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Prototype testing: Icemakers prepare the icy test slopes

Prototype testing
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A he development engineers of will soon be doing magic on the ice lake that has been frozen since November Audi, Hyundai, Porsche, Ford or Opel tracks in the snow to put the finishing touches on the production models of tomorrow. The salvation of prototype testing in northern Sweden or Finland depends on companies like 'Icemaker'.

Since 1973 the Finns have been preparing the frozen lakes of the Arjeplog region in winter. 'There were companies that tested in Kiruna, 500 kilometers to the north, and who noticed the runway on an ice surface during a refueling stop,' recalls Mayor Bengt-Urban Fransson. David Sundström, 85-year old veteran, is the father of the 'Icemakers'. 'Back then, Bosch and Opel were the first to come here for testing,' he says, 'when the snow fell, they wanted a smooth surface of ice for their driving tests. We then made sure of that. We agreed verbally - that was it.'

From brooms to professional use of machines

While the Opel employees initially picked up the broom themselves, David Sundström borrowed a large broom from the Swedish car manufacturer Saab, which was testing a few lakes further could be pulled by a tractor. 'The rest is legend. After a few years the demands got bigger and we started to polish the ice professionally with machines', says the now 85-year-old, 'in the beginning we had 16,000 kroner a year - today the whole thing is a million dollar business.' For 18 years the icemakers in Arjeplog had no competition.

Meanwhile, three companies are fighting for favor and orders from the car manufacturers who are testing the secret prototypes in Arjeplog between December and March. Without Mattias or his colleague Lars Sundström, automobile development would stall in the northernmost regions of Europe. 'We go to bed every evening at 9 pm at the latest,' says Mattias Jonsson, 'after all, our work starts at four in the morning. We then have until eight o'clock to get the ice surfaces in the test triangle between Arjeplog, Arvidsjaur and Slagnäs in shape.'

Snow blower with 470 PS-V12

The atmosphere on the frozen lake east of Arjeplog is truly eerie. The night is black, ice and snow crunch underfoot. In the distance, a huge vacuum cleaner seems to be howling. From a distance, the gigantic cone of light digs up meter by meter. The rumbling and howling is getting louder, the snow-covered monster is a blue Deutz truckaged year. His gigantic snow blower resembles a dangerous gullet. The aged monster chases the snow through the chimneys with tremendous pressure. The Deutz truck is powered by a 200 hp six-cylinder diesel. The milling machine is not enough. It draws its irrepressible power from a 470 hp V12 engine in the back of the truck.

BMW has the highest ice cream standards

'Since the real season only lasts three months, it's not worth buying new machines,' says Mattias Jonsson, 'a new snow blower costs at least 150,000 euros and we need a whole range of equipment.' If it has not snowed at night, the mighty ice rinks with circular track, slalom course and dynamic course can be managed by two to three people in the four hours provided. In addition to the 20-ton snow blower, blowers, polishing machines, snow clearers and tillers are also used. 'The people at BMW usually have the highest demands on the ice,' says Lars Sundström, grandson of the company founder, 'the perfect conditions on the individual ice surfaces are particularly important to them. The Asians, for example, are far from having such fixed ideas. that one kilometer of groomed slopes on an ice lake costs around 15,000 euros per season. '

60 centimeters thick ice

The ice season at the Arctic Circle begins in mid-November. Then the first lakes close. This year it started a little earlier. But the snowfalls were not too bad despite the cold temperatures. More than half a meter of snow has not fallen at the moment. The thickness of the ice layer is measured daily with a drill and special radar. Not a safe job. Until there is adequate safety, the icemakers only venture out onto the smooth ice with a rescue ladder, oxygen capsule and life jacket. When the mass of car testers arrives at the beginning of January, most of the lakes around Arjeplog have an ice thickness of almost 60 centimeters. Every day the surface is compacted from a mixture of ice, water and snow.

'In the 35 years in which we have been preparing the ice, five or six of our vehicles have collapsed,' says Senior David Sundström, 'but we all recovered and nothing happened to anyone. '

From March the icemakers will go into summer sleep

Most of the ice lakes are still too thin in mid-December and therefore not suitable for the car tests. Therefore, some companies are switching to cordoned off test sites in Sweden, but also in Rovaniemi, Finland, also on the Arctic Circle. There is more than enough snow on the secret test site, barely ten minutes from Santa Claus Village. 'The dynamic areas are larger here than in our test center in Arjeplog, Sweden,' reports Heinz Krusche, who has been responsible for the driving dynamics genes at BMW for years, 'and the snow here is a little different and we are underus. 'But everyone scratches their snowshoes so that they can go up to the ice surfaces around Arjeplog.

When the season ends in mid-March, the icemakers and the whole region go into summer sleep in larger cities, others stay with road construction companies, at least in the branch. Until next winter comes when Audi, Kia, Toyota and BMW get fresh ice cream again - in a gigantic freezer


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