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How Bolliger & Mabillard established its strong

reputation : interview with director Walter Bolliger

Update : 22:13 Published by François Mayné the 6 February 2013, Feature.
Since 1988 when the two Swiss engineers Walter Bolliger and Claude Mabillard chose to leave Giovanola in order to found their own consulting firm engineering and designing roller coasters, Bolliger & Mabillard has built a strong reputation in the amusement park industry.

With more than 85 installations completed around the world, the European manufacturer has been involved in most of the major roller coaster projects of the past 20 years. Furthermore it is one of the leading innovators in the market, especially after having invented the inverted coaster in 1992, the dive coaster in 1998 and the floorless coaster in 1999, prior to revolutionizing the style of the flying coasters and wing coasters in the 2000's.

How Bolliger & Mabillard established its strong reputation?

This reputation, Bolliger & Mabillard is owed primarily to its customers, who do not usually miss the opportunity to justify their decision to purchase one of their creations. It is indeed not uncommon to hear an operator highlighting the quality and performance of the manufacturer, sometimes even calling it as the "Rolls-Royce" of the roller coaster industry. A leadership status that is built over time, the company having constantly pushed the limits of design and smoothness of its attractions, which has made it a specialist of custom-designed tracks.

Is it easy to assume such a reputation? And most importantly, how can they continue in the same way while the competition on the market of roller coasters is getting more and more fierce? NewsParcs decided to ask Walter Bolliger, Director of the company, during an interview conducted at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2012 in Orlando.

In 20 years, Bolliger & Mabillard has build a strong reputation in the amusement park industry.

"We are particularly pleased to hear our customers talking about our company and our products so positively," says Walter Bolliger. "At Bolliger & Mabillard, we focus on the design of innovative attractions that are also interesting for the public, because it is - above all - the visitors who make the success of an amusement park or a specific ride. Our engineering office is relatively large and what we are always trying to do is to always question ourselves and our designs, and make things better. I think this is how we have established our reputation”.

According to Walter Bolliger, the success of Bolliger & Mabillard is a combination of know-how and technical expertise, "We employ 37 people, mostly engineers and highly skilled technicians that we train as well. This is a relatively large team considering that we design between three and five roller coaster projects per year." He continues: "When we design a new attraction for one of our clients, we work first and foremost on the layout of the track with a sequence of elements that begins by pleasing ourselves. The smoothness of our products comes from all static and dynamic calculations, geometrical theory, the manufacture of the structure which must be meticulous and the design of the trains, of course. This is collaborative work, we have no separate teams but one single team that takes care of the design of the track and the trains. Finally, we work a lot on technique to make the installation easy to maintain and simple to use, because the more simple it is, the fewer problems you have!"

In 2012, Bolliger & Mabillard delivered six installations worldwide, including three in North America and three in Europe. Among them are two Hyper Coasters built at Canada's Wonderland (Leviathan, with a maximum height of 93 meters/306 feet) and at PortAventura in Spain (Shambhala, 76 meters/250 feet), now the tallest roller coaster of the old continent. In France, the company has also delivered to Parc Astérix (owned by Compagnie des Alpes) a custom-designed inverted coaster with five inversions (OzIris).

Bolliger & Mabillard delivered 6 new installations in 2012, including a Hyper Coaster at Canada's Wonderland: Leviathan.Bolliger & Mabillard delivered 6 new installations in 2012, including a Hyper Coaster at Canada's Wonderland: Leviathan.In France, the company designed an inverted coaster with 5 inversions at Parc Astérix: OzIrisIn Spain, Bolliger & Mabillard designed the Europe's tallest roller coaster on behalf of PortAventura (Shambhala).This Hyper Coaster features the V-shaped trains, a new development of the company.The V-shaped configuration reinforces the feeling of freedom for the riders, explains Walter Bolliger.

The flagship product of Bolliger & Mabillard today is the Wing Coaster, a new model whose prototype was launched in 2011 at Gardaland in Italy (RAPTOR) on behalf of the British operator Merlin Entertainments Group. Last year, three new installations have opened at Dollywood (Tennessee, USA) with 'Wild Eagle', at Thorpe Park (Surrey, UK) with 'The Swarm' and at Six Flags Great America (Illinois, USA) with 'X-Flight'.

How can we explain this success? "We wanted to create a different experience, as if you were sitting on the edge of a wing on an airplane," described Walter Bolliger. "The train is very large, so passengers are away from the rail. This configuration allows us to amplify the movements in each rotation of the train. Not only is this roller coaster very spectacular to watch, but the rider experience is enhanced by the large rotations!" He continues: "This is what operators are seeking when they contact us for a Wing Coaster. They are interested in this model because they know their visitors love the unique experiences but also innovative and smooth attraction... It's not only the size that counts, especially for the visitors!"

The flagship product at Bolliger & Mabillard today is the Wing Coaster. Photo: X-Flight at Six Flags Great America)Three new installations opened in 2012, at Dollywood, Six Flags Great America and Thorpe Park. Photo: The Swarm at Thorpe Park.The main characteristic of the Wing Coaster is that the passengers are seated like on the edge of a wing on an airplane. Photo: Wild Eagle at Dollywood.This configuration allows to amplify the experience thanks to the large rotations of the trains. Photo: X-Flight at Six Flags Great America.

In addition to their Wing Coaster, Bolliger & Mabillard has endeavored in recent years to bring new developments to some of its existing models, already very popular in the market. This is for example the case of the Hyper Coaster for which the company has created new trains where the rows of 4 seats - a identifying mark since its beginnings - are no longer in one line, but V-shaped with two seats at the front and two seats at the rear both left and right.

"What we try to do at Bolliger & Mabillard is to reinforce the feeling of freedom in our trains, ie give the impression to each rider that he is the only one on board," explains Walter Bolliger. "This goes for the comfort of the seat and safety harness, the seat height relative to the rail but also by the position on the train. And with this V-shape, passengers have a clearer view before them, without forgetting that the distance between them is greater. I think visitors enjoy this feeling of freedom, especially when going to heights of 60 to 90 meters... but this also works at 30 meters! It's also nice not to be pressed against each other when riding a roller coaster!"

Another recent development is the mini Dive Coaster, the first of which opened in 2011 at Heide Park in Germany (Krake). The oversized trains of this model - which loads between 16 and 30 passengers depending on the configuration (2 rows or 3 rows of 8 seats, or even three rows of 10 seats) - here are divided into 3 rows of 6 seats. "This is an extraordinary roller coaster, we wanted to offer a product that had the same characteristics while making it more affordable for smaller theme parks. They can now offer this type of installation for an increasingly large public," says Walter Bolliger.

Amon the other new developments, the manufacturer created a new version of its popular Dive Coaster.This Mini Dive Coaster was designed for Heide Park in Germany (Krake). It opened in 2011.According to Walter Bolliger, for the same experience than the big ones, the mini Dive Coaster is more affordable for small amusement parks.

Concerning future developments, Bolliger & Mabillard will not refuse to embark on the project of a launch coaster, a technology proposed by all its competitors and for which he made a hybrid creation (Incredible Hulk) for Universal's Islands of Adventure back in 1999. "If a customer comes to us to design a launch coaster, we will respond to him favorably. The technology is easily adaptable to our products and tracks as the LSM motors can be easily found on the market, and they are very efficient!" states Walter Bolliger.

What about its older products, such as the stand-up coaster, the floorless coaster, the inverted coaster and even the classic sitting coaster? Are they about to disappear or may they yet come back into fashion? "I personally think that these concepts will one day be back in fashion once again," explains Walter Bolliger. "The market is changing, there are many new products that are offered in the market, so operators are tempted to buy them. But the classics will always be good products, like our floorless coaster or our inverted coaster. The one that we have designed for the Parc Astérix is extremely popular with the visitors. These are products that will exist forever!"

But if the classics resist, is it really still possible to innovate on the market of roller coasters? "It is clear that more we advance in time, the harder it is to imagine new products," says Walter Bolliger. "I think the strength of a company is to continue to innovate and to always offer something new. The variety of attractions that are found today is very different from what we had 20 years ago. There will always be professionals to come up with new ideas, it is the strength of our industry!"

In 2013, Bolliger & Mabillard will deliver two Wing Coasters including the world's longest and tallest at Cedar Point: GateKeeper.The company will also open its first Wing Coaster in Asia, at Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in China.

Bolliger & Mabillard will deliver in 2013 two new installations of Wing Coasters, including the first in Asia (Flying over the Rainforest) on behalf of the Chinese amusement park Chimelong Ocean Kingdom currently under construction in Zhuhai in Guangdong province. The second, called 'GateKeeper' will open in May at Cedar Point in the United States (Ohio). Ordered by the operator Cedar Fair Entertainment Group, it will be the longest (1,270 meters/4,164 feet) and the highest (52 meters/170 feet) in the world.

As for future projects, Walter Bolliger remains discreet: "We do not usually communicate on projects in development for reasons of confidentiality." There is no doubt that the company is already working on major forthcoming steps in the history of roller coasters.

Interview by François Mayné and Marc Lacombe.
Special thanks to Ms. S. Bolliger.

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