KONE elevator parts
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KONE elevator parts
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The steel cables used to hoist elevators add a tremendous amount of mass to the elevator assembly, limiting its travel distance. A new carbon fiber technology aims to change that. (Courtesy KONE)

The next time you travel up or down in a high rise building you might not have to change elevators nearly as much. That’s because of a new elevator technology coming from KONE, an elevator and escalator maker based in Finland.

Comprised of a carbon fiber core and a unique high-friction coating, KONE UltraRope™ is extremely light, meaning it reduces the weight of an elevator’s moving masses so the elevator can travel longer distances. The steel rope that’s typically used in elevator hoisting technology limits the travel distance of elevators to about 500 meters (1,640 feet). UltraRope doubles that to 1 kilometer (3,280 feet). One side benefit of the lightweight alternative to steel is that energy consumption in tall buildings can be dramatically reduced.

The new rope is extremely strong and highly resistant to wear and abrasion. Elevator downtime caused by building sway is also reduced as carbon fiber resonates at a completely different frequency to steel and most other building materials. KONE UltraRope has an exceptionally long lifetime – at least twice that of conventional steel rope – and because of the special coating, no lubrication is required in maintaining it, enabling further cuts in environmental impact.

“This is finally a breakthrough on one of the ‘holy grail’ limiting factors of tall buildings – that is, the height to which a single elevator could operate before the weight of the steel rope becomes unsupportable over that height (approximately 500 meters),” said Antony Wood, architect and executive director, Council for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH). “So it is not an exaggeration to say that this is revolutionary. However, it is not just the enablement of greater height that is beneficial – the greater energy and material efficiencies that are of equal value.”

KONE UltraRope has been developed and tested rigorously both in real elevators and simulation laboratories at KONE’s research and development facilities in Finland. Since 2010, it has been tested in operation at the world’s tallest elevator testing laboratory, KONE’s Tytyri facility built over 300 meters underground adjacent to an active limestone mine. Properties like tensile strength, bending lifetime, and material aging are just some of the characteristics that have been measured.

The elevator company points to increased movement of people to urban centers as providing impetus for developing new elevator technologies. More than half of the world’s population already live in urban areas, and the United Nations estimates that by 2050 seven out of every 10 people on the planet will be living in cities. Building upwards is seen as the sustainable urban solution, and the number of tall buildings built around the globe has increased rapidly in recent years. Nearly 600 buildings of 200 meters (656 feet) or more are currently under construction or planned to be built over the next few years, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. While there are currently three buildings in the world that top the 500-meter mark, there are plans for 20 more such buildings to be built in coming years. Additionally, there are currently some 3,000 buildings in the world that could benefit from modernization with KONE UltraRope.

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