Vertical Carousels and the Elevator of Death

What is a vertical carousel storage system?

A White Vertical Carousel (vertical lift module)

A White Vertical Carousel (Vertical Lift Module)

A Vertical Carousel (also known as a vertical lift module) is an automated storage and retrieval system consisting of a series of carriers or bins mounted on a vertical, closed-loop track. The bins rotate to bring the items to the operator, thereby eliminating bending, stretching and climbing.  Vertical carousels produce an ergonomic and “more efficient  ‘parts-to-picker’ instead of ‘picker-to-parts’ workflow” and the vertical footprint results in maximum use of floor space.  Vertical carousels are used to store and retrieve anything from file folders to industrial parts and tools. (SencorpWhite)

And what on earth is an elevator of death?

 A paternoster lift in parliament of Finland

A paternoster lift in parliament of Finland (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

By now, you might be thinking, What does a vertical carousel have to do with the elevator of death?  And what on earth is an elevator of death, anyway?  The Elevator of Death is a “cyclic elevator” that was invented in 1884 and a handful of people have been killed by them.  This type of elevator is usually referred to as a “paternoster” or a paternoster lift.   There are no paternoster lifts in the United States, but there are a few surviving in Europe. Paternoster is Latin for “Our Father,” leading me to believe that name arose from the prayers one might say before  getting on or off one.  I should know–I have ridden on a paternoster at the University of Vienna and that experience has given me nightmares for years. The elevator moves in an endless loop, like this:

A Paternoster or "Elevator of Death" is the precursor to the vertical carousel storage system.

A Paternoster or “Elevator of Death” is the precursor to the vertical carousel storage system. 


To ride on a paternoster lift, one must gracefully step on or off  the continuously moving “bins” at just the right moment. Misjudge the speed and you could find yourself jumping. If you miss, you could fall into the shaft. Ride all the way around without getting off, and you could get tangled in the chains (this has actually happened somewhat recently). Fortunately, paternosters move slowly–but you can still die on one.

Eventually, I discovered that the name paternoster was given to this device because the elevator is in the form of a loop, similar to rosary beads used while reciting prayers.  My theory wasn’t too far off base. After getting into the material handling industry, I discovered that vertical carousels are sometimes called paternosters, and they are, in fact, derived from this cyclic lift.  I can’t prove it, but I am pretty sure nobody has been killed by a vertical carousel. Just don’t attempt to ride in one.
Though my Elevator of Death ride was 30 years ago, I still have dreams that I am stuck on that eternal, endless loop and can’t get off.  I wonder if that’s some kind of existential metaphor?
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Animated GIF credit: RokerHRO, Paternoster animated, CC BY-SA 3.0

Paternoster image credit: Ludek, Paternoster kartouzska, CC BY-SA 3.0

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