Posts Tagged: Fatzer



Fatzer — Don’t Be Roped In With Massive Legacy Expenses

Fatzer Performa Wire Rope Cable

The rope is the heart of any ropeway — but companies that produce these components say that planners who ignore this fact early in the process do so to their detriment. Image via Fatzer AG.

Imagine dressing for the most important presentation of your career. Your $3,000 hand-tailored suit is perfectly matched with a newly pressed bespoke shirt, bright silk tie, and completed by richly burnished brogues. Then it is utterly spoiled by gym socks.

Add several zeroes to that initial sum and you have just pictured the sartorial equivalent to mismatching steel wire rope to your urban cable-car system. It can be an ugly error — but unlike socks, which are easily changed, this expensive mistake keeps on taking.

“When a cable-car system is designed, it is uniquely calibrated to fit with whichever gauge and quality of rope is selected. So the time to select the appropriate rope is right at the start,” says Matthias Stacher of Romanshorn, Switzerland. He’s the Sales Manager of Fatzer, among the world leaders in the production of steel wire for cable car systems since 1900. So he knows what he is talking about.


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What Fatzer Teaches The Ropeway Industry About The Urban Market

Cross-Section of a standard rope.

Recently, I was given a tour of Swiss cable manufacturer Fatzer and learned about a relatively new cable product the company calls their Performa line of cables. Amongst other things, these cables opened my eyes to the wide disconnect of understanding that exists between the traditional ropeway industry and the fast-growing urban market.

Let me explain . . .

A standard propulsion cable (or ‘rope’) is not uniform in diameter. The basic nature of taking dozens of separate, uniformly-shaped strands and winding them together into a larger rope ensures non-uniformity. That non-uniformity has three major drawbacks:

Firstly, the ropes wear more heavily on rubber components such as the sheaves and bullwheels than they would were they of a uniform diameter.

Cross-Section of an Integra rope.

Secondly, the lack of uniformity causes slight vibrations between the ropes and other components that cause an increase in noise. The low-level humming one hears at a ski lift is typically due to this issue.

Thirdly, increased rope maintenance is required than would be necessary with ropes of uniform diameter.

Cables such as Fatzer’s Integra line of ropes are almost completely uniform in diameter, but that uniformity results in a rigidity that prohibits their use as propulsion ropes. Such uniform-diameter ropes can be used almost exclusively for support functions (such as in a 3S or Aerial Tram installation).

What the Performa line of cables does – in layman’s terms – is fill in the ‘gaps’ of a rope’s diameter using plastic to best-approximate a uniform diameter. The flexibility of the plastic, meanwhile, allows the rope to be used as a propulsion cable.

Fatzer’s Performa Cable. Image via Fatzer.

That benefit, however, comes at a cost. According to the people at Fatzer who gave me the tour, a Performa rope costs roughly twice the price of a standard rope. That premium feature is often out of the price range of most ski hills as:  a) hills only experience a short 4 month long peak season; b) lifts typically operate for only 8 or 9 hours out of the day and; c) the outlying areas ski hills service minimize the need for decreased noise pollution.

But here’s the interesting thing: On a typical lift, the rope costs less than 1% of the total project price. So while a rope such as the Performa may be cost prohibitive in a ski lift market, the marginal cost of a Performa cable is more than justified in the urban market. This is due simply to higher overall project prices in urban installations; the need for decreased noise in urban environments and; the need for decreased wear-and-tear on a system due to increased overall usage in urban markets.

In other words, ropes such as the Performa should yield significantly greater benefits in an urban environment as compared to the marginal costs involved in their application.

It’s common to hear complaints from people about the aforementioned low-level humming of lifts as an argument against their application in urban environments. Yet here we have, again, a tried-and-tested method of dealing with that very problem. But since the cable industry is still focused on their core ski lift market, this solution is rarely offered proactively as a solution to laymen in the urban transportation industry.

That’s a problem.

Generally speaking, people are strapped for time and resources. When they have a question, they don’t want to spend hours searching for its answer. If they can’t find the solution to their problem quickly, they’re likely to assume it just doesn’t exist.

The Performa should be a lesson to everyone in the ski lift industry – just because you and your existing customers know that a solution to a problem exists, doesn’t mean your customers in new markets do.

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How to make a cable

We’ve talked a bit about cable splicing in the past, but never focused much on the process of actually making a cable. Today we resolve that.

Here is a short video (albeit in French) that demonstrates how small steel cables are wound together to create medium-sized cables, which are then spun again with other medium-sized cables to create the final super cable — the same one used in cable propelled transit systems.

I think the shear magnitude of the machines involved in this process is impressive. So is the final 5m diameter spool, which weighed in at around 150 tons!

Also, I find it reassuring that there are tests conducted all through out the process that test for strength and consistency, and that these are done both manually and with lasers.

It would be interesting to know about how long it takes to make one spool of cable.

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Could a High Speed Test Installation Result In 65 km/hr Gondolas?

CC-image via Wikipedia.

Fatzer AG is an 175 year old Swiss manufacturer and supplier of wire ropes and steel cables who’ve provided ropes for thousands of cable transit systems worldwide. They know a thing or two about this stuff.

So it should cause all of us a moment of pause when a company like Fatzer decides to build a high speed cable test installation to test and explore the “effects of speed, brake force, tension of the rope, disk and rope diameter on the durability and wear of the ropes . . . under realistic conditions.”

According to Fatzer, this is the fastest cable car system in the world operating at a top speed of 18 m/s (~ 65 km/hr). That’s fast. Light Rail fast.

Now this comes with a few caveats:

  • The images and video (see below) we’ve witnessed do not suggest this installation has any vehicles in operation – which is strange considering they’ve called this the fastest “cable car” system in the world.
  • The system loop is only 232 meters long with a line length of just 110 meters.
  • This is a test installation for experienmentation and field testing only.

The first caveat is the most important. The cable industry knows they can operate systems at speeds like these, but have yet to address the rider experience issues speeds like these cause.

Issues of rider comfort, speed-over-towers, deceleration, acceleration, boarding and alighting, station size, and spacing all become major issues when we move from a test installation with no cabins and passengers to a real-world example moving tens of thousands of people per day.

Having said that, it is a big development and one that could ultimately open up new markets for the technology in the future.

So let’s just assume just for a moment that 10 years in the future the issues discussed above are addressed. What does that mean for the technology?


  • System capacity and throughput would be increased dramatically. We’re talking about a pphpd increase on the order of 200-300%. This suddenly makes the technology competitive with heavily-trafficked light rail lines and even moderate subway/metro lines.
  • Long distance “commuting” lines become feasible. The current maximum speed of the technology makes it excellent in circulator/feeder situations, but a non-starter in all but the most specific of long-distance installations. Being able to operate at 65 km/hr allows proposals like City Councillor Brian Tucknott’s Victoria gondola to cross the bridge from misinformed fantasy to realizable possibility.
Check out Fatzer splicing together the cable for this installation (itself an impressive feat) and running it at full speed:

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