Farewell to Florence

By , December 23, 2016
Tyler Mullins

Farewell Florence

It’s now been four months to the day that I started my internship with Great Coasters International and what a roller coaster ride it’s been (pun intended). These four months have been filled with so many incredible opportunities – I had the chance to learn new software while modeling Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s InvadR, fly to Arizona to make connections at a technical conference, visit Mystic Timbers’ construction site at Kings Island, and so much more. It’s hard to believe that today is the last day here in Florence, as it still feels like only yesterday that it was my first day in the office and I came in without realizing that I was wearing my polo inside-out (yeah… let’s not talk about that part though).

For my final post I thought I would share a few final things I’ve learned as a GCI intern that I haven’t blogged about yet. It’s cool to have worked on some upcoming roller coasters and to get a behind-the-scenes look at how parts of the industry operate, but some of the most valuable things I’ve learned are lessons that I’ll still be able to apply outside of a company that makes roller coasters (although a career in the industry, whether for a park or a manufacturer, is still the end goal). These lessons include…

 

…It’s Okay Not to Know Things

There is a lot that goes into a roller coaster. Like, I’ve loved roller coasters and theme parks since I was a little kid and thought I had a pretty good understanding and knowledge of all things coasters. Turns out there’s a lot I didn’t account for or even consider.

On my first day I was given the owner/operator’s manual for one of GCII’s recent projects and told to start reading. Every page had terminology, diagrams, and descriptions that just went straight over my head. I have a much better understanding four months later, but up until this last day I’m still being introduced to new things daily and am continually learning more about how the rides are built and operated.

It’s okay not to know something. Everyone starts there, and it’s only through lack of knowledge that you then have the opportunity to learn.

 

…Mistakes Will Happen. Use Them to Your Advantage

I’m a sucker for inspirational quotes. One of my new-found favorites, typically accredited to Henry Ford, is “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”

In the process of learning all these new things at Great Coasters, I’ve definitely made some mistakes along the way. I’ve had to remake models and update drawings after learning I goofed small things up. And while I could let these mistakes frustrate me, it’s better to instead focus on what I learned in the process and apply it to my work in the future.

 

…Expect the Unexpected

Great Coasters is opening four new roller coasters in 2017, more than the company has ever built in one year. That means four massive construction projects that each consist of thousands of parts, dozens of workers, and seemingly endless hours. There is a lot that needs to be done before any of these rides can open to the public and I had the chance to work on different components of each of them. Walking into work each day though I rarely knew which project I would be focused on that day. And, in the midst of doing something for one project, I would often get a phone call or email instructing me to switch to something different.

I learned the importance of being flexible and expecting the unexpected. It was important to adapt quickly, as one moment I could be working on bents for Kings Island and a minute later I’m searching for a drawing for Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s transfer table. I sometimes felt thrown-in to these situations, but I’ve discovered that is one of the quickest ways to learn something new.

 

So, now that my internship is just about wrapped-up, what’s next? I’ll be returning to Ohio State University in January for my penultimate semester. I’ll be president of the school’s Theme Park Engineering Group (shameless plug – check out our website at tpegosu.com), working for Residence Life, and taking a variety of classes. Come summer I’m hoping to return to the industry for another internship and have already begun applying for positions. Then, after graduating next December, my goal is to begin a career in the industry.

I am extremely grateful for my time at Great Coasters and for all the amazing opportunities I’ve been given. I’ve learned so much, met some fantastic people, and reaffirmed my passion for the industry. Big thank you to the amazing team behind Great Coasters for everything. It’s been an incredible four months and I can’t wait to see what’s next!


So What’s *Really* in the Shed?

By , December 16, 2016
Tyler Mullins

As a Great Coasters intern, and having grown up with Kings Island practically in my backyard, one of the most common questions I now get from friends and family is “So what’s really in the shed?” For those unfamiliar, Kings Island’s new roller coaster was announced in July with an exciting POV of the ride and a mysterious hashtag, #WhatsInTheShed. The ride will end in an eerie and overgrown shed, its contents a mystery.

Well, mostly a mystery. I can’t comment on the seemingly paranormal contents of Mystic Timbers’ shed, but I can talk a bit about the engineering side of things and my role in making them a reality.

The beginning of the structure will include a transfer track, otherwise Mystic Timbers couldn’t simultaneously run three trains (fun fact – ignoring the few dueling coasters, this is only GCII’s second coaster with that many trains). One of my recent assignments has been to take a 3D model of the transfer track and create drawings that show how to construct the complete assembly. The task has been extremely challenging but super rewarding – I’ve learned about plan reading, communication, and several other skills that are critical to being an engineer.

For starters, the plan reading. If you’ve ever built a Lego set and followed the detailed instructions, placing brick by brick until you completed it, then you’ve read plans. That’s an extremely simplified idea of how the transfer track is built, albeit with some noticeable differences. For starters, the size – versus a small plastic toy, crews will be building something that’s over 50-feet long, weighs over 15 tons, and consists of more than 3,400 individual parts. And instead of having numbered steps in their plans, instructing the crew in what order to complete different tasks, these plans only show a completed structure and then pages of details and dimensions. It’s up to the crew to decide what order of steps is most efficient and the most logical.

The next skill I’ve learned about is communication. Since the plans don’t just walk the crew through step-by-step, it’s important to make sure all the necessary information for building the structure is communicated clearly. This has been tricky, as you don’t want to leave any questions unanswered but you also don’t want to overload the pages with unnecessary information. You want to find that balance where the crews are told just enough, which I’ve discovered is a lot more difficult than it sounds.

While working on the plans I’ve also learned a lot about the mechanics of a transfer table itself and the names of so many different parts and components I never even knew existed. Plus I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time in Autodesk Inventor, further familiarizing myself with all the software’s tools and features. I’m now really excited to potentially use Inventor in the future for school projects and elsewhere.

My internship with Great Coasters International ends a week from today. I can’t believe how fast it’s flown by, but I’m super grateful for all the amazing opportunities I’ve had and all that I’ve learned. I’ll make sure to post at least once more before then, so stay tuned!

Oh, and for what’s really in the shed? Like, outside all the engineering stuff and the lessons I’ve learned through working on a transfer table? Well, I guess you’ll have to wait till the ride opens to find out ;)


Trip to the Timbers

By , December 9, 2016
Tyler Mullins

You can spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer in anticipation for a new ride. It’s easy to drop hours watching its virtual POVs, days following its progress on a webcam, or – in my case – months creating and editing drawings for many of its 500-something bents. But no matter how much time you spend staring at the screen, you don’t quite realize its monstrous size or just how awesome a ride it will be until you see it in person.

 

Last week I had the opportunity to make this realization when I visited Mystic Timbers’ construction site at Kings Island. It wasn’t my first time seeing the coaster in person – over the course of the summer and fall I occasionally visited the park with friends and family and saw the construction of the new ride, albeit each time from a distance. I could only catch glimpses of it from the train, the Eiffel Tower, or the midway. But when I returned on a cold December morning, donning my steel toed boots and a hard hat, I was able to stand in the center of the monster and truly appreciate just how incredible it’ll be.

 

So what will make Mystic Timbers one of the most incredible rides of 2017? For starters, the height. The ride is 109.2-feet tall, or taller than any other roller coaster Great Coasters International has built in this country. As I watched construction workers climb the interior of the structure, it was fascinating how they were completely dwarfed by how big the ride is.

 

Also impressive is its location. The ride snakes through the woods, careens over the side of steep hills, and even jumps over White Water Canyon a mind boggling six times. It will interact with the rapids ride, the trees, and the railroad, hurtling pass everything at speeds of up to 53mph.

 

Another thing that really stood out was the ride’s scale. Sure, being tall is one thing. But this ride is sprawled over the landscape and you really don’t realize just how big parts of it are until you’re staring straight at them. For example, as some concept art shows, the ride will leap over a large pond as it heads toward White Water Canyon. For those unfamiliar, this is actually the rapids ride’s reservoir, where it pulls all its water from to operate.


Photo courtesy Kings Island

 

This area is also the reason I was at the park this morning. Mystic Timbers will fly over the reservoir twice, traveling over some massive steel bridges and across a concrete island now built in the center of the reservoir. I needed to snap some photos and check some measurements for back at the office, but while out I also had the opportunity to take in just how incredible this will be.

 

Visiting Mystic Timbers’ job site was a really cool opportunity that gave me a new perspective and appreciation for the ride and the crews that are building it. It really helped me make a lot of connections between my work in the office and what’s being built at the park, plus it’s always nice to visit Kings Island. It was easily one of the highlights of my time at Great Coasters, which is quickly wrapping up. My last day is in only a couple weeks – where did the time go?!

 

I’ll try and share a bit more soon about what else I’ve been working on, so stay tuned!


Build a Bridge and Get Over It

By , November 15, 2016
Tyler Mullins

Something that the official InvadR POV (visible here) doesn’t fully show is just how well the new ride will interact with the surrounding attractions. The coaster is reminiscent of a Roller Coaster Tycoon creation with how it’s tucked into the pre-existing area, traveling over a maintenance road, the park’s railroad, and a 41-year-old log flume. The ride will also travel over itself three separate times, including over its first drop.

If InvadR was a steel coaster, then the track wouldn’t have any issue going over these obstacles – a steel coaster is typically supported by a bunch of big steel columns with large gaps in-between them. But for a coaster like InvadR, even though the supports are made of steel they’re built in an intricate pattern as if they were made of wood. And this intricate pattern means the largest gap between bents is only nine feet. When accounting for clearance envelopes, nine feet isn’t sufficient space for all those things passing under the ride.

The solution? Build a bridge and get over it. Not just one bridge, but a whopping ten.

Many of InvadR’s bents are built on top of these long steel bridges, the longest of which is below the first drop and spans nearly 40 feet. And while these allow for the ride to be built over and around obstacles like the flume and train, designing and manufacturing the bridges also creates new challenges and problems to solve.

For starters, the bridges have to be manufactured to exact specifications. Something being cut short or offset even 1/16 of an inch could potentially render the whole bridge useless and require a new one to be fabricated. To avoid this costly headache, the dimensions are checked multiple times by multiple people ensuring that everything is correct.

Another challenge is incorporating the bridge into the rest of the structure, which calls for a lot of unique and custom connection pieces to attach bents and ribbons to the bridges. These produce challenges too, as they all have to be designed, checked-over, and fabricated. And it’s always possible that the original design isn’t as ideal as expected and that it’ll need revised, which in turn restarts the cycle all over again.

I’ve really enjoyed all the problem solving that comes with these bridges and I have learned a lot regarding terminology, steel fabrication, and structural stability. I’m also really excited to see these bridges be fabricated and installed at the park, as their installation allows for a lot more of the ride to be constructed.

Alongside this work on InvadR’s bridges I’ve also been checking bents atop some of Mystic Timbers’ bridges, creating assembly drawings for parts of InvadR’s structure, and completing miscellaneous tasks as needed. It’s hard to believe I’ve already been at GCII for two-and-a-half months and that I only have one-and-a-half more, but I’m still loving the experience.

I’ll write again in a couple weeks and share more on the progress of these new rides, so stay tuned!


ASTM in Arizona

By , October 27, 2016
Tyler Mullins

I just passed the two-month mark interning at Great Coasters and my time here has been phenomenal. I’ve learned so much and have had a lot of opportunities to work with Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s InvadR and Kings Island’s Mystic Timbers, alongside a small assignment for one of two coasters coming to China next year. But while everything in the office has been great, today I’m writing about something out of the office – 1,800 miles out of the office, that is. Scottsdale, Arizona.

What’s in Scottsdale, Arizona? Well, last week there was an assortment of roller coaster engineers, theme park owners and operators, and ambitious students pursuing their dreams. That’s because Scottsdale was home to ASTM International’s F24 committee on amusement rides and devices.

For those unfamiliar, ASTM International is a standards organization that publishes technical standards for almost anything imaginable – construction vehicles, sports equipment, toys, and, yes, amusement parks. And to keep these standards updated and relevant the committee meets bi-annually. I had the opportunity to take a couple days off work last week and join one of these meetings, flying out Wednesday evening and staying in Arizona through the weekend.

Here are some of the highlights from the conference…

  • Networking with Industry Professionals – As mentioned, there was no shortage of ride engineers and park owners and operators. Most major ride companies were present, from those that create towering roller coasters to those that manufacture children’s rides. And, as someone whose dream job is in the amusement industry, this was a fantastic opportunity to network and make connections.
  • Meeting Other Students with a Similar Passion – Students from around the country regularly attend these conferences to learn more about the industry and network. I joined two fellow Ohio State students and had the opportunity to meet others from Drexel, Cal Poly, Penn State, and more. Meeting fellow students is one of my favorite things about ASTM, as it typically leads to super-nerdy conversations about roller coasters and sharing our experience thus far in the industry. Plus, as was phrased by GCI’s own Adam Yerdon over the summer, “These are the people you’ll be working with someday in the industry,” so no time like the present to get to know them.
  • Learning About Different Standards – Networking with industry professionals and other students is great, but the reason behind these conferences is the standards. I sat-in on sessions over fall protection, station guarding, adventure attractions, aquatic play, and waterslides… and that was all within the first day. There are different standards for different types of rides and attractions and the list keeps growing as the amusement industry continues to evolve.
  • Participating and Contributing in Sessions – While engineers perform the majority of the work in these sessions, students are welcome to sit-in on the sessions and contribute. Everyone was very accepting and patient with us undergrads, explaining things in more detail when needed and encouraging us to participate in the sessions and share our opinions and experience. I even joined a task group at one session, meaning I’ll be working with a team to help draft language for some new standards. I’m really excited for that opportunity.

If you have an interest in the industry and hope to someday work as a roller coaster engineer or similar, I strongly encourage you to look into attending an ASTM conference. I had a fantastic experience this year and I’m super grateful I had the chance to go. It was a great opportunity to network and learn, plus the 90-something-degrees in Arizona felt much better than the colder temperatures here in the Midwest.

I’ve only been back for half-a-week but I’m already looking forward to the next conference. It’ll be in New Orleans in February and I plan to take off from school to attend, so if you see me there be sure to say hi!


Bents! Bents! Bents!

By , October 3, 2016
Tyler Mullins

If you’ve ever watched the show “How I Met Your Mother”, you may remember an episode in season 6 where Robin gets a new co-anchor named Becky. Becky was super exuberant and bubbly (much to Robin’s dismay) and is best remembered for a commercial she starred in, exclaiming “Boats! Boats! Boats!”. The past couple weeks have made me think of this scene, only instead I’m imagining someone shouting “Bents! Bents! Bents!”

For anyone unfamiliar with the term, a bent is a frame designed to support something like a bridge, a roof, or, in the case of Great Coasters, a roller coaster. Bents consist of two vertical posts, horizontal chords and diagonal pieces connecting these posts, and sometimes diagonal batters that span out to the sides. The roller coaster track sits on top of this structure, running perpendicular to the bent.

Here is a quick photo of a generic bent to help you visualize what I’m talking about:

http://greatcoastersinterns.com/wp-content/gallery/intern-photos/385.jpg

A wooden roller coaster is supported by hundreds of these bents, each custom designed and built to accommodate for the terrain, forces, and other factors at that point in the ride. And while the majority of Great Coasters’ projects use wooden bents, Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s InvadR is the company’s second ride to instead have steel ones.

So why are bents at the forefront of my mind? So much so that I’d make a blog post titled “Bents! Bents! Bents!”? Well, the majority of my time since I last wrote a blog post has been devoted to InvadR and its bents. All 330-something of them.

I started by reviewing drawings of bents that the design engineers created, checking to make sure all the dimensions and information were accurate. I then had the chance to create some drawings myself, learning some new things in the process. For example, Great Coasters uses standardized parts whenever possible to save on cost and time. And for customized parts, very specific drawings have to be made so that they can be fabricated correctly.

I’ve also now had the opportunity to begin making the bents myself, starting with simple AutoCAD sketches and ending with accurate, detailed 3D models. That’s been really cool to learn, albeit challenging at times.

My past few weeks may have been absorbed by bents, but we’re now in the homestretch of modeling and making drawings of them for InvadR. It won’t be long until all the pieces have been fabricated at Great Coasters’ office in Pennsylvania and then sent to Williamsburg and assembled on-site. I can’t wait to watch the ride begin to grow, nor can I wait to see what I’ll learn or do next as a Great Coasters intern. I’ll make sure to share whatever it is with you though!


First Few Weeks in Florence

By , September 9, 2016
Tyler Mullins

Hello! My name is Tyler and I’m one of the newest interns for Great Coasters International, Inc.. I started here in the Florence office about three weeks ago but it’s already been a roller coaster of learning experiences and assignments. I’ll jump into some of those in a moment, but I’ll start with better introducing myself.

I’m a civil engineering student at Ohio State University and will graduate next December. I’ve had a passion for roller coasters and theme parks for as long as I can remember – as a kid I used to spend endless hours dreaming up and drawing my own rides, building parks in Roller Coaster Tycoon, and visiting the nearby Kings Island amusement park. As a freshman in college I joined the Theme Park Engineering Group (TPEG), a student organization devoted to learning about and networking within the theme park industry. Through the group I’ve been able to work at transforming my passion into a future career, including attending FREDx over the summer and beginning my internship here at GCI.

In terms of what I’ve done in the office so far, I’ve been busy with different assignments for Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s “InvadR” and Kings Island’s “Mystic Timbers”, two exciting GCI roller coasters opening next year. The latter has been incredibly surreal – not only did I frequently visit Kings Island from a young age, but I also spent parts of seven summers working there. Working on a new roller coaster for Kings Island has been a longtime dream come true, helping the ride transition from concept to reality.

For Busch Gardens’ ride I’ve been checking bent drawings, marking-up layouts of the ride, and learning a lot about the different ways a steel structure differs from a wooden one. I’ve completed similar assignments for Kings Island’s, including work on foundations and brake locations. Both projects have required an extensive use of AutoCAD and Inventor, two pieces of design software. I worked with AutoCAD a little bit last semester, but this was my first time even touching Inventor. In only a few weeks I feel as though I’ve grasped a much better understanding of how both programs work, but I know there is a lot left to learn. Every day I’m discovering something new about AutoCAD or Inventor, like how to do tasks more efficiently or the proper way of displaying information on drawings.

To wrap up, these first few weeks have been amazing and I’ve already learned so much. Things have also been super busy though – alongside the two new coasters in the United States, there are two more that will be opening in China. This is more rides in a single year than GCI has ever done before, so there’s no shortage of work to be completed. I’m sure I’ll be preoccupied with a lot of that, but I’m super excited for it and to share more about my experience soon!


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