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Going big, with Tekla

Trimble® SX10 in foreground pointed at The Big One roller coaster in the distance

Appointed by Blackpool Pleasure Beach to help renovate and refurbish its infamous The Big One roller coaster, Taziker Industrial knew that digital technology would have a significant part to play in the delivery of the project. As such, it turned to Trimble for support.

First opening in 1994, The Big One is perhaps one of Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s most famed rides and, with a height of 235 feet, it also continues to hold the record for being the tallest rollercoaster in the UK. However, having celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2019, Blackpool Pleasure Beach appointed Taziker Engineering Services to design, fabricate and install four new steel sections of track, measuring 45 metres long in total, as part of the theme park’s annual maintenance scheme.

Sunny view of roller coasters at Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Talking about the project, Jarrod Hulme, Managing Director at Taziker Engineering Services said: It was a real honour and a privilege for us at Taziker to be awarded this contract, especially since this was one of the company’s first real forays into the structural steel engineering industry.

I think this project serves to really highlight the benefits of this new digital age that we within the construction and engineering industries find ourselves in. Through new technologies and the uptake of BIM, we are able to streamline processes, ensure high levels of accuracy, reduce risk and minimise the likelihood of human error – all incredibly valuable accomplishments both off and on-site.

Prior to the rise of digital technologies, replacing a section of roller coaster track would have been both time-consuming and high-risk. It would have involved project teams having to first remove the section of track, manually take hundreds upon hundreds of measurements and then use these dimensions to create a 2D drawing, from which the new steel section would have been fabricated. Understandably, this would have been a time-consuming process, with the large potential for human error and re-work being required later on site. It would also have resulted in the theme park being forced to close for a long duration of time while the works were carried out – unthinkable in the modern day.

As well as the use of Tekla Structures, Taziker also employed the Trimble® SX10 on the project, a scanning total station, which combines surveying, imaging and high-speed 3D scanning in the one instrument.

Using the Trimble® SX10, we were able to take a 3D point-cloud survey of the whole area in question, which measured 60 metres in total and included the ground, support columns, steel connections and the sections of track. This provided us with a huge amount of data of the existing site and structure, which we knew we could trust to be highly accurate. 

Point cloud survey of a section of roller coaster track

As a result of the intelligent Trimble hardware and software, the thousands of cloud-points collected by the total scanning station were able to be located, reviewed and formed into a recognisable model of the track and surrounding site. The software was also then able to automatically ‘clean up’ the scan, taking out any unwanted points from the cloud-survey, such as those that related to trees, vehicles or people.

Thanks to the direct link between the Trimble hardware and Tekla Structures, we were able to import this data straight into the modelling design software and use it to create a 3D model of the existing and new section of track, snapping the model to the relevant cloud points. This enabled us to ensure high levels of accuracy for both the track dimensions and its geometry – critical, considering the new section of track had to follow the curvature and positioning of the preceding and following sections of track precisely. In fact, were able to fabricate the new steel to within a 2mm tolerance, which is really incredible. 

Tekla Structures model of curved roller coaster sections, each section is a different colour res, green and purple

What’s more, through the use of digital technology, Taziker were able to do far more than simply replace the old section of track with a duplicate, like-for-like version of itself, as Jed explained: Thanks to the intelligent tools within Tekla Structures, we were actually able to improve the track, offering riders a more enjoyable and smoother experience. After 25 years of operation, the steel tracks had endured a considerable amount of impacts, bumps and structural vibrations. Add to this the fact that previous, minor remedial works had resulted in short, straight sections of steel being installed – perhaps due to technology being less advanced or proficient then – and the curve was no longer as smooth as it once was. 

Through the use of the cloud-point survey and Tekla Structures, Taziker was able to simply take three points on the model and successfully smooth out the curve between these selected points, while still ensuring continuation with the existing coaster.

Installation took place on site during Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s off-peak season, where the old section of track was removed and the new section was lifted and fixed into position.

The on-site installation was a smooth and seamless process, with the track sections fitting into place perfectly - again no doubt thanks to the digital workflow employed on the project and the incredible accuracy of our 3D data and model. 

Jarrod Hulme, Managing Director at Taziker Engineering Services

Installation of roller coaster section, crane lifting section in foreground with roller coaster in distance

Indeed, in my experience, installation is an area of a construction or engineering project where the benefits of BIM can really be felt. When talking about BIM, people will often refer to clash detection but usually only in the context of clashes between structural components. However, I have found that this clash detection can be also be applied to planning a successful on-site installation, including managing the position of plant machinery, such as cranes, and ensuring that they have the necessary room to manoeuvre. This can be a particular challenge on urban developments or on crowded sites, such as here at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, where there may be numerous space constraints and restrictions. Carrying out a 3D survey of the wider site can be hugely beneficial, allowing you to incorporate the context of the whole site into your BIM model and providing you with the ‘bigger picture’. To demonstrate, on a previous Taziker project, also in Blackpool, we were even able to use Trimble’s technology to simulate crane movements and lifts, prior to getting on to site – something that would previously have been impossible to do.

Throughout my time in the construction and steel engineering sector, I have seen this 3D way of working and BIM software, such as Tekla, transform the industry. I think it’s especially valuable on time-critical projects where there is a limited window of opportunity to carry out works, whether that be here in Blackpool or on a road or rail infrastructure project. In many ways, BIM provides you with a digital rehearsal of the works, allowing for more efficient and informed planning. It also provides you with the assurance of high levels of data accuracy, something that is especially important considering it is this data that is then transferred and used throughout a project, from initial design through to fabrication and on-site assembly.

Incorporating BIM software, such as that offered by Tekla, into our workflow also helps to minimise risk. As a contractor, should a project exceed the allotted timescale or budget, whether due to design or fabrication errors or rework being required, you are liable. Through the employment of digital technology, we are able to ensure that works are carried out correctly and safely and projects are delivered on time.