Finnish manufacturer KONE has developed the UltraRope: a super-light, super-strong carbon fibre cable system, coated in a special friction-proof material, that can carry lifts higher than they’ve ever been before.
The highest skyscraper in the world
In 2020, construction is scheduled to be completed on the Jeddah Tower. It will stand over 1 kilometre, more than 100 metres higher than the world’s current tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
Just months later, the Azerbaijan Tower will be finished, breaking the record once again at over 1,050 metres.
The approaching completion date of this tower posed architects with significant challenges, not least in moving people up and down the structure.
A question of weight and wind
Even the tallest tower in London, The Shard, which stands at just under 310 metres, requires two lift journeys to reach its top floor.
The reason for this mid-building switch is weight. Steel skyscraper lift cables have to carry not only the cabin and passengers, but also their own weight – so the higher they travel, the heavier they become.
Before the development of the UltraRope, lifts could travel little more than 500 metres without putting too much strain on the cables. The Burj Khalifa contains the highest current example, which can travel up 504 metres before becoming unsafe.
As well as weight, wind shear creates additional stress because wind speed increases exponentially with altitude – a struggle for lifts, which need to remain absolutely steady to function.
Testing lifts in a different kind of shaft
KONE has been developing the UltraRope system for a decade, but with competition fierce among rival manufacturers such as Otis and Schindler, testing had to be done in absolute secrecy.
To make sure any breakthroughs were kept under wraps, the company built a testing facility in an abandoned limestone mine in Lohja, Finland, digging down 1,000 feet into the mine shaft in order to test the UltraRope cable’s strength.
In addition, the facility is used to make sure that the lifts KONE is developing are energy efficient, reliable, fast, comfortable and stable. In order to gauge stability, engineers place a coin on its edge in the middle of the lift. If it falls or rolls, it’s back to the drawing board.
Solving more than one problem
As well as reducing weight and increasing lift range, KONE’s UltraRope cables will also save 15% of the energy used, but there is another huge advantage the cables will have for architects – fewer exchange floors. This means less wasted space and room for more offices or apartments.
The Shard is a perfect example: passengers have to switch halfway up the structure, which means waiting in a lobby – an area that would be unnecessary if the lift could carry passengers the entire way to the top floor.
Looking to the skies
As urban centres become more and more congested, city planners and developers will look skyward to solve the issues of space. KONE’s new UltraRope technology is an important step in that solution, enabling lifts to go higher than ever before.
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