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United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

KONE Elevators - January 08, 2015

Mr. Eric E. Cannon
Director, Compliance
KONE Inc.
4225 Naperville Road, Ste. 400
Moline, IL 61265

Re: Request for Advisory Opinion Regarding Components of KONE Elevator Guide Rails and Door Frames

Dear Mr. Cannon:

I write in response to your letter dated March 16, 2012, requesting a letter of interpretation from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to clarify whether elevator door frames are subcomponents of the U.S. manufactured elevator under FTA’s Buy America requirements. More specifically, you requested that FTA determine whether elevator door frames are similar to elevator guide rails and subcomponents that may be of foreign origin.

First, I want to clarify that FTA never previously has considered whether an elevator guide rail is a subcomponent. However, I now find that the elevator guide rails as described by KONE, Inc. (KONE) are subcomponents of the elevator. Similarly, the elevator door frames are subcomponents of the elevator for Buy America purposes under 49 C.F.R. § 661.5(d)(2).

I. Background

On December 3, 2004, FTA responded by letter to a request by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) to determine whether elevator guide rails and steel door frames are subcomponents of a manufactured end product under FTA’s Buy America requirements and may be of foreign origin. In that letter, FTA concluded that “elevator guide rails and the steel door frames are construction materials made primarily of steel or iron, and therefore, must be manufactured in the U.S. in accordance with [49 C.F.R. §] 661.5(b).” [1]

In 2007, FTA began applying a non-shifting approach whereby “end products do not shift and components and subcomponents retain their designation” regardless of the circumstance when applying its Buy America requirements to procurements. [2] Based upon this significant change in approach, on March 16, 2012, you asked whether the door frames of elevators manufactured by KONE are subcomponents of a manufactured product under 49 C.F.R. § 661.5(d).

Although you did not specifically inquire about the designation of the elevator guide rails that KONE also provides, you compared the door frames to the elevator guide rails and stated that KONE believes that the door frames are subcomponents of the elevator similar to the elevator guide rails. You also provided your own analysis of KONE’s guide rails, [3] concluding that the elevator guide rails and the door frames do not fall under the steel and iron requirements even though they are made of steel. Instead, you argue that both items fall under the manufactured products requirement pursuant to 49 C.F.R. § 661.5(d) and are subcomponents.

According to your letter, KONE elevators are “manufactured” on-site during a four to sixteen week period. The parts of the elevator that KONE provides are manufactured on-site include: safety lines, rigging equipment such as pulleys and safety lanyard, hoist beam, power cable, joisting cable, guide rails, elevator car, machine, controller, car operating panel, cable and wiring, and the landing entrance, which includes the door frames. You stated, however, that “like the guide rails, the door frames are manufactured in a separate and distinct process and location from the manufacture of the elevator itself” and are “incorporated directly into the elevator.”

Your description of KONE’s elevator guide rails is as follows:

The elevator guide rails[’] . . . primary role is to ensure proper positioning of the elevator within the hoistway[i.e., the elevator shaft]. Of the four guide rails installed into the hoistway, two maintain the elevator car’s position through the hoistway as the steel ropes move it up and down, and the other two maintain the counterweight’s position as it travels up and down. During manufacture of the elevator at the site, KONE drops target lines over precisely-positioned braces, or uses plumbing lasers in the elevator pit, to ensure that the subsequently-installed guide rails are perfectly aligned in the hoistway. The guide rails must be integrated with both the elevator car and the counterweight; precision alignment is necessary to ensure that the elevator car and counterweights move in proper position up and down the hoistway, with the necessary clearance at each doorway. The two guide rails that maintain the elevator car position also serve a second critical function: the elevator car includes a governor-activated safety device that engages the guide rail to slow or stop the car in the event the car reaches excessive speed when moving in the down-direction. The guide rails must be integrated and work in combination with the safety device to serve that purpose. Accordingly, the guide rails must be designed and manufactured to work with other elevator subcomponents to ensure a safe and operational elevator.

Your description of KONE’s door frames is as follows:

. . . the door frames are not separate products that merely attach to the elevator. Rather, the frames are part of the landing entrance, a subassembly that must be connected to and integrated with the car doors, the hoistway doors, and the door operator to activate the doors only at the proper time (i.e., when the car is within the door zone). In order for the elevator to operate properly and safely, there must be precise interaction between all the parts of the elevator door, including the frame. Because of the necessary integration, the entire landing assembly, including the door frames, is tested as one integrated unit for purposes of meeting fire and other safety requirements . . . .

On February 5, 2013, KONE requested the status of FTA’s determination. Because of intervening events, on February 20, 2014, FTA requested confirmation from KONE that it still wanted an advisory opinion.

On March 6, 2014, KONE confirmed that it still wanted an FTA advisory opinion and stated that it would provide new information that had arisen since its prior correspondence.

On August 18, 2014, KONE provided additional information with respect to the elevator door frames. KONE describes the door frames as part of the landing entrance (or door entrance), which also includes the door top track and the doors. The landing entrance is connected to the elevator and operates simultaneously together once the elevator is on the floor level. Finally, KONE itself provides the door entrance as part of its elevator product.

II. Buy America

Except for certain limited exceptions, FTA may not obligate funds for a project unless all iron, steel, and manufactured products used in the project are produced in the United States. [4]

For steel and iron, 49 C.F.R. § 661.5(b) requires that “[a]ll steel and iron manufacturing processes must take place in the United States, except metallurgical processes involving refinement of steel additives.” This requirement applies to “all construction materials made primarily of steel or iron and used in infrastructure projects such as transit or maintenance facilities, rail lines, and bridges . . . [but not] steel or iron used as components or subcomponents of other manufactured products . . . .” [5] The regulations provide a non-exhaustive list of the types of materials made primarily of steel that are subject to the 49 C.F.R. § 661.5(b), which include “structural steel, steel or iron beams and columns, running rail and contact rail.” [6] Steel or iron used as components or subcomponents of other manufactured products that are not subject to 49 U.S.C. § 661.5(b) are instead analyzed only under the manufactured products standard of 49 C.F.R. § 661.5(d).

For manufactured products, 49 C.F.R. § 661.5(d) requires that:

  • (1) All manufacturing processes for the product must take place in the United States; and
  • (2) All of the components must be of U.S. origin. A component is considered of U.S. origin if it is manufactured in the United States, regardless of the origin of its subcomponents.

FTA distinguishes between the manufactured end product, its components, and subcomponents. Based upon the designation of an item, the application of the rule will differ. As part of its rulemaking, FTA developed a list of manufactured end products, which can be found at Appendix A to 661.3—End Products, and includes elevators. In the preamble to the 2007 Final Buy America Rule, FTA clarified that permanently affixed lifts, hoists, and elevators are “components of the larger facility, which itself could constitute an ‘end product.’” [7]

On December 7, 2010, FTA confirmed that a permanently affixed elevator is a component. [8]

III. Discussion

A. Elevator Guide Rails

In its December 3, 2004 letter to CTA, FTA determined that elevator guide rails are construction materials made primarily of steel or iron and thereby required to be manufactured in the United States under 49 C.F.R. § 661.5(b). This December 3, 2004 decision, in general, no longer applies due to the changes made by the 2007 Buy America rulemaking. The steel and iron requirements, however, still continue to apply to construction materials made primarily of steel or iron, i.e., steel and iron construction materials that are structural and load-bearing. [9] However, because the sole function of KONE’s elevator guide rails is to stabilize the elevator by directing the position of the elevator and maintaining the elevator’s balance and speed (in emergency circumstances) in an elevator shaft, I find that such elevator guide rails are a subcomponent of the elevator and not a structural steel element of the building. Therefore, elevator guide rails as described above are subcomponents of the elevator component and subject only to the manufactured products standard under 49 C.F.R. § 661.5(d) and not the steel requirements under 49 C.F.R. § 661.5(b). Regardless of its subcomponent status, however, please note that the guide rails still must undergo and take part in the U.S. manufacturing process for the elevator. [10]

B. Elevator Door Frames

In the same December 3, 2004 letter to CTA, FTA determined that the steel door frames are construction materials made primarily of steel or iron, and therefore, must be manufactured in the United States pursuant to 49 C.F.R. § 661.5(b). As stated above, while the steel and iron requirements continue to apply to construction materials made primarily of steel and iron, I conclude that KONE’s door frames are an element of the elevator, i.e., subcomponents of the elevator rather than structural steel elements of the building.

The steel door frames are a part of the elevator’s landing entrance, which, according to KONE, is connected to the elevator and operates simultaneously together once the elevator is on the floor level. Therefore, because the steel door frames are a part of the landing entrance, which is a subcomponent, the steel door frames also may be treated as subcomponents under 49 C.F.R. § 661.5(d)(2), which permits them to be foreign or domestically produced. [11]

C. Conclusion

Based upon the foregoing, I find that the steel requirements under 49 C.F.R. § 661.5(b) do not apply to KONE’s elevator guide rails or door frames, which are subcomponents of the elevator.

Please contact Richard Wong at (202) 366-0675 or richard.wong@dot.gov with any questions.


Sincerely,

Dana Nifosi
Acting Chief Counsel


cc: Adelicia R. Cliffe, Counsel for KONE, Inc., Crowell & Moring LLP


[1] Letter from Gregory B. McBride, Deputy Chief Counsel, Federal Transit Administration, to John Trotta, Chicago Transit Authority (Dec. 3, 2004).
[2] 72 Fed. Reg. 53688, 53691 (Sept. 20, 2007).
[3] In your letter, you also cite a December 13, 2012 e-mail from FTA attorney-advisor Richard Wong to FTA regional counsel Paula Schwach. I note that this e-mail only was informal technical assistance — not a formal opinion issued FTA.
[4]49 U.S.C. § 5323(j); 49 C.F.R. § 661.5(a).
[5] 49 C.F.R. § 661.5(c).
[6] Id.
[7] 72 Fed. Reg. at 53694.
[8] Letter from Dorval R. Carter, Jr., Chief Counsel, FTA, to Robin Reitzes, Esq., Deputy City Attorney, San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, December 7, 2010.
[9] 49 C.F.R. § 661.5(c).
[10] I note that you cite to an e-mail written by FTA staff. I emphasize that technical assistance in the form of an informal e-mail provided by an FTA staff employee is not a formal decision nor is it dispositive of this issue.
[11] FTA does not designate items or materials below the subcomponent level for purposes of Buy America.

Last updated: Thursday, February 27, 2020