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Amusements Industry

ATA – Providing Experience When It's Needed

Amusements—Working with the Industry to Enhance Safety

Roller Coasters

ATA Associates and Amusement Rides

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATA – Providing Experience When It's Needed

Amusement parks! Amusement rides! Roller coasters, water rides, Ferris wheels, water slides, batting cages and numerous other rides and attractions lead the list of high-profile projects that ATA has supported over the years. ATA Associates has provided analysis, evaluation, and technical consulting services associated with the amusements industry since 1972. In addition, ATA provides occupational safety and emergency planning/response consulting and evaluation.

In its support to the amusement industry, ATA brings all of its expertise in areas of mechanical systems, cable systems, hydraulics, pneumatics, hydro-dynamics, electrical systems, control systems, structures and human factors. Knowledge gained from experience in the aerospace, industrial, transportation, and consumer products safety arenas provides a strong support base to ATA's technical experts for providing assistance to the amusement industry.

ATA has evolved to a position of being a strong proactive advocate for the amusement industry in providing safety analysis, evaluation, and test support, as well as strong litigation support to leaders in the amusement industry. As an independent consulting entity, ATA strives to maintain its professional objectivity towards all work within the industry by providing unbiased, professional, high-quality technical and engineering support that addresses the issues head-on.

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Amusements—Working with the Industry to Enhance Safety

by Barry Richard

I have had more than a little to say in past articles about ATA’s involvement with the amusement industry and will, hopefully, have more in the future. I am truly excited about what is happening there and about the future challenges in the industry.

Roller coasters aren’t just cars and curvy, hilly tracks any more. They are sophisticated systems that more closely approach high-speed rail, aerospace vehicles and fast attack ships in their technology than the original wooden coasters they evolved from. Higher speeds, higher loads (both structural and biomechanical), rolling loops, reversing rolls, suspended passenger carriers, floorless carriers, faster stops, and the need to positively control every facet of the ride in order to maintain safety have placed an ever greater technical demand on designers. It is no longer enough to design a new coaster and rely solely on prototype testing and accelerometer data to determine the safety of the ride. Fortunately, many coaster designers and some operators recognize the challenge and are moving aggressively to adapt proven techniques from the organizations they have joined in order to reach the necessary levels of safety demanded by the public.

We at ATA are proud to be able to work actively with industry clients to support pre-production system safety analysis, post-installation safety assessment and testing and the requirements of the standardization process. Some of our activities include:

1. Multiple-channel strain gauge instrumentation to accurately assess actual loads in structural members and to locate the exact locations on the track where those loads are imparted to the train structure.
2. Traditional accelerometer testing to understand the bio-mechanical loads imparted to the riders.
3. Systems level analysis of rides and attractions to identify potential failure modes and operating hazards so they may be controlled in the design.
4. Membership in organizations such as AIMS and ASTM F-24 to understand the standards of the industry and contribute to the voluntary regulatory process.
5. In-house study and conceptual projects to offer design solutions to improve safety in amusement rides.

The amusement industry has gone high-tech. In one sense it has come of age, in another it is still in its infancy. The use of state-of-the-art design methods is increasing with the complexity of the designs. Some groups are also increasing the use of proven analytical methods to assure the maximum level of safety in the design. Our hope is that the use of such techniques will increase during the design and development phases to assure that potential hazards are identified and corrected before the customer sees the first ride installed.

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ROLLER COASTERS

by Ed Fritsch, P.E.
Sr. Staff Engineer

New roller coasters are taller and faster than ever. But coaster enthusiasts, like fans of high tech special effects movies and video games, want more. To meet the demands of current riders (over 300 million per year in the U.S. alone) and to attract new ones, ride builders have recently introduced stand-up coasters, hanging coasters, and hyper-coasters, which feature drops over 200 feet and speeds over 70 mph. These marvels are developed almost entirely with computer-based design and analysis tools – tools that permit designs that would have been impossible only a few years ago.

Regardless of the power of the new design tools though, the translation of any design from computer workstation to reality is never accomplished without surprises. Assembly tolerance stack-ups and dimensional changes associated with wear are variables that can influence actual performance, but those variables are often too subtle to be adequately addressed during the design phase.

ATA Associates, Inc. has the expertise and equipment to identify and quantify such problems. ATA is currently working with a major amusement park operator to reduce maintenance costs and to enhance safety and reliability. The centerpiece of ATA’s research effort is the use of strain gauges to measure actual loads applied to the undercarriages of the coaster’s cars as they traverse a track that includes four inverted loops.

Strain gauges permit the direct measurement of the stresses in structural components. Such information is fundamentally different from that provided by accelerometers, which are commonly used in roller coaster studies. Accelerometers integrate inputs from all parts of the car to provide a g-load at one point in the car. That number is typically used to characterize the rider’s experience, but it can say little about what is happening at other points in the car’s structure. On the other hand, the use of strain gauges and accelerometers together provides two independent data sets that can support and illuminate each other.

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ATA Associates and Amusement Rides


After Rosa Esparza fell from the Texas Giant roller coaster at Six Flags in Arlington, Texas on July 19, amusement park safety was briefly thrust into the public's consciousness by the relentless drumbeat of cable television's around-the-clock echo chamber. Within just 24 hours of the fatal accident, ATA Associates' owner and CEO, Bob Swint, had been sought out for comment on the accident by a Houston television station and two national TV networks. Though facts were in short supply in the early hours immediately after the mishap, based on ATA’s long experience in amusement ride evaluation and testing, Mr. Swint was able to address some questions concerning Ms. Esparza's weight as a possible contributing factor in the incident and other questions concerning the largely unregulated environment in which amusement parks operate. Since that time, modifications have been made to the Texas Giant’s passenger restraint system, civil litigation over Mrs. Esparza's death has gotten underway and the news media have shifted their attention on to other, new interests of the moment.

As demonstrated by the quick calls for comment after the Esparza incident, ATA Associates, Inc. is a go-to resource for understanding amusement ride operations and dynamics. ATA’s arsenal of portable electronic instrumentation and video equipment, its expertise and experience in amusement ride inspection, evaluation and testing, its skills in test data interpretation and analysis and its talents for creating compelling, animated demonstrative products explain the company’s well-deserved reputation in this field.

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