Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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"shelves" + "elevator" = "shelvator"
  [vote for,

There needs to be a Merchandise:Stocking subcategory.

A local department store recently did an expansion, and somehow the results, as perceived by various customers AND employees, was unsatisfactory. Management wanted to stock a great many new items, but the new store wasn't quite big enough to hold them all. As a result, quite a few items previously stocked, before the expansion, are no longer available in that store. Which is why various customers and employees became upset.

From outside the building it is obvious that they actually expanded it just about as much as could possibly fit in the surrounding terrain, and still have an adequate parking lot for cars. Well, despite the limited floor area inside, it happens that the ceiling of this store is quite high, perhaps as much as 10 meters.

Suppose there was a way to make the shelves reach near-to the ceiling, yet also were easily accessed by the customers? I've seen some big hardware stores make a compromise along those lines, with fixed shelving built quite high, and forklifts actually are driven around the store aisles, during business hours, to get stuff down from high places when needed.

Those hardware stores also tend to have a special way of stocking certain types of items, such as rolls of carpeting or spools of wire or cable. Imagine a heavy-duty motorcycle-type chain going around 4 sprockets in a tall rectangle. Now imagine two of them, with a number of axles stretching across the distance between them, attached to the chains (not the sprockets). Carpet rolls or wire spools are threaded onto those axles.

A motor drives the chains and attached axles in a big rectangular loop, up toward the ceiling, then perhaps a meter away from the ailse, then back down toward the floor, then back toward the aisle. The motor is keyed so that only a store employee can run it (for safety reasons). But any item anwhere in the loop is easily accessible.

A Shelvator will extend that idea, so that shelves will travel the loop, and stay horzontal the whole way around it (I'll get back to this in a bit). Now the store will have lots more shelf-space on which to stock stuff, and all the shelves are theoretically in potentially-easy reach of the customer.

The hardware stores I've seen have their moving-axle gadgets surrounded by other normal/fixed shelving units, so that only one side of the unit is accessible. A Shevator should have both primary sides accessible. That is, if in your aisle you see the Shelvator shelves going up, someone in the next aisle, looking at it, will see the shelves going down. The drive motor, of course, should be able to run in either direction.

Now, if the store is full of customers, there won't be enough employees to run a store full of Shelvators, so a way must be found to let the customers safely operate them. I think the way to do it is to put sliding glass doors in front of each Shelvator. The doors are connected to a safety interlock, so the Shelvator motor can only be turned on when the doors are closed (yes, in both aisles!).

People can certainly look through the glass to see what is on the moving shelves, and of course sliding a glass door open (in either aisle) automatically makes the Shelvator stop.

OK, now about keeping those shelves horizontal. This is more difficult to do than one might at first glance think, and I suspect that's why I've never seen a Shevator anywhere that I recall. For example, if you simply suspend a shelf from the moving axle, any imbalance on it can cause items on the shelf to spill. And two moving axles, supporting one shelf, are geometrically impossible (their paths collide).

Nevertheless, I think I have a solution for this geometry problem, for which pure text is inadequate to describe. I'll have to link a sketch some time. Maybe two.

=========Added Jan 16, 2012=========
An image has now been posted (linked). The single image has two sketches in it. The larger upper sketch is an overall side view (shopping aisles would be at left and right of it). 4 sort-of random shelves (gray) are included.

In that sketch, the Red lines represents the 2 chains (one in foreground and one in background, overlapping in this sketch) that carries axles around the rectangular loop, as previously described. The 4 black circles represent 8 chain sprockets (again, 4 in foreground and 4 in background).

The vertical black line in the center represents the "back wall" that shoppers will see, as they stand to the left or to the right of this sketch, and look at the Shelvator.

The lower sketch is an enlargement of a single shelf (side view). It has a central/upper axle (attached to the chains as described above), and 4 wheels, two in the foreground and 2 in the background. (In the following text I will pretend there are just the 2 foreground wheels, for clarity.) The dotted Red lines in this sketch are the hypotenuses of two rignt-angle triangle (not all drawn). The Blue lines in both sketches represent guides for the wheels.

If the shelf tries to tilt, it can't because a wheel will press up against one of the blue guides. The guides become complicated at the top of the Shelvator. There are gaps for the support-axles to pass through them, and for "inner" shelf wheels to also pass through them. Meanwhile, a completely-enclosed guide path, for the "outer" shelf wheels, is used to ensure that the shelf still can't tilt.

(Well, a tiny tilt will be possible, because the wheel can't simultaneously roll along two enclosing guides; there needs to be, say, a 1-millimeter gap between the wheel and one guide.)

Note how the uppermost shelf in that upper sketch stretches across the large gaps in the guides. So, at all times at least one wheel is fully enclosed by a guide, or the pair of wheels are appropriately adjacent to two guides.

At the bottom of the unit, because the central guides can't go all the way down, there is reason to also have some fully-enclosing guides. The effect of having those hypotenuses ensures that between the mounting point for the chain-axle, and the mounting point for either wheel, each shelf must remain basically level.

In terms of positions of some of this stuff along the Z-axis (not portrayed in the sketches), let's imagine facing a Shelvator the way a shopper would. The shelves are in plain sight behind the sliding glass doors; the whole thing is inside a sort of "casing" --allowing the chains and sprockets and wheels and guides and drive-motor to be hidden from view. (Well, the drive-motor might best be located at the very top of the unit, above everything, where it can have a long axle to engage the chains with additional sprockets.)

Inside the casing, at far-left and far-right, are the chain loops. The guides, and the wheels they affect, are positioned not-quite-as-far to the left and to the right, which prevents any conflict between the shelf-wheels and the main drive chains. And, as previously mentioned, there are gaps in the guides to allow the support-axles to pass through them, so again conflict is prevented, even as the guides suffice to force the shelves to stay basically level.

The rest of the space, in-between the wheels and guides, as the shopper looks, is the shelf-space (behind which is that in-the-middle "back" wall, which is directly attached to the sides of the overall Shelvator casing). Like that linked AutoPantry, it may be appropriate to have some end-pieces for the shelves, to keep merchandise (and hands!) away from the dirty chains.

Vernon, Jan 15 2012

Stepladder http://en.wikipedia...rl_Spitzweg_021.jpg
[pocmloc, Jan 15 2012]

Another literary solution http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bookwheel
[pocmloc, Jan 15 2012]

Shelvator sketches http://www.nemitz.n...rnon/Shelvator2.jpg
As promised [Vernon, Jan 16 2012]

Megastar Remstar Vertical Carousel Lift http://hdfiles.com/...ssee_New_Mexico.htm
Movie showing the Remstar Vertical Carousel Lift shelving system in action. [jurist, Jan 22 2012]

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       If the store is 10m high, would it not be simpler and cheaper to add an intercalary floor?
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 15 2012

       I thought of that, too, but I think the management wants the customers to feel more "openness". Naturally, very tall shelving units of any type would detract from the openness, but I'm not saying these have to reach all the way to the ceiling. Even if they were only 5 meters high, under a 10-meter ceiling, they would provide lots more shelf-space than currently exists in the store. Currently almost every shelf is no higher than can be reached by a tall person standing in an aisle.
Vernon, Jan 15 2012

       The London Eye solves the horizontality problem with a motor for each gondola, which precisely counteracts the rotation of the wheel. A straightforward mechanical method might be better here, though.   

       How do paternoster lifts do it?
spidermother, Jan 15 2012

       This seems much like the 'vertical parking garages' now seen in a few major cities, or a larger version of the mechanical storage racks I've encountered in the tool cribs of a couple paper mills where I've done contract work. I'll try to find a link later, a little busy answering phones at the moment.   

       A fictionalized example can be found in the Pixar movie 'WALL-E'.
Alterother, Jan 15 2012

       Nice, in a halfbaked way (like X-ray "alternators"), but seems like there might be more practical approaches.   

       The "capacious shelving, but preserve open, spacious esthetic" problem arose in library design, back in the days when reading rooms had huge windows for natural light. The architectural solution in that case was a mezzanine or catwalk. For a department store, though, elevators would be required rather than spiral stairs.   

       Come to think of it, mezzanines are traditional in department stores, although, for some reason, only one of them, rather than putting one on every even-numbered floor.
mouseposture, Jan 15 2012

       Some tall libraries have very tall stepladders on wheels.
pocmloc, Jan 15 2012

       But you can't assume, for the range of goods carried by a department store, that they can all be carried up and down a stepladder. Nor can you assume, nowadays, that every customer will be physically able to negotiate one.
mouseposture, Jan 15 2012

       Or legally permitted to do so. I think it would be the other way 'round, actually. In the US, ladders are just lawsuits waiting to be filed.
Alterother, Jan 15 2012

       Plus, you'd have people walking under ladders. Think of the extra insurance costs for all that bad luck.
mouseposture, Jan 15 2012

       Bad luck is definitely an insurance liability. I'm living proof. T.G.F.J. was recently asked "your husband's broken _how_ many bones, now?" by an understandably dubious claims adjustor.
Alterother, Jan 15 2012

8th of 7, Jan 15 2012

       I'm not currently at liberty to discuss that subject.
Alterother, Jan 15 2012

       [bigsleep], thanks for the link, that is indeed an existing Idea similar to this one. However, there are some key differences, too.   

       Most obvious is the "back" side of each shelf. If you have customers in the next aisle looking at the back of an AutoPantry, all they will see are the shelf-backs, and not the merchandise on the shelves.   

       In a Shelvator, there are no shelf-backs. However, I can understand why backs can be useful (note that the AutoPantry has "fronts" also; transparent though they may be). If stuff on every shelf "hangs over" the front and back of the shelf, then you can expect them to interfere with each other in the middle of a Shelvator. A vertical divider-plate, in-between the going-up shelves and the going-down shelves, could be attached to the side-walls of the unit, to act as a "back" of the unit, for both aisles, and would prevent such interference.   

       I see that the AutoPantry is described as "patent pending", which means they don't want to reveal their mechanism for keeping the shelves level. That's okay, although it means I need to post my own sketch sooner rather than later....
Vernon, Jan 15 2012

       Too many moving parts to break down.   

       How about going the opposite direction with minmum shelving, (yet more products displayed to grab the impulse buck), no carts, and touch screens for [add-to-cart] and [quantity] while employees build orders from shelves, of whatever height works, behind the scenes to be waiting for you at the till?   

       ...as a Plan B, you could just have the shelves on a belt between two rollers on the ceiling, and for a modest fee customers could lie on comfy benches to peruse the items for sale, or just use one of the angled mirrors for free.   

       It'd be kind of like the Sistine Chapel, but you can take some of the bits home with you.
not_morrison_rm, Jan 20 2012

       Given the vertical size of the space, might be better to put all the stock on the floor, build a second floor a couple feet above that and put all the display items on that, covering the entire area. Then attach balloons to the customers and send them on their way.
FlyingToaster, Jan 20 2012

       Perfect adaptation of Counter-Ballance World, [lin]...
WTF? Where'd Counter-ballance World go?


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