4 Common Types of Elevators

The elevator belongs to the modern city; for us it’s a symbol of cities dominated by skyscrapers and a population that is always on the move. However, the earliest reference to the elevator comes from a Roman architect, Vitruvius, who shared his design for a hemp rope model back in 236BC. In the UK, elevators became essential to power industry in the 1800s and they’ve been a part of our landscape ever since.

The earliest British lifts were steam driven, and carried miners down pit shafts. By the 1820s a couple of London architects saw a new opportunity for business and offered tourists an elevated perspective on the centre of London. Over the next hundred years the elevator evolved to become the common feature we now experience on a daily basis.


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Elevator Design

Despite the multiple versions of the elevator experience that are now available to each one of us, the basic design consists of a platform – which we now experience as the passenger cabin – which is pulled or pushed by mechanical means. Until recently, the elevator could only operate within an enclosed environment called a shaft; there are now a range of shaft-less elevators that operate on a guide-rail system.

Elevators are powered by different kinds of mechanisms. Here are the 4 most common models:

  1. Traction Elevators
    In traction elevators the the cabin is moved using ropes that pass over a wheel, powered by a motor which is housed in the machine room, located above the elevator shaft. In order to limit the strain placed on the electric motor, a counter weight is used to exert an opposite force, making the lifting process more efficient. The advantages of traction elevators lies in the speed and high capacity potential they offer
  2. Machine Room-less (MRL) Elevators
    The MRL elevator has become a popular choice for low-rise to mid-rise buildings. Whilst the elevator still works on a traction mechanism, the machine room is replaced by an override space at the top of the shaft which houses the machinery. The advantages of this system include the creation of a more usable space, 80% less energy usage than hydraulic systems, and an oil-free operating system.
  3. Hydraulic Elevators
    The hydraulic elevator uses a piston mechanism to push the passenger cabin up and down in response to control buttons being pressed. The piston is powered by an electric motor which pumps hydraulic fluid into the piston as it ascends; the lift descends as the fluid is released. This elevator tends to be used in low-rise buildings, as it has limited reach and can only operate at low speeds.
  4. Pneumatic Elevator
    This kind of elevator is powered by a vacuum placed above the passenger cabin and a valve positioned at the apex of the shaft. The valve is closed to pull the cab upwards, and opened to allow the cabin to descend. The vacuum pump turbine in round which determines the pneumatic elevator design, and the shaft is made of acrylic. This kind of elevator can only carry 1-3 passengers at a time.

These 4 types of elevator design form the blueprint for the many hundreds of lifts we are likely to access in the course of our lives.


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