Meet the man behind carbon fibre hoisting elevator technology
Meet Johannes de Jong, the brains behind the carbon fibre hoisting technology that is enabling buildings to scale even greater heights.The 1950s had the Empire State Building and then, nearly 50 years later, the Petronas Towers were built, followed rapidly by Taipei 101, before Burj Khalifa took the crown… What’s coming next in 2018 will be the completion of Kingdom Tower in Jeddah. Pegged to be at least 1000 metres high, it will be the world’s tallest building. Crucial to Kingdom Tower’s impressive height is an innovative piece of technology – carbon fibre lift ropes. It’s a pity that the tower had to be scaled back from its original 1.6-kilometre height due to ‘unsuitable geology’, because it definitely was not limited by technology.
At most of the tallest skyscrapers, the Shard in London for example, transfer floors are needed and those ‘commuting’ around a building have to switch lifts as traditional steel ropes are simply too heavy to handle such heights. This is accepted as a non-negotiable modern-day inconvenience – if you want bragging rights for building/working in an impressive skyscraper that is. In which case, you just get used to switching lifts in a transfer lobby.
But a couple of years ago a new lift cable was unveiled. The UltraRope is slick (due to its resin coating), flat and tape-like in shape. It’s made of carbon fibre and light as a feather (relatively, of course, and compared to its older, heavier and rounder cousin, the woven steel cable). It enables lifts to travel one kilometre in a single run – that is twice the distance a steel cable can manage.
Comprising four carbon fibre cores, the UltraRope is coated in a high-friction coat of resin. In an elevator shaft, there would be multiple strands of these that will hoist lift cars operating in tandem to share the load.
Facility Management speaks to Johannes de Jong, head of technology at KONE, where he has spent the last 33 years since receiving his master’s degree in engineering. With 500 different patents to his name, de Jong explains how UltraRope was developed.
FM: Tell us about the history of UltraRope.
Johannes de Jong: The idea was born nine to 10 years ago. Someone showed a piece of rope he made in the shape of the rope and it was so light. I felt that this had so much potential and decided that we needed it for our product roadmaps. But for some reason it was cancelled. So I wrote a four-page memo about the advantages of this system and I went straight to the executive board explaining that I was willing to sponsor the research and personally work on it. I also added that, if anything went wrong, they could fire me – that’s a career of 30 years. They gave the project the green light and went further with it. Nine years later, we have UltraRope.
So is it anything like what originally inspired you?
It looks nothing look like the original product, but whenever you look at factors like high performance and light weight, carbon fibre is always the winner – you see this in the motor racing, airline and boating industries. The problem to solve was how to use it in the right way, because carbon doesn’t like to be bent. We found a way to do it by making it flat. That’s how the shape comes about.
How does this fit in with all the other technologies and products on the boil?
There’s a whole roadmap behind it and we are slowly executing it. First, we want people to get to know technology, and then accept it, as it’s brand new and needs time to build trust and a brand. We are entering the ‘industrialisation’ stage of the product – moving towards reducing costs, and getting costs of related lift equipment down. One of the advantages UltraRope affords [is the ability to have] smaller motors. With lighter ropes, we can reduce the torque of the motor. This means smaller equipment and machinery.
What’s the driving factor behind your designs and ideas?
Future proofing buildings. While the benefits of UltraRope are only reaped by ultra-high builds at this juncture, I believe that medium-height buildings will also consider this in their retrofits. This technology, due to its light weight, reduces energy consumption and will give longevity of machines.
Can you tell us about developments you’re working on in the KONE roadmap?
In terms of the vertical transport industry – we are thinking of expanding the people flow technology and there’s a lot more to it than just lift cars, doors and floors. It will extend to corridor management, but that’s all I can say for now. We already see that we have strong reactions from our competitors, so destination control and building transit flow technology is definitely going to be a trend to stay and grow.
Johannes has received many awards and mentions for his work in the elevator industry, over the last 39 years. Most recently, in 2013 he picked-up the Innovation Award from the CTBUH, on behalf of KONE Corporation. In 2014 Johannes was the winner of the Prestigious Nova award for Innovation from the Construction Innovation Forum. Johannes is also the proud owner of more than 700 patents in the Elevator and Escalator technology.