Archive for the Amusement Park Ride History Category

AMUSEMENT PARK RIDE: SAFETY, DESIGN AND TECHNOLOGY

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011 | Permalink

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Technological progress has continually transformed the way we live, work, and play for hundreds of years, particularly in the last half-century. These changes have affected every aspect of life, including the attractions industry and its amusement rides.

While the design and development of amusement rides has always required a mastery of physics, engineering, and mathematics, the introduction of computers, advanced materials, and certain design innovations has resulted in an increasingly rigorous, complex, and precise creative process. This process, together with the current regulatory system of state oversight and internal and external inspections, has produced an extraordinary safety record that demonstrates amusement rides are one of the safest forms of recreation available to the public.

Today’s ride designers are building upon the solid foundation laid by prior generations, as a considerable amount of both equipment and ideas is based on time-tested technological principles and breakthroughs. For years, rides have included fail-safe defaults, which ensure that, in the case of a power outage or other external event, vehicles come to rest in a safe position and remain there until passengers are evacuated according to a pre-arranged plan or the ride is re-started.

Additionally, rides have long been equipped with redundant safety mechanisms in critical areas, which provide a backup in case of failure of the primary system. Likewise, many ride aspects have historically been “over designed” so that they contain safety features and construction material over and above what is structurally necessary. More recent advances have allowed the industry to use this experience as a springboard to creating new rides and attractions.

Perhaps the most crucial of these advances is the computer and its far-reaching impact on ride design, manufacture, and operation. Designers employ modeling software to manipulate a large number of elements quickly and easily, thus optimizing a ride’s final layout and providing a complete analysis of its performance, structural integrity, and g-force parameters. In addition, computer-based manufacturing techniques have made the fabrication of various ride and attraction components even more technically precise. Computers have also played a key role in the continual improvement of ride operation, as park personnel use central control units and numerous high-tech sensors to constantly monitor all aspects of a ride. Consequently, mid-ride adjustments, activation of themed elements, and automatic system shutdowns occur faster and more accurately than ever before.

Incorporation of advanced materials has led to new ride developments as well. Coasters are still exploring the possibilities that were opened to them with the advent of tubular steel tracks and polyurethane wheels. The use of lightweight fiberglass and plastics has contributed to the improvement of various rides and attractions, including carousels, animatronics, and bumper cars. Several types of thrill rides, especially coasters, employ vibration-dampening material to provide structural enhancement.

Design innovations have also spurred ride advances. “Locking” coasters on the track via a three-wheeled device (top, side, & bottom) has produced a whole new world of twists, turns, and inversions. Modern catapult-type launch systems powered by pneumatics and linear electric motors have expanded the creative options available to many ride manufacturers. The integration of special effects, motion simulation, and/or theming within ride environments has resulted in a wider array of experiences.

Above all, this tradition of continual improvement has greatly enhanced ride safety, through the introduction of force reactive supports, headrests, comfort padding, seat dividers, ratcheted restraints, computer controls, and magnetic braking systems.

Both established ride features and more recent innovations have been incorporated into the ASTM International ride safety standards. For more than three decades, the industry has worked with the ASTM Committee F-24 on Amusement Rides and Devices in the development of these exacting voluntary standards. The committee is composed of members of the industry, representatives of the general public, and government entities such as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Where applicable, biodynamic data is incorporated into the development process, thereby producing ride system guidelines which can safely accommodate the broadest segment of the population. The ASTM International standards undergo frequent review and revision to keep up with the latest technologies, and have been adopted by state and local jurisdictions throughout the country.

With their predecessors’ time-tested knowledge and the ASTM standards at their disposal, modern-day ride designers have employed this steady stream of advances to create new and unique attractions which are more thrilling yet safe in all respects. These thrills often derive from the use of dynamic forces that are commonly referenced to gravity and thus called g-forces (Gs). Ride manufacturers have collected and studied relevant data on g-forces for years, subsequently applying this biodynamic knowledge to the design and construction of rides to ensure a safe experience.

While technological gains have led to the development of bigger rides, overall g-force levels have generally not changed that much in the past two or three decades because riders’ tolerance levels haven’t changed – people are the same today as they were in 1970. Instead, the very technological and design improvements which have allowed for a more thrilling and faster ride have simultaneously helped produce an even safer ride in all aspects, including Gs.

A key point to remember regarding this issue is that equally important to the magnitude of g-forces is their rate of onset and their duration, as well as a multitude of other variables. When it comes to the higher-g sections of amusement rides, exposure lasts but a few seconds at most and often fractions of a second, so before a rider feels any adverse effect, the force is already past. In marked contrast, blackouts and other health matters associated with Gs require exposure to g-forces which are either greater in magnitude or of much longer duration than those achieved by today’s rides.

As the guardian of this special history, the industry remains committed to providing guests with new and safe experiences in a responsible and professional manner.

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