Elevator Drive Upgrades: 5 Essential Tips for Owners and Managers

VVVF Elevator Drive

Has your elevator drive recently failed?

Or maybe you’re considering upgrading an obsolete drive?  

A shut-down elevator can cause serious annoyances and safety hazards to tenants in your building, but is the high cost of replacement a requirement?

Depending on the age of your elevator drive (sometimes called a vvvf drive), you may be offered several different options for repairs or replacement. If you’ve been told that parts are obsolete, you may think the only way to salvage your existing elevator is to upgrade the drive. 

Is that really the case? 

As a building owner or manager, this guide will help you with everything you need to know about elevator drives. We’ll review details on the elevator drive, obsolescence, options to repair, and we’ll provide tools to help you calculate true cost. 

Let’s get started.

elevator drive

​What Is An Elevator Drive, And What Does It Do?

Think of the elevator drive as the brain, or more specifically a portion of the brain,  of your elevator system. Its function is to operate the movements, speed, and torque of your elevator. 

Today, many elevator drives are electric and work to power all the mechanical movements of the elevator with much better efficiency than other types of automatic or manual drives. The electric motor is operated by a three-phase induction motor, which offers much more precise control over the elevator function by working in stages to build power when the button is pressed. 

ABB, an elevator drive manufacturer, does a good job explaining exactly how a drive works. 

​If your elevator often suffers from slow starts and stops or seems to make sharp, sudden movements, the drive could be to blame. 

Electric elevator drives offer the best control of power and torque for the elevator, meaning much more reliable service. By removing mechanical speed and pressure control, the lift runs more smoothly with more control of the operation.

Why Is My Existing Drive Obsolete?

The primary reason elevator owners upgrade their machines is that their current elevator drive has broken down, and they’ve been told that their drive is now obsolete.

It’s important not to get “obsolete” confused with “useless,” however. Just as with all technology, elevator manufacturing changes all the time. The technology that was considered cutting-edge 10 years ago has likely already been replaced by a mechanism that’s more agile, faster, or stronger. 

​If your elevator breaks down during that time, the part you need to fix your model may not be available anymore. If it’s been much longer (say, 20 years or longer), it’s highly likely that your drive is no longer being manufactured.

There likely isn’t a high demand for parts for older models, or the drive you have is no longer supported with OEM parts. This is what makes your elevator drive obsolete.

Why Do I Need To Upgrade My Elevator Drive? Can’t I Repair It?

As with other operating machines, elevators sometimes break down. If your building has an older elevator drive, the manufacturer may no longer create the parts needed to fix it.  

Most elevator maintenance agreements (exclude drive replacements if the parts are considered obsolete. Not sure what’s included in your contract? Upload your elevator contract and we’ll review it for free. 

In many cases, you may be able to repair or replace your existing elevator drive, but you may need to do some research to determine how and if it’s possible. Reputable drive repair businesses will use OEM drives and specifications, with rigorous Quality Control procedures to ensure that the drive operates as well as before.  NDC Elevator Drives  claims first-time repair success of 99.8%.  

However, some elevator owners report that while the drive may function better for a while, it may tend to break down again after some time. At that point, you may consider upgrading your drive.

Elevator drive price

What Does It Cost To Upgrade An Elevator Drive?

Upgrading your drive can be quite costly. 

The final cost to upgrade will depend on some variables:

  • Elevator type
  • Material costs
  • Labor costs
  • Local permit regulations

You can also use our free calculator to gauge the average cost of the job you need.

What Are The Benefits Of Upgrading My Elevator Drive?

Upgrading to a new drive can feel daunting, and the cost may seem pretty high. Still, the benefits of upgrading can make the investment worthwhile.

It’s widely known that a well-maintained DC motor can last more than 100 years—that’s what we call a return on investment! Having a good drive will protect your motor. 

There are other benefits to consider, too.

If you have an older model (20 years or older), or even a model that has become merely obsolete, your elevator is likely not functioning at optimal power. T

​Today’s electric drives are capable of much more power and precision, making for a smoother, more efficient ride experience. This puts less stress on the motor which can lead to serious energy savings, reduced operating expenses, and optimized performance for your tenants.

A new elevator drive model called a Regenerative Drive amps up those benefits even more by turning expended energy—produced when the elevator goes up and down—into power that can be used in other systems in the building. In older systems, this process generates heat into the machine room. An upgrade to this type of model could even contribute to energy savings throughout the rest of your building! 

KEB manufactures a regenerative drive and does a good job of explaining the benefits in this video. 

The ElevatorLab team is dedicated to helping elevator owners and building managers determine the smartest way to invest in their systems. We’re happy to review any proposals you’ve received to help you narrow down your options and discover what’s fair. 

Just contact us to get started.

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