The vertical transportation industry in India is set for a quantum leap, writes AMIT MAITRA.
Our cities are changing by the day, as are their skylines. Today, increasingly, our buildings are taller, with more glass exteriors and unique, sharper elevations. The shortage of buildable space has impelled buildings to go skyward, with even individual homes gradually evolving into multi-level apartments - duplex and triplex sky villas, the aspirational dream. And, as we soar upwards, quite literally, the demand for elevators rises in tandem. In fact, it is estimated that in another 15 years or so, nearly 50 per cent of India´s population will be living in urban areas, in apartments with elevators.
Today, India is the second largest elevator market after China and is poised to grow further in the years ahead with infrastructural development, rapid urbanisation and increasing disposable incomes. Everyone, old or young, is in a hurry; people want faster, smoother and personalised vertical transportation.
The science of elevatoring
Thus, elevatoring is all about providing user comfort, ease of use and freedom of movement despite the prevalence of security systems. Concern for user safety ranks very high, especially in taller structures; hence, advanced safety features, access control across multiple points and efficient management of user and visitor access ensure security for the building. Intelligence is information while moving, enabling people to reach their destinations easily. Communication with users and guidance is made more effective by streaming multimedia and web content as they move up and down inside the lift cars, or on escalators in retail spaces.
Things have certainly changed. In the past, the number of lifts to be provided and sizing were decided by architects. However, over the last decade, a realisation has dawned that elevatoring is too scientific a task to be undertaken based on assumptions. Now, proper lift analysis studies, often using complex software algorithms taking into account factors like passenger arrival rates, traffic movement, number of people in the building and types of usage, decide the number, size and speed of elevators in a building. These studies all are the more essential as buildings get taller and faster elevators become necessary. A mistake made at the design stage in providing the appropriate number of lifts remains for life.
The Indian market
Currently, the Indian elevator and escalator market is estimated over 55,000 units. It is estimated to touch 70,000 units per annum by 2017 and, possibly, 100,000 units by the end of the decade if the growth rate sustains. Passenger lifts in residential buildings comprise around 80 per cent of the total market; lifts of higher speeds of 6 mps and above with large capacities and taller cabin heights will be needed in many ultra tall buildings of 50 floors and above. Some of these high speed units are already running in India. The remainder of the market is taken up by commercial structures û offices, hospitality, retail, hospitals and infrastructure projects like metro rail and airports. Escalators and moving walkways (travellators) are normally seen in infrastructure (airport, metro/railways) and retail projects and their number is growing as more such projects take shape. An important shift in the elevator mix is the trend towards lifts with automatic power-operated entrances over traditional manual entrances that are still used in low-rise buildings and goods lifts in factories. There is also a growing demand for home elevators within multi-level apartments and bungalows driven by changing lifestyles and affordability.
The four largest metros witness maximum demand for vertical transportation products with over 150 high-rise projects estimated to be at the planning or design stage. There is also significant demand from other cities but the building height cannot exceed 100 m in smaller towns. The maximum demand comes from the western region, followed by north, south and east. As far as cost is concerned, between 5-8 per cent of the total project construction costs, dependent upon elevator specifications, finishes, etc, is invested in vertical transportation.
India is now home to almost all the major global elevator companies. Tier-I consists of MNC companies that generally have a presence across the country. This is followed by local manufacturers with strong regional presence in their domains. Tier-III consists of unorganised vendors and assemblers whose operations are localised; they generally work with small-time developers in low-rise structures. Competition is intense and margins low, leading to quality and safety-related issues driven by low pricing. A few of the MNCs have local manufacturing facilities but the rest mainly import from their Chinese or other overseas factories. The component industry supplying local elevator manufacturers also has several global companies supplying locally from their manufacturing facilities, but there is intense competition from Chinese component suppliers, who have grown quite significantly in the last few years.
The vertical transportation industry has been witness to a host of technological developments in the past couple of decades.
One of these is destination dispatch or hall call destination, where a passenger uses a keypad in the lobby to summon a car by punching in on a keypad the desired floor. The technology built into the system then calculates the best elevator available to take the individual to the desired floor and instructs him via a display screen to move and wait in front of the selected lift car. Once the passenger is aboard, the lift is programmed to stop at the desired floor with no need to press any buttons inside the car on the way up. This is mainly used in commercial buildings with multiple cars, and for special applications in hotels or upmarket residences where unique services are required for certain VIP floors. Recently, there is a further advancement on the destination despatch system. This enhanced system enables building users to summon an elevator car and be taken to the desired floor without having to press any buttons. Every employee is issued a plastic credit card-sized ID card containing an RFID tag. Upon presenting the card at one of the building´s RFID terminals, users are assigned the elevator to most efficiently transport them to the desired floor. As a result, traffic flow is improved while wait times are reduced. In effect, the system knows where the passenger wants to go before the car arrives.
These RFID-based solutions, already very advanced, could even allow users to summon lifts using mobile phones via a Bluetooth connection in future. There are some such systems operating in India today. Such applications are generally in hotels, commercial office buildings and hospitals.
Another important development is coated steel belts replacing conventional wire ropes, reducing the overall weight of ropes, thus enabling lifts to travel increased distances upwards at higher speeds. This also improves rider comfort and saves energy on the lift machines. In fact, the development of newer, lightweight material is also playing a role in improving lift interiors. There is a move towards the use of aluminium over steel. Again, this leads to energy saving owing to weight reduction particularly in interior finishes, similar to what is being witnessed in the automobile industry globally. Also, an increasing number of glass observation lifts are in use in all types of properties, adding aesthetic value to the property. Lift interiors now have TV screens in the lobbies and car to keep users engaged and air-conditioning for greater comfort. With the growing emphasis on ´green´ buildings, today´s vertical transportation equipment normally incorporates energy-saving subcomponents like regeneration in VVVF drives and LED lights and in-signal fixtures that reduce power consumption. What´s more, the use of automatic rescue devices for low to mid-rise buildings with no emergency power backup is a great step forward for user safety. Of course, for multi-car lift groups in high-rise buildings, generator sets are essential for emergency backup.
There are some critical issues in the Indian vertical transportation sector that need to be addressed. Project management, mainly during installation and interface between various agencies, needs to be properly coordinated. Each project is different and needs to be treated accordingly.
There is also a trend towards elevator maintenance by third-party small and local technicians who undertake annual maintenance contracts after the warranties of manufacturers expire. It is important that these third-party maintenance companies follow the same safety standards as reputed manufacturers. Local statutory authorities need to enforce stringent safety standards during installation and maintenance to make all concerned accountable in the unfortunate event of accidents and malfunctions. Only then will safety records improve. Implementation of standards and periodic checks by qualified third-party independent agencies are essential if safety standards are to be raised, particularly when there are many small players.
Further, training and certification of technicians is a must before they are allowed to work on a project site. This will also provide a pool of certified and trained people within the industry to take care of manpower needs when the growth phase really kicks in.
Country on the move
Quantum growth is indeed only a matter of time, driven by rapid expansion in the residential and commercial real-estate sectors and increased government spending in the infrastructure sector. The Prime Minister´s vision of developing 100 smart cities is another game changer. In fact, the government is also considering amendments to existing regulations to boost building construction of mid to high-rise buildings, and amending land ceiling acts, which will provide further opportunities for the vertical transportation industry. In this context, it is essential that local governments relax building norms with faster project approvals, adopt clear-cut development rules and permit high-rise buildings to be constructed. The usual delays in approvals and permissions need to be overcome through time-bound evaluation of project proposals and conformance per existing regulations.
Significantly, the modernisation market is also emerging as a significant part of the Indian elevator business as older lifts need upgrade or replacement. Most manufacturers are creating separate infrastructure to tap into this growth segment. Today, the total elevator installed base in India is estimated at around 350,000 units; hence, with both new equipment and modernisation, the vertical transportation should soar sky-high in the years ahead.
About the Author:
Amit Maitra, Founder Partner & Managing Director, Lerch Bates India Pvt Ltd, has over 27 years work experience in the elevator industry. A Mechanical Engineer from Manchester, UK, he began his working career in the automobile industry in the early 1970s, where he reached senior positions, and entered the elevator industry in the late 1980s. Lerch Bates India Pvt Ltd, started in 2006 as a JV with Lerch Bates Inc of USA, the world´s oldest and largest specialist consulting company in vertical transportation.