Automated garages are here. Two are working in the U.S. with promises of more to come. By all reports, the systems installed in Hoboken, NJ, and Washington, DC, are satisfying their customers and owners as well.
Just what are these mechanical marvels all about. Are they right for you? What follows is a brief review of the technology and just where it might be an appropriate application.
Automatic garages are just that, automated. You drive you car onto a pallet, leave it, and the garage does the rest. It is a large storage system that whisks you car away and stores it in a slot until you return. When you are ready and have paid your bill, the car is returned and you drive off.
There are different methods of performing this function -- from giant pick-and-place machines to elongated Ferris wheels, to underground silos. They all have benefits and drawbacks. However, the automated technology works. You can get on a plane and see it working in Europe and Asia. There is no doubt about that.
There are a couple of issues.
First: What happens if the power goes out? Exactly the same thing that happens in Manhattan or Chicago when you leave your car in a manual "elevator" garage. You wait until the power comes back on. (Although many systems have generator backup.)
Second: The time it takes to retrieve your car. In the best of all scenarios, most of the systems can retrieve your car in a couple of minutes. But they can't if there are 20 people in line in front of you. Therefore, these systems are a reasonable solution to some (not all) parking problems.
For instance: If you currently valet you car to go to a play in Manhattan, when you return the chances are that you will wait 20 to 40 minutes to get your car, depending on the number of people waiting. Most automated garages beat or equal that time. So in that application, it may be appropriate, and certainly the retrieval time is not an issue.
If you live in a condo in New Jersey and simply park your car there in the evening and leave in the morning, then the retrieval time is also not an issue. If you are storing vehicles long term at an airport and the vehicle owner can notify you when they step off the plane that they need their car -- it's not an issue.
If, however, the goal is to get as many self-park people out of a garage at the end of a show or ball game as you can, then frankly, this technology is not the way to go.
But is retrieval time the only issue.
What about security? Poor in traditional garages, great in automated garages.
What about cost of operation? It can be lower in automated garages, as is, in fact, the long-term cost of garage maintenance. There have been comparisons that say that the true cost (taking into consideration land cost, construction, operation and maintenance) of a garage on a per-space basis is lower with an automated garage than a traditional concrete facility.
There is no question that there are applications for this technology. Simply be certain you have the right one.
Mechanical Car Stackers
Mechanical car stackers in their simplest form offer exciting levels of efficiency and income potential for parking operators and owners. They further offer a cost-effective storage system for the automotive industry, for service departments, car sales and body shops.
Suitable for use in virtually any parking or storage facility, mechanical parking systems provide added capacity and convenience. Most units can be installed both indoors and outdoors and operate in all weather conditions (remember airliners can operate at altitudes of, say, 30,000 feet and their hydraulic controls do not freeze).
Some units require little or no site preparation and can be mounted at grade on a well-compacted black top surface without any ground attachment system.
There are many benefits of these systems not the least of which is cost with mechanical car stackers costing about a third of the price of conventional concrete or steel structures. Another important benefit is the speed of installation -- a good supplier should be able to install and commission up to 30 units in a day, providing 150 to 200 additional spaces within a week.
Going forward, good quality well-maintained mechanical stackers can provide many years of trouble-free operation. There are many examples of mechanical systems that have been in use for more than 25 years. Maintenance costs per parking space are much lower than that of conventional structures -- around $250 per annum.
Mechanical parking systems can be easily dismantled and relocated or removed, providing additional capacity for temporary projects and shorter-term requirements. Some suppliers provide the flexibility of tailored financial programs to provide equipment under both operating and financial lease options as well as outright purchase.
The equipment is very safe, with better systems having positive mechanical safety locks and conforming to rigid U.S. and Californian earthquake codes.
Mechanical parking systems come in a variety of models designed for specific customer needs. Some lifts have variable width and height options allowing the user to customize the installation to suit their operation.
When choosing your supplier, make sure you ensure the equipment has been approved for installation in your area or city. The equipment should have been inspected and load tested by a certified professional engineer, the supplier should have adequate spares back up and service.