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What does ‘open protocol’ mean in relation to lifts, and why is it important?

Vertical Transportation By Tony Bootes, Senior Vertical Transportation Consultant – 07 March 2024

Two lifts in a lobby, one with open doors


Tony looking to camera in an open collar shirt and suit jacket in front of a living wall

Tony Bootes

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Graham in an open collar shirt and suit jacket against a dark wall

Graham Barker

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The term ‘open protocol’ is often mentioned in relation to specification and purchase of lift equipment. Interestingly though, it has no legal definition or formal meaning, which leads to people interpreting the meaning of ‘open protocol’ or ‘closed protocol’ to their own advantage. In this blog, we will aim to clarify and define these terms in the context of the vertical transportation aka lift industry.

Understanding the lift supply chain and technical support

First, let’s get a picture of the market we’re talking about. 

The vertical transportation market broadly comprises Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) companies who manufacture and supply complete lift systems and those who supply lifts they manufacture by procuring components from diverse manufacturers of the kit of parts such as doors, drives and control systems. 

That all sounds simple, but realistically, the market is more nuanced than this, with many OEM’s having their equipment manufactured by sub-suppliers but under restrictive licences where the components can only be bought directly from the OEM and not on the open market. Often very minor changes will be made between the OEM version of a product and the open market version which locks purchasers into sticking with the OEM brand when a replacement or spare part is needed during the operational life of the lift. 

Understanding the technical support options

If a client or lift company is looking for technical support for an OEM’s equipment, they need to use the OEM’s technical support team, who are typically specialists in the equipment., They will have access to in-house diagnostic equipment, software updates, and technical specialists in relation to the original designers. With their specialist training and expertise, OEM’s generally charge at the high end of rates for such services. In the ideal scenario the OEM prefers lift owners contact them directly for any maintenance or repair works. It is standard practice for an OEM to prioritise its contracted customers over requests from external non-contract customers. Typically, the OEM will not make available any technical support documentation or tools greater than their legal requirements. 

In contrast, a sub-supplier will often provide technical support, documentation and diagnostic tools to a lift company at zero or low cost. Their primary focus is on reputation -and quickly resolving any technical issues to ensure their product is known for its quality and remains attractive to future customers.

The role of market forces

The third factor to consider is the influence of commercial market forces on pricing. Sub-suppliers must price their equipment to be competitive with others in their marketplace.  

OEM’s however only need to price the complete lift or elevator competitively – for supply or replacement parts, they can set whatever price they care to.

The upshot is typically OEM manufactured lifts have a lower capital cost than lifts assembled from sub-supplier components, but spare parts for the OEM product are often more expensive than comparable components from sub-suppliers. 

Back to our original task of defining the meaning of ‘open protocol’

A definition of open and closed protocol for lifts

At Cundall, open protocol means that:

1. Technical support for the individual components of a lift or elevator are readily available, with all technical manuals

2. All diagnostic tools available to any competent lift company.

3. The supply of spare parts operates in a freely competitive marketplace.  

Therefore, open protocol lifts are not those provided by OEM’s. 

Closed protocol means that technical support, diagnostics, and spare parts can only be obtained from the OEM. 

A final note - Reprogrammable Autodiallers do not make a lift open protocol

OEM salespersons will often advise that their lift is open protocol as the autodialler can be reprogrammed to call another emergency callout provider if the OEM is no longer the maintenance company, which is generally correct. Because the lift’s autodialler is only one sub-component of a lift, and fundamentally a very minor one in terms of ease of replacement (aftermarket autodiallers are available from many suppliers with conversion kits to ease their installation to an OEM lift in a few hours) whereas the replacement of a closed protocol lift control system involves major works which are both intrusive and expensive. In short, one small part does not make an entire lift or elevator open protocol, only the whole assemblage being open protocol is truly ‘open protocol’. 

How to decide if open or closed protocol lift equipment is appropriate for a project

Despite the lifetime brand relationship for parts and maintenance associated with original equipment manufacturer (OEM) lift or elevator procurement, there can be real benefits for clients. 

Some of the reasons to purchase OEM vertical transportation equipment include:

  • The complete lift has been designed and developed as a single unit ensuring coordination between subsystems
  • By designing a complete lift duplication or over-engineering of systems is avoided leading to greater material efficiency and reducing embodied carbon
  • OEM warranties cover the complete lift and if issues occur are not going to try to shift blame onto their sub-suppliers
  • OEM’s will typically warrant the availability of spare parts for a minimum number of years after the lift has been installed - ranging from 15-25 years
  • OEM’s are often stable organisations - many have existed for over 100 years and operate globally, so clients can be reasonably confident support will be provided

OEM’s operate on the forefront of technology for lifts. If we were to look at the top 100 tallest buildings worldwide, I am confident that 100% would be provided by OEM’s. The commercial stability mentioned above means that developers can feel much more confident in building multi-million dollar buildings based on the equipment of an OEM. This in turn means that OEM’s provide the tallest, fastest, smoothest lifts and elevators globally. 

Ultimately, when a customer is considering purchasing a lift, they need to think about what is most important to them from their lift supplier – a lifetime relationship with potential higher maintenance and replacement part costs, or the freedom to get a more tailored solution with a more open market for parts, and potentially lower maintenance and repair costs.

It should never be an automatic default to either OEM (closed protocol) or ‘open protocol’.

Examples of application of open and closed (OEM) protocol lift equipment for different project types

  • Developer building to sell on - OEM for lowest up-front cost, or non-OEM for attractiveness to purchasers of the building
  • Owner operator who will maintain the building for years to come - non-OEM / open protocol for ease of changing between servicing providers, and upgrading lifts over building lifecycle
  • High rise building - OEM

Client / Procurement Consideration

It is important to consider the clients responsibility in this process - if an open protocol lift is desired then you should not approach an OEM and ask them to provide something which they don’t offer. You wouldn’t walk into a Ford car showroom and ask to buy the latest Vauxhall car! The OEM salesperson will offer you the most appropriate solution they can, to meet most of your requirements from their available product range, but it will be from their range and not another company’s. 

If you need any assistance with the design or specification of the lifts for your building, assistance with lift procure, or support to resolve problems with lifts already installed, please get in touch.