Differences Between Mechanical and Hydraulic Elevator Systems

There are approximately 900,000 operational elevators in the United States located in homes, offices, and businesses, according to the National Elevator Industry. But while all these systems allow us to move quickly from floor to floor, not all of them work in exactly the same way, so we wanted to talk a little bit about the differences.


Here is a breakdown between the two most common elevator systems: hydraulic and mechanical.

Hydraulic Elevator Systems:

A hydraulic powered elevator system is operated using a pump that moves non-compressible liquid (such as oil) from a fluid reservoir into a cylinder through an open valve. The fluid builds up inside the cylinder, pushing up a piston located inside and causing the elevator to raise to the corresponding floor.

Since the fluid cannot flow back into the reservoir if the valve is closed, the fluid will stay inside the cylinder and hold the elevator up. Once a signal is sent to the control system to lower the elevator, the valve will open and allow the fluid to flow back into the reservoir allowing the weight of the elevator car to lower the piston.

While hydraulic systems are simple and effective, there are disadvantages to the use of these elevator systems. This design is less energy efficient and requires drilling a cylinder shaft almost as deep as the system is high. For example, if a building is 15 meters high, then the cylinder must be about 14 meters deep below the system. This has caused the rise of mechanical elevator systems.

Mechanical Elevator Systems:

An alternative is the mechanical elevator system, otherwise called a roped elevator system, which is used in most modern building projects.

While a hydraulic elevator system uses pressurized liquid to propel the car up the shaft, a mechanical elevator system uses a motor, a series of ropes, and a counterweight to move the elevator car from floor to floor.

The ropes are connected to a sheave and a motor that either moves the ropes up or down. On one side the ropes are connected to the elevator car and on the other they are connected to a counterweight hanging on the opposite side of the shaft. The counterweight conserves energy by decreasing the effort needed to raise the elevator (similar to a see-saw). Both the car and the counterweight are placed on a track inside the elevator shaft to keep them in place while the system operates.

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