Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What computer software programs do roller coaster designers use?

Today, roller coasters are designed using the latest in computer technology. The universal tool for the engineer that has completely ruled out the classic drawing board is CAD (Computer Aided Design) software. Programs such as AutoCAD are used to draft, adjust and detail bents in accordance with ride standards. Some companies employ proprietary software which optimizes the track  layout at the computer using elaborate numerical algorithms to help keep the g-forces on the passengers below required safety or customer defined limits. Computer programs can analyze dynamic and static calculations for the track, and automatically determine where supports should be placed.
3D CAD software, such as CATIA or Solidworks, now allows designers to have every aspect of thrill ride design all within one software program including 3D models, 2D manufacturing drawings, kinematic simulations, finite element analysis (FEA), and image renders for marketing purposes. Standard parts like bolts, springs, nuts, washers can be taken from standard part libraries or catalogs and bills of material can be derived directly from the model and inserted into a drawing.
Utilizing this type of software is an enormous improvement over methods that were employed even twenty five years ago. The time required to create a ride would be great without using a computer because of the enormous number of calculations required. Changes and iterations can be made much faster using the computer. Rides can also be built to higher standards, quality, and tolerances. Modern 3D CAD systems can help the engineers design the ride within the limits of biodynamic tolerances of the passengers. A simulation of the coaster can be done based on the CAD data, and so the forces and the dynamic behaviour can be determined way before a prototype has been built. The roller coaster is virtually assembled early in the design phase to test functional relations and mechanisms as well as collision detection of components and clearance envelope. When the CAD work is complete the production data is electronically sent to the manufacturer.