Lerch Bates Inc. Building Insight

Global Leaders in Technical Consulting for the Building Industry

Stick to your knitting or venture out?

Many firms have wrestled with this idea. “Do we continue to do what we have always done and are good at or do we venture into new areas and take a risk?” These are considerations our own firm, an industry leader in elevator consulting for over 60 years, faced as we deliberated on a recent expansion of our services into elevator and escalator inspection, transit consulting and business intelligence consulting.

Staying the course is safe and predictable.  It lacks risk, which in this economy is something serious to consider.  Employees are comfortable with staying the course.  They understand it.  Staying the course is easier to manage too.

However, if you are in a mature market, staying the course might mean stagnant growth.  A new venture can open up new revenue streams.  A new venture can bring in new clients.  A new venture can also bring excitement to your firm.

New ventures should not be entered into though without a lot of thought.  Nothing can kill the excitement of expanding your business like failure.  Planning a new venture should be a paramount part of venturing out.  This includes business plans and financial models.  How will you enter this new venture?  Who will manage it?  How will you market it?  What clients will you target?  Where will the resources come from, both financial and human?

The more questions you ask yourself up front, the fewer surprises you will run into later.  However, no amount of planning can anticipate everything that will come up.  You need to be prepared to swifty respond to the unanticipated.  Also, as you progress, you may find that your plan may be off in certain areas,   therefore, flexibility is of high importance.  A well thought out plan that allows for flexibility is the key.

For those of you who have ventured out, please comment on your successes and failures.

The Logistics Labyrinth

I love puzzles. Especially the maze type puzzles. You know the ones that have endless branches and pathways that lead you into dead ends. I seem to have a natural instinct to visualize the correct path from the start all the way to the finish line. The greater the complexity of the maze, then better the personal challenge.

I felt this way until I visited a client who had a hospital nearing the century mark in age. Like a multi-tentacle monster, the hospital had grown from a central building into a large, multiple armed (building) complex. Trying to insure good horizontal circulation, the owner had linked all buildings with tunnels, sky bridges, covered walkways, connecting corridors or a combination of all of the above.

Hospital expansions had been opportunistic over the years. Meaning; if the hospital had money, then they could find someone to build onto the existing structure. Expansions are typically dictated by the following criteria:

  • Available Funding
  • Available Property
  • Plot Size
  • Building Code Constraints
  • Profitability (operations within the proposed expansion)

Back to my story:

In most hospitals, my client, the Director of Facilities, resides in the back of the hospital on either the ground or basement floor.  I decided to park in the back of the hospital to shorten my walking distance. After entering the facility I found that I was in the wrong building. No big deal!  All I had to do is to follow the horizontal linkages going back to the main hospital. After about fifteen minutes I thought that it probably would have helped if the facility had invested into some better campus wide way finding. But I didn’t care, I love mazes.

After meandering around the campus for another twenty minutes I decided to look for the cafeteria to pick up some bread slices and water.  (I could leave bread crumbs along the way in case I got lost again. The water was to insure that I would not get dehydrated during my long arduous journey). It wasn’t quite that bad, but I did miss my scheduled appointment. I finally cried uncle and call my client asking for some friendly assistance. I gave him my coordinates and within minutes he was escorting me back to his office.

We finally got down to business and the topic was of no surprise. The opportunistic expansion of the hospital over the years had exceeded the capability of the original hospital infrastructures. (Elevator capacity, support services capacities, etc.).  Elevator wait times could be as long as five minutes.  In addition, everything that had to move (food, supplies, linen, waste, pharmaceuticals, etc.) followed long scurrilous routes through the campus. Transport labor costs were high and kept increasing.  All of this while employee and patient satisfaction kept declining.  He asked “What could be done to help alleviate this problem?” This is not an unusual issue faced by long established and successful hospitals.

The answer was simple. The hospital needed a “Master Transport and Circulation” study. This study examines everything that has to move within the hospital and the existing systems assisting in their movement. The study identifies if the needs of the hospital were being met.  In the case of this facility the answer was a resounding “No”. However, once the deficiencies are identified, then a range of solutions can be identified. The range of solutions can include:

  • System / equipment modernization
  • System / equipment additions
  • Changes in operational schedule and hours
  • Architectural alterations
  • A combination of any and all of the above

The most important advice I can give is:

An owner should understand how a proposed expansion will impact the functions of the existing facility.  These issues need to be resolved before the expansion is built and not left until someone complains.  Not everyone loves a puzzle.

Flooring Options for Elevators in Public Transit Systems

In the land of Public Transit Systems there are a number of unique situations that your vertical transportation equipment and systems must endure.  There is extreme heat followed by extreme cold.  There are frustrated fans when the home team loses.  There are happy fans when the home team wins. There is fire, wind, rain and snow.  However, one of the most difficult situations to prepare for is when the car is used as a restroom.

Without getting into the specifics of the chemical reactions and corrosive level of the material we are dealing with, designing a platform and flooring material that will allow the elevators to be cleaned thoroughly is key.  It is also important to stop liquid of any type from working down into the subflooring and platform to prevent a deterioration of the supporting structure.

One design we have found to be effective has been to provide a stainless steel 1/4″ sub floor and door sill.  We require this in both new design and when installing new floors on existing units.  The stainless has proven to be virtually impervious to corrosive activity.  A stainless steel cove where the walls meet the floor is also imperative.  A poured epoxy flooring has been found to be nearly indestructible and water tight.  When the flooring is curved up into the cove area it forms a sort of pan.  This pan shape prevents material from seeping down into the frame and makes it relatively easy to clean and disinfect the elevator.  The floors we have installed over the last few years are wearing extremely well and have proven to be fairly easy to maintain.

A clean experience proves to be much more pleasant for the disabled or the young parent pushing a carriage.

The sweet smell of victory perhaps?