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Autoguide Completes LEGOLAND Project Ahead of Schedule With Alibre Design

Alibre Design Professional Credited with Fast Turnaround

When you were a child, did you ever see an excavator at a construction site and wonder what it would be like to drive one? Many children have grown up with toy diggers, but how many children have experienced sitting in the driver’s seat and operating a REAL one? Autoguide Equipment Ltd (Autoguide) has made that real-life experience possible for children. Read about the Digger Challenge, one of the most popular and reliable rides in LEGOLAND Windsor’s history, and how it was designed in record time with Alibre Design Professional.

An Extraordinary Challenge

Although Autoguide jumped at the opportunity to work with JCB, the third largest construction equipment manufacturer in the world, and LEGOLAND Windsor, part of the Merlin Entertainment Group, which ranks as Europe’s number one visitor attraction entity and second in the world after Disney, they had to overcome several challenges along the way. The greatest constraint was that of time. Autoguide was given less than two and one-half months to design, build, test and have this high-profile ride up and running for paying customers. During that time, they also had only one week to design, build and assemble a method for wheelchair users to access the ride. Additionally, they needed to devise a way to teach children as young as four years old to operate the digger in the space of only a few minutes. And while designing the ride to operate like real diggers, they still had to meet the strict safety standards of the park.

Summarizing these conditions, Richard Robinson, Autoguide’s Managing Director, said, “The margin for error was nonexistent.”

The Right Team for the Challenge

Established in 1997, Wiltshire-based Autoguide provides a design, development and production resource for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), and also creates their own branded products. Their emphasis on expanding design and development capacity has been maintained over the years with a particular emphasis on delivering high quality. Because of Autoguide’s superior quality and delivery standards, 60 percent of their work is sold to notable customers, including JCB, TEREX, KUBOTA, HIAB, PALFINGER and many utilities. Autoguide’s branded products are a blend of the ordinary and the unusual.

The LEGOLAND Journey

Keith Johnson, LEGOLAND Windsor’s Facilities Director, and his colleagues spent one year looking at other theme parks and coming up with the idea for the Digger Challenge and its basic principles and aesthetics.

LEGOLAND Windsor then contacted Greenshields JCB, who turned to Autoguide to see if they could develop an interactive ride where children could pretend they were skilled construction workers by driving one of 10 mini diggers, operating it themselves or taking a grown-up along for a ride. At Digger Challenge, the driver scoops up bucket loads of black and gray plastic balls from large bins and loads them into hoppers. At the end of the three-minute session, the digger with the heaviest load wins. This ride exemplifies the ‘learning through play’ experience that attracts so many families to the park each year.

Since Autoguide had a looming delivery date and had not received any architectural drawings on the Digger Challenge ride, they decided to take matters into their own hands. They used Google Earth to find accurate information about the park’s site, and, with this information, decided on a ride layout.

Autoguide, having used AutoCAD® for years, didn’t want to have to “throw away” their investment in that product. With Alibre Design Professional, there was no need to do so. They were able to use a combination of AutoCAD and Alibre Design Professional to create the design. Within one week of starting the project, they were producing 3D assemblies and visuals in Alibre Design Professional. This remarkable 3D productivity built others’ confidence in them and allowed them to take control of the site layout. Richard Robinson said, “From early in this project, Alibre Design Professional put us in the driver’s seat.”

Because of a change in the site layout, the original design for the disabled access had to be rethought. Autoguide resolved this by designing a small platform lift to deliver wheelchairs to an enlarged platform, on which the chair could be situated to give a nearly identical view to that from the standard seat. Duplicate digger controls were designed to swing into position around the wheelchair, enabling the same operation as standard ones. Greenshield JCB and Autoguide believed enough in this added functionality that they contributed most of the funds to make it happen.

The 3D Discovery

Autoguide first tried the free version of Alibre’s software, Alibre Design Xpress, which was bundled in an issue of CAD User. They were so impressed with the free version that they purchased a copy of Alibre Design Professional. After exploring its ease of use, rich functionality, low cost and compatibility with AutoCAD, Autoguide standardized on Alibre Design Professional.

"The first time we were turned loose to design a 3D model of a real machine with Alibre Design Professional, it was brilliant!” exclaimed Richard Robinson.

Richard remarked, “As Alibre continues to make improvements to their software, it continues to work seamlessly. Not having a learning curve on updates means big savings to us.”

The Time Saving Solutions

With excellent cooperation from JCB, who provided design files of standard parts, Autoguide was able to import design information from multiple CAD systems and develop the complete 3D assembly in Alibre Design Professional. “This enabled us to produce 3D visuals within one week of starting, take control of the site layout and ensure a consistent overall look incorporating LEGOÒ and JCB corporate identities,” said Richard.

Autoguide also solved the challenge of teaching young children how to operate a real excavator. Initially, the development of a series of storyboards was suggested, but Ben Robinson, Richard’s son, instead produced a three-minute animation using the Alibre Design Professional model of the digger and a series of LEGO characters. This Autoguide production is viewed by all would-be digger drivers before they take the controls. This solution continues to enthrall children, who are not only entertained by the video, but also learn quickly how to do the real work of filling the hoppers with plastic balls.

Less Than One Percent Downtime

With a major construction project such as this built in such a short span of time, one might expect some significant “debugging,” but only a few minor problems have been reported, and those were fixed quickly. Much of this low error rate is attributed to designers and constructors being able to visualize the entire design in 3D, almost from the outset.

“Our downtime on this ride was only about 0.16 of one percent when it opened, and it keeps getting better,” said Keith Johnson. “That is fantastic when you CAD User/Autoguide Page 4 consider that the target was 2%. Everything is so much better than we expected, and we’re very pleased.”

Successful Results by All Accounts

Despite the complexity of the project, Autoguide produced one of LEGOLAND Windsor’s most reliable rides in less than two and one-half months, two days ahead of schedule. “We never would have produced the Digger Challenge in time without Alibre Design Professional,” said Richard Robinson. “Normally, we wait for the architects to hand us drawings. By importing Alibre Design Professional 3D drawings, we pretty much overtook the architects.”

Not only was it ready in time for the new season, but also LEGOLAND’s new main feature ride proved to be one of the most reliable rides it has ever had. “It has the lowest ‘downtime’ of any of the park’s rides,” said Greenshields JCB’s Business Development Manager, Andy Moore, a fact confirmed by LEGOLAND’s Keith Johnson. It is also one of the most popular rides in the park’s history.

Satisfaction Guaranteed

And how satisfied are JCB and LEGOLAND with the ride?

“LEGOLAND representatives think the ride is fantastic,” said Andy Moore. “They are so delighted with the end result that they are discussing building similar rides at the LEGOLAND parks in Denmark and Germany.”

Keith Johnson exclaimed, “It’s far more popular than we ever imagined. We’re delighted with the ride. Autoguide did a fabulous job with the engineering!”