Interview with the Director of Amusement Rides

Meet the 30-Year Disney Veteran Leading Our New Amusement Park Hub

An interview with Bob Vignec, Director, Amusement Rides, TÜV SÜD America

An interview with Bob Vignec, Director, Amusement Rides, TÜV SÜD America

Meet the 30-Year Disney Veteran Leading Our New Amusement Park Hub

Bob Vignec, Director, Amusement Rides, TÜV SÜD America

In 1990, Bob Vignec first began working at Walt Disney World on breaks from college. As he worked in the camera shop and sewed names onto mouse ears, he couldn’t help but watch the rollercoasters in the distance and wonder exactly how they worked.

After earning a mechanical engineering degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Disney put him into action as an Imagineer, the group designing and building rides and attractions for Disney Theme Parks around the world. Over a 30-year career, he worked on rollercoasters and rides like Test Track, Slinky Dog Dash, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Mission: SPACE, Pooh’s Honey Hunt, Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway, and many others.

Vignec is now embracing a new challenge: Director of Amusement Rides at TÜV SÜD America. He is an integral part of the company’s new hub in Tampa, Florida providing design review services, testing, inspection, certification, and training to the amusement ride and theme park industry.

In a brief Q&A, Vignec shared what he learned during his career and his plans to provide the industry with consistency in inspections and testing.

Growing up, were you a big fan of amusement parks?

Oh sure. I grew up in New Jersey and carnival rides on the boardwalk were a rite of passage every summer. Plus, there were plenty of parks nearby like Coney Island in New York and Hersey Park in Pennsylvania. I still have great memories of my first trip to Disney World when I was 6 years old. Rides have been in my DNA forever.

What did you learn from 30 years at Disney?

Never stop being creative. That might sound funny coming from an engineer but it’s true. People think of engineers pocket-protector wearing scientists, but engineering is an imaginative, creative process. Just like an artist uses paint or a sculptor uses clay to create their art, engineers use tools like math, science, and physics to create these incredible ride systems.

What are your plans for working with TÜV SÜD?

I want to provide a level of consistency in inspections and testing because the industry really needs it. Six states have no regulations for amusement rides and the other 44 each have individual sets of regulations. My goal is to use TÜV SÜD’s management processes and amusement ride experience to bring a level of consistency to the process and make us the go-to company to certify rides. Also, many rides brought to the U.S. are made offshore to different standards. One of the benefits of TÜV SÜD being a worldwide entity is our knowledge of those international standards and ability to help owners and operators understand if a ride built overseas also meets American standards or needs work.

How has functional safety in amusement rides changed over time?

Functional safety in the amusement industry is an offshoot of machinery safety overall. Think of an amusement ride as a big machine full of electrical and mechanical systems that need to be controlled. It’s kind of like the machines running a bottling plant. That bottling line needs to run 24 hours a day with 99.99% efficiency. Every minute the line is shut down is a problem. A ride is very much like that production line, but safety needs to be even more paramount because one accident can be devastating. We are carrying people through a 3-dimensional show instead of bottles through a factory. Plus, our industry often takes industrial machines and uses them in a way nobody could have imagined. It’s made our industry have a constant push for improving functional safety so now we have the tools and features that keep our rides running at peak performance with some of the highest levels of safety possible.

What is the biggest change you have seen in the industry over the years?

The amount of technology that goes into our ride systems. Now we have the tools to make these machines do incredible motions. Many years ago, a roller coaster was something you lifted to the top of a hill on a chain and let gravity pull it down. Maybe you had a motor to get it back to the station. Now the machines we create have unprecedented computing power which allows them to immerse the riders into amazing new experiences. 

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