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How do elevators work?

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Ever wondered how elevators work? Lets first understand what they are;

The elevator is a type of vertical transport equipment that efficiently moves people or goods between floors of a building.

Elevators are generally powered by electric motors that either drive traction cables or counterweight systems like a hoist, or pump hydraulic fluid to raise a cylindrical piston like a jack. Simply put elevators work on the principle of a pulley.

Lets now see how elevators work:

The car(which holds the cargo) is connected to a pulley system through steel or metal cables. The electric motor drives the pulley which pulls up or down the car.


A counterweight is located on the other end of the steel cables to offset the weight of the car. It is usually half the weight of a fully loaded passenger elevator. On an average ride the two are perfectly balanced.

The importance of the counterweight

The counterweight makes it easier for the motor to raise and lower the car just as sitting on a see-saw makes it much easier to lift someone’s weight compared to lifting them in your arms.

Also consider this;

Without a counterweight, it would be difficult to lift a a loaded car upward while it would race downwards.


Each car ran between two vertical guides with sturdy teeth all the way to the top. If the cables broke, a spring loaded mechanism with hooks sprung outside engaging into the metal teeth. So now you are somewhere stuck in between the floors but you are safe.


The steel cables holding the car are strong enough to ensure your safety. They are normally between 5 and 6 cables holding the car. It would take a serious accident to have all the cables break. But even if one or two cables break you are still safe.

Another mechanism that an elevator contains to ensure safety is efficient braking gear. Whenever an elevator starts falling and its speed exceeds the maximum safe speed of the elevator, metal brakes on the sides of the car latch onto the car and slow it down.

The car is slowed down steadily, in order to prevent a sudden shock to the falling car, which could also injure those inside.

Very simply, the idea of an elevator is this;

One side goes up and the other goes down.

And that’s how elevators work.

Read Also:How a generator works to create electricity

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