Eight years ago, Paul van Eijl was waiting to get on the ice to play an old-timers hockey game. He watched the Zamboni resurface the ice and thought to himself that there must be a faster way, a simpler way to refresh the ice.
“Zamboni created an incredible project back in 1949,” said van Eijl, a 1993 graduate of Red Wing Central High School, “but it’s been almost 70 years, and there have not been a lot of adaptations.”
He noted that the current process takes about 10 minutes to resurface the ice out of every hour of ice time.
“If I were to ask any business downtown to close their shop for 15% of the day, they would lose a lot of business,” van Eijl said. “That is using a lot of valuable time that could be used in practices and games.”
There are more than 500 ice rinks in Minnesota, according to van Eijl, more than any other state in the country. That keeps ice time at a reasonable cost per hour, but in other locations, he said rates may be $300 or $400 per hour or more.
“If we take that 10-minute block for resurfacing and reduce that to between two and three minutes, an arena can utilize an extra one to two hours per day which is huge,” said van Eijl who lives in Fountain City, Wisconsin. “There will be a lot of arenas that can pay these off within a year just with the additional ice savings.”
van Eijl and his team talked with ice-resurfacing drivers at several rinks and got good information from them. The team drew designs and made prototype models, basing the unit on a design similar to the rear portion of a Zamboni unit. As part of the process, they have applied for multiple patents on parts they have developed.
“The most difficult thing is the ability to shave ice with a much smaller machine,” van Eijl said. “That took years to develop a new proprietary blade system.”
An National Hockey League rink is 85 feet wide and 200 feet long and van Eijl’s team divided the rink into sections to determine the size of a unit. At first, they wanted to use eight units, but realized that required a lot of storage space and didn’t save much more time than using four units.
“Instead of each machine carrying 100 gallons of water like a Zamboni, each machine only needs to carry 25 gallons of water,” van Eijl said. “Each machine only needs to pick up a fraction of the ice shavings. It is basically resurfacing by committee instead of resurfacing by one big unit.”
The unit is called a Sottu6. Sottu is an Icelandic term meaning resurfacing, according to van Eijl. He added that the units are fully electric and, with automation taking over vacuums, lawn mowers and other machines, it seemed like a good time to try the same with ice resurfacing.
“The sport of hockey has grown dramatically, especially in the United States,” van Eijl said. “Now you are getting NHL players coming from Arizona and Florida and places that you never would have expected. The cost of ice time is high. We feel that this is going to be the future of the industry. We are looking for a strategic partner to help complete the project and bring it to market. Frankly, we would love to build these here in Minnesota.”