How are stairlifts made?
Stairlifts are very complicated with many moving parts. When stairlifts are designed a key factor to consider is safety. This is of paramount consideration for any human operated device. A stairlift consists of the stairlift motor and the chair for the user, this all sits on what is known as a rail or track that carries the chair.
The stairlift chair itself needs to be strong but yet lightweight. They are constructed from strong composite plastics. The materials for the seat padding are not only soft, but hard wearing and resistant.
All stairlifts in Europe are manufactured to meet British Standards, the first stairlift devised was BS 5776 in 1996. This was superseded in 2008 by BS EN 81-40 which covers the safety rules for the construction and installation of lifts. This is used for special lifts to carry persons with impaired mobility.
Advances in stairlift technology
- Wall to stairs - Rails were traditionally installed to the wall as well as the stairs. They were adapted so they could be fitted to the stair treads. A lot of work has gone into rail design to make them unobtrusive and quicker to install causing the minimum amount of damage to the home.
- DC power - The carriage had mains power supplied to it via a fitted cable. This followed the chair as it went up and down the stairs causing a trip or snagging hazard. DC power improved and motors became capable of being of sufficient strength to transport people. They were added directly to the carriage with their own on-board batteries. Taking power directly from two points of the rail meant lower power consumption and no dangerous trailing wires.
- Faster fit rails - Previously, rails had to be custom-made to suit each type of staircase. This took longer for curved or more complicated stairs. Straight rails were adapted so they could be easily cut and adjusted. For curved stairs, a modular track system was developed and pioneered by Acorn. This FastTrack® system satisfied the need for customers to have a stairlift installed in days rather than weeks.
- Hinged rails - There are often doors immediately located to the left or right at the foot of the stairs. This made the installation of a lift unsuitable. A hinged rail was developed for straight rails. This meant that the rail could be lifted out of the way, enabling the door to be used as normal.
- Perched seats - Similar to hinged rails perched seats were developed for awkward installations. This slimmer designed carriage enabled people to have a lift on narrow stairs.
- Crash sensors - Part of safety standards fitted to the base plate for low level obstructions. They are also fitted midway to the carriage. Limit sensors function through the rail at the top and the bottom to stop the lift in the correct position.
- Soft start and stop - Developed to stop users being jolted and suffering discomfort when the stairlift came to a halt.
- Mechanical and electrical braking - This system will stop the stairlift descending out of control if there is a failure in the lifts motor. Not only does the power cut but a mechanical system is invoked as a double safety precaution.
- Swivel chairs - Allow users to exit the lift safely. The chair was developed with a mechanism to lock the seat in position. Swivel chairs were used as an extra safety function as they act as a barrier at the top of the stairs.
- Transfer platforms and infill boxes - These were developed for more complicated installs to solve specific stair problems. Combinations of these platforms and (in some cases) using more than one lift in an install meant that even more types of stairs could have a stairlift fitted.
- Easier to use controls - Often users of stairlifts have reduced dexterity or mobility conditions. It became apparent that users needed controls that are easy to use and are ergonomically designed with this in mind. Lots of research and testing goes into the controls of stairlifts, the paddle designed button was found most effective across all users.
- Remote controls - In the early days of stairlifts, remote controls were installed as a call button at the top and bottom of the stairs. This meant installs took longer, the house was disrupted and meant lots of cable trunking and boxes ha to be attached to walls. Two handheld remotes were developed with large user friendly buttons to call the lift when needed.
- Digital diagnostics - As stairlifts became more advanced they needed a way of managing the information produced by the lift. On carriage diagnostic boards were developed to help pinpoint faults and provide information on the lift.
- Outdoor stairlifts - Developed for outdoor spaces, they started life as helping people access hospitals. Demand has increased dramatically for outdoor stairlifts. People suffering from mobility issues or recovering in respite care can get a great deal from being able to access outdoor space that can be very therapeutic. Outdoor lifts were developed to do just this, and are made weather resistant to resist the elements.