To Build a Roller Coaster Train, Part 2

By , March 5, 2015
Matt Brueckmann

…continued from Part 1

The big thing I noticed while building these trains, is that CAD drawings of parts never quite exactly match with their real-life versions. Not only do you have things like tolerances that make every part different, but often you will deal with manufacturing processes that just aren’t perfect either. The quality of welds on parts are where I’ve seen the largest room for error. Fusing 2 pieces of metal together can be very challenging, especially when they have to both be aligned in specific positions or angles for a part to fit right. Think of how a bolt would fit, if it had to go through two different holes, with each hole being on a different welded piece, attached to the main body of the car. Not only do these holed pieces have to be welded to the same exact angle, but they must also sit at the correct position for the holes to be aligned just right for the bolt to go through. This is just one example where a part manufactured for GCI might actually need extra work to be ready for assembly.

I never actually realized how important all these key design subtleties were to the assembly of the train, and the engineering that goes on before and after a drawing is made, by both engineers and mechanics, to troubleshoot in different situations. Paying attention to design subtleties such as ease of machining and assembly, are certainly things I hope to take with me. A famous phrase Dan (my boss) once told me was, “Mechanics: Because Engineers need heroes too.” I believe this is true in some aspect. Communication between both the designers and the builders is very important to making a great ride, and improving on a design.

Clarification: Dan doesn’t want to take credit for that quote, since he read it on a t-shirt. He says some pretty quotable things though (as some of the past interns know), so maybe I’ll add some of the good ones to my future posts.

Lesson 3: A design on paper, no matter how good, is never quite like the design in hand.

Keep your eyes on the blog, as I’m going to have my final, “Part 3″ blog post on building trains coming up soon!

To Build a Roller Coaster Train, Part 1

By , February 19, 2015
Matt Brueckmann

Hi again everyone! Apologies for the lack of a blog post the past few weeks, things around here have really ramped up, and now I’ve got a lot to say.

Personally, I’m finally acclimating to the weather around here, since I never experienced anything lower than 40 degrees back home. It’s been fun to finally be able to appreciate the winter weather (mostly the abundant snowfall, and sometimes even the cold, when it’s not below like 10 of course).

Anyway, back to the shop. We recently doubled down our work on some of our junior/kiddie trains (Mini-llennium Flyers, as they’re called), that were just recently shipped out to be placed on an existing ride. Working on other park orders my first 2 weeks certainly helped prepare me for this, as I now know the basic location of most of the parts and hardware we have around the shop and our storage areas.

Working on trains has certainly been the highlight of my time here. Being part of creating a ride or experience to share with others, has been a life-long dream of mine (at least, as long as I can remember). I can actually trace it back to a 6th grade class presentation I made of what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I have only refined my dream from there. I hope to be able to describe some of what I saw and learned in this post, and in future posts.

To start, its interesting to note that our junior trains are a fairly new product. They were only released a bit over a year ago, and this is our second ride that will use them. It’s interesting because they use many of the same parts under the hood as the full-size Millennium Flyers, or slightly modified/scaled versions, which actually is a good thing.It’s not just so we can keep efficient stock of parts (since many parks often ask us for custom modifications), but also to keep many of the great factors of the original car, such as double or triple-redundant fail-safes, lessening thicknesses and designing holes into parts to lower overall weight, rounding/curving certain edges to relieve known points of high stress, and other fine details that were only refined further for the junior cars.

Lesson 2: Good design requires looking at the past, to improve the future

Stay tuned for more of my thoughts and experiences in building trains for GCI!

As With All Things…

By , January 23, 2015
Sean Jurado

…this too must pass.

Sadly, it’s that time. Tomorrow’s my last day here at Great Coasters, so I figured I’d toss up one last blog post. I’ll leave the trains to Matt, since he’ll get to see them through to completion.

I’ve definitely learned a lot in my time here at GCII, about the trains and the structure of course, but also about the industry and business and running a company in general. I’ve spent a lot of time asking questions, but also a lot of time quietly listening and observing, and I can point to a lot of things I’ve learned from just that; more than I really have time to discuss here, and certainly more than I can consciously remember and articulate.

As an example:

A lot goes into a quality product. – You can have the best design in the world, but unless you back that up with quality materials and parts, attention to detail, and people who care, your product will turn out pretty terrible.  I saw a lot of the attention to detail in my time here. Each part has pretty exacting specifications, both for the quality of material and the exactness of the machining, so we often have had to go over each part to ensure it’s up to snuff (especially on the larger parts like the chassis).

That’s not everything of course, but so much of what I’ve learned are subtle things that aren’t easy to put into words, so one example will suffice.

I’d like to take this final opportunity to thank everyone at GCII for a fantastic internship. I’d specifically like to thank Dan for putting up with my (at times) incessant questions, everybody who was involved with FREDx for running and setting up that, and Clair as the head honcho for letting me intern here. This has been an amazing experience, and I ‘ll definitely miss my time at GCII. I do hope to see everyone here again (I’m planning on going to IAAPA next fall, but that’s not what I’m talking about).

Thanks again to everyone, I wouldn’t trade this internship for the world


Week 2: Finding my Bearings in the Shop

By , January 23, 2015
Matt Brueckmann

Apologies for the punny title, though, I did take a look at some of the hitches we use to attach each coaster car together (which have bearings in them).

Anyway, let’s talk about one of the unique things about GCI, the shop! I’m working in the Sunbury, PA office, the headquarters of GCI, where our shop and materials are located. Since we design and build our own coaster cars (the Millennium Flyer and Mini-llennium Flyer), our company is unique in that we have this shop space for the main purpose of building and assembling our own trains in-house, which is really neat. At our Sunbury location as a whole, we have anything from multiple types of lumber, track steel, seat side cushions, wheels, multiple versions of car chassis, lapbar cans (the base of the system that locks your lapbar into place), hardware (nuts, bolts, etc), and much more all within several storage areas. Since this was my first 2 weeks here, I would say a lot of my time was spent observing, asking questions, learning where everything is, and then from there attempting to do as much work as I could. Luckily, Fall intern Sean was here for the last 2 weeks, which certainly helped speed up some of the learning curve for things, along with getting some major work done, even on my first day.

The one thing that I think I’ve learned quickly while being here, is that there’s so much more that goes on at a roller coaster manufacturer than just working on whatever the latest project is. There’s so much more that goes on often behind the scenes. Just in my 2 weeks here, I have done anything from assembling cars, to compiling/shipping part orders for certain parks, to sending out parts to our local machining partners, to collecting incoming part shipments.

In addition to the work going on in the shop filling orders and assembling trains, there’s also the work going on in our Engineering Office, which often interfaces with the shop as you can imagine. They handle the design work, and I know for our trains, there are always improvements being made to the finest detail to improve the rider experience, safety, and maintenance work. The Millennium Flyer itself has had numerous changes since it was first made, many of which can be seen on the outside. Even beyond that, there are improvements being made day by day for our cars that I’ve even gotten to experience myself, many that happen under the hood. An example of this is a part that we tweaked a tolerance on to the 1,000th of an inch, just so that several other parts could fit together better and allow for easier future maintenance. That attention to detail with these cars amazed me, and made me realize that there is so much more to building a roller coaster than I ever realized.

Lesson 1: The work that happens before opening date, is just as important as what happens after.

Week 1: Life is a Rollercoaster

By , January 13, 2015
Matt Brueckmann

My life’s been a rollercoaster the past 6 months (pun possibly intended). From first being invited to FREDx in August (“Future Ride Engineers and Designers”, GCI’s annual event where they invite students interested in working for them and the industry in general), to being picked to be a Show Ambassador for IAAPA 2014 in November, to now being chosen as the intern for Great Coasters for this semester, I am completely and joyfully overwhelmed with all the things that have happened to me in this seemingly short period of time. I’m overwhelmed in the sense that, I’m still trying to process everything that’s happened, and have begun to realize that my dreams are actually coming to fruition. It all started with a consistent, pursued passion.

Hi, my name is Matt Brueckmann, and I am GCI’s intern for the Spring of 2015. I couldn’t be more excited to work for such an awesome and dedicated group of fellow theme park enthusiasts and engineers. I’m also grateful to be talking to you, and will hopefully give you a perspective on what it’s like to work for a roller coaster manufacturer, along with how I got to where I am and my advice to those of you interested in working in the amusement industry. Along with that, if you have any questions for me, or want to know more about any of the things I talk about, feel free to comment or use the contact form, I’m totally happy to talk to you all and will get back to you the best I can!

First, let me start with a little bit more about my background. I was born and raised in California (“Yes, like, gnarly dude”), and have also lived in Henderson, NV (a suburb of Las Vegas) and now the San Francisco Bay Area for school. I’m a Senior studying Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley, and have loved this industry since my first visits as a kid to local parks near me like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. I was always curious to know how all of these attractions worked, and eventually found out that real people actually do have the fun job of designing these crazy contraptions. Eventually, I was directed by several people and places (including this blog) to do engineering, so I did, and while it’s been a real challenge, the reward is so worth it, if this is the field you ultimately find best suits you of course. The way I got to knowing about GCI, was actually by finding a list online of all existing roller coaster companies. I just began emailing each one about once every year or two since the beginning of college with a little bit about myself, my interests, and my resume. Then one day, I got an email inviting me to FREDx, which really was my big push of inspiration to keep pursuing this industry as much as I could, and essentially kickstarted my exciting, twisting, turning journey through this wonderful industry

I hope you all enjoy this, and once again, if there’s anything you want to know more about, or want to hear more about on the blog, feel free to let me know. I’m ultimately here to help you, so don’t be afraid to AMA (As Me Anything)!

See you next week, where I’ll be talking more about work in the shop!


The End?

By , December 29, 2014
Sean Jurado

Well my internship was supposed to end last Tuesday… Surprise! I’m still here. My spring semester starts late, and things are really picking up around here, so I got an extension til mid-January. No complaints here.

Anyways, on to important things. Our chassis started coming in a few weeks ago, and Dan and I have been busy tackling them. We’ve got 12 cars with about half of the underside built up, and the rest coming today. It’s been really cool actually building the cars, because I’m getting to see what all the parts I’ve been gathering, building, and shipping out actually do, and where they go.

It’s also nice from and engineering side of things, because I’m asking Dan questions (practically every other part) about why things are shaped the way they are, what each flange or section is for, why so much seemingly extra material, stuff like that. The most common answers are strength, and fail-safes. In the unlikely event that a wheel is lost, that protrusion from the chassis will catch the track, or, to make the car extra stable, this section was beefed up to be extra strong. Obviously, I haven’t seen the math that goes into designing these things, but my intuition from looking at them and asking questions is that they’re plenty strong, and thus safe. When talking about how safe coasters are, I’ve heard it said that you’re more likely to get in an accident on the drive to the park, than on any of the rides in the park. Looking at everything here, I believe it with no hesitation.

That about wraps it up for now, we’ve got a lot of train building to get to, but I’ll be back here at least once more before I leave.

Oh, and we’ll have another intern up here starting next week, so look forward to him posting stuff soon after

Back to work!

Halfway Point: Reflections and Lessons Learned

By , October 31, 2014
Sean Jurado

Wow, I’m already halfway through this internship. When did that happen?

The last several weeks have been filled up with getting the IAPPA trade show cars ready (no pics til after the show, that would be spoilers, and who likes those anyways?), filling orders, and general maintenance of the shop. We’ve started getting in parts for an upcoming job. Stay tuned through our official news channels for more on that.

Bit of  a change in pace today as far as what I’m going to talk about here. A few weeks ago, we received some old parts from one of our parks. The plan was to get them refurbished, but first we had to see if they were any good, or if they were just too worn out to be salvaged. So I got to go at them with a set of calipers and check the wear of some of the holes. It was an easy enough task, but what was cool about it was getting a hands on look and feel for what wear and tear of components looks like. It’s definitely something different to see the actual effects of several years of use. It’s amazing how little room there is for error on these trains. We’re talking about gaps on the order of 10^(-3) in. causing a part to be unacceptable. That’s really small. For the uninitiated, we’re talking about a few sheets of paper in thickness. To me, that scale seems even more tiny, as I’m studying structural engineering, so I’m used to dealing with distances on the order of 10s of feet down to 0.1s of feet. The idea of measuring down to even the inch is often unnecessary. That’s really precise. I guess that’s why they’re so safe.

Speaking of safety, I’ve been looking at and learning about all the safety features we have on these trains. We’re talking about backups for the backups. Take the upstop wheel for instance. This wheel rides underneath the track and stops the car from coming off the track when it crests a hill. Now, if you design the ride just right, gravity will be enough to keep the car on the tracks without the aid of such wheels (if you ever hear people talking about pulling G’s, positive or negative, this kind of thing is what they’re talking about). Doesn’t matter, we have upstop wheels on all of our rides, but there’s a backup for that backup. The are 4 layers of redundancy for keeping the train where it belongs and its passengers safe.

I’m not going to lie, that idea, the multiple redundancy, fascinates me. I love getting to see or figure out how something works; that’s a large part of why I am going to be an engineer. I’m really enjoying my time here, but I do look forward to the day that I can work in an engineering office (I’d love for that to be here at GCII of course). Still, even though I’m doing more shop work and not really looking at the engineering side, it’s still worth it to be here and working on roller coasters at all.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with Jake a few weeks ago. He was telling me about some of the rides he’s worked on and some of his experiences he’s had in this industry. Jake’s one of our field supervisors, so his job is to manage and run a project. On site, he’s at the top of the food chain. He was saying that even though it’s difficult, exhausting work, far from home and family, and all the other trials and difficulties that come with it (it is a large construction project after all), that in the end it’s all made worth it by that first ride of a brand new coaster. Getting to be on that inaugural train is a special treat, and there’s no other way to get it. Couple that with the immense pride and satisfaction in a job well done, and you’ve got an amazing feeling that rivals the thrill of the ride itself (I’m paraphrasing of course, but I think the message remains intact). That really resonated with me, because I’ve felt some similar things from my side as a newbie (or, a few months ago, as a hopeful outsider). I’ve felt and known that it’d be worth working longer hours, or moving somewhere unexpected if necessary to get into and stay in this industry

So, what’s next? No idea, but I’m looking forward to it.

Weeks III + IV

By , October 6, 2014
Sean Jurado

Not as much shop time these past two weeks. I’ve spent a bit of time on the road, picking stuff up from some of our suppliers. We got in some new shelves that I got to assemble. Also had to organize and catalog some of the stuff that goes on there, more so when Dan got back.

End of the week was a little bit more interesting. I got to go through a bunch of drawings and count out the needed train hardware, which isn’t that exciting admittedly, but it did mean that I got to flip through technical drawings for a few hours, which was kinda neat.

Next week we’ll be putting the finishing touches on the car for the IAPPA Trade Show in November.

Week II

By , September 22, 2014
Sean Jurado

Monday afternoon Dan and I headed out to one of our machining partners to drop off some stuff. Tuesday afternoon is spent on even more upstops, before running out of parts to finish any more. Wednesday Dan’s on vacation, so I’m under Brian’s jurisdiction ’til he gets back. We spend the morning stuffing brochures for the trade show next week. That afternoon, Clair gave me the project of updating our web-conferencing software, which takes until Friday at lunch to complete. Interspersed around that task I help Brian get some orders ready (while waiting for people to call me back and such). Friday afternoon I touch up the web conferencing stuff a little, round out another order, before heading back to the upstops, just without the missing parts

Week II Totals:

Upstops: 62

Orders: 3ish

Video Conference Clients installed/updated: 1

Computers Resurrected: 1

Week I

By , September 22, 2014
Sean Jurado

We started with lapbar gear hub assemblies on Monday and moved into upstop wheels after lunch. Tuesday brings more upstop wheels and some guide wheels. Finish the guide wheels on Wednesday and move back to upstops. Friday means back in the shop for, you guessed it, more upstop wheels. Also I go to use the forklift, so that was fun.

Week I Totals:

Gear Hubs: ~20 Left and ~20 Right

Upstops: 58

Guide Wheels: 30

(If you don’t know what any of these parts are, don’t worry, it’s not that important If such understanding is ever crucial to the point I’m making, I’ll provide the necessary background)

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