Big cities, major tasks

By 2030, nine billion people are expected to live on planet Earth – about 70 percent of them in urban areas. This is why cities are increasingly determining the development of our planet. Urbanization is thus one of the biggest challenges for now – and in the future.

Source: Fotolia, marchello74

We spend 80 percent of our lives in buildings

Although cities only take up around two percent of the earth’s surface, they consume roughly three quarters of the total energy. 70 percent of the greenhouse gases produced by humans are given off there. Energy supply, transportation, climate change, digitalization and intelligent buildings: The challenges of a sustainable urban development are huge. The demand for safety, security and comfort is also rising. That is why smart buildings and personnel logistics are becoming an increasingly important factor in urban planning. Only few people are aware that, on average, we spend 80 percent of our lives inside buildings.

Urbanization is a burden on existing infrastructures, as a city should be sustainable, efficient, nearly CO2-neutral and livable – in all areas of life. Architects, city planners and decision-makers from the authorities must therefore develop new concepts for urban life. They are also demanding the use of intelligent solutions from mechanical engineering and building technology.

Solutions for the cities of tomorrow

  • Intelligent building automation systems reduce energy consumption without compromising on comfort

  • Optimized heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems ensure lowest possible energy consumption

  • Climate-neutral buildings by using renewable energy

  • The sky is the limit with state-of-the-art elevator technology

  • Modern waste management protects the environment

  • Low CO2 emissions fuels for freight and passenger transport

  • State-of-the-art facilities ensure maximum security

  • Mobile with the electric car

  • Clean drinking water is our most precious resource

“Successful urbanization enables balancing smart technologies from mechanical engineering with building technology and their integration into people’s everyday lives.”

Dr. Peter HugSpokesman, VDMA Building Technology Forum

Solutions from mechanical engineering and building technology

The challenges of urbanization are tremendous: Commercial, residential and recreational areas must be redesigned as well as the design of public space. New cities are to be developed with the greatest consideration for sustainability and climate protection. The urban planners have a great deal to do – for example, meeting the requirements for security, comfort and affordable housing in the metropolitan areas. Within this tension curve, mechanical engineering and building technology must prove themselves and help to develop the solutions for tomorrow and to meet the needs of the future generations.

Intelligently integrated, sophisticated and attractive

To transform our cities into future metropolises, not only technologies have to be optimized, but a comprehensive system approach is needed with the focus on people.

The cities of tomorrow will be digitalized and people will experience this in their immediate surroundings: Building automation integrates all technical systems in a building (heating, ventilation, air conditioning, lighting, shading and elevators) and connects the existing renewable energy generators and combined heat and power plants (CHP) to the energy management. It also controls the existing security systems. Above all, smoke and fire are the biggest dangers that people can be exposed to inside buildings.

Digitalization in the building sector

In the course of urbanization, whole cities will be digitalized. What significance does this have for the buildings of tomorrow? And how are our lives changing? Uwe Großmann, Chairman of VDMA Forum Technical Building Equipment and Head Solution & Services Portfolio for Germany at Siemens Building Technologies, answers these questions and more.

What does actually digitalization mean for the building industry?

Uwe Grossmann, Chairman of VDMA Forum Technical Building Equipment and Solution& Service Portfolio Manager for Germany at Siemens Building Technologies answers this question and many more in an interview.

Interview with Uwe Großmann


From consumers to producers

Photovoltaic building surfaces and small combined heat and power plants already show: The current energy consumers are increasingly developing into producers, known as “prosumers”. Since the energy will be fed into the grid by many small individual producers in the future, an intelligent management of the distribution grids is necessary. Such intelligent smart grid solutions allow for better communication between energy producers and energy consumers. In addition, they ensure a more efficient operation and an improvement of the distribution grid and thus safeguard grid stability and supply reliability.

Whether in public or private buildings – fire, smoke and carbon monoxide are among the greatest dangers that people are exposed to in buildings. It is crucial to install appropriate technical measures and solutions in order to meet the high responsibility for the safety of human lives.

How important will drinking water be in the future?

Drinking water is our most precious resource. On the one hand, high-quality drinking water is vital for our health and quality of life. On the other hand, the reliable supply of precious water is the most important prerequisite for building cities.

Drinking water is our most precious resource. Source: fotolia/Wanja Jacob

What are the challenges arising from ensuring the quality of drinking water in tomorrow’s cities?

In Germany, the quality of drinking water from the supply side is considered as very good. The Umweltbundesamt (Germany’s environmental protection agency) has confirmed this in its current report on drinking water. The challenge is to ensure this quality during the final stretch – the route the water takes from the house connection in the building to the tap. Valves, pipes and other components are practically a form of food packaging. If these are made out of inappropriate materials, they can constitute a health risk. This can be the case with lead pipes, which can still be found in old houses. Since December 1, 2013, landlords have therefore been obliged to inform their tenants if these pipes are still installed. Should the pipes exceed the 0.1 milligram lead per liter limit (which can be assumed), the landlord has to exchange them immediately.

Do legionella present an increasing danger to inhabitants in the cities of tomorrow?

Legionella are already dangerous for residents if certain basic rules are not respected in the handling of drinking water. The central principle here is “water must flow”!

Water must also have the right temperature. If it is between 25 and 55 degrees Celsius and the water is in the pipe, legionella can reproduce particularly well.

It is best to protect yourself against such bacteria by having building contractors take care of a drinking water installation that not only ensures the regular water and temperature exchange, but also the use of hygienically suitable products which come into contact with the drinking water, such as the valves.

There are also certain basic rules for the tenants to observe:

  • Stagnant water should not be drunk.
  • Drinking water that has been standing for longer than four hours in a pipe should be left to run for a while (around 1 liter).
  • You can tell the difference between fresh and stagnant water because fresh water is much cooler.
Water must run. Source: Getty Images/Tarek El Sobati/E+/

Stefan Oberdörfer

Manager, VDMA Valves Trade Association

Since 2012, Stefan Oberdörfer has been working as a Manager for VDMA Valves, specializing in the field of building valves. Drinking water hygiene is a topic of particular focus. This is also the focus of the website ( > Gesundheit > Gefahren), which was created by political scientists.

Who observes the observers?

Intelligent systems will soon be controlling our cities. However, they must also be monitored and controlled themselves. This can be done by using monitoring instruments, which in the future must not only provide detailed information on consumption and costs but also serve to improve efficiency.

The lifelines of the city

For people to be able to live and work in a city, it needs the following: functioning waste management, possibilities for passenger and goods transport and above all, a clean drinking water supply. “Drinking water is our most precious resource”, sais Stefan Oberdoerfer, VDMA Valves Manager. Therefore, it must be ensured that in a future urban environment, it can be safely supplied, distributed and at a constant high quality.

Every drop is precious

Source: iStock/LeoPatriz

Proper disposal

Modern machines and plants also ensure the safe and environmentally-friendly disposal and treatment of urban waste. Only these plants enable high-quality recycling, and thus consequently the possibility of producing secondary raw materials for the generation of renewable energies.

Walking up to the 30th floor – every day?

Goods elevators have been in use since the middle ages. For humans, however, they were too unsafe in the event of a crash. That is until 1853, when the US-American Elisha Graves Otis invented the safety catching device for elevators. It marked the beginning of the success story that was to be passenger elevators and at the same time heralded a new architectural era, that of skyscrapers. Modern big cities with their high-rise buildings would not be possible without passenger elevators.

Since 2000, the number of high-rise buildings has tripled worldwide. Elevators develop with their tasks: faster, smarter, and perhaps soon, not only vertically, but also horizontally through the building, as the following example shows.

Up, down – and sideways?

The manufacturer ThyssenKrupp is rethinking the future of elevators.

Higher, faster, elevator

Statistically, every person travels in an elevator once every 72 hours. We have compiled some record-breaking elevators for you.

72 km/h

The fastest

CTF Finance Centre, Guangzhou, China
86 elevators, height: 530 m

105 m²

The largest

Hankyu Umeda building, Osaka, Japan
Load capacity of 5 t, space for 80 persons
5 elevators, height: 187 m

828 m

The highest

Burj Khalifa, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
World’s highest elevator exit at 638 m
58 elevators, speed: 36 km/h

3,037 m

The deepest

Mponeng gold mine, Carletonville, South Africa
Elevator cages up to three floors high, for up to 120 workers

326 m

The highest outdoor elevator

Bailong elevator, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park,
Hunan Province, China

Logistics keep life in the city

In order to ensure the safe and reliable supply of our cities in the future, comprehensive logistics concepts are required. Prof. Dr. Michael ten Hompel explains what is conceivable in the future.

What challenges for city logistics do you see in terms of urban development worldwide?

Logistics coordinate the bridging of distance and time. In order to reduce the lead times, we must shorten the routes by moving closer to the cities and at the same time increasing the speed. But in fact, we are getting slower. In some cities today, the average speed is already under 20 kilometers per hour. The trend towards life in the city means that the traffic load continues to rise, despite traffic restrictions, emissions stickers, and vehicle restrictions. The effect is a slow deceleration. The trend towards individualization has also been underestimated. Not only private individuals, but also trade and commerce will use the individual delivery options so that in the future, we will have to deal with a strong increase in inner-city delivery traffic on the one hand. On the other hand, with a considerable fluctuating supply volume, for example at Christmas.

What kind of solutions does city logistics need in order to be well prepared for the future?

A comprehensive concept is very important; one which is based on the pooling of the shipments, independently from the service provider. Even so it is first important to develop a concept that is economically reasonable for the individual service provider. For example, cooperative solutions such as city hubs or small storage and handling facilities are feasible – something similar to packing stations. According to districts, goods could thus be delivered together. We are actually talking about concepts that have already existed for 20 years. For their cost-benefit analysis, however, there is a shortage of viable business and cooperation models. Here, politics and cities need to get involved in creating appropriate incentives.

What is the contribution of intralogistics and materials handling manufacturers?

Intralogistics is indispensable for any form of distribution centers or goods transfer systems. The first delivery vehicles are already on the market, which have a small intralogistics system on board to automatically transfer and outsource parcels. In this way, the driver always gets the right package directly in his hand and does not have to search for it in the storage room.

It is also possible that containers with appropriate hardware and software will be installed in the cities as distribution points from which shipments and goods can be distributed to the end customers.

For security purposes and due to current legislation, I do not think that drones will fly autonomously in the urban environment. However, drones which move along the ground and change to flight mode only in secure areas, such as a high-rise building, tunnels and pipes or over open fields, could be an option. I am sure that in the medium term, a whole series of new and innovative products and solutions will be developed. This would solve many problems in the cities of the future.


Prof. Dr. Michael ten Hompel

Prof. Dr. Michael ten Hompel holds the chair of Materials Handling and Warehousing at TU Dortmund University and is Managing Director at Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML.

No life without logistics

What would a city without logistics be like? The shops would be empty – from the small kiosk to the bakery on the corner to the supermarket. Gas stations would no longer have any fuel. There would be no drugs in the pharmacies or hospitals. The impact would make city life impossible. Logistics are often invisible, and yet so important.

It is not just about the supply of trade and private households in the city. It’s also about the questions like: How are loads and goods transported quickly and safely? How do these get from the manufacturer to the city? How does the online retailer know where an article is located in his warehouse and how many of it he has? The answer to these questions is called intralogistics.

Here too, the mechanical and plant engineering industry makes a valuable contribution to the sensitive system. Especially in logistics, the cities of the future are faced with challenges, as Prof. Dr. Michael ten Hompel reports.


Logistics keep life in the city


What exactly is intralogistics?

The term describes technologies and solutions without which logistics would not work. Learn more by watching this video.

The city of tomorrow

The development of humanity will increasingly focus on the urban environment. In order to address this challenge, the cities of the future must not only be smart, they must also combine communication, infrastructure, trade and logistics with economy and ecology as well as the personal needs of the residents. Smart cities must also be able to permit various speeds of life in addition to different functionalities. The machinery and plant engineering industry can make a significant contribution to this. But every single one of us must do their bit, so that we can live flexibly and responsibly together.


Miriam Braun

Manager, VDMA Forum Technical Building Equipment

Miriam Braun has been managing the VDMA Forum Technical Building Equipment since 2015. Her main focus is on pooling the competences of those areas within the VDMA which supply their products and services to the building technology sector (residential buildings and non-residential buildings).

Juliane Friedrich

Public Relations at the Materials Handling and Intralogistics Association

Juliane Friedrich has been responsible for the communication of the Materials Handling and Intralogistics Association since 2012. She focuses, for example, on trends such as Industrie 4.0, globalization or urbanization as well as their impact on the intralogistics sector.

Dr. Peter Hug

Spokesman, VDMA Forum Technical Building Equipment

Peter Hug is Managing Director of the Building Automation Association and Spokesman of the VDMA Forum Technical Building Equipment. He holds a doctorate in economics and also manages the European Industrial Association eu.bac (European Building Automation and Controls Association).

Sascha Schmel

Managing Director of the Elevator and Escalator Association as well as the Materials Handling and Intralogistics Association.

Sascha Schmel is Managing Director of the VDMA Elevator and Escalator Association as well as Materials Handling and Intralogistics Association. In both associations, he is strongly involved in the challenges of urbanization.