Roller coaster maintenance: general principles. Part 1

Roller coaster maintenance: general principles. Part 1

25 May 2019 Off By Facto Edizioni

/ by Francesco Maria Cominoli /

As mentioned in the previous article, maintenance is one of the key factors in guaranteeing attractions safety. We can’t think of anyone better suited for the purpose of shedding light on the subject through his own experience than international maintenance expert engineer Francesco Maria Cominoli. We would like to thank him for this article, in the hope that this partnership may continue on.

Francesco Maria Cominoli / International maintenance expert engineer

Part 1 /

It would be ridiculous to think that a topic as broad and diverse as roller coaster maintenance could be exhaustively and definitively dealt with in all its various facets, even more so if there was expectation that such feat could be achieved with one mere article. On the other hand, it seems quite reasonable to try and frame the issue so as to sketch a rough outline and define the general principles of monitoring. The following considerations concern a standard coaster with a steel structure and a mechanically operated lift, which is the most common setting both for fixed models (for theme parks) and traveling models. As there is an almost infinite range of roller coaster configurations, we will also touch on the type of coasters which, originally conceived as traveling rides, are nonetheless permanently installed on site.   

Definition of ‘Maintenance’ 

“Combination of all technical and administrative actions, including supervisory actions, aimed at maintaining or reporting an entity in a state in which it can perform the requested function.” Source: UNI 9910 (191.07.01)

General principles of maintenance

Maintenance can be provided in 2 basic ways (“policies”):

I. maintenance ‘initiated’ by the machine due to ‘spontaneous’ mechanical failures with all the possible implications on the service, from the most irrelevant to the most dramatic. The corresponding policy is called Corrective Maintenance. It just won’t do.

II. maintenance initiated by the operator, the ‘master’ of the attraction who actively plans and decides to prevent breakdown by virtue of periodic scheduled activities or even through one-off modifications/improvements (Improvement Maintenance). Periodic prevention policies are defined as Cyclical/Statistically-Based Maintenance (on regular basis) and Predictive /Condition-Based Maintenance. In this case, the time schedule governs the physical or instrumental controls, while the actual activities are solely programmed when monitoring results ‘indicate’ an intervention is due. As it is the most cost-effective, this is by and large the most adopted policy. Because monitoring must be carefully designed, it’s obviously not all that simple. 

These policies ‘coexist’ in a mix of distribution of resources that must be continually re-calibrated by favoring planned activities whilst, at the same time, not deluding ourselves that failures never happen. The optimal mix is the result of a Maintenance Engineering project. As stated by Gianni Chiari last month in his article “Attraction Maintenance”, it is a separate branch of engineering. The specialization course has been officially operational in Italy since 2004: the Politecnico di Milano was the first to set it up, followed by almost all the other Italian engineering faculties. 

It’s worth pointing out that an Italian ride manufacturer particularly sensitive to the subject of maintenance has also organized specific Maintenance Engineering masters within the company, and that these courses were open to its customers, collaborators and local schools.

The Maintenance project 

Maintenance technicians have at their disposal a set of data which, duly integrated, allows the contents of maintenance activities to be determined and updated. This information comes from:

  • Manufacturer manuals; 
  • Manufacturer reports relative to previous interventions; 
  • Reports from specialist testing institutions; 
  • History of planned activities;
  • History of standstills and breakdowns;
  • Experience of maintenance technicians;
  • Experience of ride operators.

Starting from this information it is possible to set up 2 families of programmed activities, which, incidentally, are valid and necessary for any attraction (not only for roller coasters). Precisely:

  1. daily start-up checklist, before opening to the public;
  2. Scheduled Maintenance Plans (SMPs).

Both activities must have a precise documentary record that can be consulted over time. The same applies, of course, in the event of standstill or breakdown. Ideally, there would be a maintenance software specifically designed for the task, but even a simple well-designed Excel spreadsheet allows you to print forms which will have to be signed (start-up procedures) and to manage both the schedules of the prevention activities as well as standstill and breakdown instances, which constitute the most important database for perfecting planned activities.

Keep in mind that by ‘standstill and breakdown instances’ we mean ALL the activities that were not foreseen and were carried out on call by emergency workers, regardless of whether they led to significant events or not (such as standstills, evacuations, reduction of hourly capacity, etc.). This category indeed includes all those cases where no immediate damages were caused but have nevertheless called for unplanned interventions, potential warning signs of more impacting events.

In order to manage all the maintenance requirements properly (in the absence of anything better, even paper will do) it is essential to refer them clearly and unambiguously to the components that require them. In other words, it is necessary to break down the attraction according to a tree structure or ‘Equipment Tree’.

In the next issue we will publish, by way of example, the Equipment Tree of a fixed steel coaster with mechanical lift and multiple trains.

Read –> Part 2

Taken from Games&Parks Industry May 2019, page 80