New elevator test tower Atlanta: gaining an innovation head start

Digitalisation and industry 4.0 | Engineering | innovation | mobility of the future | With a third high-rise test tower, thyssenkrupp is expanding its global innovation network. We spoke to Elevator CEO Andreas Schierenbeck about the iconic project and the importance of innovation in the elevator industry.

Mr. Schierenbeck, thyssenkrupp has announced the construction of a new high-rise elevator test tower and research center in Atlanta. What is this project all about?

AS: We are very proud of this new iconic facility that is being built there, worthy of representing our market leadership in North America. The test tower, located near the “Atlanta Braves” baseball stadium, is the largest of its kind in the United States and this is where we will be developing and testing new concepts and products for the region as well as for global applications. Solutions tested in these 18 shafts will include high-speed elevators, the TWIN two-cabin-per-shaft system and the MULTI.

In addition, it will be the new home for our headquarters in the Americas. When the campus is completed in 2022, up to 900 people will work in the three buildings, which is close to 10% of our employee base in the US. And it will certainly look fantastic.

Andreas Schierenbeck, CEO of thyssenkrupp Elevator, is convinced: Just like the two test towers in Rottweil and Zhongshan, the high-tech tower under construction in Atlanta will significantly increase thyssenkrupp's potential for innovation.Andreas Schierenbeck, CEO of thyssenkrupp Elevator, is convinced: Just like the two test towers in Rottweil and Zhongshan, the high-tech tower under construction in Atlanta will significantly increase thyssenkrupp’s potential for innovation.

The three towers in Rottweil, Zhongshan and Atlanta − tell us a little about the unique features of the different towers?

AS: We are transforming the global mobility industry through our innovations, aiming to become the number one or number two market leader in the future. The test towers are our platforms to develop and test ground-breaking innovations, as well as to try out improvements on our standard products. We find there is a competitive advantage in carrying out these activities closer to our customers in three key regions for our industry. Of course, all three towers perform similar tasks, but they specialize in the specific needs, products, norms and standards of each region.

Another important element is that these towers become flagships for the thyssenkrupp brand and generate a high level of community engagement. For example, the test tower in Rottweil has already been visited by over 100,000 people in just 6 months. It is not only a landmark of engineering, progress and innovation, but also a magnet for the region at large.

The elevator test tower in Rottweil, completed in 2017, marked the start of thyssenkrupp's ambitions to be a pioneer in the development of future elevator generations.
The elevator test tower in Rottweil, completed in 2017, marked the start of thyssenkrupp's ambitions to be a pioneer in the development of future elevator generations.
In March 2018, thyssenkrupp opened a second test tower in Zhongshan, China – another unmistakable sign of the company's considerable investments and development work in China.
In March 2018, thyssenkrupp opened a second test tower in Zhongshan, China – another unmistakable sign of the company's considerable investments and development work in China.
The new building complex in Atlanta combines research and development with a new American headquarters, giving thyssenkrupp every opportunity to test and certify new concepts and products from 2022 onwards.
The new building complex in Atlanta combines research and development with a new American headquarters, giving thyssenkrupp every opportunity to test and certify new concepts and products from 2022 onwards.

“We have made it our business to transform the elevator industry through innovations.”

Let’s talk about innovations in the elevator industry. For a long time this industry was not known for its spirit of invention.

AS: Of course, new and better products have been developed but fundamentally, the elevator industry had seen few major changes since its inception. One car, one rope, one shaft and one counterweight: this concept has remained largely unchanged for some 160 years.

But today this 19th century principle has clearly reached its limits. There is a need to move more people while using less space, time, and energy. There is a lot of potential for improvement in urban mobility to make the cities of tomorrow smarter and places that we are truly happy to live in.

How will we, as thyssenkrupp, help to meet this demand?

AS: We have made it our business to transform the elevator industry through innovations. We are the “New Kid on the Block,” because thyssenkrupp entered the elevator industry only 40 years ago. We are neither the oldest nor the largest elevator company, but we have managed to gain a head start on innovations through unconventional thinking. This is also thanks to our globally operating R&D community, which focuses on customer needs but also thinks outside the box. Take our predictive maintenance solution MAX as an example, where we use cloud technology to reduce elevator downtime by half.

Or the MULTI. The world’s first rope-less elevator that can also travel sideways.

AS: The MULTI is a central element of our innovation efforts. Thanks to its linear motors, several cabins can be operated simultaneously in one shaft and move vertically and horizontally. The MULTI is changing the way people move in buildings. It reduces waiting times for passengers and increases a building’s usable space. It also opens up completely new perspectives for architects, planners and building operators. We have questioned an established system, which is why we were once again awarded the Innovation Prize this year by the important industry association “Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat” (CTBUH). Now it is our goal to bring the MULTI to the market and let the first passenger take a ride. That will be a historic moment.

The most prominent example of thyssenkrupp's innovative capability: as the world's first elevator with magnetic levitation technology, the MULTI is also able to move sideways.The most prominent example of thyssenkrupp’s innovative capability: as the world’s first elevator with magnetic levitation technology, the MULTI is also able to move sideways.

“Our colleagues’ ideas seem inexhaustible.”

You were recently elected to the board of the Alliance to Save Energy. What’s this all about?

AS: The “Alliance to Save Energy” is where corporate and political decision-makers come together to promote energy efficiency. I think it is crucial that we exchange views and work together to promote a real change in energy consumption and productivity. As a global elevator industry leader, we support well-defined guidelines towards higher energy productivity. Today, almost 40 percent of global energy is consumed by buildings, up to a tenth of which can be attributed to elevators.

What are we doing at thyssenkrupp to increase energy efficiency in the elevator business?

AS: This topic is an important one for elevators that we manufacture, but I would like to highlight that to maximize energy savings, we must not neglect the modernization of older units. If you imagine that there are more than 12 million elevators in use worldwide, and half of them are over 20 years old, equipping them with new energy-efficient technology can have an immense effect. We are a leader in this respect, and the only one in the industry to develop a retrofit solution for the energy-neutral operation of elevators. This combines recovery through kinetic energy, optimized standby mode and solar modules, and under optimal conditions, even generating energy.

With which forward-looking technologies will thyssenkrupp attract further attention in this area? Please give us a preview.

AS: There are so many things we are working on right now. Take the colleagues in our airport solutions business, for example, which help to digitalize airport processes: I like to mention the HoloLens mixed-reality glasses for quicker stairlift installations or the virtual showrooms that allow our customers to journey through our product portfolios by simply putting on VR glasses. Our colleagues’ ideas seem inexhaustible.

But you also have to find the right partners to develop your ideas. With Microsoft, we benefit from the strength of their cloud technologies and HoloLens. Another remarkable example is the cooperation with the software developer TeleRetail. Together with them, we started a pilot project in which autonomous delivery robots bring spare parts and other materials directly to our service technicians on the jobsite. That would be the optimal logistics solution for us.

Of course these are dreams for the future. But let´s wait and see; maybe one day a thyssenkrupp robot will overtake you during a stroll through town.

Mr. Schierenbeck, thank you for this interview.

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