When it comes to safety for amusement park attractions, nothing can be left to chance. Maintenance can both be expensive and time-consuming. However, there is a solution for wear that can solve the problem – permanently.
Some people love them and can’t get enough, others not so much, but when it comes to thrills – or outright fright – amusement park attractions cover a lot of ground.
So, whether it is taking a free fall from 80m high; going at high-speeds upside down then into a hairpin curve; or generally exposing yourself to crazy G forces, amusement parks deliver. Whilst there are many ways to test how brave somebody is, it would be taking it too far if they couldn’t depend on safety.
Most attractions move a lot of mass at high-speed, so there are tremendous forces at play. It can put extreme loads on the mostly steel structures and carriages. Safety and reliability are paramount to avoiding incidents or accidents.
Strict demands throughout the value chain
Even though the number of accidents remains relatively low in Europe, the European Committee for Standardization, CEN, introduced a new European standard – EN 13814 ‘Safety of amusement rides and amusement devices’ – in May 2019. It covers everything from the design of an attraction, operation and maintenance, as well as monitoring and inspections.
The standard puts heavy demands on manufacturers, but also on the companies that operate amusement parks. “Safety is a fundamental part of our business and covers the visitors, as well as our staff. We never compromise on that,” says Peter Andersson, ride maintenance manager, at the Gröna Lund amusement park in central Stockholm and at Parks and Resorts Scandinavia – the group that owns and operates Gröna Lund, as well as some of Sweden’s most popular theme parks.
Parks and Resorts’ local maintenance departments perform meticulous daily controls of both rails and carriages, looking for any wear or damage. Yearly, the carriages are dismantled, and all parts are X-rayed. According to licensing authority rules, in-depth checks are carried out every five years, where attractions are dismantled into small pieces.
Often enough to change washers
As in all engineering, loosening bolted joints are a safety hazard. For example, the Gröna Lund attraction Eclipse (pictured, bottom left) is made from 910 tonnes of steel and concrete and involves 80,000 bolts. That is a lot of potential problems.
“If we detect any bolt loosening, we often perform root cause analysis. Generally, it is enough to switch to Nord-Lock washers,” says Andersson who first learned about Nord-Lock wedge-locking washers back in 1998, when they were used to secure the rails on one attraction after visual inspection.
“When I saw how well that solution turned out, there was no going back,” he says. “Since then, if we find loose bolts, we immediately order Nord-Lock washers.”
Many attraction manufacturers specify Nord-Lock washers already at the design stage. They generally find use in large bolted joints, in applications such as the rails and steel structures, but also for moving parts in wagon brakes.
A solution that saves time and money
Apart from using Nord-Lock washers, Parks and Resorts is also using the Expander® System to counter lug wear.
This has saved a lot of money and minimised downtime compared to traditional repairs, such as line boring. It has also significantly prolonged attraction lifespans, which translates into serious savings – given that a new big sized attraction can cost upwards of €900,000.
Andersson first learned about the Expander System back in the late 1990s as well: “We had tried various reparation solutions, but the feeling was always, ‘there must be something better’. Then we found the Expander System.”
Since then it has been used on numerous attractions at Gröna Lund. In 2009, the Expander System was installed on all arms of the Octopussy attraction, which has worked flawlessly since then. Another exciting attraction is the Flying Carpet – the oldest at Gröna Lund.
“The Flying Carpet has a historical value and it is difficult to find a replacement,” Andersson says. “About eight years ago, we noticed wear on a critical area. Attending to this would traditionally have meant doing new calculations and finally a complete inspection, which would probably have meant that the attraction would have been put out of commission.”
Expander System replaced the worn-out axles and bolts meaning the Flying Carpet can still be used safely.
The use is spreading
The use of the Expander System has spread within parks and resorts. When the maintenance department at the Kolmården wildlife and amusement park contacted Andersson about installing the Expander System on their attractions, he was happy to recommend it.
The wheel bogie suspensions on attraction wagons are usually a weak spot as they are under the most significant strain. Due to wear and tear on the axles, chassis hole tolerances get enlarged, sometimes in just a couple of years.
Fredrik Johansson, a mechanic at Kolmården, says: “If you’ve been at it for 30 years like me, you know that if something is loose, you’ve got a problem. Given our high safety standards, we don’t put together any makeshift solutions. If it costs a bit more, then that’s okay.”
Saving money in the long-term
“At first glance, the Expander System may seem expensive, but in a life cycle perspective, you can’t save money,” Johansson explains. “When comparing the purchasing price of the Expander System to dismantling an entire attraction and sending parts away for line boring, the latter is both more costly and time-consuming.”
As a mechanic, Johansson appreciates how easy the Expander System is to install. “There is no line boring or welding involved, you can perform it at the site, directly in the worn mountings. It’s a brilliant solution,” he says. “We have used it for a season now, and it just works. Problem solved.”
Will joined Fastener + Fixing Magazine in 2007 and over the last 12 years has experienced every facet of the fastener sector – interviewing key figures within the industry and visiting leading companies and exhibitions around the globe. Will manages the content strategy across all platforms and is the guardian for the high editorial standards that the brand is renowned.