Engineers at the Schulich School are working with technicians at the Oval to create a skate sharpening system that has the potential to shave precious seconds off a skater’s time when it matters most.

The Oval and Schulich teams have joined forces to perfect speed skate blades by utilizing computer-assisted skate sharpening and believe it will give athletes the competitive edge.

In speed skating, winners are determined by a fraction of a second and skate blades are ground to eliminate minute imperfections to give athletes the best chance at bringing home a medal.

"When you're talking just 1/100th of a second between first second and third, when you just make this fine-tuning of the blade and just touching up that much, makes all the difference in the world," says Oval Skate Shop coordinator James Monson, leader of the project.

The blades have a slight bend to help with turning and a rocker shape from front to back that varies for short or long track and is customized for the skater.

“In speed skating we call it a rocker. In hockey, they call it a profile, you may call it a radius as well and you want to put on the most perfect rocker that you can put on which gives you the best glide and gives you the best feel on the ice,” said Monson.

Right now the standard is to clamp the blade into a grinding machine which then follows a template. A gauge is run along the blade to identify imperfections which are then ground out by hand.

The traditional technique is very time consuming and makes it difficult to create custom rockers so the shop is acquiring a computer numerical controlled machine that is more accurate.

“Right now we can do that by hand it’s just it’s very, very time consuming to measure, to tune it up by hand. This new technology will allow us to do much less work by hand but also customize and create different rockers and be able to do a lot more experimenting of finding out exactly what rocker works the best for what conditions and for each individual athlete,” said Monson.

Schulich School of Engineering Machine Shop technician Clint Stern constructed a special jig to precisely clamp blades into the machine and computerized files will allow blades to be altered quickly.

“The jig just holds the blade. The blade actually has a curvature so if you look at the jig there’s actually two little pieces that will come out for two different curvatures,” said Stern. “What it will do is hopefully put it in a repeatable position so they can grind a curvature on it and if they so desire, change that curvature at a moment’s notice.”

Monson says the system is the future of speed skate sharpening. "When you get that perfect rocker, your speed goes up."

“It’s a super exciting thing for us. Sharpening our skates has always been up to us and sometimes there’s not enough time to do it and we may have to make sacrifices for it so hearing that there’s a machine now that could possibly do it for us is very exciting,” said speed skater Sarah Gregg.

The team is testing the machine and once it is installed, they say it will offer developing athletes a cutting edge that could make the winning difference in the next Olympics.