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Safety at Every Step: How Do Modern Elevators Work?

Modern elevators are a marvel, enabling us to build ever upward and downward. We’re so used to elevators that we almost always groan when we don’t see them for a climb of two flights of stairs.

The first elevators were primitive and human or animal-powered creations using jute ropes and pulleys, at least as early as 200 B.C.E. The first elevator in recent history as we know them today was made in 1743, for King Louis XV, although it was still man-powered.

How has modern elevator design changed the types of elevators we use today? Can you get modern elevators for homes? What about smart elevator technology?

Keep reading to find out the answers to all of these questions and more.

Modern Elevator Technology — Surrounded by Safety

Modern elevators have little in common with elevators prior to the 19th century. Even then, there wasn’t much in the way of safety technology or regulations, such as an elevator audit.

In fact, because of safety failures, many people regarded elevators as “death traps.” It’s definitely been depicted this way in movies from Die Hard to Shallow Hal.

Are elevators as unsafe as they seem in the movies and history? Not at all — well, maybe we should say “not anymore.”

The elevator brake was invented by Elisha Otis in 1853. This backup safety feature helped to make them more reliable in public eyes and get them as the mainstay to enable vertical construction. It’d be best that they didn’t fall at all, though.

If we’re talking about how elevators work, the main reason why they work so well is based on a simple fact. If we’re to use them at all, their function must firmly rest on a foundation of safety.

Each car or cab is equipped with a long list of safety features.

  • Door sensors
  • Door closing devices
  • Door restraints
  • Safety brakes
  • Hoistway safety switches
  • Hoistway door interlocks
  • Emergency power
  • Emergency lighting
  • Emergency alarms
  • Emergency communications and phones
  • Emergency evacuation features
  • Pit buffers
  • Fire emergency systems

How Modern Elevators Work: From Top to Bottom

For buildings, eight stories and below, hydraulic elevators are a common sight. There are mainly four types of hydraulic elevators.

  • Roped
  • Conventional (holed)
  • Non-telescoping
  • Telescopic

A piston pushes the elevator from the elevator pit below the ground level. They’re generally affordable and low maintenance.

That said, hydraulic elevators contain hydraulic fluids. These are major environmental risks should there be a leak. They also use a lot of energy through their electric motor.

The most common types of elevators you’ll see are traction elevators — of which there are three types. The geared traction elevators have a gearbox that attaches to the motor that pulls the ropes. The ropes go through a sheave (a type of pulley system) to a counterweight, to assist.

A gearless traction elevator has a motor directly attached to the sheave. This is about four times faster than a geared elevator — they’re also more energy-efficient but have no speed regulator.

To save space, MRL (machine-room-less) elevators were an obvious iteration of the technology. These work generally only to 250 feet and get used most often in residential applications.

One of the latest (and most sci-fi looking) types of elevators, designed in 2007, is the vacuum elevator. These too get used mostly in multi-story homes.

Raising Awareness About Modern Elevators

There’s a lot that goes into designing and maintaining modern elevators. Building height, maintenance levels, traffic, and safety all play major roles. Now that you know how they work, you likely can pick the right one for you.

Need to know more? Keep browsing our articles for the best advice in tech, lifestyle, and more!

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