Lifts: Movin’ On Up

Randy Vander Hill Comments
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Like all equipment, self-storage lifts, or VRCs (vertical reciprocating conveyors), require maintenance and periodic service for continuous and safe operation. However, unlike other building upkeep that can be handled by facility employees, lift service must be performed by certified technicians. While you or your staff can be on the lookout for signs of wear or problems, all necessary work should be handled by qualified lift professionals.

In some states, like California, only those licensed by the State Contractors Board are allowed to service, install or maintain a VRC. In addition, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health requires each technician to carry a CQC (Contractor Quality Control) Identification Card at all times. Finally, no maintenance work begins until a lift is locked or tagged out of service, returned to a building’s lowest level, and disconnected from electrical power.

Service Frequency

A lift’s service schedule is in part determined by the frequency of lift cycles. Lifts with a high cycle of use generally require more maintenance than those with low cycles. For example, a lift at a storage facility that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, will require more care than one at a facility open only during business hours.

The rate of service will also depend on how many lifts a facility has. In general, the more lifts at a site, the less each is being used (division of labor). Less maintenance is, therefore, required.

The last consideration in determining maintenance frequency is the environment in which a lift is used. For example, a facility near a body of salt water may require more service than one that’s inland, as salt water can be very corrosive.

A qualified lift professional can help you determine a proper service schedule. A high-cycle application requires inspection every 30 to 60 days, while a low-cycle application requires inspection every 60 to 90 days. In the interim, you should conduct your own daily safety checks, looking for damage or unusual operation.

If you hire outside maintenance personnel, don’t assume they are testing the lift for you or have any knowledge of what constitutes a red flag. Don’t allow your regular clean-up crew to service the lift under any circumstance. Lift maintenance can affect the lives of your staff and tenants, so entrust it only to certified technicians.

Lift Upgrades

Over the past several years, new technology and better equipment has emerged in the VRC arena, making lifts safer and easier to use. If you have an older lift that needs upgrading or want to install a new lift, consider the new-generation gate/door interlock. The latest versions include upgrades such as stainless-steel slide-bolt mechanisms. One lift manufacturer has made additional changes to the internal electronics, fastening the slide bolt and receiver with tamper-resistant mounting hardware and a new service lock.

Another new item is the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA)12-rated push-button control, which is water- and dust-proof and meets the strictest electrical codes. While some lift manufacturers will settle for a lower quality NEMA 3R- or 4-rated control, the NEMA 12 uses UL-rated elevator wire and is hard-piped with rigid EMT (electrical metallic tubing).

Thanks to feedback from storage owners and customers, new automatic lift doors are also on the market, which are easier to open and close than the previous manual, roll-up versions. Now, when a customer opens the outer gate or door, the inner car door automatically rises. No more manual raising, lowering and latching of the roll-up door on every use! New installations generally include automatic doors, and conversion packages are available for older lifts.

Another new feature is the automatic roof-mounted car light, which is integrated with the lift door. When the lift arrives at a landing and the interlock is released, the light automatically turns on, providing illumination for safety. This is particularly important, as hallway light timers will sometimes turn off lights while customers are still loading or unloading a lift.

Finally, a non-skid diamond floor plate provides a safer transitioning surface for tenants, especially when rain, snow or icy conditions exist. Polished aluminum plate flooring also provides additional reflective light.

Self-storage lifts are a key aspect of any multistory operation. When serviced regularly by qualified technicians and loaded with the newest, safest features, they enhance the customer’s storage experience. And happy customers mean better business.

Randy Vander Hill is the owner of Placentia, Calif.-based Ajay Equipment Corp., which sells and installs vertical reciprocating conveyors designed for the self-storage industry. He is a 33-year veteran in the field of hydraulic equipment and a licensed California elevator contractor. For more information, call 800.521.2529; visit www.ajaystoragelifts.com.

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