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Lazy Engineering?


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We've all ridden coasters with an awkward transition or weird banking right? My question is (and I tried search, please merge if necessary moderators), what are some designs that don't make sense to you? EX:After watching a POV of Loch Ness Monster, I think the second lift could've have been obsolete provided the train didn't lose momentum in the redundant triple(?) helix. However, I have never ridden, so I don't know first hand, and it seems a few Arrow Mine Trains suffer from the same issue (beyond block segmentation). Another thought, Lightwater Valley's "Ultimate": a short chain after the second lift to transport to the drop..followed by trims. What happened with the momentum calculations? Was it really that much of a crap shoot? Besides the obvious YOLOcoaster lack of achievement award, can any one else add to the list of engineering oddities?

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I wouldn't say Arrow were lazy as such, they just didn't have the design software that modern rides take for granted. I'm pretty sure Arrow coasters were drawn up on paper and g-force calculations were made, but I'm sure they didn't quite know how it was going to ride until testing day.

 

As for Ultimate (a great ride, hence my user name), the people designing it had never built a roller coaster before. It cost only £5,000,000 (and was originally budgeted for £1,000,000!), so those numbers probably speak for themselves as to why they didn't hire someone like Arrow or Dinn to do it. There's a rather interesting article on it if you want to read more: http://www.rollercoaster.wikia.com/wiki/Ultimate/

 

About momentum calculations, I think you're looking at a block brake. Ultimate was at one point going to run four trains. Now, they usually put out the next train when the other one has past that block, so it would probably be necessary if a train valleyed in the valley

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Ron Toomer designed his rides with a coat hanger...so of course there was going to be some compromises.

Using coat hangers is a great and simple way to visualize a ride and explain your idea to others, especially when you didn't have the computing power you have today. But I still believe that they still used some calculations (pretty simplified compared to today) to judge forces in loops, drops, etc.

 

But then again, MBB as well as Arrow didn't think it was necessary to use banked tracks on their attempt at suspended coasters, and we all knew how that went.

So in some cases they might have gone the lazy route...

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Although the "coathanger" thing is true (he had several bendable wires in his workspace to help visualize the coaster in 3d space), all of Arrow's coasters after 1989 were computer made (they made 48 coasters like this, almost half). Magnum was the last of its kind.

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If that's true then how come it took until tennese tornado for arrow to figure out variable loop sizes overbankong and somewhat smooth transitions, to me it seems they didn't evolve as they went along just kept making the same designs never improving on what they had until it was to late.

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If that's true then how come it took until tennese tornado for arrow to figure out variable loop sizes overbankong and somewhat smooth transitions, to me it seems they didn't evolve as they went along just kept making the same designs never improving on what they had until it was to late.

 

I'm sure a lot of it had to do with cost as well. It's a lot easier and cheaper to just mass produce the same cookie-color elements over and over and combine them in different configurations than to redesign them each time. And not having to recalculate the forces for each element for each new ride probably also helped cut down on design time and cost. I'd say it's more "frugal" than "lazy", and just a matter of getting the rides to the park at a low enough price point.

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Ron Toomer designed his rides with a coat hanger...so of course there was going to be some compromises.

 

IE: Great American Screamin' machine's turn into the MCBR

 

 

I'm not sure, Vortex at KI may take the cake for the most "coat-hangerish" design I can think of from Arrow. Granted, my knowledge is pretty limited. But these three especially come to mind:

 

Exiting the first turn around

 

Heading into the loops, the turn to straight gives you quite a neck slam

 

After the MCBR, into the corkscrews. Also, the mega-tight turn into the MCBR is quite ridiculous.

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All very possible but I mean after what 15 or so years of market dominance with no real improvement to there designs besides new ride elements using the same corkscrew cars. Yea the suspended coaster was proliferated by arrow and the first hypercoasters you would think some evolution would take place.

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^^ WOW, that looks more awkward than most of their corkscrew entrances, it's always intrigued me why they continued to use that design; the exits to the corkscrews aren't weird, why not mirror the transitions?

 

^p.s. nice avatar, the one that started it all for me

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I would never categorize Arrow as "lazy." Actually, I appreciate what Arrow has done for the industry. On the other hand, I'm not giving them a pass for their struggles in the 1990s into bankruptcy in 2001.

 

Arrow, to me, is a great example of mass customization. They had their selection of elements in which a few had a couple of size options, and a new coaster was born by arranging those elements. This was a fast way to meet the huge demand for the multi-looping signature coasters parks were looking for from the late 1970s to early 1990s. Given the very primitive level of coaster technology at the time, I speculate the time and money required for custom elements/inversions kept them from doing anything too innovative for the most part. Transitions were probably limited to the technology available at the time as well, so they were as good as time and money allowed for. Fast innovation probably wasn't too big on the radar either as Arrow pretty much had a monopoly on the looping coaster within North America. However, sitting on that relatively untouched multi-looper cash cow ended up biting them in the butt as they were in too big of a hole to catch back up to the likes of Intamin, B&M, etc.

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Perhaps lazy was the wrong word choice for the thread. I was trying to convey aspects of certain rides where the engineering may have "under-thought" it. I guess it would be more of a complacent issue, whereas what worked, worked without much further thought on how to improve it involved. The awkward transitions mentioned above kind of demonstrate that. Also, I was referring to designs where "over redundancy" was involved; unnecessary lift hills, etc. that lead me to believe initial design numbers could not accurately determine the trains momentum during the course. It seems to me they under-estimated the margin of error and erred on the side of caution.

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If you'd like to get a very insightful look into the history of Arrow and their thought process throughout their early years, I would highly recommend reading Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers (ISBN 0965735354). It is a collection of interviews with Ed Morgan and Karl Bacon, the founders of Arrow, and it does an excellent job of showing how they transformed their machine shop into what probably still stands as the most important amusement design company in the modern era. They really were pioneers in the field, so I give them lots of leeway with their wonkier designs. They simply didn't know how certain rides would behave, and the only way was through trial and error, which is actually frequent in engineering, and especially in undeveloped fields (like steel roller coaster design in the 1950s-1970s) It was what it was, even if it led to some nasty transitions. At any rate, Ed and Karl managed most of the framework for the modern amusement park, and not just in the roller coaster department. That unto itself is impressive.

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I wouldn't call Arrow "lazy" as they revolutionized the coaster industry in so many ways. I just think that their time had come and gone. Once other firms began to engineer smoother, more innovative, and state of the art coasters they failed to play catch up with all these other blossoming companies, which resulted in their design/engineering process becoming a bit antiquated and a thing of the past.

 

Drachen Fire attempted to break new ground with a radically new design in terms of track elements and structure but ultimately failed because rider comfort was given a back seat ride to coat hanger type transitions. We then didn't see any innovations from them until 1999 and 2002 with Tennessee Tornado and X... with X being the catalyst that ultimately killed them off.

 

I just think they didn't take advantage of new technology as it arose to improve their designs because they simply just stayed with what I view as their "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach. I mean when new, better, and more innovative competition steps into the ball game, you have to find a way to compete with them, otherwise you stand no chance just riding on the coattails of your previous successes.

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If that's true then how come it took until tennese tornado for arrow to figure out variable loop sizes overbankong and somewhat smooth transitions, to me it seems they didn't evolve as they went along just kept making the same designs never improving on what they had until it was to late.

 

I'm sure a lot of it had to do with cost as well. It's a lot easier and cheaper to just mass produce the same cookie-color elements over and over and combine them in different configurations than to redesign them each time. And not having to recalculate the forces for each element for each new ride probably also helped cut down on design time and cost. I'd say it's more "frugal" than "lazy", and just a matter of getting the rides to the park at a low enough price point.

 

I can all but guarantee that the main issue at hand was the lack of computing power. I'm not sure you guys understand how ridiculously complex modern coaster geometry is. Though the math used to create the geometry, at its core, is little more than Newtonian Mechanics and Calculus (that is, 300 - 400 year old math) the sheer complexity of said calculations is absolutely horrendous. (I'm discounting calculating how the track and supports will not collapse, just simply how the coaster will travel in three dimensional space.) The reason Arrow's transitions suck is definitely because the geometry of the sudden changes in angles, etc. are simpler and easier to calculate.

 

The only way to know how hard all that calculation is is to go to college in Mechanical or Civil Engineering, which in order to get a Bachelor's degree will require 80 - 120 hours per week of class, study, and homework for four years straight (that is if you pass everything the first time.) I'm finishing up my second year, and had I not had such the avid dream to design roller coasters, I would have either quit or committed suicide a long time ago. Suffice it to say, a vertical loop's geometry is crazy, a corkscrew's geometry is crazy. Arrow used the same size elements and made the trains travel at the same speeds through the inversions in order to keep the G's safe. They could have used different sized elements, but the calculations would take up a huge amount of time, so calculating them once and using the same geometry was the only way to get a proposal done on time. Note that these designs take a whole team of people about a good four months to do all the calculations for today's designs. Simply put, Arrow really did push the limits of what was possible to calculate at the time. Computers made the grunt work SO MUCH easier, so now we can make much crazier designs in the same time frame.

 

I tried going through an example to calculate the geometry of, and the forces of a simple 540 degree helix to demonstrate how difficult it is, but that took way too much time from my homework and was a mistake to do on my part, and I'll be paying for it in my sleep for the rest of the week.

 

Today, with the power of computing, Arrow's work would be considered lazy engineering, but without computers, you really were limited at how much you could create in a reasonable time frame. I would argue that it would probably take years or decades to calculate a modern design like BTR or the Smiler with hand calculations, and screwing up in something that complex will be very easy. They really were pushing the boundaries of design at the time, I don't know how else to put it.

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I'm definitely not going to deny all that you said because you are right about a lot of what you said. Studying engineering is hard, whether it be mechanical or chemical like I am doing. Whatever the case may be, the simple fact of the matter is this: Arrow was being paid millions of dollars to design these rides. No matter how complicated the calculations may have been, they have a bit more incentive to do the calculation than you might have as a student in mechanical engineering right now. I totally agree in saying that the calculations were difficult, but if they figured out how to do the calculations for a loop at a certain angle (force, speed, friction, etc, etc.), the physics do not change drastically when you change the shape size of the loop; surely, the geometry of the problem and the numbers change; however, the people designing the rides are well-versed in these things. Physics is physics. They were well-versed then just as they are now. The 5-10 main design engineers at Arrow were selected for their job because they were the BEST at what they did in college,

 

I don't exactly know where I'm going with this because I do not have a specific answer for why some of the transitions are awkward and why Arrow consistently used the same/similar inversion sizes. I have no clue, because I don't even know what goes into the design of a roller coaster. I do agree that the main reason roller coaster designs have gotten so ridiculous over the past 15 or so years is because of computers. I just wouldn't call this 'Lazy Engineering' at all on their part. If it took Arrow an additional 1000 hours of highly paid labor (at 75 bucks an hour), to figure out a better design for their inversions, I am sure they would have, regardless of that time. That's hardly pocket change for a company that is marketing their rides for such expensive price tags. Something else was in play here that we don't know about I think.

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^&^^ You both have very solid points, and this is exactly what I intended this thread to discuss. Thank You.

 

I also don't mean to focus on Arrow designs only. I have experienced numerous rides where the lines don't exactly match up, if you know what I mean. The second half of Medusa's (west) sea-serpent is not mirrored like that of a traditional cobra roll. Flight Deck (Top Gun@CGA) has a weird transition out of the corkscrew, and into the final helix... both B&M's, years apart. I haven't ridden many Intamin coasters, but I'd imagine they have their oddities too.

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What I don't get is how Arrow were still building straight-line transitions well into the 90s and had quite a number of mess-ups (Drachen Fire, Pepsi Max Big One, that awkward and painful-looking helix on Orient Express, et all), while Schwarzkopf were already implementing heartline-oriented banking and other complex geometry on their bigger coasters. I've never actually heard of a Schwarzkopf ride that had to be retracked due to poor design.

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^I think part of that is merely that you get what you pay for. Arrow coasters of the early 90s were cheaper than their more advanced rivals such as B&M's first coasters. The less money you have to work with, the more you need to find ways of saving. Straight transitions are easier to fabricate and design and thus are significantly cheaper as they remove a lot of the most expensive part of any design project, human labor.

 

Not only that, but changing out how an entire office does their work is an extremely expensive and cumbersome ordeal that Arrow probably didn't feel the need to take on for pretty much all of their existence since their coasters were popular and parks and the public weren't screaming for something better until something significantly better came about in the form of B&M. Their last coasters showed their progression towards trying to be competitive with companies like B&M and Intamin. Tennessee Tornado is a really intense, fun ride that shows their progress towards parabolic shaping, heartlining, and smoother transitions. Unfortunately they weren't able to make enough coasters before going under to really prove they could consistently replicate this.

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