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Russ Ward

Apples & Oranges – Modular Versus Traditional Elevators

Apples and Oranges Comparing Elevator Solutions – Modular Versus Traditional. In the construction industry there is a great desire to save time and money while simultaneously providing a high-quality, finished product for the client. This task is complicated immensely when multi-story projects are slated and an elevator is involved. It seems that no one in the elevator business wants to make it easy for general contractors, architects, project managers or building owners to make a clear decision about what elevator company or vertical transportation option would be the best solution.

Specs are NO Help

To combat this problem specs have been developed over time for various elevator footprints, capacities and travel, based on the needs or use of the building. But this does not work! Being in the elevator business, I can tell you most of the time specs are routinely ignored by large elevator companies. At least until after the pricing has been submitted and the decision has been made.

The usual process involves the salesperson picking the closest standard product and then filling the proposal with “if, ands and wherefores” that will be addressed at a later date once a choice is made. Only then the specs are examined and leverage is brought to bear to force time sensitive decisions about the product selected.

This all too familiar dance is the reason the elevator industry is so despised in many quarters. One might draw the conclusion that the elevator industry does not want an apples to apples comparison to be made. Preferring, instead, to keep customers in the dark.

At MEM, we do not shy away from an accurate comparison and we will even help with your assessment, whether we are right for your project or not. Another option is to find a reputable elevator consultant that can help with the decision making process.

However, keep reading if you need a broad overview to help you in your assessment and decision making process.

Here’s the Straight Dope

Generally speaking when it comes to quality commercial elevators there are two very broad categories of solutions. Traditional elevators where the hoistway is built on-site and then the various components are pieced together inside once power is on or available. And modular elevators where the whole elevator is produced in a factory setting.

Modular vs. traditional, who will win?

The first thing to know about either category of elevator is that the components are all very similar. After all, if comparing the types of elevators is the goal, there has to be a clear understanding of the quality of the components that make up the elevator.

Believe it or not most elevators contain, relatively, the same components. There are only a handful of companies that actually manufacture all the stuff inside a hoistway. Secondly, elevator components are highly regulated. The bottom line is that elevator to elevator most of the parts (regardless of name plate) are either the exact same or they meet the exact same standards.

Keep that in mind when a sales rep from a traditional elevator company starts talking about components. There is nothing magical or special about them.

Proprietary parts avoid them

The bigger question regarding parts and components is if they are proprietary or not. Avoid elevators with proprietary parts at all costs. Proprietary means that the elevator manufacturer has control over the functioning of the elevator through access to parts and tools. Service is restricted to just that company. This may mean a lower priced elevator up front, but over time you will be at their mercy. Never get an elevator with proprietary parts or for that matter, buy a building with an elevator with proprietary parts inside. You will regret it.

It is all About the Packaging

So if parts are not really different, what is the difference between conventional and modular? It is all about the packaging. The traditional elevator comes in crates or on skids and is assembled on-site once the power is turned on. So when you choose a conventional elevator, you really aren’t buying an elevator at all. You are buying boxes of elevator parts that are hammered, screwed and bolted together on-site in a cramped hoistway.

Think of the last car you purchased. Imagine if the dealership dropped off crates filled with parts, boxes full of hardware and most of the necessary tools to assemble your car in your driveway. Then the dealership sent over a couple of technicians to assemble the whole mess. You would see this as you look out of your window on to the now worksite and would think, “surely this would be easier in the factory!”

Modular is different

Thank goodness, that is not how the automotive industry works. They deliver a fully functioning, turnkey product that was assembled efficiently and safely in their quality (and climate) controlled facility.

Elevator companies for years have told the little white lie that they are manufacturing elevators. Not true! What they really do is manufacture some elevator parts and buy the rest of the components from different companies. They then ship them all in boxes to hopefully be assembled properly on-site. Good luck.

The major difference between conventional and modular is with modular you are buying an elevator…not boxes of stuff. Modular is manufactured as a finished product in a quality (and climate) controlled environment, not bolted together in a dark shaft at a technicians leisure. It is difficult to quantify, but if you ever rode in an elevator that rattled as it went up…it was more than likely haphazardly assembled in a cramped elevator hoistway and not in a factory.

Also, because modular elevators are engineered to be free standing, you get to decide when it arrives and when it is set in place. There are no elevator contractors taking over your site, no storage problems, no additional trades tripping over each other and the timeline becomes your’s not an elevator installer’s.

Here’s a Comparison

So when comparing traditional and modular remember the following:

  1. With modular the hoistway is always included in the price.
  2. With modular you receive a fully manufactured product ready to be started up.
  3. You control when a modular elevator is delivered and it can generally be at anytime in the building process. This takes the elevator off the critical path.
  4. All the components are the same regarding modular or traditional elevators or have passed the same rigorous tests and standards.
  5. Manufacturing means higher quality because inspections are as easy as walking the factory floor (manufacturing of modular elevator is horizontal).
  6. With modular there is no work done in poor conditions when costly errors can be made due to cold, heat, rain, snow or other factors that hamper or slow elevator installation or hoistway construction.
  7. The hoistways with the elevator inside are always plumb and square with modular. No human errors occur or heaving or contracting due to freezing or excessive heat during construction.
  8. Modular comes with high-quality, commercial, non-proprietary parts saving time and money. Repairs and maintenance can be conducted by any elevator contractor so you are not locked into a lopsided agreement.

The Jury is In

By looking at the short list above it is an easy call to make. The overall better choice for any low or mid-rise building project is the unconventional modular elevator manufactured by MEM. This is especially true when the pricing is generally in the same ballpark, but even when the initial investment is higher for modular the scale is still tipped in favor of the modular solution. The plumb and straight hoistway is always in the price of modular so there is that difference when comparing, but beyond that think of the shortened timeline that a modular elevator creates.

As an anecdotal example of the reasoning, while working with a building owner that decided to go modular for the first time in a hotel project, he thanked me for the extra million dollars he was going to make on the project due to the faster elevator placement. He felt the whole timeline was trimmed by six months by using a modular unit meaning faster occupancy. He went on and said that the million did not take into account the reduced general building costs of maintaining a job site over a longer period of time.

Even if initial cost of the modular elevator were higher, the overall cost for the whole project would always be more than made up for. This is especially true in colder climates.

Wrap it Up

But thinking bigger, there is a huge value to the comfort level with knowing it is a high-quality product due to the tight manufacturing standards and easily inspected process. For instance:

  • Our hoistway will never have to be torn down and rebuild because they are a half-bubble out of plumb.
  • The structure is engineered for all earthquake zones with tough steel tubing.
  • There is a Ten Point Inspection Check List conducted before it is loaded on the truck for shipment fully assembled.
  • High-quality, non-proprietary parts are used keeping ownership costs lower.
  • MEM has been producing elevators for decades and stands behind the product.

To be clear, there are sometimes when modular is not the solution. As and example they are shipped on the back of a truck. So even though we have produced freight elevators and elevators for medical facilities big enough for hospital beds, there are some special circumstances where we can’t get under a bridge.

Another example is overall tower height. When you get over ten to twelve stories, cost wise conventional is usually the better option, but on balance for most building projects the best solution is always modular and MEM is the place to start.

We are knowledgeable, experienced, helpful and ready to discuss elevators…not sell them. Honestly, they sell themselves our goal is just to educate the construction industry that there is a better alternative when comparing apples to apples or modular versus traditional.

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2 thoughts on “Apples & Oranges – Modular Versus Traditional Elevators

  1. Pingback: Construction Costs Rise Modular Fix - Modular Elevator Manufacturing

  2. Pingback: Comparing Modular Elevators - Punching Down Get the check list here.

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