At the 1853 World's Fair, in New York's Crystal Palace, 40-year-old Elisha Otis stood upon a platform 10 meters in the air and ordered axemen to cut the only rope that was suspending it. In front of an amazed crowd the rope was severed, but the platform only fell a few inches before it came to a stop. This was the first public demonstration of his safety locking mechanism and the birth of the Otis elevator company. Elevators based on this safety feature have essentially made tall buildings possible and therefore shaped our modern cities.
Today, New York City has more than 6,000 buildings over 10 stories tall, and of those buildings, the average number of stories is 18.7. The One World Trade Center, the tallest building in New York, has a whopping 104 stories, while the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, has an incredible 163 floors. These structures and the skylines of cities like New York and Dubai would never have been possible without the humble elevator.
In the same way building occupants depend on functional lighting and ventilation, they also depend on working elevators in order to use their buildings effectively. Like lighting, ventilation and other building systems, the elevator is getting smarter too. Among the organizations at the forefront of these developments is the company started by Elisha Otis 165 years ago.
Otis Elevators now move two billion people every day, and it is likely that the majority of people reading this article have used one of their models at some point. At this year's World Elevator Expo in Shanghai, the company launched its Otis ONE IoT service platform. The connected elevator solution personalizes its service experience through real-time, transparent information sharing, proactive communication tools, and predictive maintenance insights.
"We have been innovating since 1853, and today, Otis ONE will again advance our legacy of providing quality service to our customers in the digital economy,” said Otis President Judy Marks. “Otis ONE digital tools provide real-time insights and integration with our customers’ systems so we can predict issues before they happen and minimize downtime. It’s about putting the latest technology and predictive equipment insights in the hands of our service professionals to enhance proactive service and strengthen our customer relationships. And it’s about building a service platform that’s sustainable and flexible enough to grow with the future of technology."
Otis had already been remote monitoring its elevators for more than 30 years, but this new solution incorporates cloud technology, machine learning and smart sensors to offer real-time equipment health information and advanced predictive maintenance insights. Data from these devices are sent to the cloud where it’s aggregated and analyzed in real-time. Otis ONE leverages data from more than 300,000 connected units to create predictive insights and a more proactive service solution for customers around the world. “Data from Paris is fixing elevators in Seoul,” the company states in the launch video.
"Our customers are asking for three things—predictive [maintenance], proactive communication, and transparency," said Christopher Smith, Vice President, Service Innovation for Otis Elevator. "Whether it’s uptime or downtime, they want less disruption to the building," he added. "Customers know they will be running better and will be moving their people more efficiently. What building owners really care about is a service call that shuts down an elevator and causes disruption to their building."
The majority of technical issues facing elevators involve the doors, where dust, dirt and constant use take their toll. Once the doors malfunction the elevator is out of service and the building's occupants are disrupted. Other elevator units within the building then carry the extra load, which accelerates their maintenance needs. So seemingly small issues like dusty-doors offered the perfect opportunity for Otis to test its advanced predictive analytics systems.
“We have written algorithms to measure the health of the door,” Smith said in an interview with eWeek. “It may be taking more torque to close the door, which could be due to debris in the track. Over time we may see a degradation of health, and with the analytics we have written we can predict that this elevator will have a shutdown sometime in the next three to 20 days, and that determines how soon I need to get out there.”
Predictive maintenance is all about minimizing disruption to the building, and when the algorithms suggest that a door may need maintenance Otis can draw on elevator usage data to find the best time for repairs. “Managers can now determine usage and if they have to schedule a move and they can see that Tuesday afternoons [have] the lightest usage. So they’ll have the least disruption by scheduling it for Tuesday afternoon,” said Smith.
Elevators have come a long way since Elisha Otis' demonstration at the 1853 World's Fair, now enabling safe vertical transport for over one hundred story buildings. They have created the spine of tall buildings and shaped the urban landscape as we know it today. The use of smart technology is keep that spine in working order, which is fundamental to the operation of tall buildings and the continued vertical growth of our urban skylines.