Tech In Plain Sight: Escalators

If you are designing a building and need to move many people up or down, you probably will at least consider an escalator. In fact, if you visit most large airports these days, they even use a similar system to move people without changing their altitude. We aren’t sure why the name “slidewalk” never caught on, but they have a similar mechanism to an escalator. Like most things, we don’t think much about them until they don’t work. But they’ve been around a long time and are great examples of simple technology we use so often that it has become invisible.

Of course, there’s always the elevator. However, the elevator can only service one floor at a time, and everyone else has to wait. Plus, a broken elevator is useless, while a broken escalator is — for most failures — just stairs.

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3d printed escalator, from side, showing mechanism

Tiny 3D Printed HO Scale Escalator That Works

[Luke Towan] has a cool HO scale Escalator mostly made of 3D printed parts, with some laser cut acrylic, for a station on his HO model railroad.

Escalators are mesmerizing to watch – there’s something magical about the stairs unfolding at the bottom and folding up at the top. But they’re very hard to model.

[Luke Towan] has done it – his 3D printed version closely resembles the real thing mechanically. Pins are carried around, cantilevered out from a 3D printed chain. A stair swivels on each pin – at the bottom each stair’s free end rests on a ‘bottom’ far enough down for the stairs to be level, while on the incline the ‘bottom’ is just below the pins. It’s a tricky build.

If you like pushing the envelope of what 3D printing can do this is an interesting project, even if you’re not planning to build an escalator. There are lots of tips for making small mechanisms with 3D printing, and for making small mechanisms that work reliably without stuttering.

He’s not the first to build an escalator. Back in 2015 we covered this wooden escalator for slinkies,¬† and just recently this 3D printed version from [AlexY].


Up Your Desk Toy Game With This 3D Printed Escalator

Let’s be real, nobody¬†needs a tiny motorized escalator for their desk. But now that you’ve seen it, can you really say you don’t want one of your own? The design comes our way from [AlexY], and is actually the logical evolution of a manually-operated version released previously. But for our money (and 3D printing time), we’d definitely go with this new motorized variant.

While the core mechanism is largely the same, the powered unit uses a N20 geared motor and an 18650 cell. There’s no fancy motor controller here — just flip the switch and you’ve got 30 RPMs worth of stair-steppin’ action. When you’ve run the cell down, and you will, there’s an onboard TP4056 charging module to keep the good times rolling.

[AlexY] hasn’t had a chance to document the build process for the motorized version of the escalator, but as most of the parts are compatible with the manual version, you should be able to figure it out by referencing the earlier assembly guide.

Hot squirted plastic not your thing? We’ve previously seen a wooden escalator designed to keep a Slinky in motion for as long as it takes for you to realize you could be using your skills for something more constructive.

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Wooden Escalator Fit For A Slinky

Our favorite mechanical master of woodworking, [Matthias Wandel],¬†is at it again, this time making an endless staircase for a Slinky. Making an escalator out of 2×4’s and other lumber bits looks fairly easy when condensed down to a two and a half minute video. In reality a job like this requires lots of¬†cuts, holes, and a ton¬†of planning.

The hard part of this build seemed to be the motor arrangement. There is a sweet spot when it comes to Slinky escalator speeds. Too fast, and you’ll outpace the Slinky. Too slow, and the Slinky flies off the end of the escalator. Keeping the speed in check turned out to be a difficult task with the coarse speed control of a drill trigger. The solution was to ditch the drill and build¬†a simple hand crank mechanism. The Slinky now can cascade down stairs as long as your arm holds out.

Join us after the break for 3 videos, the making of the escalator, a 140 step demonstration video, and a followup video (for geeks like us) explaining where the idea came from, whats wrong with the machine and possible improvements.

Thanks to [Jim Lynch] for the tip

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