New London Architecture

Five minutes with… Federico Garcia Parra

Thursday 04 March 2021

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

Federico Garcia Parra

Senior Director
Otis UK & Ireland

David Taylor catches up with Head of Global Strategic Accounts and Customer Advisory Board Chair at Otis, Federico Garcia Parra, about the findings from a scientific study they commissioned on how elevator airflow impacts exposure risk for passengers.

David Taylor: Hi Federico! How are you?

Federico Garcia Parra: Hello David, good morning, and thank you for calling! How are you?

DT: I’m very well. I wanted to ask you about this study that you've produced about air flow and elevators. First of all, why? What made you do this study? And secondly, could you pithily summarise its key findings, please? 

FGP: Thank you, David. So let me start with some background. As the COVID 19 outbreak started, we talked to our customers around the world, trying to understand what their main concerns and pain points were when they were designing their re-entry studies into the workplace.

We learned and realised that ongoing concerns around the spread of the virus during the elevator ride meant that many people become hesitant about riding elevators. So it was clear to our clients were facing a real challenge here. So it was then that we decided to Commission Dr Qingyan (Yan) Chen from Purdue University in the US to do a study with three main objectives. 

The first objective was to help the industry better understand how air flow affects the risk of exposure among passengers in and around the elevator, and this independent study tried to build on our efforts to advance industry safety protocols and also enable us to help our customer make more informed but also science-based decisions about how to help keep them safe.

The second objective was to mitigate those risks through providing our customers recommended science-based safety protocols. And thirdly to provide them also with additional scientific support on how the various air quality products we are offering actually affect the risk of transmission of the virus among the passengers. So, with this study, David what we really want you to understand was how air circulates inside and around the elevators, and actually what the relative risk of COVID-19 transmission was.

We wanted to look at how ventilation rate and type was, cabin configuration, air purification and also mask usage - you know, how could all these affect the risk actual risk. We also wanted to compare the relative risk to what we know about spending time in common spaces. So to crack this nut we actually adopted a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modelling techniques.

And I can give you a sneak preview of the actual findings?

DT: Sure!

FGP: Okay so many people don't realise that elevators actually are required by code to have openings for ventilation. So they're not just a closed box with no ventilation in; actually there is a lot of air exchanged already in the design of an elevator and that in turn reduces the number of airborne particles in the car.

You also have to bear in mind that elevator rides are short. They are normally usually less than two minutes, and this is where we consider the Super high-rise buildings. But if you go to a residential building, the rides are actually around one minute or less. So this translates into real limits to the exposure.

We also found that if we coupled what I already mentioned that we already know about elevator design and operation, and we couple this study finds and supports the idea that the elevator travels are a relatively low risk activity. So an elevator ride if you want to compare to other daily activities that everybody does - it's comparable to a short time in an office or on a bus.

DT: Sure. How does it compare to walking up the stairs? I mean obviously in office buildings for example people don't tend to walk up 12 flights of stairs. They'll take the lift. But how does it compare to walking up, say six flights or three flights?

FGP: Well, it would all depend. In the actual study we were comparing it to other activities such as grocery shopping, or outdoor dining or ordering some food from the take-away. Or spending some time in the office. Again, it depends on the air flow of the airstairs and the ventilation right show, right, but specifically we concentrated on the other activities. 

So, the answer is no, we don’t have the data and the details of the answer depend on the specifics of how long the person is in the stairwell and what is happening in that stairwell. In general, the ventilation in a stairwell is likely lower and the duration of how long you will be there is likely higher, both pointing to lower risk, but there may be significantly fewer people, i.e. lower intensity.

But let me continue if I may…if we could put it alongside other safe activities such as outdoor exercise or getting a take-out from a restaurant or grocery shopping. If you have to position it the exposure is less risky to outdoor dining. However while the results show elevators to be relatively safe by design and operation, the right mitigation strategies and intervention methods could reduce risk even further.

The study has found that, first, proper mask use can cut the risk in half; second, the use of needlepoint bipolar ionisation as a filtration strategy also air purifiers, can reduce the risk between 20 to 30% and the two combined can reduce infection rates by you 60-65%

DT: Sure. We’ve got that in your in your summary that we're running alongside this interview.

Can I just ask you, because we're running out of time already, about the market generally? Am I right in thinking that sales of elevators or elevator systems is a sort of indicator of tall buildings activity in cities across the world? And if I am right in that how would you characterise the global picture at the moment, and with particular reference to London?

FGP: OK. I have a global role and I can say is that the market is recuperating. The outbreak started in Asia – in China – and then came to Europe, to Italy and then Spain and the UK in different phases. If I take as a reference point The China example where the outbreak started, China has recuperated much faster. We can see the market growing again and the elevator market growing again. We had a growth last year in China and if we can replicate that to the rest of the markets once the vaccination roll out is there, we are confident that the market will remain solid and grow.

DT: Interesting. And London? What's the London picture looking like?

FGP: Well, I don't have the crystal ball here (laughs)

DT: No!

FGP: …so I'm sorry I but I do think that with the correct roll out strategy that the government is doing, we’re confident that by the end of the year the market will start showing signs of recuperation.

DT:  And one last thing before we go. Do you have any technological breakthroughs upcoming in terms of your elevator strategies?

FGP: Well, we do think that we see buildings are putting more emphasis on Wellness and health. And buildings will become smarter and with more connectivity. So we have actually accelerated already the investment and development of IoT -Internet of Things technologies – and of course also the implementation of our touchless solutions to make the overall experience when using the elevator more seamless. And of course integrated the integration of the elevator with the rest of the transport systems of the city as a part of the mobility, as a service, you know, and the exchange of data in order to cope with the different peaks of demand moving forward - this is something that we are you know heavily investing in. We were already investing in it but we're actually accelerating.

DT: And just so I can see the picture more clearly - the Internet of things; how will that relate to an elevator?

FGP: Well because that would help us. You could you put some sensors and key components in the elevator, so you get the data and that allows you to do some preventive maintenance on the elevator, even fix the elevator or intervene in the elevator remotely in some cases. You can also increase the availability of elevator, reduce the number of entrapments etc, and of course share that data also with the building managers in order to help the building become more efficient in the way that it’s managed.

DT: Sure. So, in brief, you’re pretty confident in the future in terms of the safety of these systems, your own systems, and essentially, you're on the up, to do a terrible pun…(laughs)

FGP: For sure, whether it is when we are installing or servicing elevators or escalators or for passengers on our equipment, safety comes first at Otis. This is our top priority and safety is also what matters most to our customers.

DT: Brilliant alright well thank you very much for that; a really fascinating little picture of the world as it is according to Otis, and elevators and safety. So thank you very much

FGP: Thank you, David. Take care 

DT: Cheers! Bye. 


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

Federico Garcia Parra

Senior Director
Otis UK & Ireland


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