Tag Archives: modular 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.


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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