There has been a surge in growth in the elevator and escalator sector in recent years and it now has a market value of £1bn.

The elevator and escalator sector makes up one component of the UK market for mechanical handling. The mechanical handling industry is strongly allied to the economic fortunes of the manufacturing sector, and it has seen muted growth in the past few years. The mechanical handling market is made up of the following sectors:

  • Fork-lift trucks
  • Cranes and transporters
  • Lifting, jacking and winding devices
  • Conveyors and elevators
  • Lifts and escalators
  • Other mechanical handling equipment.

The market is dominated by five global lift makers – Kone, Otis, Thyssen, Schindler and Fujitech. However, there is a large number of small to medium-sized lift contractors thriving in the UK. These suppliers can provide lifts for smaller projects, as well as offering maintenance and repair skills.

Since 2000, there has been steady growth in the UK lift and escalator market. Indeed, whereas the overall UK mechanical handling industry only showed only minor growth, the UK lift and escalator sector grew 11.6% in value during 2001 to £890m, with reduced growth during 2002 of 4.9% to a level of £925m and 2.1% during 2003 to £940m.

There has been a significant surge in the growth of the market during 2004. As predicted by sources in the industry and Gardiner & Theobald, the UK lift and escalator market has broken through the £1bn barrier. Recent figures show a market value of £1.026bn – an increase of 9% on 2003.

This is in part because of the general strengthening of the construction industry, but more significantly because of the implementation of Part M of the Building Regulations, which deals with access to buildings, in May 2004 and the third and final part of the Disabled Discrimination Act 1995 in October 2004.

Between 2000 and 2004, new works made up the largest sector of the market, accounting for 40-44%. A close second to this is the maintenance and repair sector, which has accounted for 36-40% of the market. The modernisation and refurbishment market is a significant contributor, with a consistent 16-18% share of the market. This is a sector where the smaller, UK-based lift contractors are particularly active and successful.

It is interesting to note that the maintenance and repair sector has shown steady growth and appears to be more immune to the changes in the construction industry. The reason for this is that most building owners have long-term maintenance needs and often sign up to medium to long-term maintenance agreements, such as three to five years or even more. Most lift contractors are willing to cut margins and offer discounts on new lift and escalator installations in order to secure lucrative, long-term maintenance contracts with building owner–occupiers, which will provide them with a guaranteed income stream.

The UK independent lift contractors tend to provide the smaller and bespoke lift installations that the major contractors are incapable of, and often not interested in, supplying. Indeed, the independent lift manufacturing sector in the UK is considerably larger than is to be found in continental Europe and, as such, many firms in this sector have considerable success in exporting smaller and bespoke lift installations to European markets.

The level of the export sector has remained reasonably stable since 2000 and even showed a small increase in value between 2002 and 2003. The figures for 2004, however, were not so rosy, with the export sector showing a marked decline of 25% from the levels seen in 2003. A possible explanation for this would be the sustained strength of the pound and the large increases in the costs of steel and copper on the worldwide markets, which have both significantly decreased the competitiveness of the UK-based lift contractors.

As can be seen from the chart on the right, over the past five years in the UK new works sector, the most common type of installation is of new passenger lifts, which consistently account for 78-81% of all units sold. As is also clear from the chart, there has been a huge surge in new electric passenger lift orders, from about 4000 units in 2003 to just under 6000 in 2004. The levels of units ordered in other sectors show either a reduction or very modest increases during 2004. So it is safe to say that the 9% growth in the overall UK lift and escalator market is because of this surge in orders for electric passenger lifts.

The remainder of the sector is fairly evenly split between goods lifts and escalator and conveyor systems, which make up about 8-9% of all units sold. The graph below, therefore, graphically demonstrates that it is the demand for passenger lifts that drives the UK lift industry for both new work and maintenance and repair works. The same will hold true for the modernisation and refurbishment and export sectors as well.

After a slowdown in the UK lift and escalator market during 2002 to 2003, the figures from 2004 show a marked increase that demonstrates the market is outperforming the forecast based on the G&T Tender Price Index National Average percentages. To remain ahead of the forecast, the market will have to show growth levels similar to 2004. This may well be possible during 2005 as building owners and operators continue to adjust to the impact of Part M of the Building Regulations. However, it is probable that, following this initial surge in new orders, growth levels will fall back to more modest levels between 3% and 4% in 2006.

Hot topics

Lifts without motor rooms

In the main, a motor room-less lift such as Kone’s Monospace has the drive unit located at the top of the lift shaft with the control panel incorporated into the landing entrance on the top floor, although this can in certain installations be located within the lift shaft as well.

The use of motor room-less technology is now widespread in the UK construction industry and far outstrips the use of a more traditional electric traction lift. During 2003 and 2004, motor room-less passenger lifts accounted for about 85% of all electric passenger lift orders. Considering that this technology was only commercially introduced about seven years ago, this demonstrates the significance of motor room-less technology to the lift industry.

Disabled Discrimination Act 1995 Part 3b and Part M of the Building Regulations

Since December 1996, part 3 of the Disabled Discrimination Act 1995 has placed increased duties on building owners and occupiers not to discriminate against disabled people in the provision of services and accommodation and put an end to the discrimination that they have previously faced.

The target set in the DDA 1995 has now been met with the introduction of the Approved Document M of the English and Welsh Building Regulations, or Part M for short, in May 2004 and the introduction in October 2004 of the third and final part of the DDA 1995. It affects virtually everyone who provides facilities, goods and services to the general public.

In terms of lifts, this means increased provision of platform hoists, stairlifts, wider access to lifts and accessibility of lift controls to disabled people, tactile controls able to be read by partially or profoundly blind people, hearing aid loops and speech reinforcement for the hard of hearing, use of contrasting colours to aid partially sighted people, easy-to-use and fail-safe controls for those with mental or learning disabilities – to name but a few.

This has had a dynamic effect on the UK lift and escalator market, as highlighted above, and had led to significant growth in both the output and value of the market during 2004.

Advances in lift control technology

In the past seven years, there have been major advances in lift control technology that allow a more efficient use of existing lifts. These advances are principally dynamic sectoring, which designates lift cars within a group to serve certain floors, and destination “hall call”, an intelligent lift control system for a group of lifts and an enhancement of dynamic sectoring. Users select their destination via a LCD touch screen located in the lift lobbies. The control system then decides which lift is best placed to met the request and directs the user to the chosen lift. The traditional lift buttons within a lift car are therefore omitted, with the exception of alarms and communication buttons.

Retention bonds

The traditional deduction of retentions from interim payments have long been a sticking point in contract negotiations between lift contractors and employers or main contractors. In an attempt to address this situation, the Lift and Escalator Industry Association has, in conjunction with its members, developed a retention bond that is designed to be used in lieu of levying of retention funds when dealing with payments to lift contractors.

The twin-lift revolution

ThyssenKrupp has developed a revolutionary lift installation that puts two lift cars in one shaft. The two cars are arranged one on top of the other, using the same guide rails. Each lift car has independent motors, ropes and counter weights, which allows both cars to move independently, in opposite directions and even at different speeds. The two cars maintain a minimum distance of one car length through improved safety gear and control systems.The system has passed stringent European safety regulations and has been used in several projects in mainland Europe.

Combined with an intelligent lift control system, Destination Selection Control or DCS, this is claimed to provide significant improvements in both lift-handling capacities while reducing energy use and construction costs by reducing the number of lift shafts required.

This dual lift car installation is best suited to:

  • Buildings with 20 or more stops
  • Where there are two or more main access landings
  • Where significant, intermittent traffic between floors is expected
  • When the system is combined with a conventional elevator in its own shaft for those passengers wishing to travel the length of the lift shaft.