At its most basic level, an escalator is just a simple variation on the conveyer belt. A pair of rotating chain loops pull a series of stairs in a constant cycle, moving a lot of people a short distance at a good speed.
In this article, we'll look inside an escalator to find out exactly how these elements fit together. While it is exceedingly simple, the system that keeps all the steps moving in perfect synchrony is really quite brilliant.
The core of an escalator is a pair of chains, looped around two pairs of gears. An electric motor turns the drive gears at the top, which rotate the chain loops. A typical escalator uses a 100 horsepower motor to rotate the gears. The motor and chain system are housed inside the truss, a metal structure extending between two floors.
Instead of moving a flat surface, as in a conveyer belt, the chain loops move a series of steps. The coolest thing about an escalator is the way these steps move. As the chains move, the steps always stay level. At the top and bottom of the escalator, the steps collapse on each other, creating a flat platform. This makes it easier to get on and off the escalator. In the diagram below, you can see how the escalator does all of this.
The individual steps from an escalator
The tracks are spaced apart in such a way that each step will always remain level. At the top and bottom of the escalator, the tracks level off to a horizontal position, flattening the stairway. Each step has a series of grooves in it, so it will fit together with the steps behind it and in front of it during this flattening.
The escalator system isn't nearly as good as an elevator at lifting people dozens of stories, but it is much better at moving people a short distance. This is because of the escalator's high loading rate. Once an elevator is filled up, you have to wait for it to reach its floor and return before anybody else can get on. On an escalator, as soon as you load one person on, there's space for another.
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