Theme parks are a fantastic American tradition. What’s more fun than strapping yourself to a metal seat that will hurtle you upside down at 80 mph? Harking back to the days of traveling carnival barkers and the roadside attractions (world’s largest frying pan!) of early U.S. highway culture, theme parks are a unique and colorful manifestation of America’s homegrown hustler ethic.
Modern theme parks have come a long way since the early days of rickety minecart rides, with larger rides, tighter turns, wilder spins, and bigger fun. But with the increased speed, torque, and height comes an increase in potential customer harm. Which is, of course, all part of the fun—we ride these rides for the thrill and the scare—but customers expect to come home safe every time.
In order to ensure that customers can enjoy the illusion of danger without coming to any actual harm, theme park operators must frequently perform rigorous inspections of their equipment. Any maintenance issues must be corrected before the ride can be used. Among the most important aspects of ride safety is applying the appropriate amount of torque to each of the fasteners holding the rides together. To do so, theme parks must invest in high-quality, accurate torque tools.
How Torque Tools Impact Theme Park Safety
Fasteners are pervasive throughout theme park rides, from roller coasters to hydraulic drops to whirling rides like teacups or the Turkish Twist. All passenger cars rely on nuts and bolts to maintain structural integrity. Since theme park frames and cars are, by design, subjected to intense, repetitive stresses over days, weeks, and months, fasteners which are incorrectly torqued are likely to fail. And the failure of even a single fastener can create unsafe conditions for customers.
While the federal government provides no specific regulatory oversight over the theme park industry, theme parks are nevertheless motivated to prevent accidents. First, simply out of human decency, theme parks are obligated to do everything they can to prevent harm to their customers. In addition, most states (with the exception of Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah) do regulate the theme park industry, providing guidelines for maintenance, safety, and consequences for infractions. In every state, insurance is required for theme parks, and theme parks are correspondingly beholden to the safety requirements of insurance companies. As such, proper torque control is a critical component of theme park safety.
Torque is radial force. Applied to fasteners, torque is what turns the screw, nut or bolt. Turning a fastener compresses its threads against the planes of the substrate material. This increases friction, holding the fastener in place. Too much torque and the compression generated can overstress the substrate or the fastener itself. This causes it to warp or deform, losing friction and increasing the likelihood of shearing, tension, or twisting failure. Too little torque and the friction can be insufficient to hold the fastener in place. As the fastener is subjected to stresses over days, weeks, and months, it can work loose and fall out or fail.
Torque Tools for Theme Parks
Given the repercussions for fastener failure in theme parks, it’s necessary for theme park management to identify the correct torque values for each nut, bolt, and screw in their park. They must ensure each fastener is torqued correctly at installation and thereafter at frequent intervals. To apply the right amount of torque to fasteners, tools which can deliver a precise amount of torque are required.
Theme park engineers will determine the appropriate torque values for the fasteners used in the designs. Management can obtain torque specifications from the engineers and communicate them to operations and maintenance staff. To test fastener torque in the park and apply torque on-site, staff will require diagnostic tools and torque wrenches.
To test fastener torque, park workers can use dial torque wrenches. Intended for auditing and diagnostics, these wrenches will inform workers of current torque values. The high torque range of some structural theme park fasteners may require wrenches that can measure up to hundreds, or even thousands, of foot-pounds.
Once workers have diagnosed torque, if they find a fastener to be out of its proper range, they will need to apply torque to make up the difference. Given the necessity of mobility, it’s more feasible for workers to carry and use hand tools rather than electric or pneumatic tools. Cam-over wrenches slip when torque is reached, making them ideal for total control over applied torque.
For fasteners which require higher amounts of torque than cam-over wrenches can provide, workers can turn to click wrenches. Click wrenches can apply thousands of foot-pounds of torque. However, they do not physically prevent their operator from over-torquing their fastener. This means operators must be trained to stop applying torque as soon as the wrench clicks.
Theme parks are thrilling for their customers because of the pretense of danger. But it takes a careful eye to keep them from crossing the line into a place of actual risk. With proper training and the appropriate torque tools, theme parks can be secure in the knowledge that their rides will be safe and fun for everyone.