How elevators changed the world

(c) Tom Reading, Oct 2012

First introduced in New York in 1857, elevators catalyzed the development of skyscrapers, and forever transformed urban architecture, landscapes and living.

The world’s first successful safe passenger elevator was designed by Elisha Otis and installed in March 1857 in the five-story 24-meter tall Haughwout Building on Broadway in New York City. It cost $300 and moved at about 20 cm per second.

This development led to exciting times. As designers and architects began to appreciate the possibilities offered by elevators, much higher buildings became feasible, eventually leading to the enormous skyscrapers of today.

Ultimate example of ‘Upward Mobility’

Not only did skylines change but the elevator also had an important socio-economic impact. Suddenly, the upper levels of buildings which previously were harder to reach via stairways, and therefore inhabited by people with less money, were attractive to the wealthier class.

Thus, a position swap gradually took place. The luxury apartments which previously were on lower levels, for easier access, moved to the top floors which offered better views, more light and less street noise.

But that was a long time ago. Today we all ride elevators, usually without giving them very much thought or appreciation. Except perhaps when the ride is bumpy or the doors stay open for too long.

We do appreciate elevators

At ABB, we have given elevators lots of thought. We do still get excited about, and appreciate, them as we work continuously to improve the user experience. When we discuss elevator controls and service with professionals in the field, it’s clear that the tasks elevators perform are not easy. In fact, many motor control experts consider them to be among the toughest applications of all for variable speed drives to manage.

Safety is naturally the highest priority, of course. After that users normally just want a quiet and smooth ride in which they hardly notice they’re moving. However, achieving this can be difficult. Operating cycles are demanding, with frequent and rapid acceleration/deceleration phases being combined with stops as short as 20 seconds or as long as 20 hours or more.

In addition, cable tension and load on the car can fluctuate widely. Installations vary greatly as well, from low-rise 3-4 story buildings, through mid-size structures up to 20 stories and then up to skyscrapers. And within those height zones, the actual placement, working conditions, and demands differ enormously.

Give us programming power, without complexity

People working with elevator manufacture and service have made it clear that they would like to see improvements in elevator drives. The new elevator safety standards EN 81-20 and EN 81-50, as well as the VDI-4707 requirements for energy efficiency, are pushing people to look for upgraded drive solutions. The previous-generation has simply become outdated. But the standards are just part of the motivation.

Greater flexibility for custom programming inside the drive is often mentioned as one of the top potential features that professionals would value most. This would allow them to easily tailor it for specific applications, while also protecting their service requirements.

Ideally, this additional programming power would be available in a standard off-the-shelf drive, thus providing simplicity and possibilities for differentiation at the same time.

Elevator professionals have common requests

If we were to list the most common market demands we get, it would look like this:

  • Meet safety and energy standards
  • Smooth and silent operation
  • Programming flexibility
  • Robustness for large number of operating cycles
  • Simple operation and service.

Using this feedback, and our deep experience of building application-specific functionality into drives, ABB has developed the new ACL30 drive especially for elevators. It’s designed from the start with high programming flexibility so it can safely and quietly control almost any elevator, while still being simple enough to be easily serviced in the field. The result combines off-the-shelf simplicity with powerful programming to meet the most demanding applications.

Get ready for the next 160 years

Over the past 160 years since the first elevator was installed, urban areas have changed and progressed enormously. Much of that progress is due to elevators which, paradoxically, are hardly noticed anymore. However, we have some exciting developments that we certainly think will get the attention of upwardly mobile professionals in this field, potentially equipping them for the next 160 years.

To learn more about the ACL30 drive, take a look here.

PS: The Haughwout Building is still standing here at 488 Broadway in Lower Manhattan, New York.

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About the author

Jussi Rantanen

Jussi Rantanen, Marketing Manager for Global Product Line (GPL) Machinery and Micro is currently responsible for machinery and micro drives marketing and product management globally. He is also product manager for ACS355 machinery drive. Jussi joined ABB in 1998 and has worked in various positions in drives product development ranging from 1 kW up to 27 MW drives prior to joining the global product management team in 2008. During the product development time he has gained wide experience from control algorithm development to power electronics, from product testing to project management. He has passion for customer satisfaction and he enjoys working with all parties to make things work smooth. Outside work this family man enjoys life’s little miracles; family, music, books, movies and downhill skiing. He lives in Vantaa, Finland and works at ABB Drives Factory in Helsinki.
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