Levels of Lift Satisfaction

VRCs, or material lifts, in a warehouse facility.

In today’s competitive self-storage environment, smart operators use all their business assets to the fullest extent. That includes maintaining equipment that keeps a facility running smoothly, safely and efficiently. In multistory buildings, freight lifts are a key component of customer satisfaction.

Vertical reciprocating conveyors (VRCs) are often used as an alternative to elevators in self-storage due to their low cost and ease of maintenance. In most cases, depending on the state, they require fewer inspections by law; yet it’s still important to keep them well-maintained. It’s also essential to teach customers and staff how to use them safely and effectively.

Lift Use

For most self-storage applications, a 2,000-pound capacity lift is adequate. If tenants will be moving large furniture, you may want to consider a VRC that has full carriage-height enclosures and a roof, which will help limit items to a reasonable size. If you don’t have enough lift capacity or the carriage platform is too small, the lift may be damaged by people who insist on packing it with oversized loads.

Properly training tenants and employees to safely operate the lift or what to do during a malfunction will go a long way toward preventing VRC abuse and the need for emergency service. When teaching people to use the lift, emphasize how much weight the unit can safely handle and how to load it. For example, explain the importance of centering the load on the carriage platform and making sure goods are secure. Off-centered loading can cause excess wear on the wheel blocks and guide wheels, making replacement parts necessary sooner than normal.

Preventive Maintenance

Routine maintenance is critical in making your lift last. The frequency of care will depend on the type of VRC system, its specific components, and the level of lift use. Keeping a log to document how frequently the unit operates can help you determine when items should be inspected and serviced.

Mechanical, structural and electrical inspections should be performed at least annually by a qualified service provider. You can contract with the company that provided your lift or hire an outside firm. A good service agreement will include regular examinations and performance of any maintenance or repairs.

While service should be performed by professionals, you can examine the lift on a regular basis to stay on top of potential problems. Simple inspections of a VRC’s general condition, safety, cleanliness, lighting and signage should be conducted daily or weekly.

Following is a list of a lift’s key inspection points. Some are beyond what you, as a facility operator, should handle; but they will help demonstrate the scope of VRC care:

  • Signage—Are all safety signs in place and legible? Are the call/send buttons properly labeled?
  • Doors and Interlocks—Are landing or shaft-way doors or gates in good condition? Do the interlock devices prevent the door or gate from opening when the carriage is not in the correct position? Does the interlock prevent the VRC from operating if the door or gate is open?
  • Perimeter Guarding or Shaft Way—Is the perimeter guarding or shaft way in good condition? Does it prevent inadvertent exposure to internal lift equipment?
  • Carriage Platform—Is the carriage platform in good shape? Inspect the carriage guarding. Is there any damage that could injure tenants’ property? If the carriage has gates or doors, are they operating properly? If they have a status device that only allows the VRC to work when the gate or door is shut, is it functioning?
  • Controls—Is the main control panel in good condition and legible? Is it locked or secured? Is the wiring in good shape? Are all circuits operating?
  • Call/Send Station—Are the pushbuttons illuminated and working properly? If there’s a key-lock, does it work the way it should?
  • Limit Switches—If you have an electromechanical VRC, you likely have limit switches for stopping at each floor. These must be routinely inspected and adjusted to ensure the carriage platform stops at the correct level. If you have a hydraulic VRC, you most likely have an adjustable physical stop at the top of the lift. It should be inspected and adjusted so the carriage stops at the right position on the upper landing. Look for debris that could prevent the carriage from landing correctly.
  • Motors—On an electromechanical VRC, the motor should be routinely inspected, as should the air gap on the brake. Make sure they are clean and in good condition, as well as all wiring. Make sure the gear-box is not leaking and the fluid levels are correct.
  • Hydraulic Pumps—Pumps, used on hydraulic VRCs, need to be checked for proper fluid levels. Routinely replace the filter and inspect the unit for leaks or damage. Also check the pump’s wiring.
  • Freefall Safety Devices—The VRC has a device that prevents the carriage platform from dropping in the event of a broken or slack chain or cable. Check it regularly.
  • Lifting Components (Hydraulic/ Mechanical)—Routinely inspect the parts of the VRC that move the carriage platform up and down. Check the chain and sprockets of electromechanical VRCs for wear, damage and proper lubrication. Check the cylinders, cables and sheaves of hydraulic VRCs for leakage, wear, damage and proper lubrication. Inspect the guidance device or wheel blocks for wear, making sure they rotate freely and support the carriage platform within the structural lifting masts.
  • Structural Components and Bracing—These include the lifting masts, carriage framing, motor mount (on electromechanical units), and any bracing that ties the VRC to the building for support. Make sure these are in good condition. Are there any bent or deformed parts? Are all bolts tight? Are all welds in good shape? Is everything plumb and level?
  • Lubrication—Are all bearings, sheaves, wheel blocks, cables, chains, or other moving parts properly lubricated? Are the correct types of lubricants being used (those specified by the manufacturer)?
  • Lighting—Is the VRC area adequately lit?

By using a preventive maintenance program, you can quickly pinpoint problems, making them easier to remedy. With proper inspection and care, your VRC should provide many years of safe, smooth, efficient operation.

Todd Canham is the VRC product manager for Wildeck Inc., a manufacturer of custom VRCs, mezzanines and safety-guarding products for self-storage and other industries. Wildeck’s full-line dealers can help people choose the right lift for their new-construction, retrofit or conversion projects. For more information, call 800.325.6939, ext. 225; e-mail tcanham@wildeck.com; visit www.wildeck.com.