Rollercoaster engineering at Thorpe Park

Rollercoasters are an adrenaline rush, but did you know that it's engineers putting the thrills and chills into your favourite rides, as well as making sure they're safe to use?

We took a trip to Thorpe Park to meet Ainsley James who told us more.

Ainsley also took part in our #AskAnEngineer Twitter Q&A for Tomorrow's Engineers Week 2014. You can take a look at his answers below...

Name: Ainsley James
Age: 31
Job title: Electrical Area Manager
Company: Thorpe Park Resort – Merlin Entertainments PLC
Hometown: Weybridge, Surrey

Qualifications (i.e. university degree/college course/other): BTEC Certificate engineering
Advanced engineering modern apprenticeship
NVQ level 3 engineering

Tell us about your job…
As an engineer at the Thorpe Park Resort we ensure the safety of our guests at all times. Safety is of paramount importance and always our number one priority. To ensure this level of safety is achieved, every attraction is rigorously inspected and tested before each day of the operating season. Any malfunctions or repairs that require assistance are prioritised and rectified by the engineering team.

My role as Electrical Area Manger is to organise the preventative, reactive and winter maintenance tasks and to ensure the smooth running of the attractions within my area.

Throughout the winter when the park is closed to guests, each attraction is disassembled down to component level and inspected by an independent inspection body to ensure they’re all in a satisfactory condition. When the inspection is completed and the components have passed all the relevant checks the attraction is then rebuilt. A full functional test must then be completed and once everything has passed inspection, we’re issued with a ‘declaration of conformity’. This certificate proves that each attraction is safe to operate.

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How does your work affect people’s lives/the world around us?
I like to think that as a team we ensure families can come and enjoy a great visit to Thorpe Park. These visits are remembered and a great time for everyone to create fun memories and prove their courage by going on some of the terrifying rides we have – like ‘Stealth’ or ‘XX’.

Our umbrella company, Merlin also runs a charity - Merlin’s Magic Wand. The charity arranges days out for seriously ill, disabled and disadvantaged children and this also has a positive impact on people’s lives around us.

What do you like most about engineering or your job?
Engineering involves finding solutions to problems or tasks. When a problem is rectified and the results are noticed, it gives me a great sense of achievement.

How did you first become interested in engineering?
Starting at a young age, I became interested in finding out how everything works - this basically meant I would take everything apart with no idea how to put it back together!

I also became interested in motorcycles and boats, which later on fuelled my interest in engineering.

There are a number of different routes you can take into a career in engineering. What route did you take (and why)?
I was successful in securing an Apprenticeship within a small engineering team responsible for the maintenance of a complete printing and binding factory at Benham Goodhead Print BGP in Colchester. The training program lasted four years, and involved attending college and onsite training to develop my skills and gain a qualification. Once my training was complete, I was lucky enough to be offered a fulltime job within the team.

How important was studying maths and science in school for what you do now? Did you enjoy it at school?
A good understanding of maths and science has been essential throughout duration of my career. The skills I developed throughout school and college have formed the basis of all the engineering decisions and projects I am able to undertake here on the resort.

What personal qualities do you think are important for being an engineer?
The engineers at the Thorpe Park resort enjoy working within a team. Most have personal hobbies or interests relating to engineering outside of work. Many of the team have classic cars, boats or motorcycles, whilst others naturally enjoy working on computers, Hifi’s or other electronic equipment. I believe that if you have these an interest in technology (which is not hard as it’s all around us) you could well be already on your way to becoming an excellent engineer.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I have recently been spending my spare time restoring a speedboat (an ongoing project spanning about seven years). This year, the boat was launched into the water and successfully used throughout the summer. My other interests include Music, Fitness and eating lots of food!

If you could go back in time and be the inventor of any product, what would you choose?
If I could claim to have invented any product it would have to be the computer processor. This is because the computer has now become such a useful tool in our everyday lives. It has so many uses both socially and technically. It’s hard to imagine how we completed things before the Internet and computers!