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Then and now, the evolution of elevator maintenance

Technology has taken a quantum leap over the past few decades, with devices that were once considered the preserve of science fiction now commonplace, introducing faster and more efficient ways to work. KONE’s maintenance technicians tell us about the impact that technology has had on their jobs.

THE PAST

Text: Nikhil Narayan Sivadas

In his mid-fifties and powerfully built, Risto Alaluusua is a veteran at KONE Finland, having served as a maintenance technician for the past three decades. Risto’s journey at KONE began with a chance encounter.

“I was at a construction site when I met two legendary elevator engineers, Ilkka Mustonen and Eero Lipponen. They told me about the KONE school which trained people in elevator maintenance. KONE was already an employer with a good reputation back then and so I applied and got in.”

And now, 30 years later, Risto knows elevator and escalator systems like the back of his hand and has seen the evolution of technology take place at KONE first hand.

“When I entered the field in the late 80s, we used to have a big board on the wall that listed the places we had to inspect, and we had to fill it up once the inspection was done. At the end of the year, when the list was full, we wiped it off and started fresh.”

Even back then, Risto recalls, the company brought in the latest gadgets and techniques to get the job done more efficiently while helping customers.

“We were given pagers that gave out two signals. If there were several long beeps, that meant a regular gig. Five short ones meant that there were people stuck in an elevator and we needed to call the center, get the address and rush to the location.

THE PRESENT

Innovative methods like these have been a characteristic feature at KONE, says Risto, emphasizing that this is a job that requires constant study of new methods, new products and new processes. Meanwhile, thousands of kilometers away in Nice in France, another KONE maintenance technician, Thierry Debever, is putting this into practice, using mobile apps to complete his work.

“I have been with KONE for 25 years, and I remember having to visit the office to find out what was happening. But now, everything has become more streamlined. We have apps that tell us everything we need to know, saving us the need to be in the office physically and enabling us to work independently in the field,” he says.

Technicians are given PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant) with an app that contains information about a maintenance technicians’ workflow, their assigned tasks for the day, and alerts them when problems crop up. And in case it is a problem that a single technician cannot handle by himself, help is at hand.

“Before the PDA, we were just receiving calls and messages, so we had minimum information about a broken unit. Now, the technician is more informed, he has live technical support with his team head on the line, or by the IT team in case it is a software breakdown. This is making the work more efficient.”

AND THE FUTURE

Thierry is also working on the next generation of elevator solutions, with a pilot project for KONE’s 24/7 Connected Services having been concluded in France. The project saw several data-collection devices installed in elevators, with the information collected by these devices sent to the cloud in real time and analyzed with the help of IBM’s Watson Internet of Things (IoT) system. The information is used to understand every minute detail of the elevator, analyze variations in elevator performance, all of which can be used to predict how it will behave. Thierry feels this will shake up elevator maintenance in a radical way.

“By looking at measurements of speed, stops, temperature, etc. over time, the system tells us whether our equipment is degrading, allowing us to dispatch a team to replace it even before a problem has occurred. Sometimes our clients don’t even know why we have come, and we have to explain to them that their elevator may soon face some problems. This is the beauty of connected elevators.”

The new system also allows technicians to equip themselves with solutions for the problem beforehand, saving them the need to check the machine, and then order spare parts. The information is also made available to the customer, enabling them to see the status of their machines in real time, and schedule maintenance or upgrades as necessary.

Technology has certainly evolved, and for the better, enabling a host of new services to be provided to the customer. So, what does the future hold? Risto says it best.

“Everything will go to the cloud, enabling remote monitoring. Maintenance technicians like us will still be around to clean, lubricate and take care of the elevators, but our job will only become easier and more efficient as we go ahead.”

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