Smart automation: The power under the ice

Organizers of sports events want to create perfect conditions for both the participants in their competitions and for spectators. The fast-paced competitions in China’s National Speed Skating Oval are supported by a powerful solution that controls the building’s climate, power consumption, and safety. The smart digital technology is inconspicuously integrated into the arena to ensure top athletic performance and comfort.

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Barely one and a half years old, the unique design of the National Speed Skating Oval in China has already made it a landmark in the capital city of Beijing. The facade is formed by ribbons of light that wind around the arena and are responsible for the building’s nickname, the “Ice Ribbon.” Inside is the largest skating rink in Asia with a surface measuring over 12,000 square meters – more than one and a half football fields.

 

The Ice Ribbon was built by Beijing Pan-China Sports Industry as a venue for the world’s top athletes, so it comes as no surprise that expectations for the building and technology were high. The arena was intended to provide ideal conditions for ice hockey, speed skating, and figure skating competitions while at the same time operating as energy-efficiently as possible.

From the very start, it was clear that digitalization and automation were key to fulfilling these exacting requirements. The National Speed Skating Oval is supported behind the scenes by innovative, state-of-the-art solutions that are responsible for air-conditioning, energy efficiency, and safety measures.

Maximum comfort for maximum performance

But one thing at a time. The heart of a successful ice arena is its climate control. It isn’t easy to manage temperature and humidity in a space made up of diverse zones. While the skating rink area has to be kept dry and cold, spectators prefer a little more warmth and comfort. A smart building solution was implemented throughout the 80,000 square meter stadium and beneath the gigantic field of ice. Networked thermostats, damper actuators, electric control values, and numerous devices with over 10,000 control points are connected to the Desigo CC building management platform, which controls the air-conditioning unit’s humidity and air speeds so that both spectators and athletes can feel comfortable while conditions remain perfect for the ice.

With the Simatic control, cooling output can be optimally adjusted to provide the specific ice conditions required.
Yu Shaui Hao, Product Manager Siemens China 

Maximum precision thanks to fail-safe control

The extremely precise process of preparing of the 12,000 square meters of ice is both an art and a science. The key to ice production in the Oval is an automation system with redundant and fail-safe programmable logic controllers (PLCs). The distributed automation architecture comprises the redundant Simatic S7-1500R PLC system (consisting of a primary and a backup CPU 1515R), Simatic S7-1200 controllers for performing basic tasks, and the fail-safe Simatic CPU 1512SP F in a distributed architecture. Simple and straightforward and operation is guaranteed by Simatic WinCC V7, into which all the controllers are integrated so that values and states can be visualized.

“With the Simatic control, cooling output can be optimally adjusted to provide the specific ice conditions required,” says Yu Shaui Hao, Product Manager at Siemens China. “Our customers also wanted to know that they were purchasing a modern and redundant control system that could be easily upgraded for future expansions.”

 

The control system can control the temperature of the individual ice units independently across the entire ice surface and adjust ice production as needed. This means maintaining different temperatures depending on the sport, or if necessary, at different locations in the rink.

CO₂ that cools

The controller also plays a crucial role in monitoring power consumption. Smart lighting solutions with automatic sensors help reduces consumption. With this in mind, an energy management system was created for the venue’s central ice plant based on the Simatic Energy Manager. It precisely records and clearly displays the basic data on all the electrical circuits on the automation level. Smart lighting solutions with automatic sensors also contribute to minimizing the Ice Ribbon’s power consumption.

The ice surface is cooled using carbon dioxide (CO₂), a natural and environmentally friendly refrigerant that can also improve energy efficiency by more than 20 percent. Even natural refrigerants pose technological challenges: Hydrocarbons are flammable and require appropriate safety measures when deployed. To guarantee safety, a control system was installed that monitors the carbon dioxide concentration in three main areas: the machine room, the underground cooling tunnels, and the arena. An emergency exhaust fan is automatically activated if critical concentrations of carbon dioxide are detected.

Entertainment on ice for many generations to come

The 22 ice ribbons that encircle the National Speed Skating Oval represent the year that the stadium hosted its first international event. “During the 2021/2022 winter season, our systems were put to the test and passed with flying colors,” says Siemens Product Expert Christian Deml. “We’re able to control the temperature of the 400-meter-long ice surface to within a maximum range of ±0.5° Celsius while also taking into account the considerable effects of body heat generated by up to 12,000 spectators. The Simatic controllers’ operation is fail-safe, and more importantly, they’re highly available.”

 

The cornerstone has been laid. With its unique design, state-of-the-art systems, and advanced technology, the Speed Skating Oval will continue to delight athletes and fans from around the world for many generations to come.

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