Build An Elevator Controller, Gain A Friend For Life


[Michael Ruppe] was working one day when a man named [Kevin] approached him for a bit of help with a project. It just so happened that [Kevin] was in the middle of constructing a DIY residential elevator and he needed assistance putting a control board together.

[Kevin] had no problem casting a forklift ram into his basement slab, nor installing a submersible pump in a custom-made hydraulic pit, but wiring up the controls for the device was just not something he was comfortable with. [Michael] was more than happy to lend a hand, and over the next couple of months the pair got things running nicely.

Instead of relying on a microcontroller, [Michael] built a control board that uses little more than a handful of relays and microswitches to get the job done – It’s certainly not hard to appreciate the controller’s simplicity.

It’s stories like these that remind us just how much the hacker community is willing to help out complete strangers with any task, big or small – you guys rock!

Stick around to see a short demo video [Michael] shot, showing the elevator in action.

[vimeo w=470]

49 thoughts on “Build An Elevator Controller, Gain A Friend For Life

  1. I have been thinking of doing the same. Having an elevator saves so much space in the house otherwise wasted on staircases. It would be exciting to see how you modify this to include a micro-controller and single phase motor.

      1. The presence of stairs also allows one to egress a building in the event that power is unavailable (like during a fire). Being trapped on the top level of a building with no stairs or other emergency means of egress (window ladder, etc) is a really, really bad idea.

        1. @Hackerspacer

          The elevators go out of service usually not because of power, but because when the fire alarm goes off, they are forced to ground floor with doors open and stand-by for a fireman’s key. This is to help get firemen to the fire quickly.

          In the event there is no alarm or it’s not integrated, the policy is still in place as the firemen can actually get into the elevator because it’s not busy with calls on every floor…

      2. I would like to see more details regarding the dead man’s braking method. There is no cable to snap (or is there?) but hydraulic cylinders can fail even though they tend to fail fairly slowly rather than abruptly.

        I see an electric to hydraulic pump that provides the power to the cylinder. How is the cylinder mounted? What happens if power fails right when you are stuck between floors? Is there a method of manually releasing hydraulic pressure? What prevents hydraulic overpressure? What happens if the elevator is loaded beyond its “rated” limit? What happens if maintenance is not performed? What kind of interlocks are in place? Etc.

        I am not saying this CAN’T be done with a reasonable degree of safety but until I see it – I have to assume it isn’t there.

    1. Similar hydraulic power units that use single phase are available. I’m not sure what added value using a microcontroller would add. Using a micro controller is such a simple system would add it another point of failure.

    2. Also – you *CAN* run 3 phase motors off of single phase with phase converters or variable frequency drives. But most houses only have 100 to 200 amps of single phase available and you can blow through that extra capacity real quick with a fairly small three phase motor on top of normal loads like HVAC, lights, etc.

  2. Pardon the pun, but these hacker/elevator stories are always uplifting.

    I’ve recently purchased a nice piece of land and I’ve just gotten permit to develop housing on it. I’m building fifteen houses, seven of them will be sold to pay for the other six which are for myself and my family.

    My parents and grandparents would surely love one of these in their places. I’ve already re-drawn the blueprint!

  3. This will not pass ANY of the current laws in the USA.

    I hope this elevator is being kept secret as the owner of the house will get fined heavily for not installing an approved and inspected elevator. They also require that the phone in the elevator ring a security service to alert them that someone is trapped inside.

    1. Part of the reason they were building the panel in the first place was to get it certified. Also, based on the outlets in the photos and the email addresses, I’m fairly certain that the home and people are Australian.

      1. To clear some issues up:
        The single phase solenoid (for going down) is backed up by UPS. In a power failure, returning to the ground floor is still possible.

        The remote is purely a convenient way to reset or lower the system. Manual alternatives exist.
        It is SAW locked and implements rolling code.

        I forget the actual figure, but in australia, it is acceptable for an elevator to freefall a certain distance before stopping. This distance is further than the intended travel of the elevator here. (!)

        We are running 400psi and the lines are rated 2300psi operating pressure, and IIRC, 6000psi+ burst pressure. This is above the capability of the pump.

        In the event of a burst (more likely severed) line, several pressure clamps are scattered in the system. If they see a dramatic drop in pressure they clamp shut, halting everything. These are installed at junctions, on the base of the cylinder and at the pump itself.

        Maintaining simplicity – a step ladder hangs behind the cabs access door. No matter what position the cab should be, safe (ie. you don’t get cut in half) exit is possible.

    2. An uninspected elevator in the USA is not allowed? So how can there be so much defect elevators (no closing doors etc) in the USA if you guys insist on inspecting them?

      For Germany, I am not sure if this was allowed or not. I know public accessible elevators need this security features but I also saw many industrial heavy weight elevators which were still in use and missing any of these features, hell, most of them were even missing doors.

    3. From the article:

      “You see, Kevin had to convert the control systems of this elevator to 12V DC in order to receive certification on the unit. No certifying authority would even look at the elevator system while the cab had mains power lurking behind the control buttons.”

      Suggests it has been inspected, though to what extent I’m not aware.

    4. Did you RTFA? Why do you assume they are in the USA?

      “Kevin had to convert the control systems of this elevator to 12V DC in order to receive certification on the unit.”

      1. No but Australian building inspectors and associated organisations do care about them.
        It is an expensive process to have a lift design registered in Australia. You also need to register your elevator and have a safe to operate certificate for it.
        I do like the idea of DIY. Though having worked on elevators for many years their dangers are underestimated by many!

    5. We only seen part of the build and can’t know what other safe features are there or not there. Evidently certification was in mind;”No certifying authority would even look at the elevator system while the cab had mains power lurking behind the control buttons.”

      1. It makes zero sense to have a phone in your elevator to ring a security service if you have no such security service. I doubt most homes have that much security system installed and/or activated. Also, I would guess, probably in many cases, that the regulations are different for single-family residences vs. apartment complexes and their like.

  4. Ouch! Brings back memories of ITT Tech! (It took me years to forget component-first repair crap). One day’s challenge (in first quarter digital{this was the early ’90s, no net to answer question in a couple ‘0 hundreds of milliseconds}) See what they did to me? Algebraic texts. We had about 10 minutes to work out an elevator control using 7400 chips. No Ardweenies. One power supply voltage. Why does everything devolve into ‘Who has the most elegant code? TTL and 2222s will always have their place. LOL!!!

  5. radio antennas atop, will I ever need to be concerned about an elevator. I’m pretty sure few homes in the US have three phase service, but control would essentially remain the same.

    The only home brew elevator I was ever in was a cable lift service elevator at an appliance store. Used a model A transmission. The car hung from a spring loaded device that would ram paws into wood runners along each side of the car if the list cable ever parted

    1. That was truncated at the beginning because the flaw in the commenting system tests every visual cognitive deficit I have, that is not a joke;brain injury. First I failed to note that I had to cancel to get the correct form before making a new comment. Second I failed to note I didn’t copy all off what I had typed.

  6. Nice project but I hope that there is no hydraulic elevator smell in a few months. I remember the days when I was doing fire alarm inspections and every apartment building that had a hydraulic elevator stunk like hydraulic fluid.

  7. Not sure if I love the refrigerator being used as an electrical enclosure or not…..

    I also really don’t like the wireless battery operated nature of the controls. Interference issues aside (does this have authentication? signal hopping?) – what if the batteries go out or the system stops working mid way between floors? A single phase motor is mentioned as powering the release valve. Is there a manual valve in the event that there is a problem and the motor fails or power goes out?

    1. The remote/wireless relay are SAW locked with rolling code.
      Ideally, they would never be used. They are only in place as a safety halfway-point.
      In any power/drive fault circumstance, the elevator can be exited safely. This I made sure of before even agreeing to become involved. The remote system exists simply as a means of resetting the system or lowering the cab in a convenient manner if something becomes disconnected or non-operable. There still exists manual overrides, of course. The remote is only in place as a more convenient method – it cannot be used to operate the lift entirely. Only to reset the lift or lower the cab. Not raise. This I did on purpose so that if a fault existed, it HAD to be repaired for the lift to operate properly. The user cannot just think ‘screw it, i can’t be bothered repairing it’ and continue to use the remote for all functions. That would be unacceptable.

  8. Why not simply run new low voltage, shielded control wires away from the 3 phase wire – which should have been run in a properly grounded EMT conduit or metal clad flexible conduit in the first place? Running new control wire is inexpensive and appears to be a short run and therefore fairly quick to do.

    This build is off to a solid start but it isn’t finished in my opinion if you want to build a proper safe(r) system.

    1. Working with what was there meant only running into a few roadblocks. Completely rewiring the system would have meant days of work. Sadly, there is no “simply” to it. When I arrived to the project, the backbone wiring was already completed. It was completed >well< but with a lack of understanding about how the power circuitry would affect the control circuitry. The decision to use relays in the first place makes this a non-issue. Screening would only have use in sensitive electronics, not relatively high voltage, robust relays.

  9. The elevators in our new building are off-line because it turned out that the inspector’s license expired in our state. Another inspector won’t be available for months—elevator inspections are a bureaucratic nightmare, and that’s for a commercial ‘off-the-shelf’ elevator. I wonder how they will get this one inspected.

  10. Kevin seems like an older gentleman and assuming that the elevator resides in his own home, this would mean he would be using it through the later stages of life (possibly wheelchair etc). In any case wouldn’t you want to have the emergency stop a bit lower down the wall?

  11. My dad did this 20 years ago when he built his house to accodate my younger brother who was in a wheelchair. Used forklift parts and the system still works to this day 20 years later. And it didn’t require any arduinos!

  12. Having just retired after spending some 50 years devoted to lifts with hydraulic units being almost a hobby one finds several oversights which make this unit none compliant and unsafe.
    No mention of:
    Pipe rupture valve.
    Safety gear (Emergency brake able to arrest a fully laden free falling cabin should the chain, being part of the support medium, fail)
    Redundancy principles in the valve system.
    Doors locked circuitry.
    Limit switches with mechanically driven contacts. (Microswitches are a no no!)
    etc. etc.
    DIY when in the business is one thing. With no experience (As indicated by the trial and error approach) and bearing in mind peoples lives are at steak, is something else entirely.
    I would place the unit at the lower floor, lock the door and not use it untill a proffessional had a good look at it and corrected the issues.
    Having been exposed to something similar once, replacement with a commercially available unit was found to be the most economical.
    One final comment, Michael, you could lose all your belongings and more should the unthinkable happen.

  13. I’m a mechatronics engineer and I want to build my own elevator. I’m sure I have the qualifications to safely do the fun part (electric, electronic and mechanic), but I need to know how to do the boring part (regulations and compliance). Does anyone know anything about the regulations in EU (Hungary)? Do I need any certificates? What type of security inspections should be performed, and how often? If I used “standard parts” from other elevators, could this elevator be serviced and inspected by common elevator technicians?

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