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This German company is inventing an elevator that goes sideways

Vertical elevator systems may soon be a thing of the past as Thyssenkrupp’s four-directional Multi takes shape

Thyssenkrupp’s Multi system involves elevators that can move in all four directions.
© Thyssenkrupp
Thyssenkrupp’s Multi system involves elevators that can move in all four directions.

The days of vertical elevators may soon be behind us. A rope-free elevator system that can travel both vertically and horizontally is being tested in a 246m tower in Rottweil, Germany.

Thyssenkrupp is behind the elevator concept, which deploys linear motor technology to navigate within skyscrapers. The multinational engineering outfit supplies advanced people-flow systems to some of the Middle East’s most important developments, including the $23bn (SAR86.3bn) Riyadh Metro and more recently, Twisting Tower in Bahrain.

As existing mobility infrastructure comes under the strain of globally booming urbanisation, the German company says it hopes to one day bring its cable-free elevator system, Multi, to the Middle East.

Chief executive officer of Multi at Thyssenkrupp Elevator, Michael Cesarz, tells Construction Week that the elevator concept is “capable of truly transforming how our buildings and cities are shaped” in the future, adding: “Multi brings greater capacity and shorter waiting times to users.

“It sets no limits in builder height or shape, allowing architects to completely rethink design – and, it saves a significant amount of space inside buildings, improving the business case for real estate developers and investors.”

Ropeless units may seem less safe, but that’s not the case at all.

Buildings are becoming bigger and more complex as a result of advances in technology that allow more creativity in construction. Developers can choose to build wider or taller, but given land availability constraints in popular urban centres, the global property market is seeing towers making a return to spur ‘vertical living’ in major cities.

However, as skyscrapers get taller, it is important to remember that in most cases, traditional rope elevator technology “meets its limit” at heights of 400-500m, Cesarz says.

Multi helps to cut the waste of building space that comes with using lift shafts accommodating a single elevator cabin, and allows people to move faster around the building because passengers can hop on every 15-30 seconds due to greater handling capacity, he explains: “It’s like operating one train between two cities on one track, instead of using a flexible number of trains in a loop on a parallel double track.

“To making traveling in high buildings more convenient, we are planning cabins for up to only eight passengers. This prevents swarms of passengers from rushing in and out of cabins.”

Four-way movement certainly sounds exciting, but how safe is to have an elevator climbing 500m above ground without ropes? As Cesarz explains, ropeless units may “seem less safe, but that’s not the case at all”.

He continues: “The linear motors are safe because they need to be energised before they move, which means the cabins won’t move without energy.”

Multi features a multi-step braking mechanism that stops cabins from moving without instructions. Additionally, Cesarz says, Multi will be more cost-effective for developers to use.

“The benefit for investors in gaining floor space [...] is much higher than the initial investment cost of the elevator system, so the pay-off can come through very quickly.”

Developers and investors will have to wait to test out and install Multi in their assets. The system is not yet ready for commercial activity and is currently being analysed at the Rottweil Test Tower, with the aim of eventually securing necessary legal certifications. Cesarz hopes the first commercial installations will begin in 2022, but a formal announcement is awaited.

Regardless, he is optimistic about the reaction that Multi will evoke in building industries around the world. 

“With this innovation, the elevator industry can keep up with the multiple requirements that building developers demand, such as reduced elevator footprint, increased handling capacity, flexible transportation, and no height limits,” the Thyssenkrupp expert adds.

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