Interview - Jürgen - Blank - Schindler

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Smart, Green, Digital – The Future of the Elevator Industry

Jürgen Blank in Conversation

Modern elevators are no longer just a means of transport, but are now characterized by advanced planning, digital offerings and intelligent linking with buildings. Furthermore, the requirements have changed significantly due to the transformation in the construction industry. Innovative solutions and forward-looking elevator concepts are therefore needed to meet these challenges. Schindler engineer Jürgen Blank has also been working on ideas for the future for many years and has a broad range of expertise. SKYLINE ATLAS met Jürgen Blank at the E2 Forum in Frankfurt am Main in the fall of 2022 and was able to learn some exciting facts in conversation with him.

Jürgen - Blank - E2Forum - Interview

“Smart controls and digital services for a secure, integrated access and elevator solution make convenient and efficient elevator use including separation of user groups possible even in buildings with mixed use.”

– Jürgen Blank

SKYLINE ATLAS: Dear Mr. Blank, thank you for taking the time to conduct an interview with us here at the E2 Forum. You have just given a presentation entitled “Digital mobility solutions in practice – connectivity for the future”. I’ll take this as an opportunity to start with the question: What is the current status of elevator digitization and what trends are currently emerging?

Jürgen Blank: The elevator is growing more and more together with the entire building. Particularly in high-rise buildings, innovative digital solutions have long since made it impossible to see them as individual technical systems. Efficiency, capacity and convenience are increasing enormously thanks to elevator and mobility solutions that are integrated into the building. I am thinking here of our smart elevator control and operation with Schindler PORT or the connectivity of our systems, which simplify the entire service, data transparency, and higher availability.

SKYLINE ATLAS: In the preliminary discussion, you also described the customers’ wishes as decisive in this regard. What requirements do customers place on elevators today?

Jürgen Blank: High elevator availability, especially in high-rise buildings, and excellent ride characteristics are very important. In addition, the flexibility of our elevators is becoming increasingly important. If buildings are potentially converted at a later date, the elevator system must also continue to be suitable. The integration of elevators into a smart building concept, their sustainability and their contribution to building certification are becoming increasingly relevant. For architects and interior designers, the visual appearance and diverse customization options are a major plus, allowing our elevators to fit seamlessly into the individual design concept of the building.


SKYLINE ATLAS: In an interview I read of yours, you mentioned that digitalization is already particularly relevant in the planning of elevators. In this context, BIM also plays a key role. Can you elaborate a little on this.

Jürgen Blank: In fact, we are pleased to note that the construction industry is becoming increasingly digital and BIM is becoming more and more important. For many of our elevators, we have developed a digital planning platform in the form of the Schindler Plan & Design Tool. BIM models of the designs are also created in this. For almost all high-rise projects, we already provide BIM-based plans and models in various LODs, Levels of Designs.

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Jens Schneider (SKYLINE ATLAS) and Jürgen Blank (Schindler) in conversation at the E2 Forum

SKYLINE ATLAS: Efficiency is at the heart of the horizontal mobility theme. This includes customized options, navigation systems on the cell phone or entertainment via screen. Terms such as AI or intelligent buildings also crop up here. How can we imagine an intelligent elevator system today?

Jürgen Blank: It is always important for me to emphasize: Digitization and intelligent systems must always bring added value. Digitization solutions just for the sake of digitization may often have a fancy name, but they are nonsense and bring nothing to the user or building operator.

Intelligent elevator solutions from Schindler, such as PORT, ensure that user comfort, for example, is significantly increased. If our PORT system is also linked to building and apartment access, the elevator is automatically called as soon as an occupant enters the building. This significantly reduces waiting times. The elevator already knows where to go. Or the other way around: the moment I leave the apartment, the elevator sets off to pick me up. I can also grant visitors access to the building or an anteroom of my apartment via PORT terminals. Today, we can completely implement these use cases for our customers with our own solutions called PORT 4D.

In smart buildings, the elevators and access solutions can be easily linked to other systems via our digital software platform CoLab and integrated into the building’s ecosystem. This not only ensures data transparency, but also enables operators to manage buildings efficiently and smartly. The requirements for a smart and intelligent building of the future are thus met.

SKYLINE ATLAS: In addition to digitalization, sustainability also plays an important role. For example, Schindler has developed a standardized solution for the installation of elevators in wooden shafts. The company also offers the first TÜV-certified sustainable elevator maintenance service, the “Schindler Green Service.” How can elevator systems be made more sustainable in principle, and what solutions are currently being worked on?

Jürgen Blank: First of all, I’m talking about the energy consumption of the systems. An increase in energy efficiency can be planned directly into the elevator. Of course, our new installations already have highly efficient drives and energy recovery into the building network, so that our installations can achieve energy efficiency class A according to the ISO standard. And in addition, I can make them even more efficient with Schindler PORT. A smart elevator control system can save up to an additional 40 percent of energy. With our Eco mode, elevators can be used during selected operating times in such a way that they always have an optimal weight-to-counterweight ratio, transport more passengers with fewer trips, and so on. The intelligence in the elevator ensures that the drive runs in the most energy-efficient mode. In concrete terms, this lowers power consumption and reduces costs and CO2 emissions.

At Schindler, however, we keep an eye on the entire life cycle of elevators. An elevator is in operation for decades and needs to be maintained. Has anyone ever thought about how this can be done more sustainably? Schindler was the first company in the industry to develop truly sustainable elevator maintenance with Schindler Green Service. Through digital services, it actually produces 99.5 percent fewer emissions than conventional maintenance. And here I’m not talking about CO2 compensation in the fine print like some others, but real reduction. TÜV Rheinland has also certified this. Schindler is committed to recycling all materials and not sending waste to landfills. The vehicle fleet in Germany has been converted to consistent e-mobility for some time now. I could speak for quite a while on the subject, but on to the next question.

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SKYLINE ATLAS: I would now like to focus on high-rise buildings. Schindler designed and installed the elevators and the port system in the OmniTower. Furthermore, the elevators are also maintained by Schindler. You have also been awarded the contract for the Elbtower, which at 245 meters will be the third tallest high-rise building in Germany. What are the special challenges of elevators in high-rise buildings?

Jürgen Blank: In high-rise buildings, there are many people on the move per se, often thousands. And they often have to negotiate many floors. At certain peak times, there are particularly large numbers of passengers – in office buildings, usually in the morning, at midday, in the afternoon. In other words: come, eat, go. If there is poor traffic planning in advance or poorly controlled elevators, long lines form at the elevators and people’s spirits are down faster than the elevator. The same applies in hotels or in residential buildings. The requirements for reliability and low waiting times are particularly high in high-rise buildings. That’s why our experts for high-rise buildings study the building’s use in advance, taking planned occupancy rates into account. Because movements in highrise buildings follow certain patterns, the quotas are combined with empirical values that Schindler has gained in other highrise buildings. The engineers then use the traffic forecasts to create simulations that indicate where and how many transportation options need to be provided.

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Modern elevators in Frankfurt’s OmniTower

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Interview - Blank - Schindler - E2Forum

SKYLINE ATLAS: Let’s stay with skyscrapers: Outside Germany, skyscrapers are now reaching dizzying heights. A height of one kilometer or even more could soon become reality. What requirements do such record heights place on the planning and operation of elevators?

Jürgen Blank: Basically, the same requirements for reliable, safe and comfortable operation as just described apply. The only difference is that there are even more people in the building and the capacity and availability of the elevators becomes even more central. The elevators will become even more important because these are heights that, in case of doubt, can no longer be covered by stairs if the elevator doesn’t arrive. Technically and in terms of control, the elevator system will of course become more complex because more elevators will be on the move, passengers would have to transfer at certain heights. But with a good traffic calculation and smart control, everything is feasible.


SKYLINE ATLAS: Let’s go one step further in terms of height by letting our imagination run wild. NASA claims that people will be able to ride elevators into space in the not too distant future. How would such elevators have to be designed so that you could reach such heights?

Jürgen Blank: I’m more of a down-to-earth kind of guy, and I’m concerned about smart elevators making our lives on Earth easier. I’ll leave it to the scientists to research all the other aspects of elevators in space, such as the right material, load, gravity, etc. I’m not interested in the design of such elevators.

SKYLINE ATLAS: But it’s not just the height of buildings that’s interesting, it’s also the question of how quickly elevators can reach certain heights that’s exciting. Some elevators already reach considerable speeds. Is there actually a speed limit here?

Jürgen Blank: As far as I know, the fastest elevator is currently in operation in Shanghai in the Shanghai Tower. It travels up to 20.5 meters per second.  That’s almost 74 kilometers per hour. But only under “competition conditions,” without passengers, when the technician is in maintenance mode. What has to be taken into account with fast vertical movements is the necessary pressure equalization in the car and, above all, the acceleration forces that act when the elevator has to reach a certain speed quickly. After all, at some point the elevator has to slow down again and stop at the next floor. At a certain point, the g-forces during acceleration and deceleration become too high for the person in the car. If your eyelids fall shut when the elevator accelerates, you drop to your knees, and you can no longer lift your arms, that probably no longer counts as ride comfort for most people. But all joking aside, the decisive or limiting factor in elevators is not the speed, but the acceleration forces. And the higher the shaft, the larger the required shaft head and the higher the demands on the technical safety components.

“…the decisive or limiting factor in elevators is not the speed, but the acceleration forces.”

Jürgen Blank

SKYLINE ATLAS: Meanwhile, high-rise buildings are no longer purely office buildings. In Frankfurt am Main, for example, new high-rises such as the OmniTower in the banking district or the ONE in the Europaviertel are being designed as mixed-use towers. In other words, the trend is for towers to be used for both living and working. Furthermore, the buildings are accessible to the general public, for example in the form of a skybar or restaurants. What special challenges does this pose for elevator design?

Jürgen Blank: In mixed-use buildings, the requirements for elevators, availability, control and access authorizations are complex. Different use cases come together in one building. Professional transportation planning is all the more important here. Smart controls, digital services and a secure, integrated access and elevator solution enable convenient and efficient elevator use, including separation of user groups, even in buildings with mixed use. Another important aspect is the flexibility of the installed solutions in the event of a possible change of use of the building at a later date, which is provided by our PORT solutions.

Jürgen - Blank - Interview - E2Forum

SKYLINE ATLAS: In addition to the mixed use of new buildings, the topic of building in existing structures is increasingly coming up. For example, Schindler installed new 7000 elevators there as part of the refurbishment of the Messeturm. What special conditions arise for the planning and implementation of new elevator systems in buildings in the context of renovations or revitalizations?

Jürgen Blank: In the case of existing buildings and modernizations, certain structural conditions are set. Space is limited and very often the buildings are still in operation. Here you also have to deal with a – sometimes temporary – combination of new and old systems from different manufacturers. In the Messeturm, we were able to show that we have mastered this at Schindler. Now, with our Schindler 7000 high-performance elevators, the most modern and efficient elevator technology is installed there. By the way, in the high-rise sector in particular, conversion to PORT pays off especially quickly, even in modernization projects. In the Messeturm, our highly specialized team carried out this conversion during ongoing building operations and ensured that sufficient elevator capacity was available even during the conversion and that office tenants were not adversely affected.

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Destination call control via Schindler PORT

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Digital information board in a hotel elevator

SKYLINE ATLAS: To conclude our conversation, I’d like to take a long look into the future: Will elevators soon travel without ropes and also horizontally – as in Star Trek, for example – or how can we imagine the elevator of the future?

Jürgen Blank: I would like it very much if the elevator knew where I wanted to go without my having to enter it anywhere. Screens in the cab show me exactly the information that is relevant to me during the ride. I have no waiting times and never experience an elevator standing somewhere when I need it urgently.  Many dream of elevators into space or like on Star Trek. I prefer to stay on earth and am happy if the elevator makes my journey here as comfortable as it can possibly be.

From the point of view of an investor or developer, it is certainly a matter of obtaining the maximum possible marketable area in a building, which I believe you can achieve with the best possible planning of the elevator technology in advance, in combination with the most intelligent and flexible control system, and we at Schindler are right at the forefront here with the solutions I have presented to you in this interview.

SKYLINE ATLAS: A good segue to say thank you for the extensive interview. 

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Jürgen Blank from Schindler with SKYLINE ATLAS editor Jens Schneider

About Jürgen Blank

Jürgen Blank is an engineer and Head of Project Business and New Technologies at Schindler Germany and Managing Director of Polaris Digital Services GmbH, a Schindler Group company. He started at the manufacturer of elevators and escalators in 2008 as regional manager in Frankfurt am Main and has since been involved in various high-rise and large-scale projects. Prior to that, he held similar positions at various companies.

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Jürgen Blank