Getting a taste for heights

thyssenkrupp's test tower for elevators is almost finished. The research operations have started up. we.online takes an exclusive look behind the scenes of a unique facility which houses what is already today one of the Group's most spectacular projects.

Level 226. The winter sun is low, and dazzles through the meter-high windows. The conference room is equipped with basic office desks and chairs, but the view out of the window makes for amazement on the faces of people taking a look. At a height of 226 meters we have a majestic view over the picturesque Neckar Valley. It is even said that the Alps can be seen from here on some days.

Today, however, bands of cloud are moving across the horizon. Today we are paying a visit to the new thyssenkrupp test tower. It is a special occasion. Because today the research operations commence in one of the most impressive research facilities in Germany. The elevator engineers are now gradually taking up their R&D activities in the tower, moving into their offices and commencing the test operation of the newest systems. There are up to 9 shafts inside the concrete pillar for this purpose, reaching 30 meters down below ground-level.

Laid out virtually at our feet is the town of Rottweil, which was founded almost 2,000 years ago by the Romans. thyssenkrupp chose Rottweil as the site for the tower after an exhaustive search, in part because of its close proximity to roughly 10,000 engineering students at the surrounding universities and colleges on the axis from Stuttgart to Zurich in Switzerland. Seen from the town center there, the 246-meter tower literally soars into the sky. The town's residents are fond of the new landmark of their "Town of Towers". It has not yet been completed on the outside, however: the tower is scheduled to be given its façade – known as the membrane – with its stylish winding look in 2017.

Research on groundbreaking elevator innovations

Level 190. It's dark, because we are in the heart of the tower. We are standing on a gridded floor. There are several floors below us. You can get quite dizzy, looking down. Suspended from thick steel cables, we have before us a 240-ton concrete colossus: The so-called vibration absorber. A giant pendulum which can be driven by electromagnetic linear motors. The pendulum is an ingenious key element of the test tower. First, it reduces the natural swaying of the 246-meter tower, doing so by resisting this movement. But the pendulum also has a second, different significance: "We can also use the vibration absorber to simulate the way in which other buildings vibrate," explains Thomas Ehrl, who heads the 15-member in-house engineering team. They can, for example, let the tower vibrate just like the One World Trade Center in New York. Or like buildings that so far only exist on paper. Why is that of such importance to our engineers? When buildings sway to different degrees, this also has effects on the elevator shafts and the cars installed inside them.

"I'm glad that we can now move in here and begin our work at last," Ehrl then admits. That said, a lot of systems are still being installed, however, and the shafts will be fully equipped in spring. When that has been completed, the work there will include the running of new, high-speed elevators with speeds of up to 18 meters per second. Or the legendary TWIN elevator system, in which two cars travel independently – one above the other in the same shaft. And then there's a very special elevator system...

A look into the test shaft: down to a depth of over 200 meters.

"Town of Towers": The medieval town of Rottweil and the test tower.

The test tower is still to be given its bright, winding envelope: the so-called membrane.

MULTI research head Markus Jetter.

The test tower has already become an icon of the Group.

Exclusive test environment for the MULTI

Level 5. We are standing before a meter-high glass wall. From this position, it will be possible to look directly into the shaft, but for now the shafts are still covered and the view is obstructed by large tarpaulins. For good reason: one of the Group's best-kept secrets is concealed behind them. The MULTI is just in the process of being installed in three parallel shafts. The long-awaited, cable-less elevator, which can also travel horizontally.

However, we are allowed to take a quick peep behind the scenes. The three guide rails on which the MULTI cars will later rush along, powered by the thrust of electromagnetic linear motors, have already been installed in the shaft behind the tarpaulin. Two engineers wearing blue hard hats are using a sort of façade elevator to enable them to work on the rail system. A large part of the system will have been fully installed by spring 2017. This includes the elevator cars or the "exchangers", which are the switches on which the MULTI can change its direction of travel. Seeing it gives us the feeling: the MULTI exists!

"We shall be circulating the cars in these shafts," explains research head Markus Jetter. Jetter heads a large development team which has fathered the ground-breaking system over a number of grueling years. "The MULTI cars will be able to freely switch back and forth between the three shafts. And then there will be endless hours of test runs."

The ultimate goal in sight

The goal is clear: to introduce the MULTI to the world’s public in the course of 2017. A public including architects, urban developers and building contractors who are already craving the new opportunities offered by a cable-less elevator. Because more and more people throughout the world are moving from the countryside to urban areas. At the same time, the number of skyscrapers is constantly growing, and in turn being built to ever-increasing record heights. We meet thyssenkrupp Elevator CEO Andreas Schierenbeck at the foot of the tower. "Even a conservative sector like the elevator industry, which has undergone no significant changes in the past 150 years, can be revolutionized," he explains to us.

And the thyssenkrupp employees who are not elevator engineers themselves? They can nevertheless soon enjoy the view from the tower as well, from level 236 – the highest public visitor platform in Germany. This will be officially opened for the public in the course of 2017, and all employees will then be able to enjoy the same views –doing so with pride in the knowledge that below them their colleagues are in the process of making history.