Vekoma makes experience tangible

Each year millions of people visit one of the amusement parks found throughout the world. These parks are a place where adults feel like young kids and where children push their boundaries. For an unforgettable day with the entire family or to stimulate the senses with G-forces. Whatever the ultimate ride may have been, there is a good chance it happened in the Netherlands. To be more precise, at Vekoma in Vlodrop in the Limburg region. And ICT Group has been contributing to the fun since 2017.

Vekoma and ICT Group came into contact through the grapevine nearly three years ago. It wasn’t long after the first meeting between Marco Cremers (Unit Manager System Engineering at Vekoma) and Wijnand van Asseldonk (Business Unit Manager Industry at ICT Netherlands) that two engineers of ICT started working for Vekoma. It was the start of a growing collaboration. “Software is playing an increasing role in an attraction”, says Marco. “In the past the rides mainly used gravitational force, but nowadays the rides make use of a huge amount of software. To illustrate this: six years ago a large project involved two software engineers, today there’s eleven engineers working on a project.”

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‘Pleasure in creating exciting experiences’

ICT thoroughly understands what Vekoma expects from ICT’s software engineers. Wijnand: “It is my role to suggest the right people, but from then onwards, it’s up to the people themselves. They have to do the job.” And they’re doing a good job, considering the eleven ICT engineers who are currently working on projects, some of which are top-secret. What Vekoma needs is a special type of engineer. “And mind you, I don’t mean that they have to be an absolute thrill seeker”, Marco adds with a laugh, “Although it helps if you have some affinity with rollercoasters.” Marco continues: “When you design an attraction, you need functional thinkers; engineers who believe that everything is possible, and if it’s not, they make it possible. On the other hand, you also need engineers who reason entirely in the opposite direction. They are also indispensable. After all, nothing is allowed unless it is safe. The one engineer makes the impossible possible, whereas the other makes sure that everything is safe. Two opposites who have to be able to communicate well with each other, but also with the rest of the team. What’s important is that there is a personal click; creating an attraction is real teamwork.” “This is one of Marco’s strong points”, says Wijnand. “Marco treats each team member in the same way, irrespective of whether you work for Vekoma or ICT. He really knows how to create a team.”

“What makes an attraction work is the interaction between mechanics and controls. On the one hand there are the rails and the carriages and on the other there’s the software to make it work together.”

No loopings without software

The software is invisible, but there’s no way an attraction can move without software. “What makes an attraction work is the interaction between mechanics and controls. On the one hand there are the rails and the carriages – tonnes of steel – and on the other there’s the software to make it work together. Gates that need to be closed, the safety bar, starting and braking, ensuring the right balance in the carriages – a single track can have 5,000 sensors or more.” Of course safety is an extremely important aspect in making a ride, and that also requires a huge amount of technology. “There are two systems in a track. One arranges the controls and makes sure that everything moves and does what it should be doing. The second system monitors whether everything is doing what it is allowed to do. The safety system is in control and determines what  happens. An attraction is nothing more or less than a machine. But whereas in a normal machine you do everything to keep people out, we do the opposite and put them in. When a packet of butter falls off a belt, you just throw it out. But when you’re dealing with people, you can’t afford any mistakes and absolutely nothing is allowed to go wrong.”

From feeling to machine

There are only a handful of attraction builders in the entire world. Vekoma specialises in challenging projects. Marco: “We literally make something out of nothing, that’s our strength. The idea consists of a couple of scribbles or can be summarised in a single sentence. It’s an experience, a feeling. And then we start looking around to see how we can create it. That always requires a balance between what’s technically possible and what gives the right feeling. Often we have to come up with our own ideas, so far the idea simply hasn’t been thought of.” Everyone, including ICT’s engineers, are involved from the very first moment of the project. They brainstorm together and work towards a solution that as yet doesn’t exist. “The impact of any decision you take now doesn’t manifest itself until one or two years later. As a software engineer, you have to be able to oversee this timespan.” Wijnand adds that both parties enrich each other. “ICT is also active in other lines of industry, so what can you learn from them? How can you translate this into a solution that is of use to Vekoma? On the other hand, we learn a lot from what we do at Vekoma. Yes, this collaboration really feels like a win-win situation.”

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