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Elevator Manufacturers Are Taking Innovation To New Heights For Skyscrapers


ThyssenKrupp's MULTI technology


Elevator companies are taking their systems to the next level. Faster and more versatile elevators are needed to meet the demands of today's skyscraper construction projects. There were 144 buildings 200 meters (656 feet) or taller completed in 2017, the most ever in a single year, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Since 2013, there has been a 66 percent increase in the number of supertall buildings—those that rise 300 meters (984 feet) or higher.

“With immense urbanization at hand, it is our job to ensure we have the capability to literally go higher than ever before,” Mike Ramandanes, senior vice president of new installations for Schindler Elevator, told Smithsonian magazine.

For instance, Kone developed a lightweight cable that allows elevators to travel nearly twice as high as systems that use conventional cables. And last year, ThyssenKrupp unveiled a cable-less system that moves multiple elevator cars in a single shaft—both vertically and horizontally.

“The taller buildings get, the more challenging it is to get people to the top,” says Peter Weismantle, director of supertall building technology for Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architects, Chicago, Illinois, USA. He is working on the Jeddah Tower project in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The 1,000-meter (3,280-foot) tower, which will be the world's tallest building when it opens in 2020, will use Kone's technology for the tallest of its 59 elevators.


—Peter Weismantle, Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architects, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Banking on Collaboration

When deploying new technology, elevator manufacturing teams need to work closely with building contractors well before construction starts, Mr. Weismantle says. Elevators for supertall buildings are not off-the-shelf systems that can be incorporated at the last minute, he says. “It makes sense to bring elevator manufacturers in at the front of the project so the shaft and the equipment within it is customized to the elevator design and to make sure there is no wasted space.”

For instance, according to the Jeddah Tower team, deploying the Kone technology will allow for the tallest bank of elevators to travel over 600 meters (1,969 feet) from top to bottom with no transfers. That will eliminate the need to carve out extra space for a second bank of “shuttle” elevators halfway up.

Project management has become increasingly valuable in the elevator industry, says Rory Smith, PhD, director of strategic development, ThyssenKrupp Elevators Americas, El Cajon, California, USA. As construction projects get taller and more complex, the risk of missing deadlines and conflicting with other subcontractors on the project site becomes too great to ignore, he says.

“We start working with the building project team during the concept phase to determine how the elevator and shafts will be built into the design,” Dr. Smith says.

His team also assigns a project manager to every project from the outset to ensure its elevators can meet the requirements of a building's design aesthetics and traffic loads. The project manager also works to align the elevator design with electrical systems, heating and cooling, safety codes and other infrastructure. “All of these designs have to interface for the project to work. When you are building to a certain height, you can't be successful without good project management.” —Sarah Fister Gale

Sky's the Limit

Elevator manufacturers are expanding the boundaries of their systems with innovative technologies.


Technology: MULTI

Benefit: Step aside, Willy Wonka. There's now a real-life multidirection elevator system. With MULTI, cars move in a loop going up and down as well as sideways—with the use of magnetic levitation and linear motor technology. This technology allows multiple cabs to operate in the same shaft.


Technology: UltraRope

Benefit: UltraRope uses carbon fiber cables that are up to 90 percent lighter than traditional steel elevator cables. The lightweight cables help elevators travel twice as high as conventional elevators. Elevators that use conventional cables can only go to about 500 meters (1,640 feet) before the weight becomes too much for the motor to lift.

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