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WEE Goes On

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The Shanghai skyline

WEE Goes On

For the second time in its history, the World Elevator and Escalator (WEE) Expo was held in August, rescheduled from its original May date because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Visitors were met with an untimely late-summer subtropical heatwave, with daytime temperatures reaching 37°C (98.6°F). But, even with the pandemic and the heat, the biennial WEE is regarded as one of the international elevator industry’s major expos. The escalators at the front hall’s entrance worked tirelessly to carry exhibitors and visitors up and down under the scorching sun. The shadow of the globally looming pandemic remained on people’s minds. Its effects were evident from the diminished number of people approaching and gathering at the entrance of the familiar venue, Shanghai’s National Exhibition and Convention Center (NECC).

“August heat, pandemic worries aside, the 2020 expo shows the health of China’s VT industry.”

Your reporter hesitated to leave Beijing, as anyone would think their home the safest place to be, with schools closed, public transportation halted, and people having been wearing facemasks and observing social distancing for months. We had been seeing elevators sterilized at least twice a day, with signed records posted on the car wall. During the early months of the year, after the then-unknown virus began to take a heavy toll in Wuhan, most people in China stayed home, either by public regulation or self-imposed lockdown, and the central government began mobilizing nationwide medical resources. It seemed that everyone in the country acted in an effective way to break off the spreading chains of the virus, while medical workers were going all out to save as many lives as possible.

Relaxed Rules

All these efforts began to pay off in early summer, which enabled mass gatherings such as WEE to open safely, even amid daily reports of new cases and repeated spreads in various parts of the country. Wearing masks, measuring temperatures and maintaining social distancing have become part of everyday life, and to enter the WEE venue, visitors were required to produce a personal green QR code — a contact-tracing and health app — as their passport, in addition to other security procedures.

Exhibitors looked enthusiastic to demonstrate their products and solutions, an array of items that included parking systems, field safety apparatuses, manufacturing machinery, in-door installations, machines and various components. Innovations came out in the wake of the pandemic, as elevator cars are regarded as places of higher risk for the spread of viruses. To decrease the possibility of viral spread via push buttons, vendors showcased clean, safe and virus-proof solutions, including no-touch panels, voice activation and personal identification solutions for passengers.

Another difference from previous years: WEE 2020 had fewer heavy exhibits and a number of unmanned booths. A few exhibitors told your author that their companies traditionally enjoyed thriving export business, but the lingering global pandemic had reduced their exports to virtually zero. They saw little hope of seeing customers and business partners from abroad visiting their booths, which forced them to turn to the domestic market for survival, at least in the near future.

Fortunately, the Chinese elevator market continues to grow steadily, and many local manufacturers of elevators, escalators and components have begun to diversify their product ranges. For example, a leading escalator step provider displayed home lifts. Indeed, market demand continues to change, with growing urbanization, improved living environments, extensive infrastructure construction and research activities all playing a role. Remodeling projects of existing residential buildings, such as to install elevators in six-story or higher structures that previously had no vertical transportation (VT), are posing a challenge to the industry. The demand for tailored home lifts and special-purpose elevators is on the rise, too. Many of these exhibitors are finding a niche, even as the Chinese market remains widely open to the world.

Shelley Zhou of Monarch BST expressed thanks to ELEVATOR WORLD for its help with the company’s global business. Her company’s silver booth attracted nearly as many visitors as in years past, though few foreign faces were seen. Richard Zhu, at the Canny booth, said that in 2019, Canny once again ranked within the Global Elevator Industry Summit’s Top Ten manufacturers, enjoying stably growing sales figures. Just then, Wang Youlin, president of Canny, showed Li Shoulin, chairman of the China Elevator Association, his company’s booth, and your author chatted with old friends at the Ningbo Xinda display and was pleased to see visitors come up for closer looks at the machines on display, as EW has followed the development of this well-known brand for decades.

VT Industry’s Dilemma

The event highlighted a dilemma that has been affecting China’s elevator industry, a situation that is changing the ideology of manufacturers and administrators. On one hand, the country’s elevator production capacity has grown to greater than market demand, while on the other hand, a shortage of well-trained maintenance technicians has begun to hinder the comprehensive performance of existing VT equipment, as well as the healthy development of the industry. The industry is gratified to see more universities becoming involved in education on VT technology, as well as schools contributing to education on field practice. Still, the point lies in the need for a fundamental change in the industry, with an increased focus on elevator service.

Companies should increase maintenance to major business sectors, rather than simply manufacturing large quantities of products. The nature of customer service and community service by the elevator industry has become more essential and valuable than ever before. It begins with answering the first inquiry call and continues by bringing the customer’s wishes and concerns into design. This trend could be seen at WEE from the varied customer-tailored solutions and technologies many booth exhibitors were ready to offer.

Field technicians need to be well-educated, technically qualified, service-minded, team-minded, considerate, agreeable to and responsible for customers and community. Their tasks are not only to do routine maintenance, troubleshoot and keep the lifts going, but should also include maintaining the company image and looking after customer-related business. These field workers are serving as company representatives, so they should be respected, adequately valued and treated well.

Rising Economy

Trucks could be heard bustling by on the nearby highway and jetliners could be seen taking off from Hongqiao airport every two minutes from your author’s hotel room in Shanghai. This was an encouraging sign that the economic dynamic of the Yangtze Delta was looking up. WEE 2020 was impressive in the earnest and steady manner the exhibitors displayed toward the current difficulties and challenges. From your author’s view, the younger generation of our industry can focus on business with confidence and work to do the right thing. For all the frustrations and delays, the fact that WEE 2020 was held proved a success.

History is often measured in centuries, but lifetimes can only be measured in years or decades. When EW’s expo-participating team led by Ricia Sturgeon-Hendrick gathered in Shanghai two decades ago to work with booth presentation and report on the China World Elevator Expo 2000, what was then the fast-changing skyline of Pudong, observed from the Bund, was quite an attraction for visitors. Jin Mao Tower was still under construction (EW, September 2000, and January and February 2001), but was surpassed in height by 2016. On a recent August afternoon, your author, disregarding hot riverfront pavement, stepped up on the Bund again, looking for how things have changed. The skyline was there, perfectly upgraded, in harmony, looking brilliant and more metropolitan.

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Elevator World | November 2020 Issue Cover