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SINGAPORE will be the manufacturing base for the world's first lift made of composite materials such as fibreglass and carbon fibre-reinforced polymers.
The elevators will be 10 times lighter than a normal lift of the same capacity. Its relative lightness - 150kg compared to a 1,500kg traditional lift of the same capacity - means this lift does not need a counterweight to help its motor move the lift.
Counterweights can take up to a third of the space in a lift shaft. The composite lift can thus maximise shaft space; a lift shaft for a traditional six-person cabin can accommodate a composite lift that officially carries 11 people.
This innovation, called "8", was launched on Wednesday by a joint venture among Far East Organization, Woh Hup (Pte) Ltd and Hong Kong holding company Pronus Ltd.
Speaking at the launch, managing director of the Singapore Lift Company (SLC) Alister Bennett cited Singapore's ideal location and support for innovation as reasons to manufacture his invention in the Republic.
"In Singapore, you have a growing composites industry. It is my goal, because Singapore is so innovative, to build everything here. It would be fascinating to work with the institutes and universities here, like the Nanyang (Technological University)."
His invention has been named "8" for three reasons: its eight-year warranty on all SLC-manufactured parts, an installation timeline said to be eight times faster than for a traditional lift, and its capacity to transport eight passengers comfortably.
8's manufacturing costs are similar to those of traditional steel lifts, but SLC hopes that the time and labour savings and the bonus of maximising lift shaft space will appeal to property developers.
Traditional lifts require five to seven days to install the system for a single floor. With 8 needing less structural support and heavy lifting, it is possible to install one floor a day, said Mr Bennett.
Composite technology is already widely used in other industries. For example, the fuselage and wing structures of Singapore Airlines' new Airbus A350-900 aircraft are made of carbon fibre-reinforced polymer, which can be five times stronger than steel.
Mr Bennett said lift manufacturers already have factories to process steel, and changing production methods would be costly. "The incentive will come only if, for example, we prove that composites are the right way forward."
8 has obtained approval for its design concept from Liftinstituut, a leading certification organisation for lift and escalator safety in Europe.
Albert-Jan van Ommen, manager of business-unit certification there, said: "We have to do some extra testing to see that every part that we see in the design is working in the real world, for the full approval, and in time this will be achieved."
SLC is in talks with the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) to obtain full approval for 8 in Singapore. It hopes to make 8 commercially available by Q3 this year, with lift cabins built here and the remaining components sourced from elsewhere. The ultimate goal is to build the lift system entirely in Singapore.
The drawback to the composite lift is that it is too light to safely move at a target speed of 1 metre per second to heights of more than 20 floors. In land-scarce Singapore, for example, the market for high-rise lifts will stay in the domain of traditional lift manufacturers.
But Mr Bennett has his sights set elsewhere: "We're looking to sell globally - 90 per cent to 95 per cent of buildings in the rest of the world are of 20 floors and below."