Bone rattling board collisions are an inevitable part of life in the National Hockey League. This season, however, more NHL players will skate away without serious injuries thanks to a new product from Intek Plastics, a custom plastic extruder, and Athletica, a rink systems provider.
SoftCap is a flexible extruded plastic cover that sits on top of rink dasher boards. Its design uses hollow channels to absorb impact 96% better than the material previously used, according to NHL testing. The league expects SoftCap will reduce head, chin, elbow and other injuries and has approved the product for all team arenas. The New York Islanders was the first team to install the product and several more orders have followed.
Complex Product Requires Sophisticated Extruder
Minneapolis-based Athletica, which supplies 75% of NHL dasher boards, developed an initial concept for SoftCap in April. When the company approached plastic extrusion manufacturers to produce the product, they were often turned down. Most plastic extruders considered the job too challenging due to the large size and complexity of the parts.
Athletica eventually discovered Intek Plastics, which is also in the Twin Cities area and specializes in custom plastic extrusions. Intek had extensive experience with complex plastic extrusion jobs and was confident it could successfully produce the product.
“Having the knowledge, skill and the right equipment to create a product like this is vital,” observed Joel Rhode, applications engineer for Intek Plastics. “It allows us to produce large, more intricate extrusions with superior quality.”
Finding the Sweet Spot
To design and produce a prototype in time for the fast-approaching NHL season, Intek employed its Rapid Design for Lean Manufacturing process. This included a collaborative daylong brainstorm in which the companies devised a solution that met both Athletica’s performance needs and Intek’s manufacturing requirements.
The resulting design accomplished both goals. The SoftCap is manufactured from Santoprene a flexible, colorable plastic that performs well in cold conditions. In addition to absorbing impact, the design evolved into a four-piece, modular system that would compensate for rink variations and while minimizing any effect on play. A friction-reducing coating was also added.
According to Athletica engineer Matt Palumbo, the project was a success. “The product gave us everything we needed in a compressed timeframe,” noted Palumbo. “It was very well-received by the NHL.”
Coming Soon to a Rink Near You
When the product is released for full production in the coming year, Athletica plans to make it available to NCAA, high school and recreational rinks.
About Intek Plastics
Intek Plastics engineers, extrudes and fabricates custom plastic extrusions for medium to large OEMs requiring unique, high-performance solutions. Scale and sophistication allow Intek to serve any industry with world-class manufacturing, including construction, refrigeration, agriculture, recreation, appliance, telecommunications, point of purchase and transportation.
Founded in 1961, Intek Plastics (intekplastics.com) is a privately held company with two facilities 30 minutes south of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. More than 350 Intek associates work together to create value for customers through their commitment to continuous improvement.
Benefiting from four decades of industry experience, Athletica (athletica.com) builds world-class sport solutions, including Crystaplex ice hockey rinks and arena products, Border Patrol Permanent and Portable in-line hockey rinks and GamePlex multi-sport rinks. As a Preferred Rink Equipment Supplier to the NHL, Athletica’s ice dasher systems are found in most NHL arenas and in over 3,000 rink systems worldwide. Athletica strives to improve the game through service, safety and innovation with patents and patents pending on several of its products. It is committed to providing high-quality products customers can trust at an affordable value. Headquartered in Minneapolis, Athletica can also be found online.