Synthetic ice is an opportunity for communities. We’ve seen it provide much needed recreational infrastructure, revitalize diminished shopping districts and even become a catalyst for tourism. It’s an alternative to real ice that offers various financial benefits.
Though it does require slightly more effort to skate on, synthetic ice should still be a premium skating experience. But, as with most products and services, quality and company expertise do matter.
What we see time and again are stories of failed synthetic ice projects due to improper product selection from companies that don’t have validated quality track records or adequate experience. Instances of raised edges, tripping hazards and difficulty skating are never acceptable.
Outdoor synthetic ice applications call for sinter pressed, very high molecular weight material, with a commercial heavy duty connection system. This not only ensures that the joint system won’t be compromised by changes in groundwork (such as frost heave) you can even flood over this product to achieve natural ice when weather permits and enjoy synthetic ice the rest of the year.
We understand that recreation budgets are limited and the lowest price can be attractive. But there is no doubt here, that cheapest never equates to best outcome. Tax payers deserve an experience that gives their community a boost — in physical activity, in business growth and in spirit.
Randy Robataille played hockey professionally both in the NHL and the KHL. Now he has turned his attention to his newest business interest – a synthetic ice hockey training center. The newly minted hockey training center is called RinkEye Development Center located in Kanata Ontario just down the street from where the Ottawa Senators play.
Randy is joined by former professional and NCAA goalie Dave Stathos. Jointly they can take an entire team in this world class center through a rigorous hour long training session with focus on individual puck skills, skating drills, and goal tender training.
More information on the hockey training center can be found at www.rinkeye.com
The center piece of this hockey training center is the center rink made of SmartRink proFast1500-SG heady duty synthetic ice. Here are some of the comments we have heard so far:
“this product is amazing! and hardly any shavings come off the surface”
“after a single burst of speed I can glide around the entire rink!”
“The kids love it. They train in a t-shirt and shorts.”
SmartRink looked after the synthetic ice, the professional hockey boards, glass, perimeter netting and all the shooting lanes. It took three days to complete all the work. For further information about this project or SmartRink please contact our office at email@example.com
First off let’s just say that synthetic ice should never crack!
Recently a homeowner called me about problems with his synthetic ice he recently purchased from a company located in Ontario Canada – I’ll save them the embarrassment by not naming them! Hey things can happen to products from time to time – but frankly not this.
He told me that his product was purchased only recently an that it was installed on a wooden base / deck in his backyard – what I would consider a very typical installation for Ontario, Canada. Anyway I asked him about the how the platform was constructed and it seemed to me that it was reasonably well made and suited the application. I also asked him is there was anything holding down the product to keep it from contracting and expanding and he said it was floating free. So far, so good.
The product he had was 3/8 inch thick and the sheets were approximately 4ft x 8ft – so basically machined from a 4ft x 8ft sheet. His surface was not large – maybe 12 ft x 24 ft.
He told me that their were cracks and broken pieces were the dovetail joints were together. I have never come across that. But then he also said that when he took some pieces apart he couldn’t fit them together again and that the material from one panel was now a different size than the panel beside it. So more clues.
So to me a couple things are going on here. First my educated guess is that he has a product that is on the lower scale as it relates to molecular weight of the resin used in making this sheet. As the molecular weight of polyethylene resin goes down the product becomes “harder” and more brittle. This is the only explanation. The cracks were either a result of poor machine tolerances when routered and was partly damaged when initially installed – or through forces of expansion and contraction and cold weather – the material didn’t hold up to the stress.
It’s also possible that part of his surface has sun (warmth) on it while other areas are still in the shade (cold). That places significant forces on an already weak system. One area of the synthetic ice could literally be expanding while another area is contracting or staying the same. On a weak connection system with inferior material – that spells PROBLEM.
So what to do? Well unfortunately the poor client paid a lot of money for inferior material. At the very least he should get his money back. When confronted he said the supplier pushed back and told the guy that it should not be installed outside in a Canadian winter and should be covered over. Ummm. Hello? This is Canada! We have extreme winter weather! Wrong answer. Time to report him to the Better Business Bureau – and that was my next recommendation.
So once again I maintain that synthetic ice should never crack! Products made with high quality resin of a very high molecular weight or better WILL NOT crack from cold, or expansion and contraction. Period.
I hope this article can save someone else out there from a poor product. Read more about why you should choose SmartRink for your synthetic ice rink project.
Full size synthetic ice rink, Northern Alberta Canada
We often get asked about when to use commercial synthetic ice verses residential synthetic ice. Probably a good place to start before we get into that is to explore the difference between the two.
The vast majority of panel systems sold today are residential – by our definition. At SmartRink we consider any panel that has little or no vertical sheer strength to be considered a residential panel. The panel thickness is NOT THE DETERMINING FACTOR. Ok so what is vertical sheer strength? There is a test that can be performed on panel connection systems that will indicate the force required to sheer apart two panel joints. So why is this important? This is important when determining the best product for your application. For example if you are considering an outdoor rink in any climate where there are wide temperature variations then you need to consider vertical sheer strength. Panel material WILL expand and contract with temperature changes. For example with a 20 degree Celsius (approx 36 degrees F) a 1 meter (about 39 inches) sheet of Pe will expand or contract about 2 mm (about 0.079 of an inch). This may not sound like much but if it was a 200 foot long rink then that would be almost 5 inches in movement. If the temperature variation was double that then the change is closer to 10 inches of movement! That is a realistic scenario in many North American climates.
Most companies claim to have commercial synthetic ice ice. They don’t. What they call a commercial panel is a thicker panel. So whether their panel is 3/8 inch thick or 3/4 inch thick the vertical sheer strength in most systems still amounts to almost zero.
This really shows up (in a bad way) when these systems attempt to put in goal creases and line markings in the rinks. Most use a “loose laid” colored panel (red line, blue line) and they are not positively connected to the surrounding panel system. It looks nice enough at first – but wait until the inevitable temperature change and voila – instant problem. Now you will see gaps and loose fitting lines where the puck can not even go over these areas. if water gets in there and then freezes – now the lines and panels are coming apart because there is no vertical sheer strength. The darker colored lines expand and contract at different rates verses the lighter colored panel material and this further causes problems.
We have seen this numerous times with competitive products. They are NOT well engineered for what we would consider a heavy duty commercial use system. This includes hockey training centers and larger inside or outside installations.
So in summary here are some scenarios for when you should use commercial synthetic ice:
– outside community synthetic ice rinks – any size – most definitely in any climate where frost, ice, snow, are anticipated – any location where there will be a significant change in seasonal or day to day temperature – Hockey training centers or any application with directional weight shifts – Any application where the substrate under the synthetic ice not perfect
Recently I travelled to Stockholm Sweden and spent a few days with SmartRink’s Scandinavian distributors. They organized a series of meetings and demonstrations to various organizations. They invited representatives from a hockey high school, a municipality, and several heavy hitters from the Swedish Hockey Federation.
We were using the new ProFast8000-SG with SmartGlide which is our panel with permanently infused glide enhancer.
Of course you would expect me to say that the demos were impressive – and guess what? They were!! The group of trainers from the hockey high school were familiar with a product called Nordic Ice. I’m not even certain who makes the product to be truthful – but it doesn’t really matter. When we asked them how it compared they did not hesitate to respond that the SmartRink synthetic ice material was superior.
There is one thing that unites all hockey players all over the world. They tell it straight up. There is no beating around the bush. They like something or they don’t – and they will tell you. And they did. All four of them were of the opinion that our product was superior. Obviously we were pretty happy about that!
Most importantly though was that our distributors saw first hand how users reacted right away and how pleasantly surprised they were that all those attending the demo were clearly impressed with this product.
Anyway – one of the demos that really stood out for me was when a young goalie tests synthetic ice and was delighted to learn how well the product worked for his lateral slides. He was effortlessly pushing side to side sliding on his pads. I was able to shoot just a few seconds of video but take a look and see for yourself. Unless you are fluent in Swedish you likely wont understand what they are saying…enjoy.
A synthetic ice rink community pilot project is a great way for an interested community to try out synthetic ice and judge for themselves if it’s the right idea for them.
We have done a number of these pilots in various communities across Canada and the USA. Acceptance and approval numbers range from 60-85% of users in favor of installing a synthetic ice rink. Like a great many things within the public opinion world – many users are in that “maybe” category. Maybe is not a “no” however. Some people require further proof or convincing. That’s just the way it is – with a lot of things.
Some of what can alter pilot results as well is the venue or the information available at the pilot site. For example can questions be answered prior to filling out a survey? Another variable is sharp skates. I’ve literally seen people show up at these things with dull rusty skates that have not seen the light of day for 20 years. I wouldn’t want them to skate on real ice never mind synthetic!
Anyway – the bottom line when it comes to synthetic ice community pilot projects is that it’s a good idea to try it out at minimal cost. Often times businesses in the community will even sponsor of pay for the cost of the pilot.
I’ve been fortunate to work closely with experts from this industry who have been working with engineered polymers for 35 years or more. There are a few other companies out there also claiming to have been in the industry that long as well. So it is really surprising when I read on their company websites complete and false untruths about products in our industry. Especially when their claims are without merit, and not based on any kind of synthetic ice industry testing
In the case of one company – published on their website is information about UHMW material which is shockingly erroneous and absolutely false. Credibility needs to be questioned when information is this wrong. For example one site indicates that “UHMW is much too hard to allow a skate blade to penetrate the surface sufficiently. Light weight skaters will not penetrate the surface to any degree”.
Various Synthetic Ice Materials Tested Using Weighted Skate Blade testing Method
When anyone indicates that UHMW is too hard for skating that is actually a sad statement. UHMW stands for Utra High Molecular Weight and should correctly be followed by Pe which stands for Polyethylene. The industry typically designates any molecular weight resin above 1 million grams per mol as UHMWPe and can be as high as 4 million or higher. Just as there are various molecular weights within HMWPe, HDPe and LDPe classifications. All of these products have been used for synthetic ice.
As the molecular weight of the material increases the product actually gets “softer” not harder as has been inaccurately written about on the site in question.
There are very standard test procedures in the plastic industry that measure the “hardness” of products. This particular company would be well advised to understand them and then compare their material to them.
This page also goes on to mention UHMW is used in the lining of truck beds. Well that is actually true, just as UHMWPe is used in literally thousands of other applications such as hip joint replacements, valve coatings, ski and snowboard bases and numerous other industry applications that require the very best abrasion resistant material combined with material with the best coefficient of friction ratings. But to say UHMWPe is used for truck beds as a general statement is akin to saying extruded HDPe is used for arena board or puck board, or cutting boards!
We do agree on one thing – UHMWPe is not the best material for skating – but we absolutely disagree on why. Their claim is because it is too hard for skating on, and there could be nothing further from accuracy than that! UHMWPe is in fact too “soft” for skating.Remember that as the molecular weight increases the material becomes softer, not harder!
In our weighted skate tests for example – we have proved over multiple tests and trials that UHMWPe is not the best choice for skating as the skate blades tend to sink in too much and therefore the product will feel “sluggish” and slower for skating. Perhaps a light child will not notice that but a 200 pound skater certainly will. Read more about our synthetic ice research.
So where does that leave us in terms of what to believe? It’s really very simple, when you are doing your research, ask the supplier company to supply you with all the following information which is the only way you can truly determine and compare numbers: 1) Weighted skate material trials 2) Shore-D (Shore Durometer) hardness tests 3) Abrasion resistance tests (sand slurry test for example)
Ideally all materials are submitted to a third party lab and subjected to identical tests and that would go a long way to clearing the air on various materials. Ultimately the market will dictate what is used for skating and what isn’t – but please consumers – be smart and do your research on synthetic ice rinks.
skaters enjoy themselves on SmartRink synthetic ice in Redmond WA
Synthetic ice rental
Renting synthetic ice – especially in the winter – has become both a popular and attractive option for company, community and special events. Synthetic ice surfaces can generally be laid down quickly and don’t really require any special tools or disruptions to the existing area under consideration. We have the perfect synthetic ice rinks for figure skating training,hockey drills, or even public use.
Synthetic ice rental considerations
There are a few things however that one should understand prior to selecting a company for renting synthetic ice. For starters let’s consider if the surface will be inside or outside and if outside then what weather factors you are likely to be facing. If the surface is to be outside during the winter in a cold and snowy environment then you will want to select a product with a stronger joint connection system. Most connection systems use a dovetail joint which is potentially weak vertically. When there is a good chance of rain, followed by freezing temperatures then this can result in a situation where water freezes and builds up under the panels and pops the dovetail joint upwards and separates it. This is not only annoying to the operator, it’s very unsafe to the unwary skaters. SmartRink for example has multiple heavy duty joint connection systems that will easily deal with these kinds of harsh conditions.
When renting synthetic ice it is also important to understand the size of the surface you are considering relative to the number of expected skaters – or rink capacity. There are different rules of thumb but we use approximately 40 square feet per skater. So for example you want to rent a 3200 square foot surface then you can max the skaters at 80 people. The general rule is that the lower the ability of the skating group, the larger the area each skater safely requires.
All types of synthetic ice requires maintenance. The main consideration is keeping the surface clean from dirt and also periodically removing any plastic residue caused from skating. If the rink is outside then cleaning is a relatively simple process of pressure washing and then removing access water using a squeegee. For products requiring spray on glide enhancer then that will need to be re-applied after washing. As for the plastic residue, that can be swept off or vacuumed off at regular intervals. Skating on certain brands of products creates much more plastic shavings than other products. Its good to understand that before the rental to know what to expect. Sinter pressed synthetic ice sheets have less residue as this material typically has a much better abrasion resistance than an extruded product would have.
Synthetic ice rental cost
The cost to rent a synthetic ice surface can vary greatly. Some of the variables include size of the surface, the duration of the rental term, staffing hours, skate rentals, sharpening services, maintenance, location, perimeter barrier systems, and so on. Cost of the rental be easily be offset however through sales or rink advertising and of course through the rental of skating time. In the right location a good weekend of skate rentals can bring in between $3,500 – $5,000 top line revenue – even more.
Synthetic ice rental – the bottom line
Renting a synthetic ice rink whether for a short term event or a longer term revenue generating operation can make sense for a lot of reasons compared to a traditional refrigerated ice surface. It’s best to fully understand your objectives and then see what the best solution is that can deliver on that. Any reputable synthetic ice company can answer basic questions about your unique application requirements. Talk to a few companies, get references, and take the time to plan. You’ll be very glad you did.
Synthetic ice oval design using SmartRink’s ProFast1500 heavy duty panel system configured in a brick bond layout
Recently we had the opportunity to bid on a community synthetic ice rink in North Battleford, Saskatchewan Canada. I must admit I have never been there – but that will all change soon enough when the crew arrives to install this community synthetic ice rink. There were a number of significant factors that pushed our bid over the top. For one thing this is a seriously severe winter climate – not for the weak of heart – or more accurately for the weaker synthetic ice connection systems! For example the daily average temperature in the month of January is minus 17 degrees Celsius while the summer time temperatures have been known to be as high as 37 degrees Celsius. That is a massive temperature swing! Now combine that with snow, ice, rain, freezing, thawing and you start to imagine all kinds of possible issues a poor synthetic ice panel joint will suffer through. So we offered the client one of our Heavy Duty commercial synthetic ice panel joint systems called the ProFast1500-SG. This is a 15 mm thick panel made with our Ice-y-Blue700 material with infused glide enhancer. The perimeter joint is a continuously machined ridge and hollow that creates an extremely strong joint connection. Its an impressive display of German excellence in engineering and machining. This product will have no issues with the climate and therefore this community synthetic ice rink will remain safe for the skaters year round. The second significant factor that convinced the decision makers that SmartRink was the product to go with was that we could make an oval or ellipse shape (oval without a center). Like all SmartRink panels we are able to set our panels up in a brick bond or offset design. This means we can make circles, ovals, squares, skating paths or trails, whatever shape you desire for your community synthetic ice rink. The edges can be trimmed down to create a nice smooth finished perimeter. No other products can do this, where we can do it with ease, with a minimal amount of cutting and therefore very little waste – if any. Of course we could get into a lot of other reasons why we are the number one choice for any community synthetic ice rink. But on this job the strength of our connection systems and the brick bond layout clutched the deal. If you are considering a synthetic ice rink for your community then consider SmartRink. We might cost a little more, but we are safer, last longer, and can deal with any kind of weather or site conditions. In a nutshell, clients never have to worry about our products.
We get asked a lot about boards for home synthetic ice hockey rinks and commercial synthetic ice rinks. The commercial rinks frankly are easier because there are some great companies out there making high quality perimeter arena board systems. They range from molded plastic to high end NHL style pro systems with various upper containment options. But when it comes to a safe, durable, good looking system for inside or outside home applications – frankly the industry has come up short – until now.
Recently we installed a 48 ft x 30 ft backyard rink on a raised wooden platform. The area was very uneven and it was more cost effective for the owner to build a platform than to pt in retaining walls and pour concrete. So we had very little margin for error in this job and we wanted to be able to maximize the usable space. So we challenged a fabricator to come up with a super strong but lighter duty board system that would stand up to 20 years of backyard hockey abuse.
What they came up with was the ProLite hockey board system. The frame on this system is incredibly only 1.5 inches thick but its welded aluminum and is very strong. Its cladded with a 1/2 inch TPO material which is especially great for outside installations as it has minimal expansion and contraction due to weather variances.
For lateral stability they recommended using a dipped galvanized steel stabilizer that connected to each eight foot section and was easily bolted together with stainless steel hardware.
There was a total of four gates in this rink. The owner’s plan was to use two for player bench doors and then one at the end for snow blower access and then a general access door opposite the players benches. Each door was 36″ wide and was attached using heavy stainless hardware mounted to the aluminum frames.
Finally we placed netting around the rink so that the neighbours would be safe from flying pucks!
All in all this is an impressive “light-duty” system that will last decades in reality and should easily withstand any family or community rink application – indoors or out.