Chain of Thought

Elevator Gang Hijacking VRCs—Again!

John Powers says he knows a lot about vertical reciprocating conveyors. In fact he recently issued a press release to make that message loud and clear. The press release may have gone out under his company's logo, Century Elevator Co., of Quincy, Mass., but you could almost hear him say: “I've installed and repaired hundreds of VRCs over the years. I intend to add to that record with yours.”

He didn't say that, but his press release did say this:

“Many building owners, facilities managers and operations people aren't aware of the law passed in April 2009 that gave the [Massachusetts] Board of Elevator Regulations and Department of Public Safety jurisdiction over the installation, maintenance, repair and inspection of VRCs. … Powers says the new regulations dictate that a permit must be obtained from the Department of Public Safety prior to the installation of any new VRC or modification to an existing one. As with all other elevators, VRCs must now be inspected annually by a state elevator inspector, and a licensed structural engineer must verify conformance with state building codes.”

The Elevator Gang is back, and it looks like they've captured Massachusetts. For years, this magazine's former editor, Bernie Knill, made it his mission to shine the light of truth on what these people were up to: to hijack a lucrative piece of business away from the material handling industry. Let's be clear: VRCs handle MATERIAL—not PEOPLE. Hence VRCs are NOT elevators as defined under ASME A17.1 – Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators. VRCs have their own guidelines: ASME B20.1 – Safety Standard for Conveyors & Related Equipment .

There are cases where elevators have been converted to material lifts and are therefore covered under ASME A17.1 as “Material Lift Type A.” Here's that definition: “a hoisting and lowering mechanism normally classified as an elevator . . . serving two or more landings for the purpose of transporting material. On Type A material lifts no persons are permitted to ride”.

Many elevator inspectors have been confused by this and saw VRCs as fair game, leading to cases where VRCs were incorrectly considered to be A17.1 Material Lifts. Here's what these people fail to understand: VRCs were made to be VRCs by companies in the MATERIAL handling industry. They were never intended to carry people, therefore they were manufactured to satisfy the less stringent and costly industrial standards of ASME B20.1.

In fact, as MHIA has clearly pointed out, “The A17 code specifically and expressly excludes all B20 conveyors – which include VRCs – from the scope of equipment intended to be covered by that code (section 1.1.2(g)).”

MHIA concludes: “Applying ASME A17.1Material Lift requirements to VRCs imposes unreasonable requirements on, creates unnecessary regulatory and administrative obstructions for, and places an additional financial burden on the end user of the equipment.”

MHIA has been stating and restating this for the past 10 years, most recently last year with the update of "Application Guidelines for Vertical Reciprocating Conveyors.” Now, a half-a-year after this publication's release, Mr. Powers of Century Elevator issues his press release, with the apparent blessing of the Massachusetts Elevator Gang, and now not even worrying about the key distinction that has always protected VRC users from these people. The press release comes out and says it:

“VRCs can be designed to move things (not people!) from one pound to 200,000 pounds between levels in multiple story buildings.”

I love the exclamation mark they added for emphasis!

The VRC industry isn't giving up their fight against unreasonable regulations. I spoke with Tom Archie, special projects manager at PFlow Industries, makers of VRCs. He told me the International Union of Elevator Constructors wants to get each state to adopt a licensing requirement for elevator installers and to slip VRCs into that pool of equipment that only licensed elevator mechanics can install. The VRC industry is convinced that goes counter to a Supreme Court ruling stating that although a state can license almost any activity within its boundaries, a licensing requirement has to bear rational relationship to the work being licensed. And it's the VRC Industry's contention that it's not rational to require VRC mechanics to learn and be licensed on equipment they never install.

Archie also told me that his industry has written an amendment with the approval of the Massachusetts Dept. of Public Safety, which oversees the licensing requirements, and he's hopeful this amendment will be introduced and passed during the new legislative session this year.

Meanwhile, Century Elevator's Mr. Powers wants you VRC users and potential users to remember something:

“‘To ensure the right VRC for your job, and that it's installed properly, always seek out an experienced team such as Century Elevator. We never let you down,' Powers smiles.”

Yes, I'll bet he smiled when he said that.

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