Use of hoists in amusement park rides

Donati Sollevamenti S.r.l. manufactures hoists for amusement parks rides that require lifting operations.

Hoists, cranes and winches play a fundamental role in the construction and maintenance of theme parks, a tourism sector that  has more than 250 medium to large sized sites in Italy and records a turnover of 376 million euros, 800 million euros if we include related business.

The older amusement parks have had to move with the times to attract a public that is increasingly demanding in terms of fun and thrills. Traditional rides like roller coasters have evolved, reaching heights of 140 metres and lengths of more than 2 kilometres. Equestrian rides and dodgems have been joined by rides that offer adrenaline-pumping experiences such as drop towers, top spins and pendulum rides.

But it would be wrong to think that hoists are used in amusement parks only during their construction, for periodic maintenance and when they are dismantled. In fact, hoists and other lifting devices are essential also in the day-to-day functioning of the rides.

The use of hoists in roller coasters

Roller coasters function by exploiting the transformation of potential energy into kinetic energy. Potential energy is the result of the following formula:

m * g * h

Where “m” is the mass of a body, “h” is its height and “g” is the acceleration of gravity, a constant equal to 9.81 m/s2. The greater the height of a body above ground level, the higher the potential energy that accumulates and transforms into kinetic energy as soon as it begins to lose height. This is why a roller coaster ride begins with a ramp that can be between two and a maximum of five metres long in the case of a Brucomela ride for young children up to a record height of between 90 and 140 metres in the case of giga roller coasters. When they reach the top of the ramp, the cars nosedive, gaining sufficient energy to continue the ride to the arrival point.

The chain lift is the oldest and most common means used to transport roller coaster cars to the top of the ramp. It is based on a hoist that continuously moves a rope or a chain under the ramp. When the passengers are ready, the chain or rope hooks up the cars using a connection link, lifts them and releases them at the top of the ramp.

The hoist used in this manoeuvre must comply with two fundamental requirements:

  • Ensure a high hourly rate. Even although the experience of the climb up the ramp may seem never-ending for the passengers, it actually doesn’t usually last more than one minute. To maximise the use of the ride, the end of one ride must coincide with the start of another one. In one day, a hoist can therefore perform up to 800 lifting operations.
  • High safety coefficient. Safety regulations in the amusement park sector are probably the strictest of all regulations. The theoretical load limit of an element can be five or even ten times greater than the one that would be encountered in reality.

Other amusement park rides that require the use of hoists

Besides roller coasters, other amusement park rides need hoists for their day-to-day functioning:

  • Water rides, the aquatic version of roller coasters, aimed at a more sedate public with small children. Instead of the cars on tracks or monorails, the passengers travel in canoes, rafts or other types of watercraft in canals and lakes. However, the force of gravity remains the underlying principle. The vessel is lifted by a hoist to the top of a hill from which it drops, converting potential energy into kinetic energy;
  • Drop towers consisting of a vertical pillar up to 70 metres high around which a platform with seats for passengers to sit on moves. The sensations experienced in this type of ride include the absence of weight and a sudden and powerful gravitational acceleration. In this case, the hoists perform a dual function, first lifting the platform and then accompanying its release, braking in the final metres of the fall;
  • Parachute towers that simulate the feeling of jumping out of an aeroplane. The passengers sit on a platform under a structure that resembles a parachute. The “parachute” is hooked to the cables of the hoist that lifts it up to the top of the tower, then accompanies it through the “fall” that can take place at different speeds depending on the intensity of the experience;
  • Panorama towers that offer the same view from the top as a ferris wheel. Unlike the ferris wheel, the passengers are not lifted up in individual cabins but on a circular platform lifted by a hoist along a central pylon. The platforms can rotate around their axis, reach heights of up to 155 metres and have a capacity of more than 100 people distributed over two levels.