The roller coaster business
Click. The seatbelt is fastened. A warning signal sounds. The car catapults forward. My pulse is racing. An invisible force pushes me deep into the seat. We plummet, hurtling into the abyss. My stomach is in knots. Screams of fear and excitement fill the air. Then I relax and enjoy this high-speed inferno.
This is how Camiel felt when he first experienced the thrill of a rollercoaster ride. He was fascinated and immediately knew: «I want to do this as my job one day». The enthusiasm he feels for pushing himself to the limit like this allowed him to achieve his goal. Today he is living his dream, working at Intamin in Liechtenstein. «I'm from Holland, which also has one of the largest manufacturers of rollercoasters. But I always had my sights set on the best ones,» he says, beaming as his eyes wander over the screens at his workstation.
There are some rollercoaster fans who could only dream of working for Intamin. But the construction of rollercoasters is about more than just layouts and animations. Many hours of hard work and a high degree of skilful engineering go into every ride. Structural engineering, calculations and countless detailed drawings. But the technology freaks and adrenaline junkies of the Liechtenstein-based company all agree – at Intamin, it’s all about real innovation. Everything they construct on paper or animate on computers today, they can experience first-hand within three years. The drawing of a gearbox or an axle may seem small and insignificant at first, but at some point you’ll be standing in front of one of these «monsters».
Kingda Ka, USA - ©Intamin
Patrick Spieldiener, who took over the management role from his father and uncle 20 years ago, still enjoys watching «his» audience. He likes it when people look excited after getting off one of his rides and immediately get back in line, keen to ride again.
- Intamin = INTernational AMusement INstallation
- Over 50 years of success (since 1967)
- CHF 100 million in annual sales (75% amusement rides, 25% monorails)
- 100 employees in Liechtenstein
- 1,000 rollercoasters on all continents.
- 1,000 people work permanently on Intamin products worldwide
- One rollercoaster costs between CHF 3 and 30 million
- A leading innovator that has achieved many firsts. Linear motors, magnetic brakes, hydraulic catapult, and much more.
- Numerous records: highest ride, fastest ride – records that are usually surpassed by Intamin itself with its next innovation.
Seize opportunities. Show courage.
«Can you build a watch tower for our amusement park?» This unusual request from Sweden arrived at the Swiss cable car manufacturer Bühler in the mid-sixties. The project was a success and attracted much attention. This would soon be followed up by further requests, this time from the US. Because the Swiss cable car manufacturer preferred its domestic market and well-known products, the tower's designers themselves took the opportunity to found their own company. This courageous decision to move out of their comfort zone and out into the world eventually paid off: 50 years and about 1,000 rides later, Intamin has long been one of the leading rollercoaster builders in the world. Even if succession planning can be difficult, Patrick Spieldiener is convinced of the advantages of running a family business. He appreciates being able to make quick decisions, which can be revised at any time, if necessary, and to plan for the long term «because we have no investors or shareholders breathing down our necks, pushing us to increase sales and profits.»
Ikaros, Gröna Lund, Schweden - ©Intamin
Soaring with Dragon, China - ©Intamin
10 Inversion Coaster, Cinecitta World, Italien - ©Intamin
Goosebumps – made in Liechtenstein
In the mid-1980s, three people died in a tragic rollercoaster accident in Canada. Intamin's founders saw a long-standing design partner go bankrupt in the wake of court cases. To minimise risk, they founded another company in neighbouring Liechtenstein and began to appreciate the small state's advantages as a location. They were particularly impressed by the country's business-friendly nature and its liberal approach to politics and corporate law. The company headquarters in Schaan has been the heart and brain of the company since the mid-1990s, while its Swiss site in Wollerau supports its colleagues in the Principality as a competence centre and engineering office.
The Principality of Liechtenstein is a stand-out industrial location. A whopping 40% of gross value added and 39% of jobs are in industry and manufacturing. Financial services account for around 25% of gross value added.
In this industry-centric environment, there is certainly no shortage of so-called «hidden champions». By definition, these are family-owned companies that are leaders in their respective industries and, with fewer than 500 employees, generate sales in excess of CHF 50 million. Intamin falls into this category, too. But Patrick Spieldiener is not one to pat himself on the back: «Any company that successfully holds its own in the market for 30 to 40 years is a champion.»
Staying true to principles
For the current CEO, the basis of his company's success is down, on the one hand, to the solid foundation laid by the three founders, which consists of three basic principles: «A cobbler should stick to his last,» «only take on what you can handle yourself,» and «be honest.» On the other hand, it's down to its strength as an innovator. «We are the leading innovators in our industry. That's what makes us unique. We build the latest systems and implement the latest technologies,» says Spieldiener.
Even though innovations can have teething troubles and setbacks, there's one thing customers know for sure – Intamin gives its all. After all, a system that can't operate at the beginning of the season is a recipe for disaster. But this has only happened twice in 50 years.
A prescription for rollercoasters?
Two US scientists found that patients can clear kidney stones faster by riding rollercoasters. This discovery earned them the Ig Nobel Prize for medicine in September 2018. «Ig» stands for «ignoble» (i.e. not noble). Since 1991, Nobel Prize winners have presented this award every year at Harvard University. It is given to scientists whose research makes people laugh, while also making them think.
Which ride for Liechtenstein?
Ever day at rush hour, the busy roads of Liechtenstein are clogged with lines of coaches. They travel to Vaduz, unload tourists, then park outside the Rheinpark Stadion only to pick the guests up in the centre of town again later. Patrick Spieldiener has an idea for how to relieve the increasing traffic: «A monorail from Intamin. From the stadium to the town centre. Our little P6. With centrally mounted pil-lars, it rushes over road traffic. It is highly efficient and would be the perfect solution.»
Amusement parks are in direct competition with each other and constantly need new attractions. An increasing number of countries are home to an ever-expanding middle class, who enjoy their free time and want to experience something together. «And it doesn’t end here,» Patrick Spieldiener says with confidence. «We still have decades of building rollercoasters ahead of us before we reach the same density of parks as the US.» Higher, faster, further – thanks to ever-evolving technical capabilities in production, improved drive technology and more powerful computers, there seems to be no end in sight. «We couldn't make the rollercoasters of today using the technology from 20 years ago,» says Spieldiener.
The industry no longer has to fear technologies like virtual reality. In the past, park operators wanted to use it to give their rides a second life. But experience has shown that handling and hygiene requirements aren't the only difficulties. Many people don't like wearing VR glasses. Instead, Patrick Spieldiener is focusing on the trend towards immersive rides. Systems are integrated into artificial indoor or outdoor scenes. Using simulators, vibration elements and supported by audio-visual effects, they immerse the visitor into completely new worlds. An awesome experience!
Having built over 1,000 rides, do you have a favourite?
The Draxter (USA, Ohio). A catapult that accelerates to 160km/h in 3.5 seconds, ascends, almost stops and then rushes back down. An awesome experience! Our most powerful catapult. Not the fastest but the most impressive.
Which is your favourite part of a rollercoaster ride?
When it starts and the train leaves the station.
What do freedom and independence mean to you?
Independence is freedom for me. That's the good thing about being a family business.
What failure are you grateful for today?
Almost every one. We've learned from them and developed further. We motivate our people to make decisions and make mistakes. Nothing is worse than not making a decision.
What advice do you have for young people?
Have the courage to make decisions. Take responsibility for your mistakes. This is how you gain experience, train your instincts and reduce the number of errors you make.
Would you like to know more about Liechtenstein as a business location? The Office of Economic Affairs and Liechtenstein Marketing are happy to help.
9494 Schaan, Liechtenstein
+423 236 68 71
Dr. Simone Frick
+423 236 69 96
+423 236 69 42
Äulestrasse 30, P.O. 139
9490 Vaduz, Liechtenstein
+423 239 63 63
Michelle Kranz, Managing Director
+423 239 63 60
Marlene Engler, Division Manager Economy
+423 239 63 08