The Future of Elevator Technology Starts Now

written by Michael Pyper on Thursday, March 3, 2022

"Smart Building" is the talk of the construction industry. An important piece of the jigsaw: elevator technology. Predictive maintenance significantly increases availability.

 

A fundamental prerequisite for smart-building concepts is the availability of building services. In the last part of our short news blog series about hydraulic elevators and their future, Tony Aschwanden, Head of Product & Application - Elevator and Electrohydraulic Systems, describes how elevator technology will develop in the future, and how Bucher Hydraulics will play a part in that development.

Mr. Aschwanden, you've been following elevator technology for almost 15 years. With regard to future smart buildings, predictive maintenance will become increasingly important. How does it differ from traditional maintenance?

Traditional maintenance checks elevator installations at predefined time intervals. Parts and components are replaced at specific intervals, regardless of their actual wear and condition. Recently, this rigid rhythm has been somewhat disrupted by technicians inspecting systems more frequently, but then each time with a different focus such as the door area, the drive system or the car. Condition monitoring goes one step further. This involves monitoring the ongoing situation in order to be able to react quickly in the event of a fault. Ideally, the technician already knows the source of the fault and which spare parts he may need. In predictive maintenance, we aim to detect potential events and failures in advance and prevent them before they occur. We at Bucher Hydraulics are working at full speed to achieve this. With the introduction of the iValve, we have created the technological prerequisites for this, incorporating our many years of experience in this field.

Sounds exciting! Where do things stand with developments at the moment; what is still missing?

Today we have the necessary sensor technology and with it the possibility to collect and record all relevant data. In addition to pressure and temperature, these are the actual flow rates and the electrical currents with which we control our proportional valves. We are, so to speak, filling a lake with data, also known as 'Big Data'. The big challenge we are currently facing is how to evaluate this data in a meaningful way. We have to draw the correct conclusions and transfer them into algorithms. For example, is the fault a gradual one because a filter is slowly clogging up or because the oil is beginning to gum up due to settling water? Or is a control correction always observed at a certain shaft position, which could indicate an imperfect rail joint? A very difficult initial task was to filter infrequent faults out of the data and to identify specific events. Eventually, however, we analyze the travel curve. In the beginning, we actually did this manually, but now we have at least been able to automate the search process. The evaluation, however, is currently still done manually.

What exactly do you do to draw the right conclusions?

We develop the necessary data models based on our experience and actual data, as well as the relevant findings. In this way, we can use the recorded data in the laboratory to analyze sporadic, faulty journeys or to recognize floor patterns, for example. However, in order to clearly capture specific patterns and so be able to predict definite indications of future faults and events, there is more work to be done. Another difficulty is that virtually no two real-world installations are the same, and travel performance can change simply due to varying loads. However, the effort, analysis and evaluation needed to assess every single system on an individual basis would be far too much. We therefore, need to get to the point where we can offer the broadest possible analysis basis that can be easily and quickly adapted to a particular system.

The aim of this effort is, after all, to get better - more efficient, more economical, more fail-safe. Is it possible to estimate how the manufacturers, maintenance providers and operators of elevator installations will benefit from this development?

This is not easy at this stage, of course, because it depends on many individual factors. One thing is certain: breakdowns and downtimes can be prevented or at least significantly reduced - the availability of the systems increases accordingly. There is certainly a difference, however, between an elevator system in an apartment building, where you might have to walk up or down a few stairs in the event of a breakdown, and a very frequently used industrial installation, where a breakdown can quickly become very expensive. In any case, there is also a benefit for maintenance companies: they can plan their workforce deployment better and more efficiently. In addition, maintenance companies often have to contractually guarantee availability, and pay high penalties in the event of non-compliance. It also offers system manufacturers the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition, with manufacturing and maintenance now increasingly coming from a single source.

What does this development mean for maintenance technicians? Do they now have to mutate into data specialists?

No! That is, of course, our job, not theirs: we have to draw the right conclusions from the data in order to give elevator technicians the indications - before the system breaks down - of where a fault might be imminent. Without any doubt, however, and as in almost all areas of technology, a certain affinity for IT is beneficial in order to be able to deal with the networking of the various hardware and software tools.

Is it also worthwhile to use this technology to upgrade existing systems? Which new business models can be created as a result?

Yes, retrofitting is definitely worthwhile for industrial installations that are prone to breakdowns and in high-frequency passenger transport in public areas such as train stations and airports. We specifically focus on establishing close relationships with the manufacturers of the control systems, because the elevator control system forms the central hub for the exchange of data, information and visualization. It would make no sense if all component manufacturers were to start bypassing the elevator control system and making their data available to different parties. This can only be done centrally. With our "iValve" valve technology, we have done our homework, so to speak, and can gather, record and make available the relevant drive data. We are working on the evaluation of the data and corresponding algorithms. Our message is: in all aspects of hydraulic elevator technology, we can support anyone who is embarking on the digital journey.

 

Is everything OK with the elevator? The iCon-2 controller delivers information directly to the smart phone via CANopen-Lift.

 

The iCon-2 electronic card checks the electronic control actions, the valve conditions and the ride comfort. Travel curves are recorded in the electronic system. During operation, the travel curves for that particular elevator are optimized by the learning algorithm iTeach.

 

Trend: Smart Buildings

Intelligent buildings know their users and their habits. They already recognize the employee or resident when they enter or pass through the building. Thanks to sensors, the next free parking space is displayed and the elevator is informed in advance which floor it has to go to. The elevator door opens automatically. Meanwhile, the building technology prepares everything in the office or in the apartment. Heating, lighting and ventilation are set to the desired values. This means much more than convenience, however. For example, sensors detect how many people are in which rooms and adjust the climate accordingly. This saves energy. And the buildings become safer. In the event of a fire, the sensors detect how the fire is spreading and guide people out of the building by the safest route. The prerequisite is a complete networking of the building. To ensure that it all works, no component can fail. Predictive maintenance is the way to go.

 

The future has begun - The iValve from Bucher Hydraulics, in conjunction with the iCon-2 controller, provides data for predictive maintenance that helps prevent breakdowns.

 

Tony Aschwanden is head of Product and Application Elevator and Electrohydraulic Systems at Bucher Hydraulics.

The search for anomalies in travel curves is already automated. Human experts are still needed to interpret the anomalies and to deduce appropriate courses of action. Bucher Hydraulics is working on algorithms to automate this as well.

Additional information

Product page:

Elevator Hydraulics

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