The Voice of the Lift, Escalator and Moving Walk Industry in Europe

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By Kari Suihkonen, Chair of the Digitalization and Cybersecurity Committee at the European Lift Association

The buildings of the future are likely to be much more intelligent than they are now. Advances in technology are allowing systems and equipment within a building to communicate with each other, send real time status updates to the cloud and make user convenience, safety and comfort the top priority. Sensors, connected systems and big data analytics are driving transformation for all types of technology, and the lift industry must adapt to the IoT trend to become included in the now vast ecosystem of connected “things” that communicate with each other to unlock enhanced functionality.

Currently, digitalization presents a major challenge to the industry. Although lift manufacturers and service providers are beginning to innovate in this space to enable cloud-based predictive maintenance and touchless lift access, the main obstacle in unlocking all the possibilities of digital technology lies in the lack of interoperability between systems.

Rising demand for BIM

In the construction industry, a new trend for digitalization is taking hold. Building Information Modelling (BIM) is the digital process of creating and managing information for a building. The digital BIM model on a cloud-based platform integrates structured data to produce a “digital twin” representation of an asset across its lifecycle, from planning and design to construction and operations.

In several countries throughout the world, BIM is mandatory for all large or public building projects. Even in countries where it is not yet mandatory, adoption rates have steadily increased, as the benefits of BIM mean that building owners are increasingly demanding contractors that can deliver it. Because of this general trend in the construction industry, lift and component manufacturers are now finding themselves under pressure to include sensors and data analytics with their product and service offerings.

Tackling downtime and conserving energy

For manufacturers and service providers, digitalization is the clear innovation path for new products and services. The biggest benefit of digitalization is expected to be apparent in the service section, where the auditable trail of data that can be easily stored and searched will provide a great opportunity for transparency of maintenance in order to improve safety and operation of the lifts being maintained. Digitalization also encompasses predictive maintenance, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The interface challenge

The problem, however, comes in when these individual pieces of “smart” technology connected to the lift need to communicate with other connected things as part of the building’s wider building management system (BMS) infrastructure. Smart lifts require interoperability where their interfaces with other systems in the building, such as fire alarm systems and access control systems, and a data stream connection is also required for the company that carries out maintenance on the equipment.

The European Lift Association’s Digitalization Committee defines interfaces as follows: “An interface is a shared boundary between two or more objects with the intention to communicate and exchange information. Interfaces can be physical (hardware) or non-physical (software) in nature. They are an enabling tool for digitization, but also are an opening point for additional threats that haven’t been there before.”

Interfaces in the lift environment have been in existence for a long time, but typically they have been complicated, proprietary and expensive. Now, with the advent of the IoT era, these interfaces are becoming cheaper and more widely used as demand increases.

Next to platforms and devices, interfaces are an integral part of and subject to the process of digitalization. External objects or building management systems which connect to the elevator via an interface can affect the operability of the installation.

Making progress through open standards

European Lift Association (ELA) is committed to driving the vision of digitalization in the industry forward by promoting standard interfaces and interoperability. The aim is to achieve optimum safety and continuity with maximum functionality.

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), in cooperation with ELA, has developed a smart lift IoT system standard coupled to the oneM2M platform, but the drawback is that this particular platform is currently not commonly compatible with popular BMS interfaces, and it does not yet address the variety of lift functionality. To overcome these drawbacks, telecom experts must become more aware of the requirements of the lift and escalator world, in the same way that the lift experts must become more aware of modern telecom and interoperability methodologies.

European lift and escalator standards are plentiful, but most of these are centred around safety and usability. The lift industry is severely lacking in open interface standards, as most technologies are currently based on proprietary systems.

ELA is contributing to an ISO working group to standardise lift interfaces. For this, ELA is favouring close collaboration with standardization bodies that bring the communication expertise to the lift and escalator industry. Initial collaboration with ETSI has shown this approach to be very promising. If this is achieved, the adoption of digitalization within the industry is expected to accelerate in the next decade.

Although the path ahead to open interface standards will be challenging, the long-term benefits to the industry from the move to digitalization are expected to be far-reaching: improvements in data analytics, energy efficiency, predictive maintenance and overall performance will result in a massive uptick in innovation, improved safety and reduction in the downtime of lifts and escalators.