Coasters-101: What software do roller coaster engineers use?
Modern roller coasters are designed using the latest in computer technology. What used to be done with paper, pencil, and drawing boards is nowadays done on a computer. The universal tool for the engineer is Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. Changes and iterations are made on a computer in seconds. Programs such as AutoCAD are used to draft, adjust, and detail designs in accordance with ride standards. 3D CAD software, such as CATIA, SolidWorks, or AutoDesk Inventor, allow designers to have every step in the roller coaster design process contained within one computer program, including:
- 3D modeling
- 2D manufacturing drawings
- Kinematic simulations
- Finite element stress analysis (FEA)
- Seismic analysis of fixed or isolated structures
- High-resolution image renderings for marketing and sales purposes
Utilizing CAD software is an enormous improvement over methods that were employed even thirty years ago. The time required to create a roller coaster from scratch would be quite lengthy without using a computer because of the enormous number of calculations required. Changes and iterations can be made very rapidly using the computer. Multiple track variations for a ride may be presented to the customer to choose their favorite layout. Computers can give detailed information about every point on the ride. Banked turns are formed with smooth-curve algorithms while transitions from straight to curved track are performed with splines – a process that is made easy when the computer handles the calculations.
What software do roller coaster engineers use?
Roller coaster designers use a combination of commercial software and in-house programs. The commercial software is the same platforms used at any other non-coaster engineering firms. Engineers don’t need to know how to use every single CAD system. Chances are, if you can learn how to use one of them the others should be pretty easy to pick up if needed. The list below includes commonly used software in the amusement industry. Aspiring coaster designers should become familiar with at least one system in each category.
Do real roller coaster designers use NoLimits?
Yes, real roller coaster designers do use NoLimits Coaster Simulator, not for engineering purposes necessarily, but to quickly and easily create realistic ride proposals to send to potential customers for bidding on a project. It’s pretty amazing the professional version only costs a one-time fee of $90. It may sound like a lot to an individual, but roller coaster design firms would gladly pay a $2,000+ per year licensing fee to use this amazing tool.
In-House and Automation Tools
Imagine how long it would take to model every single piece of lumber on a wood coaster. For this reason designers have produced their own in-house programs to auto-draw many of the components needed to virtually assemble the ride, such as all the wooden bents and standard bolts. These programs may be separate pieces of software or code written as macros in existing software packages. If you want to get a step ahead as a roller coaster designer, you could learn how to program macros within whatever modeling software of your choice. Using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), or any other programming language, allows you to write macros to automate repetitive process and increase your design efficiency. It’s definitely not a required skill but it could be very advantageous to your professional career no matter what field you end up in.
Listed below are links to different programs (some free) that are used in roller coaster design and engineering.
- 3DS Max: http://www.autodesk.com/products/3ds-max/overview
- AutoCAD: http://www.autodesk.com/education/free-software/autocad
- AutoDesk: http://www.autodesk.com/
- CATIA V5: http://www.3ds.com
- DraftSight: http://www.3ds.com/products-services/draftsight/download-draftsight/
- EnginSoft: http://www.enginsoft.com/technologies/civil-engineering/structural-roller-coasters.html
- SolidWorks: http://www.solidworks.com/
- Solid Edge: http://www.plm.automation.siemens.com/en_us/products/velocity/solidedge/
- Maple: http://www.maplesoft.com/products/maple/
- NoLimits Coaster Simulator: http://www.nolimitscoaster.com/
- Rhino3D: http://www.rhino3d.com/
- RISA 3D: http://www.risatech.com/p_risa3d.html