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Focus on Automatic/Mechanical Parking - Automated Parking System Slated for Detroit Area

By Michael Maurer

Park it! Lock it! And wave goodbye to it!
Yes, we are talking about parking your car. But it is nothing like the ramped, up-and-down, round and round parking structures used today. You don't even have to worry about finding a parking spot.
David Schostak, president of Schostak Brothers and Co., recently ordered a 264-car automated system for a downtown Detroit building project.
"We chose an automated system for our development project because of its ability to put a lot of parking on a small piece of land," Schostak said. "That was the compelling reason. Land is at a premium where we're doing our construction project."
It's a new, automated and computerized structure that is being supplied by the Detroit-based Broad AutoPark Systems and its partner, Thyssen Engineering Systems, of Madrid, Spain.
The automated structure works for both urban and suburban areas where land for parking is at a premium. It's also good for odd-shaped parcels not suited for the now near-obsolete standard ramp structure.
For an added bonus, the system requires only half the land as a comparable seven-level ramped parking structure. And it costs about the same or, in some cases, less to build. Security issues of old style parking structures become non-issues. There is no more wandering through dimly lit structures while looking over your shoulder.
Simple concept
The concept is simplicity itself, based on the manufacturing assembly plant method of using a hoist-and-shuttle system to move parts to appropriate areas of a plant. Instead of driving around a parking structure praying for an open space, the system allows parkers to drive in, park on a platform, while a computer checks to make sure all is well. The car and the platform it sits on are whisked away to an available space in the structure. No more hunting for your car and no more dings to repair from errant drivers.
At the day's end, or at the end of your business meeting, the car is retrieved by the same system in an average of about two minutes. It is also possible to call the structure's computer in advance from an office, hospital, an airport or a shopping center, pay by credit card and have your car waiting for you. As more multi-unit apartments and condominiums are built near and in cities, parking will become an even bigger hassle, with wasted space that generates minimum revenue.
One of the obvious questions regarding this new system is how do you get your car back if the system fails?
"While no machinery is absolutely fail-safe," said James Broad, vice president of sales for Broad AutoPark Systems, "the first structure built in Spain has operated for two and a half years without a breakdown. The key is a preventive maintenance program much like they have in the automobile industry. Systems down just for a day can cost a car manufacturer a million dollars or more.
"Hospitals are classic example of an excellent application. Many hospitals are building additions to handle services such as cardiology and cancer research treatment. That takes away land now used for staff, patient and visitor parking. Automated parking is a viable, cost-effective use for shrinking land assets, high real estate prices and odd-shaped land configurations."
Broad also noted that the structure in Spain has four of its stories underground, adding significant land use to what would have been wasted space.
Teaming with with AutoPark to build the Detroit project is the Barton-Malow Co., one of the largest construction companies in the world. According to Barton-Malow president and CEO Ben Maibach, his company will handle the design and construction of the Auto-Park facilities.
Many benefits
"Obviously there are many benefits, as well as challenges, in this type of construction," Maibach said. "But Barton-Malow has been in the construction business for decades. Broad AutoPark Systems and its other partners also have long-term experience in the construction of rack storage and retrieval systems both nationally and internationally. It's a good team."
One of the added benefits of the AutoPark system is the reduction of what is called "visual pollution," Maibach said.
"The cars are stored without the engines running during the process, eliminating the need for open-air ventilation. This means we can match the structure's facade to surrounding structures, no matter what the style," he said. "It also allows us to put a significant amount of the building underground."
And, as David Schostak put it, "While it was not our reason for choosing the AutoPark system, it really is neat technology."

Michael Maurer was a technology reporter and columnist for Crain's detroit business. After selling his internet company, he has been freelancing in technology writing.

Article Abstract from March, 2002




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