Whens a Conveyor an Elevator?

June 1, 2004
Never. If you've read the Red Tag Report series by former MHM editor Bernie Knill, you know Material Handling Management has been critical of elevator

Never. If you've read the Red Tag Report series by former MHM editor Bernie Knill, you know Material Handling Management has been critical of elevator authorities who have tried to regulate vertical reciprocating conveyors (VRCs) out of business. In some states, regulation has included the use of red tags to shut down VRCs. The motive? A VRC is cheaper than a freight elevator, and many elevator officials have a financial interest in the installation of the more expensive alternative.

An official of the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) recently prohibited the installation of a VRC in the stockroom of a major home improvement retailer. This got the attention of the vice president of one of the leading manufacturers of VRCs, PFLOW Industries. Herb Ruehl sent MHM a copy of the letter by which permission for this project was denied. MHM followed up by doing an interview with Ruehl. The text of that interview follows. We'll also cover this topic on the editorial page of MHM's July issue. — Tom Andel, chief editor

MHM: It looks like the elevator inspectors are creating a new back door to get back into the conveyor business. When did you start noticing this happening in New York City?

Ruehl: The limitations on VRCs were enacted in December 2002.

MHM: Why the limitation?

Ruehl: They want users to buy elevators. That's not new; it's been going on for 30 years. In the city of New York, someone convinced them to adopt the B20.1 code. They adopted it as a conveyor and they were willing to call a VRC a conveyor, but they placed all these restrictions on it. They can simply say we're following our code.

MHM: What do you plan to do about it?

Ruehl: We hope to get somebody, including some New York customers and the media, to find out that this is arbitrary and capricious, and its purpose is to serve the elevator community not the people of New York.

MHM: Does this affect New York City only?

Ruehl: This has already come up in a different way in other elevator jurisdictions. In Canada, one of the Big 4 auto manufacturers has our equipment on site to be installed, and they've been told they can't install it, even though they're using some in another part of the building, because of a new interpretation of the Canadian code. They're calling it a "material lift A." This is in their elevator code, so they're denying in essence that this is a conveyor. In my opinion, this is the beginning of a trend, but to what extent it will go I can't say. All I know is the elevator industry changed the A17 standard. They've rewritten their code to include a material lift A, which is a piece of equipment nobody can ride. That piece of equipment shouldn't be in the elevator code; it should be in the conveyor code. I've been told by someone who talked to the head of the A 17 committee that the industry is designing more equipment that will be under this umbrella of freight lift A to handle material only.

MHM: Why does this concern you?

Ruehl: The reason is they want equipment to compete with vertical conveyors, but vertical conveyors are less expensive. Our position will be we can't stop them from building other types of equipment but they'd better put it under the proper standard. If they build other types of equipment with greater allowances than are on freight lift A, it will give the elevator people more reason to say to anybody using a conveyor you are now freight lift A and thus you must do this or you can't use it. You have to go to an elevator union and an elevator manufacturer.

MHM: What interest do the elevator authorities have in regulating VRCs?

Ruehl: Anybody connected to the elevator industry more than likely comes out of the elevator union. One of the major issues over the years has been that the elevator union is pushing these people to make it and classify it as an elevator so their people get the installation work, even though they don't have the proper skills to install a conveyor. VRCs require welding and rigging, and they don't have these skills.

MHM: Can you make a strong case against them?

Ruehl: We've always fought this through the ASME [American Society of Mechanical Engineers] and ANSI [American National Standards Institute] to get their interpretations clear. Six times we fought it through the courts, and in each case we won. The best way and cheapest way is to get the potential users in a given area to stand up and say enough. We need this equipment. It's safe and effective, it's less expensive and you are stopping us from using it for no rational purpose other than to serve the elevator industry.

We're trying to get to ASME, and specifically to the A17 B20 committees, and for them to spell out quite clearly that a material lift model A is indeed an elevator and not a vertical conveyor. They're two different pieces of equipment with two different codes.

We spent 20 years clarifying it not only with the federal government but with ASME ANSI, and I mentioned all the lawsuits stating this piece of equipment is a conveyor within B20.1. Now if they attempt to write a separate standard for conveyors, they'll have to have it adopted by ASME and ANSI to carry any weight at all. That would take two to three years minimum. It could be a nightmare.

The other problem is the elevator code A17 specifically exempts conveyors within the scope of B20.1. Now they'd have to get the elevator people to write in new exemption language to exempt whatever standard they created. Then they'd have to go to the states and have them do the same thing.

MHM: Are other VRC manufacturers as concerned about this as you?

Ruehl: For most of them this is a secondary piece of equipment in their line; they don't sell that many and they don't even get into the area of guaranteeing codes. They let the customer handle it, which is why the industry isn't as big as it should be.

MHM: Are you optimistic this issue will be resolved in the material handling industry's favor?

Ruehl: Bob Seymour, the chairman of A17, said the issue of conveyor/elevator is over as far as he's concerned. A VRC is a conveyor, not an elevator. If he means that, they should be able to come up with some sort of language that clearly spells out that material lift A is an elevator, not a piece of equipment that intrudes on the conveyor code.