Elevator in a glass building.

Elevator in a glass building.

Smart Lifestyle

Smart Elevators: Giving IoT a Lift

It would take the world champion in stair-climbing half an hour of running to get to the 163rd floor of the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa in Dubai. As the tower’s elevator runs at a maximum speed of 36 km/h, this trip normally does not even take two minutes. But speed isn’t everything: elevators are becoming intelligent, connected – and can even leave the building.

by Rainer Claassen

Archimedes constructed the first elevator in 236 BCE, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that the technology came into widespread use. Steam-powered elevators began moving heavy loads in mines and factories. Only much later were lifts installed in office buildings. Without them, cities would look very different today.

The elevator in its present form was invented in 1854, and not a lot has changed in the way it’s moved since then. The system has been the same: one cabin, one shaft, and one rope, traveling up and down. Designs that included one cabin with one shaft caused ridiculous wait times, especially in busy office buildings where there was only one car moving up and down, a few people at a time.

Next came the double-decker elevator. Since the two cabins were stacked, it could move several people at once. However, the building had to be constructed or, if possible, renovated with taller ceilings to allow for the height of two cabins. Also, extra power was needed to move two cars at the same time, even if one cabin was left unoccupied.

In 2003, the twin elevator was invented to offer more efficiency, flexibility, and convenience for passengers and building owners. It allowed two cabins to move independently in one shaft, giving 30 percent more room and reducing the footprint by the same percentage.

Because of the increasing concern for efficiency and time savings, elevator tech innovation was long overdue. According to research on elevator scheduling by Columbia State University students, New York City office workers spent a cumulative 16.6 years waiting for an elevator, and 5.9 years inside elevators, in 2010.

Rapid Transport

High-rises and skyscrapers only exist due to elevators. As more and more people move to modern-day megacities, the need for rapid transport not only to, but also within, buildings is growing. Here, “smart” elevators will play an increasing and increasingly vital role. According to ThyssenKrupp, a German engineering company, mid- to high-rise buildings offer the most economical and environmentally viable solution to the numerous urban challenges. ThyssenKrupp believes taller buildings provide more working and living quarters without increasing their footprint on the ground. They even say that tall buildings allow planners to have smart grids by enabling centralized, intelligent energy control. However, one of the main challenges with building up is elevator mechanics. Since conventional elevators aren’t really created for buildings this tall, more shafts are needed to support them.


IoT Takes Elevators to the MAX

Making the right Connections

Smart Elevators -MAX Digital Platform - ThyssenKrupp

One of the pioneers in elevator digitalization is TK Elevators. They announced their IoT platform MAX in 2015. Since then, they have connected more than 200,000 elevators worldwide to it. The system was developed in cooperation with Microsoft. The dedicated wireless network is provided by Vodafone. There are three data centers in the USA, Europe, and East Asia. Collected data from all installations is analyzed in real time – whenever a connected elevator is not functioning, a service ticket is generated immediately. Included data gives clear hints to the technicians on where the problem is most probably located. In many cases, technicians will already carry the necessary spare parts with them when they drive to the affected building. The fast service reduces downtime. Necessary maintenance can also be done at times when it does not interfere with the functioning of the building. The results are massive reductions in downtime, better service, and – most importantly – increased peace of mind for operators.


Upwardly Mobile

Analysts at Global Market Insights Inc., a management consulting company based in Selbyville, Delaware, valued the global elevator market at $82.29 billion in 2020, and they expect it to grow at an annual rate of 2.5 percent from 2021 to 2027. The five biggest players in this market are Kone Elevator from Finland, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation from Japan, Swiss Schindler Group, US-based Otis Elevator Company, and Japanese Fujitec Company Limited – the latter reported an annual revenue of 13.38 billion yen ($122 million) in 2020. All of these companies operate globally.

Smart Elevators -The Market

Uplifting Numbers: The world market for smart elevators will continue to grow by leaps and bounds, but only a handful of manufacturers are true global players.

Add to these a raft of regional and niche players who play important roles in their own home markets, such as Hillenkötter + Ronsieck in Germany (brand name: Hiro) or Weigl in Austria. China constructed the world’s biggest elevator, a 120 m long vertical ship lift constructed as Yangtze River in China, with the help of German engineering companies. Elevators are an essential part of the building, so it is crucial that they operate at all times. Even though regular checkups are required, downtimes are often longer than necessary: it may take some time until a malfunction is even noticed, and it can take even longer for the information to arrive at the maintenance company. And by the time a technician finally turns up, he may have to wait for necessary parts – or return with the right tools to do the job.

One of the companies that addresses these issues on a global scale is Bosch Service Solutions. In an interview, their Senior Product Manager Michael Baer explained how the company retrofits older elevators with IoT technology (see interview).

An elevator never stands alone – it is always integrated into a building. And digital integration has become crucial to modern elevator construction, as sensors and smart interfaces become part of the ecosystem of smart buildings.

Retrofitting existing elevators with intelligent systems that can connect to the building’s infrastructure is traditionally the job of small specialist companies, among them firms like Datahoist, InsideM2m, or Robustel. But these systems are increasingly being displaced by corporate giants interested in getting a toehold in what looks increasingly like a highly lucrative market for the future. By 2025, the developing world, as we understand it now, will be home to 29 megacities with populations of 10 million or more, the Guardian newspaper writes.

Smart Elevators: A Lift That Thinks Ahead

Hyun-Shin Cho, Head of Digital Transformation at TK Elevators, explains: “Our latest systems allow full integration into smart buildings. This also includes the access management. When you enter a building with an appointment, the system will already know where you are heading for. Through a smartphone or a wearable, you will be informed which lift to take – and will be brought to the floor where your appointment is scheduled without even pushing a button. This can make a huge difference – not only in times of a pandemic.”

Elevators will soon know where you’re going without having to press a button.
Hyun-Shin Cho, Head of Digital Transformation at TK Elevators
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While integrated sensors can help to find the location of defects even in complex systems with many components, it is still rather complicated to actually predict when a certain component will stop working – since almost every elevator is an individual construction, it will take some time in acquiring and analyzing data from many systems until this will be possible on a large scale. Companies are currently working with their best and most experienced service technicians to set up digital twins of different configurations – and to analyze the data collected from elevators. As more and more of it accumulates, the opportunities for precise analytics grow. Standardized data interfaces utilized by all manufacturers could accelerate this progress. But we are not likely to see them soon: as companies usually make more money from maintenance than from building elevators, they have little interest in making their data available to competitors easily.

Smart Elevators -Kone touchless with Smartcard

Going Up! Digitization, integration, and standard data interfaces will soon make for shorter wait times and a more positive experience for people riding in elevators.

Giving the Future a Lift Up

Hyun-Shin Cho expects the importance of user experience to grow in the near future. While low power consumption has been one of the main interests of clients in the past years, they now are mostly interested in digitalization and integration – and a positive user experience. Another project from TK Elevators may add to this: they are planning to bring the first ropeless elevator to the market soon. The company sees many advantages in this system. As the cabins are moved by electromagnetic forces, several cars can move in the same shaft independently. And they are able to move horizontally as well as vertically. The system saves a lot of space too – shafts can be up to 50 percent smaller. And it also has the potential to change the possibilities of architecture: two buildings on opposite sides of a road can be connected by elevators running horizontally between them.


The Tower of Rottweil

Look – no Ropes!

Smart Elevators - Look – no Ropes - ThyssenKrupp

When you take a ride on the autobahn from Stuttgart to Lake Constance, you cannot fail to spot an astonishing building: in Rottweil, German elevator producer Thyssen-Krupp built a 246-meter (807 ft) high tower, where they test and certify new elevator technology. They hope to significantly shorten development times for future skyscrapers and developments already under construction. In the tower there are 12 shafts – it features elevators going up to 18 m/s (more than 60 km/h) and others that work without ropes. But the company also runs test towers in Cheonan (Korea) and in Zongshan (China) – a fourth one will be finished in Atlanta in 2021.


The system may also be used for transport outside of buildings – and in so doing make big changes in the way we move around in the future. Intelligent elevators already help make the world more comfortable in hotels: Savioke Relay is a robot that autonomously delivers items to guest rooms. To be able to do this, it must be able to ride in elevators. KONE Elevators and Savioke have connected their systems to make this possible. Elevators arrive automatically at the floor where the robot has to enter and takes it to its destination. Alexander Foster, director of rooms at EMC2 Hotel in Chicago, where the system was first deployed, said: “We find that our guests have higher expectations now more than ever, especially in this technology world where everything’s connected to social media. When they get here, the robots and their relationship with the elevators blow their mind.”

New elevator will offer significantly shorter wait times, increased capacity, a smaller footprint, and substantially reduced weight and mass. Lift systems with multiple cabins that travel up one shaft and down the other in one continuous loop similar to a circular train system on a vertical plane are already entering the market.

And the best part? Passengers don’t even notice a difference, and the doors open every 15 to 30 seconds. The future of elevators, it seems, looks very uplifting indeed.


Interview: Michael Baer, Bosch Service Solutions

Bosch Service Solutions has developed a solution they call Bosch Elevator Monitoring. It allows adding communication skills to existing elevators. Smart Industry talked with Michael Baer, Senior Product Manager at Bosch Service Solutions.

Bosch has developed a system that gives older elevators access to digital technology – why don’t you concentrate on new installations?
Many existing elevators – especially in office buildings – are over 20 years old. It is costly to replace them – but when an elevator stops running the costs continue. Ideally, they should never stop running. That’s why we decided to develop an intelligent system to help reduce downtime for older installations that can easily be installed in any existing building.

How long does it take to install the hardware?
We wanted to have a system that can be installed on any elevator in less than 30 minutes. The sensor box we developed together with our partner SafeLine makes this possible. It is attached to the roof of a cabin with another sensor attached to the door. Then the car has to do one stop at each floor – and the installation is complete.

An elevator should never stop.
Michael Baer, Senior Product Manager at Bosch Service Solutions
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Can elevator data be collected independently from the manufacturer?
Absolutely – intelligent algorithms allow the box to detect relevant data from all types of elevators. After a first data analysis within the box, important data is transferred to cloud servers via a 4G connection. The antenna was specially designed to connect in surroundings with low network coverage to ensure reliable data transfer.

How is the data analyzed – and how can building operators make use of it?
If an elevator stops working, our system will detect this immediately. But the sensors also notice smaller disturbances. Technicians may then take a closer look at the installation and do necessary maintenance before the elevator stops working. Traditionally elevators were checked after fixed intervals. Elevator Monitoring allows these intervals to be adjusted to the actual wear and tear. In many cases, technicians will not only know where to look for the error in advance but also which spare parts to bring. This reduces downtime and saves the building operator a lot of money.

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