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WEE Expo 2016

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World Elevator & Escalator (WEE) Expo returns to Shanghai in its 20th year.

The Chinese elevator industry has maintained growth for three consecutive decades up to 2015, playing a dynamic role in both domestic and world markets more globalized than ever before. Realities over the dozens of years seem to coincide with the foresight of William C. Sturgeon, founder of ELEVATOR WORLD, as depicted in his early exploratory reports published in EW’s 1985 issues. Thanks to the opening minds of the reform pioneers in the elevator industry and decision makers of the government more than 30 years ago, the elevator industry in China has developed quickly and steadily, in spite of its challenges in the early 1980s. By formation of joint ventures and a speedy process of adapting to leading international standards, the elevator industry in China has experienced good progress.

According to Li Shoulin, president of the China Elevator Association (CEA), more than 4.2 million elevators and escalators are moving people across China, which calls for a higher level of elevator safety administration. Hence, the 2016 WEE Expo, which took place on May 10-13 at Shanghai’s National Exhibition and Convention Center, was themed “Safety and Reliability.” Meanwhile, by number and feature of the recent industry-related accidents, educating riders on safety has become a matter of nationwide urgency.  

WEE Expo 2016 also marked a return to Shanghai after 12 years. According to a recent CEA release, the event recorded a total show area of 135,500 m2 filled by 1,200 exhibitors and more than 130,000 visitors (both new records). Officers and representatives from authorized international organizations, including ISO TC 178, CEN TC 10 and ASME A17, were present at the opening ceremony. Nearly two dozen products and workshop sessions were convened during the four-day event, addressing the latest developments and technologies in both products and services, with a view to improving equipment reliability.  

New exhibits and changes in products were perceived by your reporter as he toured the expo halls. High-speed elevators developed and manufactured in China can now travel up to 8 mps, with the 10-mps prototypes remaining in testing. In view of sustainability, elevator power regeneration has become a must for all high-speed lifts in the future, just like the automatic speed control using sensors (today regarded as standard equipment) on escalators. The maximum traveling speed today may exceed 20 mps, but your author does not think it makes much sense to raise it further (although, technically speaking, there is still room). The downward speed of any super-high-speed elevator is still limited by human tolerance, and the commercial application of such super-high-speed units will definitely be limited to only a few megatall buildings above 600 m high, whereas efforts for raising speed further is very costly. 

The statistics by CEA show: up to two-thirds of new installations worldwide (760,000 units) were manufactured in China in 2015 alone, with an increase of 6% against the same figure in 2014. Thanks to the great efficiency widely embedded in the established business chains, all ranges of elevators, escalators and moving walks designed and manufactured in China offer high performance and some of the most competitive prices in the global market today, while roughly 10% of the annual total (74,100 units) were exported to nearly 200 countries and regions around the world in 2015.

The country continues its reign as the largest market in the world. China saw 660,000 new installations in 2015, resulting in 4.2 million units now in operation, comprising more than 28% of the world’s total (15 million units). This figure will continue to offer strong potential for follow-up business, such as maintenance and modernization. The steady economic growth in China will guarantee an increasing market demand for elevators. As the nation’s process of restructuring and optimizing its economy progresses, the elevator industry is undergoing profound changes from a manufacturing- to a service-oriented state. Companies that fail to adapt to the changes in time will suffer. Nevertheless, the Chinese elevator market will maintain a promising prospect, despite its single-digit growth rate last year.    

As elevators have become part of urban daily life for many, changes toward aesthetic comfort and other people-friendly aspects are found in designs of doors, cars and car panels. Fully glass doors offer a perfect match for glass cars in a glass hoistway. The Peelle Co. from the U.S. set up a unique booth featuring a freight-elevator car equipped with its vertical-opening gates and doors — touted as the strongest and most durable for loading and unloading by truck or forklift. Door guides as narrow as 45 mm to allow thin panels of the same width to slide in them were showcased side-by-side with a set of eight-panel telescopic central-opening doors. Varied styles of car decorations, ceiling and lighting were designed to enable passengers to enjoy — rather than tolerate — riding in a lift. A car interior at KLEEMANN’s booth looked like an artist’s cabin, with another bearing handy buttons for a wheelchair. Car panels have become more aesthetic by design, offering riders fun and real-time information via integrated media systems, in addition to more rider-friendly communication interfaces. Car designs have been adapted to specific applications — for example, Canny’s Set Sail consisting of stainless steel and laminated glass with a marble decking specifically caters to airports around the world.

Destination-control systems with touchscreens in the main landing have found a wider application in modernization jobs, as well as in new installations, since they can well increase the elevator groups’ service efficiency, while considerably reducing energy consumption. Lift controls are getting more intelligent, as they can learn and, perhaps, adapt to specific passengers’ riding habits to improve efficiency. It seems that robotics has begun to lend itself to elevator control systems; that means high-profile lift controls will not only be made intelligent, but also emotional to identified passengers. For example, a home lift can cater to varied persons in their favorite voices and lighting styles or colors, making the riding experience different for each passenger. Installation materials in the hoistway have been made more fieldwork friendly: numerous wires from a flat cable can be connected by means of smart plugs in a push-and-secure way, saving time for field technicians and mechanics, while guaranteeing the required quality of work.

With continued growth of the automobile industry, most families in China, like those in Europe and North America, own a vehicle, which poses a severe challenge to available parking areas, especially in more populated urban areas in big cities. The greater the population density, the more acute the problem. However, challenges can turn into opportunities. A number of elevator manufacturers launched their parking systems some years ago, having developed their manufacturing capacities for both multilevel and tower systems. The market demand for parking systems seems to be promising, too.

The WEE Expo is indeed a grand biannual festival where elevator people can meet and talk to one another face-to-face. Your author was pleased to see many familiar faces, especially those who started to attend 10, 15 or even 20 years ago. He greeted old and new friends, while taking photos. There seems to be a story behind every photo, which may tell more than words can say (see this month’s Web Exclusive, “WEE 2016 Photo Essay”). There were many new faces, too, as our industry proceeds from generation to generation. EW appreciates all who came to its booth or tried to find us in Hall 5.1. Meanwhile, your author has to apologize to some, including his friend Karl Ding, who had problems finding the booth. Deficiencies in elevators from the underground parking floor and a dearth of moving walks over the long distance toward and between show halls made for exhausting walks by both exhibitors and visitors, compounded by the awkward design of the enormous complex without consideration of pedestrian accessibility. 

The National Exhibition and Convention Center was a new venue for the WEE Expo. Large enough to hold an event twice or three times as big as this year’s expo, it presented a nice bird’s-eye view from the sky. When we checked in for the event on May 8, we were guided by venue staff to Gate 18 and asked to park our car in a basement lot. Unlike the previous WEE Expo venue in Guangzhou, where exhibitors had convenient access to a group of elevators in every entrance lobby next to a basement parking floor during the WEE Expo 2012 and 2014, unfortunate exhibitors this year discovered the giant Shanghai venue (which only opened last year) lacks elevators from its parking lot on the basement floor. We had to take a long walk in sunlight to the registration desk somewhere in the complicated complex.

Neither signs nor maps to help us get there were available. However, dozens of venue staff stood by down the road and around the corner. When we tried to solicit their assistance, nobody knew anything about the WEE event or where the registration desk was located until we came across someone from Langfang. As a visitor, the booth number alone could not help one locate one’s destination, because the few maps in the vast halls failed to mark out a valid reference spot. We sincerely hope the issues we and many others encountered will be made good by the venue management when people from the global elevator industry meet here again in May 2018.  

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