Category Archives: Think Beyond Elevators

Relic of the Past to New Future

Jim and Ruth MarketBy Russ Ward

There was a little neighborhood market called Jim and Ruth’s near the small house I rented in college. Hidden from traffic in an old residential area of town, it seemed it was stuck in a time warp. It had wooden floors, a meat case in the back, and a white-apron-clad, paper-hat-wearing butcher (Jim) standing at the ready to slice your bologna or T-bone steak to the thickness desired. It was a great place to pick up the occasional item or sit on the bench out front and watch the world go by; the owners ensured it was a place to take a break and leisurely stroll the handful of aisles. You pulled a string to ring a bell when you were ready to check out and Ruth would amble to the old hand-cranked register. If you were in a hurry, the supermarket was down the road.

Remembering Jim and Ruth’s got me thinking about how far the shopping experience has come. Now, we would never wait around after ringing a bell or lounge on a bench when we can order entire meals ready to cook online and have it shipped to us the next day, all from the comfort of our couch. So businesses like Jim and Ruth’s have fallen to the wayside. Speed has surpassed the value of charm. And before you complain about that last statement, put down your smart phone and stop making Jeff Bezos a billionaire. Jim and Ruth never grasped the call to efficiency, speed and cost.

But they are not the only ones that have lagged behind this trend of progress.

The construction business is often one of those lagging industries, seemingly moored to traditional business models and old-fashioned, conventional solutions to age-old problems. Sometimes construction or design build companies don’t even think to ask, “Can this be done differently, better, less-expensively or faster?” This can blind them to a solution such as modular building. Modular and off-site construction can be a significant answer to the questions and the solution to slow, plodding builds that drag on for what seems forever, delaying returns.

One of the ways modular can help is by saving time. Construction of modular building components occurs simultaneously with site prep and foundation work. This allows projects to be completed in half the time of traditional construction.  As shown in the diagram below, the design engineering and permit processes are always the same, whether modular or site-built. The real differences kick in after that, when more than one thing can happen at one time.


Image provided by the Modular Building Institute. 


Another benefit with modular is the overall reduction of delays due to weather. Because 60-90% of the construction is completed inside a factory with modular, weather is no longer a costly risk. This can be seen specifically with elevators. Stick-built elevators are very susceptible to weather conditions. As a matter of fact, most elevator companies require temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit for the installation to even occur, and the average temperature for some states doesn’t even exceed that temperature most months of the year.  In many climates, 20 to 30 work days or more are lost in North America in December and January alone. Additionally, many areas are prone to spring storms or excessive summer heat, making modular a huge benefit. Productivity of the factory is not reduced due to extremes in temperature or even the occasional thunderstorm. Because the factory provides optimal building conditions, there are fewer delays, quality is increased and completed buildings are occupied sooner, which creates a faster return on the investment.

The modular manufacturing process also means a more consistent product and a higher level of quality.  For instance, inspections can take place as the build is in process, not after it is done. And people checking for quality have better access and more visibility.  You see this with modular elevators in the rails and cabs. In modular, the rails are always plumb and level, making a better overall product.

Modular is simply faster and smarter, and closing your eyes to the inevitable is never the solution. Jim and Ruth closed their eyes to the advances in technology and improvements that could have led to a vibrant and thriving business and now, unfortunately, they have gone the way of the floppy disk and 8-track-tape-player. I will miss the old market…until my next Amazon delivery.


Superpsyched About Modular Elevators

russ-head-shot-2By Russ Ward
I recently ran a crossed a web page that was a breath of fresh air. It was a gentleman that was a self-proclaimed promoter, inventor and entrepreneur who was very excited about what he was doing. As a matter of fact, he was more than just plain old excited. He made the leap past “psyched” into the realm of “SUPERPSYCHED” (that’s right: all caps, all one word) about life and his life’s dream.
After a few chuckles and couple of outright guffaws, I wiped the tears of laughter from my eyes and asked myself a serious question: What superpsychs me? And when was the last time that my excitement level at work was so high that I used all caps to describe it? Sure, in my personal life I have been superpsyched a number of times. I was superpsyched about the birth of my children, my favorite ball team winning the World Series and most importantly, getting married to the absolutely perfect woman. But at work, it seems that excitement train has long left the station. This is especially true in the elevator business, as the daily grind can make excitement a stretch to say the least. Let’s face it: some days, work can be as stale as a three-day-old doughnut.
So, if I am going to be aiming a bit higher, I need to see if I can even reach that level. In boring fashion, I thought I would do a little investigating to see if I even had it in me to be superpsyched anymore. So I consulted the absolute best source for a checklist of attributes of what superpsychdome looks like: the Urban Dictionary.  What I found was absolutely fascinating and the definition included a list of what it looks like:
  • being “Psyched” to the point of excitement
  • mild insanity
  • increased heart rate
  • loss of focus
  • loss of appetite
  • staring into space
  • insomnia
  • bed-wetting

I figure that if I can put a check mark next to half of the items above, then I do have the capability to achieve the ever illusive superpsychdome. On the plus side of the ledger, I can get excited, have been accused of mild insanity, can demonstrate an increased heart rate and can lose focus on occasions (just ask that perfect wife of mine). That seals it and good thing, too, because I rarely lose appetite, have trouble sleeping or wet the bed. So I can achieve the near Narvanic (seeings how we are making up words) state of being superpsyched.  But, what at work can push me to capitalize all those letters? What about Phoenix Modular Elevator and our product can drive me to the point of over-excitement?

Consider this. When we sell a modular elevator, we are saving an elevator installer time, money, and an aching back from lifting rails; we are saving months off a general contractor’s timeline; we give project investors a fast return on the dollar; we are saving the environment because factory-built means more efficient material usage and less waste; we are giving architects a blank canvas for design inside and out, as well as simple drag and drop drawings; we are saving building owner’s money; we are making buildings wheelchair accessible; we are helping people to new heights; and we are providing a necessary product to millions of people. We do all that with a smile on our face and a helpful voice on the other end of the phone.

Ya know what? I am SUPERPSYCHED about modular elevators!!!

If you want to be SUPERPSYCHED too, just click here for a quick quote.

Tales of Elevators Past – Life Lessons for the Holidays

Kelly HeadshotBy Kelly Schloss 

For my family, Christmas and the holiday season is a time to share and recount days past. This year, I’d like to do that in the form of an old cautionary tale of magical doors and a secret room. It is about the thrill of Christmas shopping with mom: discovery, fear, separation, reunion, and my very first elevator ride (that I can remember, anyway).

It all begins in the parking lot of a busy shopping mall during the Christmas season and walking past bell ringers in bright red aprons and dodging icy puddles on a chilly day at  a Chicagoland mall. I was an over-exuberant 8 year old, already straining against holding my mom’s hand or latching on to the stroller of my younger sister. I had been enticed by the tale of shopping for Christmas gifts over Thanksgiving turkey, cranberry sauce (yuck!), and mac and cheese, but had never experienced it for myself. As we moved closer to the entrance, I licked my lips with anticipation and strained to wedge myself in the door first.

As the door swung open, I was not disappointed. A world of wonder, tinseled in silver and gold, unfolded before me as I nimbly pushed my way ahead of the stroller to take it all in. I stood agog as my mother grabbed my hand with a firm, yet gentle jerk and said, “Hold my hand or hold on to the stroller, those are the rules. I don’t want you to get lost.” The tug-of-war with my mom’s hand had officially begun. But, I let her win as almost immediately all of the feeling remaining in my slight paw disappeared as every sense gathered up a stimulation which had not been experienced before.

My ears heard the call of “Merry Christmas!”and “Ho, ho, ho!” as it echoed from Santa’s workshop. I saw with my own eyes real (animatronic) elves laboring on the same toy train over and over, wicker reindeer just like you find at the North Pole, and an enormous button-eyed Teddy bear spinning endlessly on an over-sized wooden block. A blanket of white, puffy, fake snow filled the main intersection with a gigantic, brightly painted rocking horse at the center. The smell of yuletide roasted nuts and General Tso’s chicken wafted through the great hall from the food court nearby and everything was festooned in red and green ribbons from the tallest ceilings to the floor and there were more blinking lights than my eight-year-old eyes had ever seen in one place. People pushed and shoved, stuffed in overcoats and with packages and bags of all shapes and sizes in bright paper and trimmed in ribbons. All the while, trance-inducing Christmas music droned softly on in the background. I had reached an eight-year-old’s version of paradise.

I scarcely could take in all that was attacking my senses. I was in the throes of this exhilaration when I caught my first glimpse of the bright, gleaming, stainless steel elevator doors, gliding open just a few short feet away. I could not control the urges in my feet as I, in a daze of sensory overload pulled my hand from the firm grasp of my mother and bolted toward the now fully open elevator. I instinctively leaped to the middle of the car and turned around just in time to see the ashen face of my mom framed in the large door.

After seeing the look on her face I was dizzied, realizing the colossal blunder I had made. Momentarily, I lost any awareness of my surroundings as the next thing I remember was the swoosh of doors as they magically glided again, this time closed. It was as if some hypnotic spell had pulled me to the car in the first place and away from my mom and now I snapped out of my stupor just in time to see her lunge towards me as the doors closed.  Now the reality, like those once magical doors, was closing in on the fantasy that I had been building. Those shiny hatchways became snarling jaws of entrapment separating me from my family.

As the elevator jerked and my knees buckled, questions began racing in my mind. “Where was I going?” “What had I done?”

There was no escape. I looked desperately around briefly for a friendly face, but there were no children at all and I only found the drawn faces of zombie-like shoppers that haunted the now ever-shrinking elevator. They too, I am sure, had once been lured to the siren’s song of Christmas shopping in their youth, but the shine was far off of that penny and now the drudgery of the event gave them an antidote to the thrill and euphoria I had been experiencing. The sight of Santa Claus, silver bells, and gold trim did not stir them in the slightest and the helpless, far off stare of an eight year old, verging on tears, didn’t either. I let loose with a loud wet sniffle (international language of distress for children) yet none of the weary passengers gave me a second look. I was on my own and separated from the warm hand of my mom. Where was she and how would I get back?

Then, I realized that there was a big glass wall in the elevator. Try as I might I strained to look over the rail in hopes of seeing my mom. But, alas, my efforts were to no avail as I was just too short, even on tippy-toes and the window did not face the right direction. I was trapped with people I did not know, going to a place I had never been and hope was slowly draining from me. Also, in the back my mind I began to wonder about the reception I would receive if I ever did find my way back from the enchanted closet I had be drawn to. Would I be missed and welcomed with open arms? Or sent home and put in time out; the worst possible punishment for wayward children? As I was in deep contemplation (or as deep as an eight year old can be) a friendly bell rang out and the doors slid open again. People pushed out and more people pushed in as I stood stupefied by the process. Before I could even make a motion or utter a single word, the doors abruptly closed again and the elevator took off with a jerk, this time downward.

As it jolted to a stop and the doors opened wide and I could see my mom waiting. She lunged forward, grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the elevator and to her tightly. The feeling of relief was overwhelming and the warmth of her love overcame the fear of retribution or the magical, mesmerizing elixir of the surroundings of the mall center court. Even though I was still at Woodfield Mall, the magic dissipated as tangible reality of that hug hit home.

Don’t worry, we did finish the shopping trip, but I have no idea what we bought. My hand never left the stroller the rest of the day and I did get “time out” when we got home, but the adventure in the elevator has never left me to this day.

So what are the lessons of this tale of Christmas past? There are many: One is to not let the enticements and shininess of the world blind you to the reality of life, even in the holiday season. Another lesson: a mother’s hug has a higher value than all the Black Friday sales combined.  And, maybe, the lesson is to not feel silly about being mesmerized by an elevator as a child (they’re pretty wonder inspiring, even as an adult). Who knows? You might just end up working in the business one day.

Happy Holidays from everyone at Phoenix Modular Elevator.

Solving Problems with Prefab Hoistways

Urban Life 2Recently, we have been producing prefab hoistways for a major elevator manufacturer in the United States. These contain no installed elevator, just the hoistway. The company we are working with sees the benefits of faster installation, the safety of the installation, flexibility in design, and higher quality that we offer as opposed to waiting around for a stick-built shaft.

It is easy to see why: having a completed hoistway craned into place means saving time and that means saving money. But having a prefab hoistway means more than just fast installation. Here is a list of reasons why every hoistway should be a prefab….Click here for the rest!

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When Faster isn’t Really Faster

1_thumbRecently, it was announced that the CTF Finance Center in Guangzhou, China broke records as the fastest elevator in the world to date. Believe it or not, it travels at an astounding 46.9 miles per hour straight up! Wow! An elevator in Shanghai, China (Shanghai Tower) finishes in second place with a speed of 42.8 mph and the fastest North American elevator clocks in at a paltry 22.7 mph in comparison. It is located at the Freedom Tower at 1 World Trade Center in New York. It is a bit slower but the show you get going up and down is worth it.

As it turns out, the elevator in your building is not breaking any world records, but, unless you are in the Willis Tower in Chicago or the Empire State Building in New York, you probably don’t need a three million dollar monstrosity that can hit highway speeds. Keep in mind that the world record holding building has a total of 95 elevators and only two elevators are the super fast ones and they only go from the first floor to the 95th where the world’s highest hotel resides. As a matter of fact, the CTF Finance Center has 52 medium and low speed elevators, as well as the two speed-demons.

Find out why speed is overrated. Click here. 

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Innovation the Key – Jefferson the Example

Monticello 1At the recent Elevator U conference, on the last day  we had the pleasure of leaving the final session, boarding buses and, as a group, visiting the historic home of Thomas Jefferson in Monticello. The Elevator U conference is an annual gathering of elevator and facility managers from colleges and universities across the country where participants learn more about vertical transportation, innovation in the industry, and make important contacts. We cannot give a higher recommendation for attendance to this annual event.

The visit to Monticello demonstrated the forward thinking of Thomas Jefferson, but also represented the forward thinking of Elevator U. Find out how vision applies to Elevator U and the elevator industry. Click Here.

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Piecing it all together

Puzzle FinalBy Russ Ward

My mother loved doing jigsaw puzzles. The more difficult the better, as far as she was concerned. These puzzles became family projects that we all worked on, especially in the winter while we were cooped up in the house on snowy days.

My mom was no novice of puzzle completion and had a strictly adhered to plan in putting them together that made a lot of sense: start with turning all of the pieces to the picture side and then find all of the corners. From there, the rest of the edge pieces were found and put into to place, making an outline of the picture. The rest of the puzzle, one piece at a time, would then follow.

Construction, especially with modular components, is its own kind of puzzle…Find out how modular can help with the puzzle of construction projects.

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8 Weeks Means 8 Weeks

Red DevilsFootballHigh School football is a great place to learn life lessons. Just a few include: (1) teamwork and planning leads extraordinary success, (2) hard work pays off, (3) how to win with grace, (4) how to lose with dignity, and, lastly, punishment is capricious and arbitrary.

Once upon a time, while I was playing football in high school, we lost a big game to a cross county rival. I did my job just fine. I blocked as I should, pushing myself and my opponent the extra yard. Not once did the guy across the line of scrimmage from me take part in any tackle. He never laid a finger on the quarterback or running back, and I did this without landing a single penalty. However, when the time came to pay for the loss, we all took the hit.

At the time, we had a punishment that has since been banned in most high schools as it was both cruel and unusual and was certainly banned by the Geneva Convention: the dreaded belly-flop.  It was a torturous drill that involved chopping your feet as fast as you can, as you moved forward in increments of five yards and then hitting the ground – belly first (hence the name) on each five-yard line when the maniacal, spittle-spewing coach blew his whistle, only to spring back to our feet and continue on our perilous journey up and down the dirt covered practice field.  Regardless of my personal efforts and my on field successes, I too had to join in the cloud of dust churned up by the 20 guys on the team going goal line to goal line. We can get you an elevator in just eight weeks …Find out how here! 

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Snake Bit – Fear and the Elevator Business

curie_lab_photoby Russ Ward

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” – Marie Curie

Fear is one of the most powerful emotions, as it can create anxiety, foster poor decision making and even immobilize the victim. I, for instance, suffer from ophidiophobia, or fear of snakes. It really is beyond just being scared of them or a simple dislike. It is a deep hatred, and when it comes to snakes, my judgement is indeed clouded.  For instance, I live in a rural area and so you hear tall tales of the scaly creatures ending up in everything, including toilets and car dashboards. When my mind drifts, it tends to drift towards a myriad of “What if’s?” What if a snake gets in the bathroom? What if a snake is in my car? What if I see one in my yard? This has led me to keep a garden hoe within arms reach of my front door, just in case.  I check my car thoroughly each morning before hopping in, and I tend to hover more than relax, if you know what I mean. Click to find out how fear can lead to bad decisions.

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Footprints on the Ceiling

142ofc_copyI remember a Classics Illustrated comic book from my youth telling the tales of Abraham Lincoln. One of the stories involved Lincoln gathering a group of younger boys and having them step in the mud with their bare feet. As a prank, Lincoln held each of them upside down and had them walk their feet across the kitchen ceiling, leaving muddy footprints as they went. When his stepmother, Sarah Lincoln, came home and saw the muddy footprints on her ceiling, she threatened to spank him.

Lincoln was 6 feet 4 inches tall at the time, and I can all but imagine seeing the future President bent over his stepmother’s knee, stovepipe hat and all. Also, his stepmother’s initial reaction to the unnatural site of footprints on her ceiling would have been priceless.

Sometimes when our elevators are craned vertically into place and the inspector or elevator technician is in the hoistway for the first time, they, too, have a reaction like Sarah Lincoln. They see footprints going up and down the hoistway walls, along guide rails and around hatchway door openings. Some have even asked our installation crew where the footprints came from and how they could be up and down the vertical hoistway. And no, we don’t hold people upside down.

That is one of the challenges we face when describing the Phoenix Modular Elevator process of manufacturing. In the mind of most elevator professionals, they think vertically when they enter a hoistway or elevator car. It only makes sense, as they have spent years, if not decades, inside a vertical shaft.  For them, it is hard to think of it any other way.

However, our elevator manufacturing process is born horizontally. The hoistway is not built on a work site, but out of tough 4×4 inch tube steel in our production facility. Once the frame is laid out, it is plumbed and squared to make sure the shaft is always perfectly square and straight. Phoenix Modular Elevator workers and inspectors are able to walk alongside the frame, inside and out, testing welds and checking quality. As the frame is constructed, it is placed on a machine that can literally spin the hoistway, so welding in 2×4 C-studs and placing fire-rated drywall takes hours, not weeks. When one side is done, the entire hoistway is rotated to the next side. The guide rails are then installed, leveled and inspected. We know when a hoistway leaves the factory, it is completely square and the guide rails are straight and level.

During this whole process, a great crew of quality inspectors, welders, drywallers and finishers stroll through the hoistway, leaving footprints. Mystery solved.

Simultaneously, the cab is completed to the customer’s specifications. Again, the cab is not inside the shaft; instead, it is built in a separate area of the factory and not in a cramped hoistway. This means building the car is safer, easier and faster. When the car and hoistway are complete, we simply insert the cab in the still-horizontal hoistway. All connections are made, the car and counterweights are roped if needed, and it is ready to be transported by truck to the work site.

So the magician has shown his trick. How did the footprints get up and down the hoistway walls? The hoistway is never vertical until it gets to the site where it is installed faster and easier than a site-built elevator.

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