Industry, Inc. (NEII®), who spoke on the “Nine Safety Absolutes.” He urged the audience to follow best practices for key areas, as developed by NEII. These include car-top, pit-access, mechanical stored energy, fall protection, false cars and running platforms, hoisting and rigging, jumpers, electrical safe work practices, and lock out/tag out. He said elevator technicians find themselves “in some difficult situations” at times, but the bottom line is, “We want to make sure everyone comes home safely every day.” He urged everyone to have a copy of the Elevator Industry Field Employees’ Safety Handbook (available at www.elevatorbooks.com), calling it a “valuable tool” for the industry.

Brinkman’s presentation led to a lively discussion among attendees, with points made about air monitoring in the pit and the job-security pressure felt by some (especially apprentices and younger mechanics) to not report injuries. The consensus opinion was largely that everyone, be it mechanic or employer, is responsible for safety.

Doug Muennich of RelaDyne was the morning’s next presenter, speaking on “Proper Hydraulic Oil Maintenance.” Muennich warned of a coming “epidemic” for hydraulic elevators and granted that some in the audience “may find it a little unnerving.” He was referring to the lack of compatibility among the various types of hydraulic oils. “The oils you’re putting in today are not the same as the oil you put in yesterday,” he noted, adding that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements have mandated a change to environmentally friendly fluids. Problems result when different types of oils are mixed, or improperly maintained oils are allowed to oxidize, creating varnish and sludge that adversely affect the elevator’s operation. Two major enemies of hydraulic systems are heat and dirt, and Muennich talked about ways to mitigate their effects.

After a break for lunch, Michael J. Ryan of The Peelle Co. kicked off the afternoon session with “Freight Elevators, Renewed Application & Door Safety.” Ryan noted that big changes in global commerce and society in general are fueling a need for freight elevators. Among the factors are online shopping, retail and infrastructure construction and urbanization. Online retailers, such as Amazon, are creating enormous amounts of freight and a network of facilities to handle it. Delivery outfits, such as the U.S. Postal Service, are upgrading their facilities to handle the onslaught of packages. Infrastructure spending encompasses a litany of new structures. And, social trends have people opting to live in dense central cities, which means building taller residential structures and support facilities, such as warehouses. All of these trends are fueling a need for new freight elevators. As for freight-elevator door safety, he discussed the advantages of vertical sliding doors, improvements to car doors/gates and interlocks, and other safety upgrades.

Mark Yako of GAL Manufacturing spoke on “Elevator Safety — Unintended Motion/ Uncontrolled Ascent/Door Lock Monitoring.” Yako said the “dirty word” in all of this is “jumpers,” adding that monitoring the operation of the door is a primary concern. Modern safety protocols, he said, mean elevators must have redundant protection against unintended movement, monitoring of critical circuits and ways to detect open-door movements that result from component failure (drive, motor, brake, controller, etc.). It’s also important to have an inspection mode that can eliminate the need for jumpers.

Walter Barnes of ECI America spoke next, on “Competing Today & Tomorrow in the Proprietary Elevator Industry.” ECI is a supplier of circuit boards for nonproprietary equipment used by independent contractors, but Barnes said the big OEMs are making it difficult for independents to compete. He said the big companies are better protecting their turf and can dictate when equipment is obsolete, points that often take the independent contractor out of the support loop. The nonproprietary industry has its advantages, though; e.g., the equipment can be readily sold to anyone, allowing for a wide distribution channel. He urged independent contractors to be proactive as they promote nonproprietary equipment, which will ensure their future.

In the final session of day one, Dick Gregory of Vertex Corp. discussed “Elevator Door Safety Retainers.” He began his talk with a brief history lesson on deadly accidents linked to hall-door failures (for example, fights that result in someone being thrown against an elevator lobby door that gives way). He continued by discussing door safety retainers and some of the issues involved in their development. Bottom line, Gregory said, is horizontally opening hoistway doors should each have two bottom door guides and a bottom safety retainer, all properly attached.

That evening, a social event and dinner was held in “The Zone” at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Zone is a club area with ping-pong and pool tables, and a number of old-school arcade games. A buffet-style serving line included hamburgers with fixings, coconut-fried shrimp, chicken tenders, salad, macaroni and cheese, and a cherries jubilee station. Some EU participants

brought their own “cornhole” beanbag-toss boards, and a bar setup kept the libations pouring throughout the event. UA mascot “Big Al” greeted the visitors as a special guest of Elevator World, Inc., and Frayed Knot, a popular Tuscaloosa band, entertained with a set of covers of 1970s artists such as the Eagles, Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac, among others. Tours of the stadium, including the home locker room, recruiting facilities and press box, were highlights of the evening.

The Wednesday sessions opened with breakfast, followed by the popular Vendor-Mercials, wherein some expo participants entertained and informed the gathering with a variety of skits and presentations. Taking part were:

  • Smart Elevator Tech/Code Data Plate: “Host” Margaret Lourenco and “contestants” Don Ross, John Rearick and Ed Jaskowak played a game of “Elevator Jeopardy.”
  • Mathis Electronics: Ed Mathis and Dima Kazantsev talked about their elevator-ready boards and lighting, with Mathis serenading the crowd with “Welcome to the Broken Elevator” (to the tune of the Eagles’ “Hotel California”).
  • ECI: The eminent scientist “Walter Barnestein” gave a classroom lecture.
  • SnapCab: Brittany Brothers engaged the crowd in a game of “Over/Under,” with the first correct answer for each question winning a tossed pair of socks.
  • Smartrise Engineering: Another Q&A game, another round of tossed clothing — Jeremy Corey served up T-shirts for correct answers, all to the soothing strains of Dylan Platt’s six-string.
  • Castrol LubeCon: A little more serious presentation, but Teg Edwards, Joe Heastie, Mike Bullock and Lee Jones offered up pertinent information on lubrication.

Following the Vendor-Mercials, Kevin Heling of Wurtec gave a presentation on “Elevator Testing and Rope Wear.” A significant portion of the presentation dealt with the advantages of electronic (alternative) rope testing versus testing with weights, as well as electronic testing of hydraulic elevator systems. Heling’s presentation covered the Henning ELVI 2 testing system, with a discussion of codes and procedures.

The day’s session then broke for lunch, and the Vendor Expo was opened. Participants strolled through a large auditorium just across the corridor from the conference room set up with some 50 elevator-industry vendor booths. The setting was perfect for learning about the latest technology and trends in the VT industry.

The afternoon educational sessions were kicked off by Elevator World, Inc.’s Caleb Givens, who spoke on the “State of the U.S. Elevator Industry.” The thrust of the presentation focused on the question, “What factor will have the greatest impact on the industry?” Choices for consideration were technology, education and urbanization, and, after reviewing some statistics, audience members voted — via smartphone — on which choice they believed would answer the question.

Next up, Mario Jones of KONE Spares discussed “Life Cycle Management & Product Reliability.” Lifecycle includes inception, design, manufacture, service and obsolescence, but Jones said the quality of maintenance and parts helps determine the life of a product — important, he said, because at a certain point, manufacturers will have moved on to something else and will discontinue support for older systems.

Mike Johnson of Gorman Co. Inc. gave the afternoon’s final talk, “Five Data Points for the MCP.” Hydraulic systems are historically reliable, with robust components, he said, but oil is typically ignored until a problem arises. Incorporating oil analysis into the maintenance control plan (MCP) can, however, improve dependability, he said, adding, “Look at it before something goes wrong.” Johnson illustrated his point with a chart showing how improvement in International Organization for Standardization Cleanliness codes directly correlate to increases in equipment dependability and life.

The day’s work done, a big spread, two bars and buzzing vendor booths were the order of the evening. A tantalizing buffet line offered a variety of favorites, including a Southern specialty, shrimp and grits; brisket sliders; barbecued meatballs; crab cakes with remoulade sauce; spinach dip with fresh tortilla chips; and a fajita station. Busy bartenders worked hard to keep thirst at bay, and vendors and EU members pressed the flesh as networking and sales pitches had the auditorium echoing with excitement.

There were two highlights of the second evening. First, EU President Eddie Morris presented board member Don Ross with the John W. Blatt President’s Choice Award in recognition of “outstanding contributions to the goals and continued success of EU.” Second, the generosity of those present in support of the Elevator Escalator Safety Foundation (EESF) was on display and truly inspirational. EESF Program Director Laurie Dueitt said a split-the-pot raffle raised US$535 for the organization, and a silent auction of items donated by the vendors — everything from Apple watches to Amazon Echo devices to Ring Video Doorbells — raised about US$4,400, making it a nearly US$5,000 night for the nonprofit.

The third day started with breakfast and a membership meeting, followed by the final two educational sessions. In the first, Mark Ortman of Ortman Drilling focused on “Drilling Hydraulic Holes of Consequence.” As one can probably imagine, there’s quite a bit more to drilling a hole for a hydraulic system than simply auguring into the ground. “You want to know something about the geology,” Ortman said, elaborating on the types of rock that can be problematic. Keeping the holes straight and plumb — especially in modernizations — can also prove difficult.

For the final educational session, Marley, UA director of elevator maintenance, discussed “Personnel Needs.” Like many universities, UA is in a college town, meaning it’s somewhat isolated from major urban centers. Tuscaloosa is a small city in west Alabama, a mostly rural region not known for multistory buildings. Consequently, the pool of nearby elevator professionals is practically nonexistent. The university’s explosive growth and numerous construction projects in recent years have greatly increased the inventory of VT. To keep up with the demands on his department, Marley and his team have devised a program of hiring apprentices for on-the-job and classroom training, which he explained to the gathering.

The event ended with the “Best Practices Cracker Barrel — Team Approach Panel Discussion,” a freewheeling session that gave the gathered campus VT professionals a chance to pick each other’s brains for ideas on how to deal with problems unique to the industry and the university setting.

Next year’s EU Conference will be in Charlotte, North Carolina, and hosted by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Top-Notch Venues

All sessions and the Vendor Expo for the 21st Annual Elevator U (EU) Educational Conference were held at the University of Alabama’s (UA) Bryant Conference Center (BCC), a stately facility named for the university’s legendary football coach, Paul W. “Bear” Bryant. The on-campus center, part of UA’s College of Continuing Studies, is a 30-year-old (but thoroughly updated) facility that can host up to 12 events simultaneously and is very popular for business meetings and corporate retreats or social events such as weddings. Pristine landscaping, modern technology and a professional staff that provided wonderful Southern-style meals and other comforts made the BCC an ideal locale for EU business and socializing.
Hotel Indigo, in downtown Tuscaloosa, sits about 2-1/2 miles from the BCC, but no one seemed to mind the brief drive (or shuttle ride) for the daily sessions. The modern, comfortable lodging sits on a picturesque site overlooking the Black Warrior River and is staffed by an attentive team. Management of the hotel’s popular rooftop bar graciously held the lounge open past its normal closing hours to accommodate late-night socializing by EU participants.
Bryant-Denny stadium, named for Bryant and UA President George H. Denny, who oversaw its original construction and opening in 1929, is home to the Alabama Crimson Tide, UA’s 17-time (and current) college football national champions. With a seating capacity of nearly 102,000, it is the seventh-largest stadium in the U.S. and the eighth-largest in the world. The stadium club, “The Zone,” played host to the EU conference’s first evening social event and dinner.

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