Old vs. New Synthetic Ice Technology
History of Synthetic Ice Reviewed
Our synthetic ice reviews have revealed this “new” technology has actually been available since the early 60’s. Earlier products were made of varying grades of Polyethylene’s. These materials did not wear well and
typically required silicone based solutions to be added to the surface in order to enhance the glide factor.
Problems with trying to make plastics glide:
These silicone glide solutions would trap dust and dirt leaving the surface greasy and messy. Besides not being very environmentally friendly, some of these glide enhancers have also been known to create a lot of white powder after skating, clinging to the skaters and equipment.
Room for Expansion:
The locking systems utilized to join synthetic ice panels together also varied and did not work well (synthetic ice expands and contracts) often leaving an uneven surface or open joints creating an undesirable skating surface. These earlier characteristics of synthetic ice led to a poor public image.
The “NEW” SYNTHETIC ICE
According to our review of synthetic ice manufacturers web sites, today’s synthetic ice is a very different product. Decades of research and advances in technology have greatly improved the synthetic ice industry. Today synthetic ice is made with very high density polymer materials engineered specifically for skating, sometimes referred to as UHMWPE (ultra high molecular weight polyethylene), or HDPE (high density polyethylene), etc.
These new products can have a coefficient of friction of up to 90% of real ice, as reviewed and reported on several manufacturers sites. While not an exact substitute to skating on real ice, today’s synthetic ice is as close you can get to a real ice skating experience. Some distributors and synthetic ice advocates even propose that the small amount of extra friction actually improves the performance of athletes who train on it.
Some manufacturers have developed water based (“green”) glide enhancers that not only help to decrease friction further but do so with less mess and residue than previous products. The technology has advanced to the point that some synthetic ice products today do not require the addition of glide enhancers though they can be added if desired. These products have built-in release lubricants that are released when the metal blade creates friction. Today’s synthetic ice also contains additives to create a UV light stabilized product.
Most synthetic ice panels are solid and can be reversed for extended life. This combined with the harder materials enables these panels to last 5-10 years or more under heavy use. The methods for connecting panels have also improved accounting for expansion and contraction. Such methods include spline, tongue and groove, dovetail and proprietary methods.
The latest computerized precision manufacturing techniques help to ensure that seems between panels are smooth and do not vary. This provides a safer and more predictable skating surface.
Lastly, many accessories are now made for synthetic ice such as perimeters that account for expansion and contraction, NHL style dasher boards, and various products to aid in the conditioning and training of hockey players.
Latest Theory on the New Synthetic Ice Surfaces compared to real Ice:
Skating on refrigerated ice, the blade increases the temperature of the microscopic top layers of the ice reducing drag and causing the blade to glide on top of the ice. The most realistic recreation of natural ice is found in the high-end synthetic ice panels that incorporate microscopic beading on the surface to simulate the slight melting of ice under a skate blade.