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September 2015

Problem Solving

It takes creativity to find solutions when working with an orphan ski lift.

Written by Howard R. Anderson, PE Specialized Engineering, Inc. | 0 comment

If you have an orphan ski lift, and have had a component parts problem or failure, you most likely know what it’s like to exhaust your sources for solving the problem. But even then, there are solutions.

First, let’s define an orphan lift: it’s one that is no longer supported by a manufacturer or service company. If a manufacturer or owner of a present ski lift company provides engineering assistance for problem solving, if the company provides as needed service bulletins and replacement parts as well as older parts, then the lift is not an orphan. There are some lifts for which companies may sell parts but don’t provide the level of service described above; I consider these lifts orphans as well.

How can you solve problems with an orphan? Let’s examine a problem that happened several years ago with one such lift: worn splines on a spline shaft, and worn teeth on the internal flex coupler. All needed to be replaced (see photo).

The issue is, where do you find the replacement parts to comply with the original OEM specifications? The original manufacturer is no longer in business. There is no parts warehouse to call.

Here’s how the ski area sought the replacement parts.

❶ They called neighboring ski areas that have similar equipment, to ask for assistance in finding these parts. Networking with your neighbors is always a good place to start.

❷ A computer-savvy individual did a Google search for replacement parts. Typically, if you look closely at these component parts, you can find some part numbers, even a manufacturer’s name, and usually their own stamped part numbers. These can be searched.

On a Google search you can usually find a tab that says, “suppliers.” They all have phone numbers and web sites. And they want to sell. Suppliers can be a good source of information—and solutions.

❸ The ski area also took the component parts to a local machine shop, one state away, and asked for assistance. That can be a great source of information, too. If it’s a shop that has been in the business for a few years, it’s quite possible they will know where to find the component parts. They may even have them in stock.

❹ They called current lift manufacturers. Their parts supply staff have often run across these parts problems also. The manufacturers often receive requests for assistance from other ski areas; even if they do not carry the particular part, they may know where to find them.

❺ They called their favorite ski lift consultant. Consultants may know how these parts can be obtained.

It’s not uncommon for a resort to do all of the above at the same time.

In the instance here, that’s what we did. After I was called in and obtained the worn parts, I cleaned them. Each part ­contained helpful info. On the larger outer hub I discovered an inscription: “KOP-FLEX 2-1/2W EB SLV 11/02.” The inner piece was stamped “2-1/2W—FHUB” and “5000-1.” The end of the spline shaft was stamped with numbers, too.

I Googled KOP-FLEX and found the website. In a few minutes I found the part numbers that matched those on the component parts, along with an 800 number and an e-mail address.

To make sure you have the right parts in such a situation, I recommend you do as I did: call them directly, and explain what you have in front of you, before you order. Send them a photo, too, before making the purchase, so that they can help verify the suitability of the part(s).

All manufacturers of quality equipment will stamp their component parts for pure identification and for liability reasons. And it makes finding replacement parts easier.

I have, in my office, another failed spline shaft—but this one does not have any numbers on the end of the shaft. Why not? It was a replacement, fabricated by a local machine shop. It was not treated correctly, which led to its failure.

Here’s some advice to help you find exactly the replacement part you need:

• Do as-built measurements of the problem component parts.

• Take photos of the parts.

• Make sure the replacement part matches exactly the original OEM specifications.

• Obtain the installation instructions and maintenance procedures for the replacement parts.

• Be certain they work and they fit.

If possible, purchase from a reliable, well-known company. An online company or eBay supplier is acceptable if that is your only source.

One last piece of advice: keep detailed records for your orphan lifts. A group of us has prepared a one-page “Component Parts Source Summary” form so that maintenance staff can list hard-to-find items by part description, original OEM part number, possible sources with contact information, and any maintenance requirements. Contact the author for a copy ( Good parts hunting!