Apollo Engineering Takes Amusement Park CAD for a Ride in the Cloud
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on March 28, 2017 |

As you reach the peak of your favorite roller coaster, peeking down at the ants below, the thought might occur to you: will this thing fall apart? By the time you’ve survived and are nursing some minor whiplash, the thought is gone and you’re already off to the next ride, high on adrenaline.

Though not limited to this market, Apollo Engineering Design Group has found itself in the niche of engineering for amusement park rides. (Image courtesy of iStock.)
Though not limited to this market, Apollo Engineering Design Group has found itself in the niche of engineering for amusement park rides. (Image courtesy of iStock.)

For Apollo Engineering Design Group, however, that question is crucial to the work it does on a daily basis. As an independent engineering contractor that’s found itself in the niche amusement park market, filling in the holes that other engineers might miss when designing a new ride might be the key to a coaster’s enjoyment and safety.

ENGINEERING.com spoke with Josh Adams, founder of Apollo, to learn what goes into the design of the next hit drop tower or coaster, and how he uses Kenesto to uniquely unite his disparate engineering team that is located across the United States.

Riding the Roller Coaster Highway

As you might imagine, the safety standards for the amusement park industry are extremely high. In fact, committees devoted to regulating the industry meet twice a year to ensure that standards are updated annually as technology develops.

Josh Adams, founder of Apollo Engineering Design Group and unwitting amusement park engineering guru. (Image courtesy of Apollo.)

Josh Adams, founder of Apollo Engineering Design Group and unwitting amusement park engineering guru. (Image courtesy of Apollo.)

Not only are your favorite coasters engineered to protect your safety, but rides are also designed to limit the need to puke. The number of left twists and turns is balanced out with an equal number of right twists and turns, ensuring that the rider can find equilibrium. Adams told us that the phrase “vomit comet” is actually a bit of a misnomer. There is nothing like a safe, healthy and happy park attendee. Ride engineering also limits downtime from sloppy rides as much as possible.

Of course, when Adams began with amusement park rides, he didn’t know any of this. As a degreed mechanical engineer, Adams worked his way engineering across various fields, from aluminum investment castings for the aerospace industry to designing bulldozers and excavators for John Deere.

It was when he began with S&S Worldwide a few years back that he fell into his niche working with some of the biggest names in the world of amusements parks, including Cedar Point or Marineland, Dollywood, Kennywood and Knotts Berry Farm.

With a dream of starting his own business, Adams finally established Apollo in 2014. Thanks to his experience in this field, 95 to 99 percent of the firm’s business is with the amusement park industry.

Designing out the Vomit

The physical forces of a ride—whether that’s a drop tower, a roller coaster, or some sort of swing system—are designed to be thrilling. For this reason, Apollo not only designs using CAD software like SOLIDWORKS and PTC Creo, but also performs numerous simulations with tools like ANSYS Workbench for finite element analysis of stress and deflection, and also analyzes for joint interaction, clearance and tolerances.

“We perform most of the stress analysis on whatever we’re given,” Adams said. “We perform vehicle stress analysis on the vehicle that actually carries the passenger where they’re going, as well as the restraint that holds them into the vehicle. All of those safety factors are governed by an ASTM code, at least in the U.S. When I’ve worked on projects in Europe or Japan or China, they all have their own codes, but they’re all very similar—very high safety factors, a lot of load factors.”

As a young, small firm with only a handful of employees, Apollo is often used as an auxiliary group that supplements a ride company’s existing engineering team. In that role, Apollo finds itself in the position of “filling in the holes” of a design, fixing or augmenting details that may have been missed by a large business that has many projects going at once.

“Sometimes we’ll be given somebody else’s engineering and we review it and give our opinion on it or point out where it’s lacking,” Adams said. “We’ve also just been given a portion of a ride and started working on it and started asking questions about how that portion interacts with its environment—whether it be structural columns that hold the ride in the air. Then we start asking what the clearance is supposed to be on this, or how does this interact with the component to which it mates. As we start to investigate that, we find places where things have been overlooked, places where we can improve or where we can reduce weight, increase strength, increase reliability.”

He added, “We’re very good at ferreting out clearance issues, being able to come up with a tool for a client, or creating designs that allow our clients to see how the ride is going to interact with its environment before they build it,”

Coasters in the Cloud

Adams’ business is a modern one, defined by two 21st century trends that mechanical engineers increasingly have to cope with: big data designs and remote work environments. All of Adams’ team members work from their own home offices and are spread out across the United States. Remote collaboration on high data designs is no straightforward task, and it’s one that traditional solutions, like Dropbox and Google Drive, can’t handle.

“I tried OneDrive from Microsoft, and I had so many issues that I stopped working with that,” Adams explained. “I had Sync.com, a Canadian-based company. I really liked it, except it didn’t have the ability to do any kind of collaboration. We were having overwrite issues over and over again because it wasn’t syncing fast enough when we were collaborating. That’s when we moved over to Kenesto and largely solved all of our problems.”

Kenesto operates seamlessly in the background, with the Kenesto Drive integrated into one’s workflow just as a local drive would be. (Image courtesy of Kenesto, created for Siemens for ST9 and by Terrell Dunn, University of Alabama.)
Kenesto operates seamlessly in the background, with the Kenesto Drive integrated into one’s workflow just as a local drive would be. (Image courtesy of Kenesto, created for Siemens for ST9 and by Terrell Dunn, University of Alabama.)

Hosted on Amazon servers, Kenesto is a cloud-based solution that aims to ensure all relevant parties access to a file from wherever they are. With a virtual Kenesto drive that operates seamlessly with one’s operating system, all team members can work on the same network. Meanwhile, file versions are constantly updating, informing other team members of their status.

For instance, an engineer on the Apollo team may access a given CAD file on their Kenesto drive. The rest of the team will see that that member is editing it, even as that engineer takes the file onto a flight without Wi-Fi. Then, when that individual regains Internet access, the file updates on the cloud with the latest version. Of course, this is done securely to ensure that no IP is lost in the process.

Adams explained that the solution was particularly ideal for Apollo as a small business. Saying that Kenesto was a fraction of the cost of other solutions, it was not only affordable, but also easy to implement. “I hired an engineer who started [this past] Monday and, out of all the questions I’ve had from him, there have been no Kenesto questions,” Adams said.

While he and his team work on the same shared Kenesto network, managing files regularly, Kenesto also has viewers that make it possible to share files with clients, without the need to open a CAD program. That being said, the tool is also compliant with a number of CAD platforms, including those from SOLIDWORKS, PTC, Mathcad and more.

Apollo’s Next Big Drop

Although new, Apollo has worked with some substantial clients, specifically in Utah and Texas. Due to confidentiality reasons, Adams wasn’t able to identify names, but he assured us that, if we’re planning on hitting up an amusement park in the next two to three years, we’re likely to see his firm’s work on rides that will be pretty famous.

Apollo also has its sights set on the booming Chinese amusement park market, currently the hotspot for engineered thrills. When Apollo’s work is made public, you can rest assured that the public will be safe. Not only do firms like Apollo perform tons of analysis on their work, but many states and countries rely on third parties to review ride safety and, once a ride is built, plenty of testing is performed to ensure that no one gets hurt and that everyone has a good time.

Now, you can put your mind at ease as you reach the peak of your next roller coaster ride. If you’re like us at ENGINEERING.com, you may already be having dreams of becoming a test pilot. To try Kenesto free for 60 days, click here.

 

Kenesto has sponsored this article. It has provided no editorial input other than verification of the technical facts. All opinions are mine. —Michael Molitch-Hou


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