Synthetic ice expansion

Synthetic ice expansion and contraction in larger community or commercial synthetic ice rinks can be problematic if proper care is not taken during the initial design stage.

In North America there are a lot of geographies that have “wild swings” in temperature. The change in temperature will have significant effects on polyethylene material – which is what most manufacturers use to make synthetic ice panel – albeit to various molecular weights and compositions – but rest assured it all expands and contracts with temperature change.

SmartRink knows exactly how much it will expand and contract from the machined temperature of 20 degrees Centigrade (about 68 degrees F). From this base line temperature we can consider the location design temperature. By that we mean to what temperature range must we design the rink according to. So we will look at historical temperature references by location – seasonal highs and lows – and size our rink relative to that. So what’s the big deal here anyway?

The big deal is that you need to be considering the synthetic ice expansion and contraction with relation to the perimeter boards if there are any, but also you need to be thinking about the forces of expansion and contraction and the effect it can have on the panel joints themselves.

The general rule of thumb I use is that the larger the rink the more important the type of connection system becomes. If it’s a full size rink for example then absolutely no question about it I would be recommending the H-Tongue heavy duty commercial connection system for your synthetic ice rink. It is by far the strongest system known in the industry. Most companies are selling their version of the dovetail or jigsaw puzzle joint system. We sell that as well. But I would never recommend that in a large installation as there is virtually no vertical sheer strength to prevent that joint from separating. It can work OK if the entire surface expands and contracts at exactly the same rate but that is rare because the effect of sun and shading is always present on different parts of the surface. One area for example might have sunshine on it while another area is shaded and full of frost. Then bad things will occur! The frosted area can literally be frozen in place while the sunny area is rapidly expanding. This in turn places tremendous expansion forces on the panel joints. When the expansion forces come up against the frozen panels they will still try to expand but because they are frozen possibly underneath they will not want to expand horizontally  – but vertically and that is very problematic for a jigsaw puzzle type connection system. But this is no problem for an H-Tongue connection system to deal with. While it could still rise up, the joint will not separate. Eventually when the temperature changes it will settle down once again, no harm done.

Ideally however this does not happen at all. It’s really important to allow for horizontal panel expansion around the perimeter of the rink. If there are boards there then what we have experienced is that the boards should be placed on top of the synthetic panels all around the perimeter. The synthetic ice can not be anchored it has to be allowed to expand and contract underneath the perimeter boards. The boards then also need to be anchored in such a fashion that allows the synthetic ice expansion and contraction to freely occur.

So needless to say – there are a few critical things to think about and understand. Expert companies like SmartRink will do these calculations and design a proper system to provide you with trouble free operation over the long term with a view to temperature variables.


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