The RORY effect

Thanks to the ingenuity of Rory Smith, inventor of an algorithm to improve elevator uptime, and due to the revolutionary MAX project, the elevator industry worldwide is on the brink of a new era.

The elevator industry found me – I worked for a large electrical corporation years ago and it was there that I was introduced to elevator technology. I’d never thought of elevators as being an industry, but once introduced, I was addicted. It can be a lifelong career, as it has been for me – it’s hard for me to imagine doing anything else. My favorite memory of having worked at thyssenkrupp is from 2014.

I was part of a group that met with Andreas Schierenbeck, CEO of thyssenkrupp Elevator, and the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, to discuss our MAX project, which was supposed to revolutionize the elevator industry. Surprisingly, with no talk of money and no contract, we were allowed to go ahead. Microsoft just wanted us to supply a proof of concept – which we did. I even temporarily moved to Seattle to work with the team and show it was feasible!

Remain vigilant

Technology moves faster every day – it’s important to remain vigilant so you don’t miss out on what’s coming up. For instance, when we first started the MAX project, we were concerned about how to connect elevators to the Cloud. We made the assumption that cellular technology would be too expensive, yet it quickly became the best option, as cellular communication was suddenly more available and much cheaper. For MAX, we developed an algorithm that analyzes the error codes associated with a shutdown and creates a list of the most probable causes of the shutdown. It will be big support for our technicians and will help them to return the elevator to service more quickly – our customers will love it. To develop this took us about two years. Then our team actually went out to buildings to check if the algorithm worked in practice and came up with the right answers.

I’ve been working in the elevator industry for 47 years. MAX is the most exciting, fun and challenging project I’ve ever worked on, as we had no previous background in analytics. We worked with Microsoft data scientists to learn this and they learned about elevator technology too – it was a joint learning process. This project changes the way we conduct business. Elevator maintenance has become a commodity but MAX changes that by improving customer satisfaction. We can increase the uptime of elevators – reducing breakdowns by even one a year has a tremendous impact. We’re proud of what we’re achieving. I have spoken about MAX at several conferences. Publicizing what we’re doing offers a chance to network, learn from others and look at what we could be missing within our project.

Passing on knowledge

The best way to realize something is having to explain it to someone else. thyssenkrupp Elevator has the in-house learning platform seed campus for internal training. As a way to pass on what I’ve learned, I teach Application Engineering. I gave classes in Memphis, Shanghai and Stuttgart last year and I taught in Madrid in May. I always listen for insightful questions from students which inspire me to look deeper into topics – it stimulates the thinking processes. As Visiting Professor at the University of Northampton, UK, where I personally studied for my Master‘s and PhD, I take part in an annual seminar on lift and escalator technology. I’m on the technical committee, and first coach students on how to present their research papers and then look through the submissions. There are so many high-tech projects and it’s a great way to learn new things. Elevator technology is a totally different world now compared to 20 years ago.

I’ve been at thyssenkrupp for 22 years. I thought I would retire two years ago, but now I want to see the MAX project completely rolled out before retiring. I feel very lucky to have been part of it – it’s a great last project before retirement! As part of our roll out we are installing 150 units a day. By August we will be installing 6,000 units per month in the U.S. alone. It’s a huge logistical task, but it gets easier and faster – we discover new challenges daily, so there’s a bit of excitement each day.