Sunday, October 23, 2016

Symptoms of Common Hydraulic Elevator Problems and Their Root Causes

Proactive maintenance emphasizes the routine detection and correction of root cause conditions that would otherwise lead to equipment failure. In the case of hydraulic systems, there are three easily detectable symptoms that give early warning of root cause conditions. These symptoms are abnormal noise, high fluid temperature and slow operation.

Abnormal Noise 
Abnormal noise in hydraulic systems is often caused by aeration or cavitation. Aeration occurs when air contaminates the hydraulic fluid. Air in the hydraulic fluid makes an alarming banging or knocking noise when it compresses and decompresses, as it circulates through the system. Other symptoms include foaming of the fluid and erratic actuator movement. Aeration accelerates degradation of the fluid and causes damage to system components through loss of lubrication, overheating and burning of seals.

Air usually enters the hydraulic system through the pump’s inlet. For this reason, it is important to make sure pump intake lines are in good condition and all clamps and fittings are tight. Flexible intake lines can become porous with age; therefore, replace old or suspect intake lines. If the fluid level in the reservoir is low, a vortex can develop, allowing air to enter the pump intake. Check the fluid level in the reservoir, and if low, fill to the correct level. In some systems, air can enter the pump through its shaft seal. Check the condition of the pump shaft seal and if it is leaking, replace it.

Cavitation occurs when the volume of fluid demanded by any part of a hydraulic circuit exceeds the volume of fluid being supplied. This causes the absolute pressure in that part of the circuit to fall below the vapor pressure of the hydraulic fluid. This results in the formation of vapor cavities within the fluid, which implode when compressed, causing a characteristic knocking noise.

The consequences of cavitation in a hydraulic system can be serious. Cavitation causes metal erosion, which damages hydraulic components and contaminates the fluid. In extreme cases, cavitation can cause mechanical failure of system components.

While cavitation can occur just about anywhere within a hydraulic circuit, it commonly occurs at the pump. A clogged inlet strainer or restricted intake line will cause the fluid in the intake line to vaporize. If the pump has an inlet strainer or filter, it is important for it not to become clogged. If a gate-type isolation valve is fitted to the intake line, it must be fully open. This type of isolation device is prone to vibrating closed. The intake line between the reservoir and pump should not be restricted. Flexible intake lines are prone to collapsing with age; therefore, replace old or suspect intake lines.

High Fluid Temperature 
Fluid temperatures above 180°F (82°C) can damage seals and accelerate degradation of the fluid. This means that the operation of any hydraulic system at temperatures above 180°F is detrimental and should be avoided. Fluid temperature is too high when viscosity falls below the optimum value for the system’s components. The temperature at which this occurs is dependent on the viscosity grade of the fluid in the system and can be well below 180°F.

High fluid temperature can be caused by anything that either reduces the system’s capacity to dissipate heat or increases its heat load. Hydraulic systems dissipate heat through the reservoir. Therefore, the reservoir fluid level should be monitored and maintained at the correct level. Check that there are no obstructions to airflow around the reservoir, such as a build up of dirt or debris.

It is important to inspect the heat exchanger and ensure that the core is not blocked. The ability of the heat exchanger to dissipate heat is dependent on the flow rate of both the hydraulic fluid and the cooling air or water circulating through the exchanger. Therefore, check the performance of all cooling circuit components and replace as necessary.
When fluid moves from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure without performing useful work (pressure drop), heat is generated. This means that any component that has abnormal internal leakage will increase the heat load on the system. This could be anything from a cylinder that is leaking high-pressure fluid past its piston seal, to an incorrectly adjusted relief valve. Identify and change-out any heat-generating components.
Air generates heat when compressed. This means that aeration increases the heat load on the hydraulic system. As already explained, cavitation is the formation of vapor cavities within the fluid. These cavities generate heat when compressed. Like aeration, cavitation increases heat load. Therefore, inspect the system for possible causes of aeration and cavitation.

In addition to damaging seals and reducing the service life of the hydraulic fluid, high fluid temperature can cause damage to system components through inadequate lubrication as a result of excessive thinning of the oil film (low viscosity). To prevent damage caused by high fluid temperature, a fluid temperature alarm should be installed in the system and all high temperature indications investigated and rectified immediately.

Slow Operation 
A reduction in machine performance is often the first indication that there is something wrong with a hydraulic system. This usually manifests itself in longer cycle times or slow operation. It is important to remember that in a hydraulic system, flow determines actuator speed and response. Therefore, a loss of speed indicates a loss of flow.
Flow can escape from a hydraulic circuit through external or internal leakage. External leakage such as a burst hose is usually obvious and therefore easy to find. Internal leakage can occur in the pump, valves or actuators, and unless you are gifted with X-ray vision, is more difficult to isolate.

As previously noted, where there is internal leakage there is a pressure drop, and where there is a pressure drop heat is generated. This makes an infrared thermometer a useful tool for identifying components with abnormal internal leakage. However, temperature measurement is not always conclusive in isolating internal leakage and in these cases the use of a hydraulic flow-tester will be required.

The influence of internal leakage on heat load means that slow operation and high fluid temperature often appear together. This can be a vicious circle. When fluid temperature increases, viscosity decreases. When viscosity decreases, internal leakage increases. When internal leakage increases, heat load increases, resulting in a further increase in fluid temperature and so the cycle continues.

Proactively monitoring noise, fluid temperature and cycle times is an effective way to detect conditions that can lead to costly component failures and unscheduled downtime of hydraulic equipment. In most cases, informed observation is all that is required.

Credit -

If you have any questions or would like information from Colley Elevator you can go to, email or call 630-766-7230.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Chicago elevator modernization - legacy of decisions

In the Chicago area we have elevator equipment that stays in buildings a long time.  When a building chooses to do a elevator modernization some buildings make the decision solely on price, some make it on brand name, some look at body of work, some look at relationships.  Whatever way you make your decision on who to use for a modernization remember this elevator is depended on and can go great or not so great.  This is blog is for the lasting effects of the choice of elevator contractor to install or modernize your equipment and what happens afterwards.

Negative legacy - Over the last few months we have seen a glut of buildings that have elevator equipment that was replaced in the last 10-15 years but was installed so poorly it needs to be addressed again.  For many of these buildings they have a significant pill to swallow and a large scope of work to do which will be expensive.

[Elevator #1 - This modernization was most likely done quickly and at a appealing price]

[This is elevator #2 at the same building]

Elevator maintenance – The buildings that inherit a bad modernization from the general contractor can hire a different company to work with them to address the outstanding issues.  We ran into a building that did this but I believe they should have chosen a different company.  In either case the elevator maintenance company should be maintaining the equipment so it stays a good runner or make the replacement/maintenance recommendations to make it as good as it can be.

[This should be addressed]

[This is a big item that will cost the building owner a few dollars to replace, the building didn't know about this]

What do I do if my elevator is a mess? – Call reliable elevator contractors and have them put together a list of what you should do.  In most cases you can get some more time out of the elevators but you may have to invest in pre maintenance to resolve some of the lingering issues.  This takes time on the building owners side as well as the contractors side, choose someone you trust and get a time line for what needs to be done.  If you are so far down the rabbit hole with existing issues you may need to find one elevator company you trust to get to the bottom of all your issues.  This will cost money.  Interview the elevator company, get references, make sure you are comfortable with them complete the work you need to do.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, if you have significant elevator issues they will not be resolved in a day.  If the elevator install was so bad it is causing you too many headaches[this is all relative to the building’s tolerance for a broken elevator], you may have to replace the elevator system again.

Positive legacy – Legacies are not all bad; we do a church in Western Springs, IL where we the elevator had a cylinder leak and they had always wanted to extend the elevator up another floor.  They had a price from a nonunion company which was lower, we worked with them on the price coming down to where we could and we completed the project.  New cylinder, new controller, fixtures, door operator & door frame, etc. Twice a year this building has a rummage sale and the elevator is used almost 18 hours a day for 2 weeks.  Since our installation in 2008 we have had less than 14 events that brought us to the building besides maintenance 6 are CAT 1 testing, 1 battery replacement, 3 phone issues[phone line dead], 1 fire service light replacement, one blown fuse[power issue], and one shutdown which we could not recreate, and the last was for State of Illinois mandate work.  I only know about the rummage sale use of this elevator because my parents started attending this church.  I am proud we have such a good runner and am reminded every 6 months when I drop off donations for the rummage sale.

If you have any questions or would like information from Colley Elevator you can go to, email or call 630-766-7230.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Chicago Elevator Maintenance – Elevator World Oct 16’ Article

Elevator World was looking for articles on elevator maintenance for their Oct 16’ issue and I said yes, I’d love to help.  This is the article that is featured in the new Elevator World.  This is a complimentary article to the blog we do every week.

This is also a tie in to the Maintenance Control Plan[MCP] which we will be seeing become more of a hot topic in the next 6 to 18 months around the country and especially in Illinois & Chicago.

Take away – If contractors, mechanics & building owners all work together we can have safe and reliable elevators.  The picture below is an elevator we are modernizing for a building owner who has a portfolio of equipment that needs to be replaced and the only reason they are modernizing the system is because it won’t run anymore.  Now the building is depending on an elevator that is the same age, same vintage and was previously turned off before the front elevator went down because the rear elevator was “unreliable”, but now the rear elevator is the work horse.  Contractors need to continue to encourage building owners to get rid of the elevator equipment that is unreliable.  

[A mechanics dream to see on a Saturday morning, this controller should have been replaced 10 years ago]

If you have any questions or would like information from Colley Elevator you can go to, email or call 630-766-7230.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

When is it time to modernize elevator equipment?

As an elevator contractor that has been in business for 108 years we have a variety of elevators we regularly maintain from brand new to 80 years old.  We deal with a variety of customers from office buildings, apartment buildings, condos, municipalities, etc.

Over the last several weeks I have been sending out many modernization proposals for elevator systems.  We tend to only encourage buildings that are in need of modernization to replace their equipment.  “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.  But we will let a building know that they need to budget for the equipment replacement and when they start to see signs it may be time to begin the process of modernization.

When it is it time to modernize? – If elevator equipment is over 20 years old you should be talking to your elevator maintenance provider to see what life is left on the equipment.   If you have a sleepy elevator in a church or a 3 story condominium, the elevator could run 40+ years.  If you have a building that is very high traffic and only installed one elevator when the building should have had two, well you may need to prepare sooner than later.  Ask questions, get informed.  An elevator contractor can typically repair the elevator system but the question is how often do you want to see your elevator be out of service?  As a contractor we should always have the best intention in repairing the elevator to the best of our ability.  Always remember, while rare, there is a chance the elevator system will not operate again if there is a safety issue or no parts available. 

Questions to ask yourself about your elevator – How old is the elevator?  What environment is it in?  How much use does the building get?  How dependent is the building on the elevator? Are parts still available for the elevator?  Is there technical support still available for the elevator?

Many times as a contractor working on an older elevator we are going to the bone yard to fine parts to repair the elevator system.  While it will get the elevator back up and running you need to know that these are used parts.  They are used parts from an elevator that most likely got replaced because or reliability issues.

Here are a few examples of some scenarios

Building #1 – Elevator is from the mid to late 1960’s, it is a Madison control system, the elevator was shut off due to being unreliable and has been for many years.  It is a high traffic building that relies heavily on the elevator system.  This elevator should have been replaced 15-20 years ago.  Now they have no choice but to modernize.

[I got a headache when I saw this one]

Building #2 – Elevator was installed in the early 1970’s, turned the building to office condos, sold the office condos but did not touch the elevator system. New owners bear the burden of the elevator system. Elevator runs well, some issues, but an inspector found a newly installed sprinkler system in.  This requires fireman’s recall and flashing hat.  The building is not high traffic and the elevator runs well. Building had recommendations to replace everything; they choose someone to install an auxiliary fire panel to save the building money.  While not in my opinion the correct decision the building is going to save a few dollars short term and will eventually have to replace the system in the next 5-10 years, maybe sooner.  This is one that is on the bubble on the decision making process and I didn’t think there where many people who would try and install a auxiliary panel on a 40 year old elevator but an Intergalactic company said they would give it a shot.

[Auxiliary fire panel to be installed in lieu of modernization]

Building #3 – Elevator was installed in the mid 70’s in a medium traffic building that is highly reliant on the elevator.  Relay bases are losing elasticity and relays are falling out, equipment is getting worn out.  Building received modernization information and moved forward.

What is the difference between all the buildings?   The main difference is the interest in the building; 1 was privately owned, 1 was jointly owned and 1 was a condominium.  All had different obstacles, all had different outcomes.   The most important thing you as a building owner can do is to be prepared with information and costs.  No building owner regardless if nursing home or condominium wants to spend money without merit.  It is the job of the elevator contractor to educate the building owner about their elevator systems and when they need to complete work.  Once it hits the desk of the building owner it is out of the contractors hands but at least you know you informed your customer.

I had a meeting in 2004 at a building whose elevators where installed in 1964.  The elevators where in bad condition in 2004 but the condo choose to wait.  The elevators are still running, not well, but they are still going.  If this is acceptable to the building owners there isn’t much we as a contractor can do, you can take their maintenance and shutdown money or not renew their contracts.  We still remind the building that they need to replace their equipment and when there is a streak of unreliability we can say “hey, you still need to replace your equipment”.  The building understands they have old equipment and have accepted the associated shut downs.

When it is it time to modernize? – Two take aways; when you feel the life expectancy of the elevator system is coming to an end and when you have funding.  Replace the equipment before you get tired of the elevator being out of service on Saturday at 8am and you have to pay overtime or wait until the following Monday for service. Be prepared, proactive is better than reactive.  Work with the elevator contractor on a time line and cost of the work. If you can't afford the modernization now, you can start planning and budgeting. 

If you have any questions or would like information from Colley Elevator you can go to, email or call 630-766-7230.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

NAEC – Montreal United Convention

I had the opportunity to attend the 2016 NAEC United Convention.  It was a great event.  Every four years there is a United Convention which brings together the US and Canadian trades groups, NAEC and CECA.  This year the IAEC[consultants] where a partner in the convention.  This is a good way for contractors, suppliers and consultants to get together and share experiences, ideas, learn and see what is new on the market. 

Monday – We had a presentation on new technology form 8 different suppliers.  The two big items I took away was CEDES selling a new 3D scan device which will come out in 3 different phases which if it is what they say it is will be the only 3D scan that works well.  The other item was a non-heat producing push button lamp[led] replacement for some of the popular fixtures, no bleed through, no heat which are guaranteed for life from Mathis Electronics.

Tuesday – We had a key note address by Brian Holloway, AFC winning 85’ Patriots.  He was great and motivating and he did touch on the 85’ Bears.  We had our general business session and then our contractor session.  The hot topic in the contractor session was the MCP.  MEI gave a modernization start to finish presentation for efficiencies and best practices and Dick Gregory gave a talk about A17.1 which touched on OEO and MCP.

Wednesday – The show started which had a ton of suppliers showing their elevator equipment and new products.  There was also education sessions going on all day.  I attended Maxtons electronic valve presentation and another MCP informational session with John Koshak.  There was a opportunity for NAEC’s under 40 people, called NexGen, to get together for lunch.  During the evening there was a great dinner with Cirque performers.

Thursday – Final day of the trade show.  I got to attend a group that gets together called Bridge Builders which included NAEC, CECA, Elevator U, Elevator World, EESF, NAESA, ASME, NEII and groups from China, Japan & Argentina. 

It was a busy week going around the show from here to there but as much as I am ready to leave at the end of it, I get excited about elevators and getting back to work with the knowledge I got from the convention.  I saw countless good friends and business relationships and met more this trip.  The connections you can make in a reception, on the show floor, at an education session, at breakfast, at dinner, at a after party are invaluable.

Next year’s NAEC convention is in Orlando Florida. 

If you have any questions or would like information from Colley Elevator you can go to, email or call 630-766-7230.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Private Residential Elevators[PRE] in semipublic facilities – State of Illinois open territories

The latest State of Illinois Fire Marshall Elevator Safety meeting brought on some interesting potentials for facilities like churches, VFW, American Legions, etc that installed private residential elevators in them.

The only building that should have a private residential elevator is a private residence[one family].  Over the years instead of installing a typical commercial elevators churches, VFW’s and other similar buildings that have low traffic installed the PRE. This was never “street legal” but accepted for many years by many inspectors.

A contractor asked for clarification about some recent inspections not passing the lifts due to noncompliance.  The State indicated these lifts should not be passed as they are not included in the State of Illinois public act and should have never been issued conveyance #’s.  Buildings may have filled out the application many years ago and they were miss classified and went under the radar for years.

ASME A18.1 Safety Standard [§410.1]
ASME A18.1 Safety Standard for Platform Lifts and Stairway ChairliftsPlatform lifts must meet the ASME A18.1 Safety Standard for Platform Lifts and Stairway Chairlifts. The ASME A18.1 covers the design, construction, installation, operation, inspection, testing, maintenance and repair of lifts that are intended for transportation of persons with disabilities.    However, use of a later edition of the ASME A18.1 may provide equivalent or greater accessibility.  Questions about the ASME A18.1 code should be directed to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (
While a final decision was not made it was indicated that any PRE must comply with A18.1.  This creates a significant issue for many buildings in open territories that work with the State for their certificates.  If a lift doesn’t have a current certificate they should not be maintained or worked on unless they get an extension.

Municipalities with agreements with the State - Towns with agreements with an elevator inspector will have more flexibility and may not need to comply with A18.1.  These would be towns like Glenview, Skokie, Des Plaines, Homewood, etc.

Take away – While not 100% answer was given buildings that are in “open territories” should talk to their lift maintenance provider about how to comply with A18.1. 

If you have any questions or would like information from Colley Elevator you can go to, email or call 630-766-7230.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sprinklers in elevator areas

Holy sprinklers Batman!  I have been to 2 buildings this week and heard of a 3rd building that is having issues with the addition of sprinklers to buildings that have caused significant code consequences to existing elevators.  To Illinois this is something that is new to most buildings, within the last 2-3 years.  Buildings have been installing sprinklers due to mandates, build outs, etc and have not addressed what their elevators need to do i.e. Fireman’s recall.

A building introduces a sprinkler to a 50 year old building, the building installs a heat detector next to the sprinkler heads, these heads can be in the elevator hoistway or machine room.  Some buildings even add a smoke detector next to the heat detector.  When you have heat detectors you need to have a shunt trip.

Building #1
[Elevator pit - Sprinkler and heat in the top right corner - needs a smoke detector - when you have a heat, you need a smoke]

Building #2
[Sprinkler sited - no shunt trip, when the sprinkler goes off there will be live electrical and electrify the elevator machine room]

So what is the big deal?  For 2 of the 3 elevators with new sprinklers, if the elevator is moving and people are in the elevator and the heat detector goes off, the shunt trip is triggered and the elevator loses power.  If someone is in the elevator, they will be trapped, and since the heat went off there is most likely a fire and the person in the elevator most likely will be exposed to tremendous heat, fire or danger.  The 3rd elevator I was made aware of does have fire recall but no flashing hat, this 3rd elevator has an even smaller potential for safety/danger but it is still lurking out there in a certain scenario.  Fireman goes in the elevator with out knowing that there is a fire in the pit or machine room[because there is no flashing hat], heat trips shunt, fireman is trapped.

What is the likelihood of this occurring to my building?  The likelihood of there ever being a situation is very small. However, any risk that can be avoided, should be avoided, there is not a price you can put on someone’s life.

I just installed sprinklers, heats and shunts, what do I do now?   You have to call your elevator contractor and have them identify if your elevator control system is capable of working with a fireman’s recall system and have a flashing hat.  Remember fire recall is different than having flashing hat. 

Logic behind this

Installation of sprinklers = installation of heat detector next to sprinkler head
Installation of heat detector = installation of smoke detectors
Installation of heat detector = installation of shunt trip
Installation of smoke detectors = Fireman’s recall is required on elevator controller w/flashing hat

How did we miss this?  The Bill Buckner like scenario is very common.  You have a building design team or fire system design team or sprinkler design team who meets the building department’s requirements.  Most design teams are not elevator code experts or ever know how it straddles into the realm of elevator systems. Very Common.  Unfortunately everything having to do with each component of adding sprinklers is expensive, even the elevator system.

What do I have to do now?  Most likely you will need to modernize the elevator control system.  There are elevator control system add on panels, most of the time we do not recommend the installation of this panel.  Every elevator is different you need to make a good decision based on the elevator system that is installed in your building.  Call your contractor, if you don’t like what they tell you, call someone who knows what options you have.

Sump pump -  If you have sprinklers you should also look into adding a sump pump, if that sprinkler ever goes off you will need a way to get the water out of the elevator pit.  And ask the Building Department what their stance on sumps on sprinkled elevator pits.

Most likely the building decision maker was doing everything correct with the information given to them by the other design professionals[building, sprinkler & fire].  Unfortunately if you are in this position they did not know enough to globally review the cost implication to the addition of sprinklers on other parts of the building.

If you have any questions or would like information from Colley Elevator you can go to, email or call 630-766-7230.