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The Structural Design of Roller Coasters

An integrated CAD-CAE procedure

<h5>The Structural Design of Roller Coasters</h5>
The Structural Design of Roller Coasters


There is no amusement park ride that produces the ultimate adrenalin rush in all of its passengers better than a roller coaster ride does.

Modern roller coaster designs require both creativity and rigid adherence to regulations that ensure high quality standards, which guarantee the safety of the roller coaster ride even when equipment may malfunction.

Whilst ensuring that safety comes first in all designs, engineers need to also keep in mind that structural details and construction related issues have a significant influence on the final cost-benefit analysis for the roller coaster manufacturer.

The development of a new roller coaster track is affected by a number of factors such as:

  • location of the structure
  • availability of space
  • type of roller coaster
  • interference/interaction with other facilities and attractions which is of particular importance in countries where roller coasters are installed in small playgrounds or malls

Engineers will normally need to evaluate a number of different designs, only one of which will result in the final construction configuration. This is why numerical simulation plays an indispensible role in roller coaster design.

With over 20 years of experience in the design and structural verification of roller coasters, at EnginSoft we work closely with our customers to help them improve their design and verification procedures. As an example we have jointly developed an integrated CAD-CAE procedure, which allows engineers to efficiently create a virtual roller coaster prototype, for one of our long time customers Ride Tek Engineering. With this tailor-made procedure the customer is able to generate prototypes of tracks within an integrated 3D CAD-CAE environment, providing immediate assessment of its consequences on cars or users in terms of longitudinal, transverse and normal accelerations. For example, the procedure allows them to adjust the banking angle to mitigate effects on passengers or to improve constructability related to industrial calendering operations.

The complexity of a Finite Element Analysis (FEA) model used for analysis and verification of a roller coaster design can vary. In many cases the use of beam and shell models are generally sufficient to investigate stress and strain in structures and components. In cases where a deeper detail analysis is required Finite Element Brick models can be also developed. Design code checks are performed according to recognized international standards (e.g. DIN 4112, EN13814 and related codes) and must guarantee sufficiently high safety levels for end users, with particular reference to structural details that minimize the occurrence of fatigue cracks.

Software tools for roller coaster analysis and design must include the following features:

  • finite Element Beam, Shell and Brick Analysis in linear and non linear regimes
  • non linear Analysis capability: geometry non linearity, material non linearity, contact and construction stage analysis
  • ultimate load carrying capabilities, accounting for plasticity effects
  • linear and non linear buckling analysis of slender structures
  • seismic analysis of fixed or isolated structures
  • detailed Finite Element Analysis for local stress and fatigue investigation of systems and components
  • interaction with programming languages or set of APIs to efficiently address repetitive or design tasks such as fatigue checks and result extraction


A well designed roller coaster numerical model should provide:

  • an easy way to modify the track interactively based on space constrains, the maximum speed and other important parameters
  • instant designs starting with the model design up to the finite element analysis of the track with all load conditions applied. Self weight conditions need to be accounted for together with all dynamic interface forces between each car and the track
  • a structural analysis and verification in short order, by running a series of predefined procedures

The use of such a model can substantially reduce the time to market for roller coasters, because far fewer physical prototype models need to be built.

Within the context of this type of integrated design, EnginSoft is your ideal partner for the development of tailor-made applications and procedures. Our consultancy spans the analysis of the structural response for the entire structure, as well as the cars, to the definition of fatigue checks of structural details performed in accordance with stringent and field-specific regulations.

A Finite Element Analysis (FEA) mode

"For the past 15 years we have relied on the expertise of EnginSoft. EnginSoft helps us with decision making during the design phase of highly sensitive projects such as Roller Coasters, providing us with a real understanding of ride behaviour, in particular regarding the structural response point of view, resulting in reduced design time and reduced overall costs without compromising safety."

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