Some skyscraper elevators offer spectacular views. Other fully transparent panoramic elevator cars already do look stylish inside large hotel lobbies and shopping centers. But until today their shape has remained rather standard and boxy (or cylindrical at most). The latest collaboration between the metal DED innovators at MX3D (the same guys that printed the bridge in Amsterdam) and elevator global manufacturing giant Schindler looked to introduce an element of art into an elevator car’s engineering.
While 3D metal printing is a novel technology that pushes the boundaries of what is technically possible, the idea of fusing art and engineering is nothing new, says Oliver Simmonds, a Principal Engineer within Schindler’s New Technologies unit.
“When I look at old machines, they weren’t just purely technical objects driven solely by optimization,” says Oliver. “They often had artistic features that were purely esthetical. With additive manufacturing, we have now the possibility to create structures that are not only highly optimized but also visually appealing.”
“Sculpted” by MX3D’s robotic DED 3D printer, the 3D printed elevator car does have a unique look. The plain metal panels usually making up the sides of the elevator car have given way to an intricate, delicate structure: a tangled web of leafless branches that can only be produced with additive technology.
More than a pretty face
Although it pushes the boundaries of esthetics in elevator design, the project’s main focus was to create a highly optimized structure using topology optimization. “We wanted to see if producing elevator cars that are lighter and that used less material was possible,” said Oliver.
Schindler teamed up with MX3D, the Dutch start-up specialized in 3D metal printing that has conducted several high-profile projects applying 3D printing technology and topology optimization in large structures for construction and maritime projects. The company is also not new to purely artistic projects, having recently collaborated with artist Ricardo Regazzoni to create a stainless steel 3D printed sculpture.
Topology optimization is about achieving the most efficient design. “Essentially, you look at an object and lots of it is superfluous material,” explained Gijs van der Velden, CEO of MX3D. “The idea is to whittle that object down to its bare essentials.”
More energy-efficient cars
At a time when buildings must be designed for high performance, the quest for a lighter and more energy-efficient elevator car took on added importance.
The benefits of a lighter 3D printed elevator car are many-fold: less material means, of course, reduced production costs. But it also has obvious sustainability benefits: a lighter elevator cabin requires less energy to produce. Once in operation, it is also much more energy-efficient to run.
So, when can we expect to see a 3D printed elevator in operation? “Not for a little while,” says Oliver. “Metal printing remains still to this day a slow and expansive production method.”
The partnership with MX3D is just one of many that Schindler has struck with external partners to support innovation in all its forms – and to develop the elevator technology of tomorrow.