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VisualNastran Software Helps Arrow Dynamics Explore the Outer Limits of Roller Coaster Design
On any given day, the engineers at Arrow Dynamics face an enviable, if unusual, engineering problem: how to build a roller coaster that leaves riders safe, comfortable, and scared out of their wits? The answer isn’t as simple as adding a loop here and a twist there. So today, Arrow is packing more excitement and spectacle than ever into safer coasters using advanced engineering technology including design and analysis software like Working Model and visualNastran from MSC Working Knowledge.
From legendary wooden coasters that rattle boardwalks from Coney Island to Santa Cruz to the lightning-fast steel monsters that rise above contemporary theme parks, roller coasters are a familiar part of the American entertainment landscape. The appeal of roller coasters is so great that coaster manufacturers were among the only industries to stay profitable during the Great Depression. For many, they are the closest things to the excitement of a drive at Indy, a backseat ride in an F-18, or a free fall from 10,000 feet.
Arrow Dynamics has been delivering these sensations to park patrons for four decades. The Utah coaster pioneer engineered the first loop, the first corkscrew, and legendary rides including Six Flag’s Magic Mountain’s Viper and Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean.
But Arrow can’t rest on their laurels. Success means keeping the thrills fresh.
"We’re always trying to top the next guy always working for an edge," says Ryan Hyde, a design engineer at Arrow Dynamics. "It reminds me of my old days as a Boy Scout building Pinewood Derby cars. You want to be as fast and wild as possible."
Outrageous coasters may sell tickets, but the innovative engineering that pushes coasters higher and faster isn’t cheap. For Arrow to stay profitable and satisfy the wildest visions of their clients, design and engineering must be fast, precise, and creative.
One of Arrow’s most invaluable tools for reaching those goals is a design and engineering software solution featuring visualNastran software. "I work with visualNastran almost every day," says Hyde. "It’s a very practical and easy-to-use tool for design simulation at just about any stage of design."
Ups and Downs of Creative Design
While roller coaster design is guided by basic principles of safety, physics and performance parameters, it can also be very improvisational. Arrow clients may have an idea about how many loops, corkscrews, or drops they want and a pre-defined amount of room for a coaster, but they count on Arrow’s experience to deliver a unique interpretation of those requirements.
"On projects like ours, designs change everyday," explains Hyde. "We’ll try many different approaches to satisfying what the client wants and achieve something new. But that means we have to work fast and accurately and our tools can’t let us down."
Finite element analysis and simulation have always been critical to the speed and accuracy of Arrow’s work. But previous to adapting visualNastran to their solution, the process could be cumbersome. "In the old days if I needed analysis on a part, I’d draft a layout in AutoCAD, build a line-by-line mesh in AutoCAD, then run an analysis in ALGOR. The results were generally effective, but the process could take days."
Since then, Hyde has reduced the analysis cycle time dramatically with MSC’s Working Knowledge products. "With visualNastran, I’m completing a mesh and analysis in ten to fifteen minutes where it used to take days. Using visualNastran Motion with SolidWorks®,
I’ve put together a set of tools that’s a lot faster and far more intuitive."
Working Model and visualNastran helps Hyde and Arrow shave days from design cycles, but not at the expense of power or accuracy. For one of the company’s current projects the customer contracted for one of the
highest, fastest coasters in the world. Additionally, the customer wanted to maximize the capacity of individual trains with additional cars, adding weight, acceleration, and flexibility considerations to the design. The scale of the project is larger than anything Arrow has done before, but neither its expertise nor tools let them down.
"Because the parameters for load are high on this coaster, I had to get very creative about making things lighter elsewhere in the cars," explains Hyde. "I had to consider alternative materials, unorthodox shapes, and things like lightening holes. VisualNastran is perfect for analysis of all those scenarios. And because I conduct those simulations, make changes and re-analyze so quickly, I consider a lot more options in reaching an optimum design."
The strain of additional loads was only one of many variables that Hyde considered in designing the new coaster. A longer train demands shorter hitches to fit in a loading station, which in turn affects flexibility and the coaster’s lateral loads in high-speed turns. For each of these design challenges visualNastran played a role whether analyzing load stress or the effects of lightening measures. "Because we were stretching on this project we could assume very little and had a lot more scenarios to consider," says Hyde. "In the past we just couldn’t have experimented as much as we are now. VisualNastran is helping us break some new ground."
Design and Engineering Become One
Working more quickly with SolidWorks, Working Model and visualNastran also gives Hyde and the Arrow engineering team time to engineer more creatively, a benefit Hyde relates to the iterative design that Working Model FEA facilitates, expecially with design optimization.
"I’ve become much more of a designer these days," declares Hyde. "Working Model FEA gives me such excellent visual feedback that I’m able to recognize very early on what will work and what won’t. When your designs are informed like that very early on you can do things more intuitively and take to time to really refine a design.
"When you’re a kid, and you’re trying to make a model airplane fly, you take a very natural and intuitive approach to figuring out what will make it work. VisualNastran has helped re-introduce that intuitiveness to our process, and we’re getting a lot more creative as a result. We have a lot of confidence in visualNastran, and that has given us the confidence to do things we’ve never done before which is what has always separated this company from the rest."
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