New Zealand-headquartered engineering lab reinvents the roller coaster for zip line-level thrills
How did you stop a zip line the old fashioned way? However you could, sometimes with a mattress tied to a nearby tree trunk.
This method (and others like it) did not sit well with the team at Holmes Solutions, the innovation arm of global engineering powerhouse Holmes Group. Based on a half-century of dedication to perfection in everything from construction to fire and seismic safety, Holmes Group is comprised of hundreds of employees, dozens of offices, and several highly focused companies around the globe. Among them, Holmes Solutions was the team that got to do some of the fun part of engineering: breaking things, then figuring out how to keep them from breaking–ultimately developing new innovations that have disrupted industries with new products that enhance people’s lives and ensure their safety.
They crashed trucks into roadside barriers. They created a testing procedure for a NASA lunar lander. They tested jetpacks. They destroyed rebar, and in some cases, entire buildings. They were familiar enough with pushing the limits of technology in search of better engineering ideas, that they ultimately made a business out of it.
“Historically, Holmes Solutions has worked in the background, developing and testing new innovations for other companies and organizations, as a secret weapon of sorts,” explains Chris Allington, CEO of Holmes Solutions. “Our recent work in the adventure recreation industry has required us to step out of the shadows and take credit for the work we have done. We don’t always get an opportunity to do that as many of our projects and partners aren’t ones we’re at liberty to discuss. It’s a bit like, on the outside, we’re just a chocolate factory, but inside it’s pretty Willy Wonka.”
Their previous work tackled some of the craziest ideas in adventure recreation–making them a whole lot safer while amplifying the excitement. Holmes Solutions leapt into the uncharted territory of outdoor adventure, where the desire for safety has always done a delicate dance with the urge to push boundaries and get the heart pounding. One of the best examples: Climbing gym patrons and how to belay them safely. “We had been looking at what was being done in the market in terms of belay and arrest devices and other safety features, and we saw a lot of opportunities for innovation,” says Allington.
They addressed the problem head on. The secret to constant safety in a rock climbing gym situation or similar adventurous activities, the lab discovered, was the unusual science between rare earth magnets and their interaction with aluminum. Harnessing a unique braking force between magnets and aluminum took some doing but meant there was no friction on moving parts that could fail due to wear and that devices could adjust for a variety of ranges of motion. They could stop someone sailing across a gap in the trees or falling down a climbing wall. You’ll now find Holmes Solutions’ design baked into the devices at almost every climbing gym across the US and the world.
To really highlight the power, fun, and safety of their designs, Holmes Solutions designed what is modestly called The Nevis Catapult, a bungee-like device that launches thrill seekers from zero to 60 miles per hour across a chasm of a valley in New Zealand. (Not for the faint of heart.) And most recently, Holmes Solutions unveiled The Flying Ox in Pigeon Forge, TN, the world’s first cable-to-rail roller coaster. The hybrid design allows for the delight of flying down a zipline to merge with rail for the looping helixes and twists of a cool coaster, all kept to reasonable (but fun) speeds thanks to Holmes Solutions’ proprietary designs.
“We use rigorous engineering methods behind our design thinking in creating these systems.” explains Andrew Diehl, Technical Director of Holmes Solutions. “A heck of a lot of computer modelling and physical testing goes into our evidence based design approach. We may be somewhat fresh to the adventure recreation industry, but we quickly realized our approach to engineering brought a much needed safety focus to the industry. That’s our bottom line in the adventure recreation space, really – keeping people safe while they experience the fun, crazy stuff. It allows us to achieve results that were previously considered impossible.”