How NORD and Robotic Parking Systems are helping drivers put conventional parking garages in the rearview mirror
Do a little research and you’ll soon discover something that few people give much thought to—conventional ramp-style parking garages are, well…not too smart. Top on the list of detractors is safety. Not only do parking garages bring cars and people into uncomfortable and often dangerous proximity, but they're also an excellent place for thieves, vandals, or worse to lurk, just waiting for an unsuspecting motorist to leave his or her car unattended; or worse, for him or her to return.
Waste upon waste
These outdated parking garages are also bad for the environment. A typical four-level, 750-space garage is responsible for creating 37 tons of tire dust and nearly 4 tons of brake dust each year, pollutants that make their way into groundwater, the air, and our lungs. On top of that is the millions of miles logged annually as drivers around the world cruise these roads to nowhere, spewing uncountable tons of exhaust as they go.
Lastly, look at all the wasted time. If everyone using a parking garage loses just ten minutes per visit (an optimistic figure, in many cases) parking the car, walking to and from the elevator or stairs, waiting in line to pay the fee, never mind the tire-screeching time spent looking for a spot and driving up and down seemingly endless ramps, the cost in wasted productivity is enormous. Couldn’t the driving public’s time be better spent elsewhere?
Royce Monteverdi thinks it can. The chief executive officer of Florida-based Robotic Parking Systems Inc., he agrees with the notion that conventional parking garages are obsolete, which is why he's spent the past 25 years designing and manufacturing a far smarter alternative: automated garages that look like the world's most massive vending machines, shuttling cars in and out of storage spaces without a human in sight while the car’s owners go about their more important business.
One of the products he relies on to get the job done? Helical gearboxes from NORD Drivesystems. “We’ve been relying exclusively on NORD for our power transmission needs since 1999 and have never had a failure,” he says.
Valet parking, without the tip
How do Monteverdi’s systems work? For those of us lucky enough to have had a three-level Super Garage for our Matchbox cars as children, they’re sort of like that, except the elevator is far larger and there’s no cranking.
Parking in a Robotic Parking Systems garage is a simple matter of driving into a space resembling the garage in any suburban home. Get out and lock your car, take a parking card from the nearby kiosk, and go about your business as the garage door closes behind you. While you’re away, the front of the garage stall opens and the floor slides forward, carrying your car into the complex, human-free structure within. There it is shuttled through a series of shuttles, elevators, and turntables until it reaches its assigned parking spot, all automatically. When you return hours or days later, just slide your card into another kiosk and the process is reversed, delivering your car within three minutes or less to a secure stall, facing forward, ready to go.
It’s hugely efficient, using roughly half as much space as traditional garages and a fraction the concrete. There are none of the pollutants or safety concerns described earlier, no more door dings and bumper scratches from neighboring cars, no more wandering around in a dimly-lit ramp trying to remember where you parked your car. And if the power goes out, don’t worry; each robotic garage is equipped with generators and enough fuel to keep the system operational for days.
Robotic Parking Systems isn’t the only manufacturer of such systems, yet Mary Lou DeWynGaert, chief administrative officer at Robotic Parking Systems, explains that theirs is much faster than competing systems and far less prone to failure. Where other automated parking garage manufacturers rely on "one, two, or maybe three" machines to move the cars into position, Robotic Parking uses a separate motor and NORD helical gear drive to perform each vertical and horizontal motion, which means there could be hundreds of such systems employed in a large parking garage.
“Think of it as a villager going to get a few buckets of water from the river,” she says. “If you send one person to do it, you’re going to be waiting a long time, and if that person gets hurt or lost along the way, no water. Ours is more like a bucket brigade, one with dozens of people. By passing the bucket from one person to the other, not only does the job get done more quickly, but if someone needs to rest, the others can pick up the slack. That’s how our systems work.”
DeWynGaert says this is one reason why Robotic Parking Systems does so well in larger installations, which in their case might have upwards of 100 cars in motion at once. The company’s first system was completed in 2002, a 7-level, 314 space garage in Hoboken, New Jersey that the New York Times reported was the first automated parking system in the United States. Since then, Monteverdi and his team have completed many similar installations, their most recent a 2,314 space garage boasting throughput of 425 cars per hour at the Al Jahra Court Complex in Kuwait, the largest in the world according to the Guinness World Records.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the helical bevel gear drives mentioned earlier. Ricky Negrón, district sales manager for NORD Drivesystems, says the company’s UNICASE and two-stage helical bevel gear unit lines are compact yet provide up 442,500 in./lbs. of torque, with a flexible, user-friendly design that accommodates a range of mounting needs. They’re also extremely durable, able to withstand harsh operating conditions like those encountered in Kuwait and other parts of the Middle East.
“That's one of the main reasons they selected our gear units,” he says. “Robotic Parking Systems has completed three large installations in Dubai plus this most recent one in Kuwait, and they are committed to delivering completely automatic, completely functional systems. It’s not like here in the US, where if something goes wrong you can be there in a few hours. These parking garages need absolute dependability, something that’s not always easy to achieve when you’re in the middle of the desert. But that’s what we delivered.”
Monteverdi agrees. “Our operating environments are often extreme, and that’s why we have equally extreme and stringent selection criteria for our mechanical and electrical components,” he says. "For example, we expect a gearbox to provide at least 40,000 hours of continuous operation. NORD has never failed us in that requirement, which is one reason we've been using their products since the company began. As a matter of fact, their helical gear drives are perhaps the champion among all our mechanical components in terms of longevity and reliability. So needless to say, we are quite happy with the NORD products we’ve implemented into our robotic parking facilities, and with the relationship overall. They’re just a great company to work with.”