By Sarah Blackman

Going through life without facilities management and maintenance can prove to be very difficult. It goes without saying that broken air conditioning in the office or at home causes extreme discomfort, especially with the climate in the Middle East.

Passengers were left stranded between floors this year after their lift car broke down inside the Burj Khalifa. Visitors were trapped for 45 minutes.
Passengers were left stranded between floors this year after their lift car broke down inside the Burj Khalifa. Visitors were trapped for 45 minutes.

And, filthy windows both destroy our scenic views of the Gulf and discourage investors from placing a bid on a property.

But, the implications of neglecting a building’s plant and equipment can also be deadly, particularly when it comes to elevators. And, due to the huge amount of people using them, the need for individual repairs and services is on the increase.

Over the years, lifts have malfunctioned and, as a result, a number of accidents and fatalities have occurred.

In November 2008, 11 labourers needed hospital treatment when an elevator they were testing plunged 45 floors to the ground on a construction site in Bahrain.

More recently, passengers were left stranded between floors after their lift car broke down inside the Burj Khalifa. And, in March this year, British former F1 driver Stirling Moss broke his ankles after falling down an elevator shaft in London.

So why do these incidents arise and how can they be prevented from happening again?

“Elevators should not be seen as a box moving up and down, behind them is complex technology, which needs to be properly monitored and maintained.Regular preventive and proactive maintenance can avert break downs to a large extent, even though they cannot be eliminated totally,” says Joseph Anil Paul, product line manager for Schindler’s elevator department.

“It is the responsibility of the owners to ensure that their equipment is in the safe hands of a professional and capable maintenance provider.”

And, Rajkumar Viswanathan, service manager for Al Futtaim Engineering’s elevator and escalator division says that the cause of breakdowns should be separated into those that are controllable and those that are not.

“Controllable breakdowns have a technical cause, which might come down to the quality of production, installation or maintenance. Those that are uncontrollable, from an elevator maintenance perspective, are caused by misuse, vandalism, power supply problems etc,” he reports.

“The rate of breakdowns that arise is based on quality of the product, installation and maintenance, usage, power supply etc.”

In general, elevators need to be maintained on a monthly basis, but frequency of services and repairs can depend on the life cycle of components.

Elevator maintenance includes a thorough inspection, which is based on the manufacturers’ recommendations, and other necessary adjustments are also carried out, according to Viswanathan.

“Services include the cleaning of car tops, door mechanism, and machine rooms to keep dust and grime from getting into the equipment. The technicians should also inspect the machine room and ensure that the drives are working properly,” he explains.

Checkups can also include different tests of the elevator’s operation like levelling, door operation, ride quality, operation of buttons, signal fixtures, door sensors, interphone, alarm, emergency landing device, etc.

In order to get a first hand account on the maintenance routine, Facilities Management Middle East spoke to ETA-Melco technician Jaffar Sadiq during a lift inspection in Dubai.

“Lifts need to be inspected once a month. We are checking the ropes, carrying out an oil and grease service and checking the buttons etc. We are giving the lifts a full service,” he reports.

But, there are many service programmes that a facilities manager can choose from, as ThyssenKrupp vice president of product planning Rory Smith explains.

“All service programmes fall in between two extremes, which are commonly known as Full Maintenance (FM) and Oil and Grease (O&G). FM is essentially an extended warranty where all parts and labour, including trouble calls, are covered. O&G contracts only cover preventive maintenance and consumables, such as oil, grease, rags, and solvents. All parts and labour including trouble calls are provided at extra cost,” he reports.

“Between the extremes of FM and O&G are many variations with many names that can be misleading. Some contracts include minor parts and minor trouble calls. Others cover all but the most expensive parts such as ropes, motors, and variable speed drives.”

There are advantages and disadvantages with each contract. The biggest benefit of opting for a FM service programme is that the cost of maintenance is only known by the facility manager because the lift company only makes money if they do a good job. However, a full maintenance service has a high initial cost.

With Oil and Grease contracts, the initial cost is lower – the basic monthly cost of an O&G contract is about 50% of the cost of a full maintenance contract.

“The total cost of a service, in the long run, should be the same for both Oil and Grease of FM agreements. The big difference is that major repairs, such as rope and motar replacements, are costly and will, most likely, be unaccounted for,” adds Smith.

There are also different service providers – the manufacturer, which undertakes maintenance of its own equipment; the independent third party service provider – a small company that offers service on many brands of lifts; and a multinational third party service provider – a manufacturer which offers services on competitor’s lifts.

So, which type of contract and service provider should a facility manager choose when it comes to elevator maintenance?

“As an FM provider, the service programme we opt for has to be carried out according to the international standard check list, which tests the running condition, door operation, cabin equipment, interphone, hall equipment, shaft equipment and optional equipment,” says Portland Middle East Facilities Management general manager Abdelaziz Rihani.

“Human lives are at risk and if things go wrong the FM provider is the only responsible party.” Portland Middle East chooses the original manufacturer to service the lifts inside the projects it manages.

“It saves time for the FM provider in terms of follow ups, as it’s their product and no one could know the product better than the manufacturer or the main supplier,” explains Rihani.

But, isn’t opting for the manufacturer to carry out maintenance works more expensive than an independent third party provider?

“There are three important elements in a project, which a FM provider should not compromise on – the lifts, the fire system and the AC system. If these things are not taken care of then serious issues can occur. Therefore, we would prefer to pay for quality services. Yes, it’s quite costly, but it’s a part of the whole FM cycle.”

And, Zabeel Properties director of facilities management explains his company’s policy: “Normally, with our contracts, there is a provision for the first year of maintenance, in which can the service support should be all-encompassing.

After which we would opt for the manufacturer or registered agent of the lift to undertake the required maintenance. We would issue a basic maintenance package and look for competitive costing on the required repairs.”

Paul, however, believes that change is occurring and that more suppliers and manufacturers are carrying out services on equipment made by their competitors, but there are risks involved.

“This requires a certain level of competency so that equipment is maintained adequately. A lack of knowledge will lead to safety risks and break downs.”

So maintenance of lifts can prevent accidents and fatalities from happening – that is the most important thing. But, what is the length of an elevator’s life cycle and how often do they need replacing?

“Elevators are designed and manufactured to serve a minimum period of 25-30 years, subject to equipment being maintained by the manufacturer’s trained personnel and hours of operation,” responds Viswanathan.

“The equipment should also be upgraded in order to extend its life.”

But, Rihani feels that there is no straight forward answer to this question; it all depends on influencing factors, such as the building’s life cycle, changes in international codes and standards and technological life.

“Low budget elevators installed 10 years ago may not be designed to have a prolonged life cycle,” he adds.

“However, high quality installation may sustain refurbishment even after 25 years to provide a further 10 years of safe and reliable use, if the elevator is well maintained.”