Cover article iot elevator leak monitoring

Elevator Oil Leak Detection with IoT

Who wants to get stuck in a broken-down elevator?


Elevators are one of those machines we take for granted that should just work. But, this hard-working piece of equipment will deteriorate and finally break down. Who wants to get stuck for hours in an elevator?

In this use case, we discuss how water and oil leak detection sensors can support property managers’ keeping it in operation 24/7. 

An elevator carries a range of vulnerabilities, from everything to the hoist machine pulling the elevator to the electric jacks at the bottom of the shaft. Issues leading to degradation, system malfunction, and accidents usually involve leakages as the source of origin.

According to Elevating Studio, a Dutch elevator consultancy firm, a well-maintained elevator in a commercial or residential building will typically experience between 0.5 – 2 breakdowns in a year, of which 20% or 0.4 occurrences are mantraps (a person getting stuck inside a lift car). However, due to the intensity of usage and heavier loading, industrial and service elevators may experience slightly higher breakdown rates between 2-4 per year.

For example, a situation could be that a water leak causes the jack at the bottom of the shaft to corrode, resulting in oil leakage. Even if the hole is modest, the elevator functionality will slowly degrade, and if not detected in time, you will have scared and angry passengers screaming for help when they get stuck.

elevator - iot leak monitoring article

Elevator machinery leakages

We need to differentiate between what is considered harmless leakages and alarming ones. For example, a small amount of oil around cylinder seals or the pump shaft is a common occurrence and is generally of no concern, as this can even be visible on brand-new equipment. However, reparations are required if hydraulic lubricant oil is amassing on the floor or in other machine parts.

If the leak is so substantial that you (via the dip-stick) can see the reservoir going low or signs of oil slung from a rotating shaft, operations need to be shut down immediately. There is much variety here, and it is sometimes unclear if we should act. Remote water and oil leak detection using IoT sensors is an excellent way to stay on top of these conditions.

large elevator shaft - iot leak monitoring article

Hydraulic systems can typically leak unnoticed for a long time, as most will continue operating until conditions become too extreme. Slow leaks naturally degrade the system over time rather than causing a catastrophic failure.

Improperly lubricated system seals can cause leaks, and the lack of lubrication quickly leads to a breakdown of the seal material due to the lack of grease. Unfortunately, it is common for maintenance personnel to try to remedy this by tightening the seal. If the issue lies in improper lubrication, then tightening the seal will only lead to further deterioration of its structure, encouraging cracks in the fitting and a damaged seal.

Contaminated hydraulic fluid is a typical source of leakages. While water might be your first guess as to the culprit, it is also exposed to contamination from air, chemicals, and solid particles. Each contaminant holds its risk, which can lead to leaks when the fluid starts acting out of the norm.

Hydraulic jacks are always at risk of corrosion. Elevators manufactured after 1972 commonly have a double bulkhead at the bottom for protection and, in the best cases, a jack assembly encased in PVC with a sealed end cap. But jack walls commonly have no protective layer, leaving them vulnerable to corrosion from moisture and leaks.

Hoist machines is another component to keep your eyes peeled on.

elevator out of order - iot leakage monitoring

The composition of elevators is constantly improving, for example, by offering increased protection of the hydraulic jacks from corrosion or by protective programming (like Low Oil Timers that stop functioning when oil runs low). However, modern elevators are still at risk, and older models are certainly more exposed to the challenges we have looked at in this use case.

Cases are known where both oil and water leaks have caused so much damage that it has both corroded the equipment and created an environment in the pit where even technicians are at risk of entering due to toxic gases and moisture coming in contact with electricity.

Costs preventable with oil leak detection

Let us look at a scenario where the hydraulic jack needs to be repaired and has also caused an underground leak. In Canada, technicians estimate this procedure to cost between US$30,000 to $60,000.

Technicians need to:

  • Safely lift and attach the elevator car at the top of the hoistway.
  • Break the existing cylinder free from its resting position to replace it (often, 100-tonne jacks and plenty of special equipment are required that not all elevator companies have access to. Then remove the cylinder by cutting it.
  • Clean out the existing caisson (the box-like bottom foundation), or redrill a new one if a larger one is required. This is necessary in 10-20% of cases and usually adds $30,000 to $100,000 to the total costs.
  • Construct, assemble and weld together the new hydraulic cylinder
  • Lower and reconnect the car
  • Complete a safety inspection (external party)
  • Reactivate the elevator


According to these calculations, costs can range anywhere from US$30,000 to US$130,000 to repair an elevator malfunction. Costs that could have been avoided using oil leak detection sensors.


fluid contamination - iot oil leakage monitoring article

“[...] the potential for [hydraulic fluid contamination] is substantial if proper preventative maintenance and procedures are not in place. The same thing holds true for ground support equipment (GSE) that is not properly maintained and inspected for leaking hydraulic fluid.”

Sensative’s Strips MS +Drip Oil leak detection sensor

Originally designed to be an easily deployed water leak detection sensor, the Strips MS +Drip sensor now has a younger but stronger sibling for both water and oil leak detection – The Strips MS +Drip Oil. The simple and small design allows the sensors to be mounted anywhere a leak might be detectable, sending the user real-time updates on its status. As soon as the liquid is soaked into the sensor, it will send an alarm to its platform and the admin.

Sensative strips +drip oil leak detection sensor for LoRaWAN

Suitable locations for sensor placement include the bottom shaft (where liquid might accumulate), the base of the elevator car, and around the hydraulics, where the leaking fluid would travel. Remember that oil does not generally drip; it travels down on surfaces.

With a capable IoT system, such as Sensative’s DiMS platform Yggio, users also have the ability to set up scenarios. For instance, sending an alarm to maintenance personnel, lighting up an out-of-order, or even shutting down the power when the elevator doors are open—everything because of a sensor detecting a leak.

This use case is a simple overview of utilizing Sensative IoT solutions for elevator leakages. Please get in touch with us to discuss your unique scenario in detail so that we can help you find the best solution and help you draw the maximum benefit from your IoT operations.

Shop for Products

The Strips MS +Drip Oil leak detection sensor is available in our webshop. For larger quantities or if you want to discuss your needs, don’t hesitate to contact us; we will guide you through the process.

Our DiMS IoT platform Yggio is a powerhouse developed for, and praised by, smart building owners, smart utilities and smart cities. If you are interested in employing Yggio with your sensors of choice, want to see a demo, or need help tailoring a solution for your specific needs, contact our sales team to evaluate your requirements and possibilities. 

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