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The company that puts the fun into the fair

The Millennium Force rollercoaster at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio, is Intamin's latest project

(Keystone)

Nestled in the hills surrounding Lake Zurich is Intamin, one of the world's largest manufacturers of rollercoasters, theme park rides and monorails. But few Swiss know the group exists, partly because its products are seldom seen at home.

Intamin is a leader in its field in the design and manufacture of some of the biggest and most thrilling attractions at amusement parks across the world. It was founded back in 1967 in response to increasing demand for high quality rides, such as observation towers for theme parks in the United States.

Its latest "Giga Coaster" at the Cedar Point park in the US state of Ohio is the largest and fastest in the world, standing 100 metres high and reaching speeds of 150 kilometres an hour.

"It's a couple of kilometres long and the first drop is 90 degrees. There's plenty of exciting air time in the rollercoaster - with speed and wind rushing through your hair - which is what the enthusiasts want," said Roy Vocking, vice-president of Intamin.

Switzerland is a natural home for a company like Intamin. It boasts a long tradition of precision mechanical engineering, gained from the hundreds of funiculars and mountain railways developed here in the past 100 years.

"Any country that can have two religions and five national languages - and I include English as a national language - is pretty flexible, and that's what Intamin is as well," Vocking told swissinfo.

Demand for new theme park attractions is rising as more amusement parks spring up, especially in Asia and South America. And once built, manufacturers such as Intamin can enjoy a long relationship with the theme park owners, who tend to buy major new attractions for their sites every two to three years.

Rollercoasters can cost anywhere between SFr4 and SFr40 million ($2.3 - $23 million), depending on the amount of steel used in their construction. With rollercoaster technology advancing rapidly, Intamin is set to benefit from this boom as customers demand ever more hair-raising rides.

"Technology has enabled us to move into new, previously inaccessible, areas such as Free Fall, where we use magnets to brake the vehicle," Vocking explained.

Like many organisations that do not deal directly with the public, Intamin is well-known among its clients, but few people in Switzerland have ever heard of it.

"The contact the public has to us as a manufacturer is very limited," explained Vocking. "When they go along to an amusement park they see only the name of the ride, not the manufacturers, so there's no real reason for the Swiss to know of us."

He added that another reason for the company's low profile at home is the lack of major theme parks in Switzerland.

Intamin is based in Switzerland but also has offices in other European countries as well as the United States and Asia. The company manages projects from its headquarters in canton Zurich but contracts out the manufacture of rides and monorails.

Intamin is also increasingly moving towards offering innovative solutions to urban transport problems. Having already constructed a short monorail system in Shenzhen in Guangdong, China, it is now negotiating with a Russian city to supply a similar urban transport system.

Roy Vocking pointed out that monorail transport systems, in all their many manifestations, take up less space than tram lanes or bus routes as they run above already overcrowded roads, and are also cheaper than laying fresh tram tracks.

He expects dramatic growth in the transport side of Intamin's business over the next five years, and believes the group will be ready to split into two divisions in the near future.

by Tom O'Brien

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