Entech’s journey over the last 30 years has included many exciting projects, withstanding the test of time as unique engineered icons. As we continue to celebrate our anniversary, we are going behind the curtain on another one of these projects! Epcot's Mission: SPACE has long been a beloved attraction within the Disney Park universe. As a space-themed experience, it captures the imaginations of visitors young and old. However, to truly immerse guests throughout the entire experience, the need arose for a captivating marquee and courtyard pieces as well as a unique gravity wheel in the line queue. Speaking directly about our work on the Gravity Wheel, Entech Managing Partner John Marhoefer reflects on the process from RFP to installation on this iconic piece in our portfolio:
Getting the job
Entech has been a trusted show action systems vendor for the Disney corporation for decades now. The Gravity Wheel was (and is) a very important icon for the new attraction and Entech was one of several potential preferred providers for it. When the RFP “hit the street”, it included a technical design heading for which Disney in the RFP expressed a preference, a design that called for the gravity wheel to be supported on and driven from the perimeter. However, it quickly became apparent to us that an alternative design was going to be far superior, a design in which the wheel would be both supported and driven from the central hub. Our proposal gave Disney a choice between their way (how it had been presented in the RFP) and our alternative technical design which provided the benefit of being less costly and a higher technical reliability. They ultimately chose us to provide our alternative design for the wheel.
In hindsight, moving to the hub supported/driven design was of course the right move. Doing so removed the requirement that the perimeter of the wheel be fabricated with the precision that would’ve been required to have it run true. Also, the hub driven approach was much quieter, which was important in the show setting. Additionally, there were a number of owner furnished show set pieces from actual films that were integrated into the Gravity Wheel. The hub mounted design facilitated our ability to integrate these elements seamlessly into a cohesive whole.
Challenges In Fabrication and Install:
The Gravity Wheel is a very tall piece and required us to erect the entire element outside in our shop yard. Fortunately, the weather held out in our favor and we were able to obscure it from the public view throughout fabrication. The Factory Acceptance Testing procedures of that era were fewer than those we have today, it will remain an open question as to whether we would be able to do that today.
As is quite common, the design was executed with installation in mind. Each of the pods of the Gravity Wheel were constructed in such a way that they could be transferred as units to the site and integrated in a “plug-and-play” manner. Like many other things in life, the vision of the dream did not quite match reality, however by and large the plan worked and expedited installation considerably over what could have been.
These engineering marvels elevated the immersive quality of the attraction, delighting visitors from around the world. The positive feedback from park guests and Disney enthusiasts reinforced our satisfaction with our work. Throughout this project, there were memorable moments that underscored our team's dedication and expertise. We faced challenges head-on, from technical complexities to tight deadlines. As we celebrate our 30th anniversary, we reflect on the significance of our work with Epcot's Mission Space and all the projects that have brought us to where we are today. These projects exemplify our unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of engineering and design. As we reach the last couple months of our 30th anniversary celebration, we are excited to continue to look both at past projects and towards the future of Entech.