Start-up SNOCOM ploughs through heaps of snow towards sunny skies
SNOCOM B.V. jumps into the snow harvesting and removal business with its Snowcuber snow harvesting system. The Snowcuber machine is fitted with SNOCOM’s in-house invention, the ‘Continuous Snow Compression (CSC)’ module. The Snowcuber clears the tarmac by picking up the snow and significantly reducing its size using the CSC Technology. What is left is a densely compressed product which can easily be transported away from the logistic hub, such as an airport.
Henk Arntz, founder and CEO of SNOCOM, and the brains behind the innovative snow harvester was aboard a train when he first came up with his innovative idea. Suffering from major delays due to snowy weather -as is quite common with the Dutch train transportation system- Henk started thinking of ways to combat this ‘simple’ problem. After some research he discovered an engineer had already solved his problem of having snow trapped between the switches of the railway tracks. After further research it became clear the largest barriers were found in the airport industry. Here, the cost and complexity of snow harvesting is huge. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport even placed several videos on their youtube channel, stating the difficulties in their snow removal operation. This provided Henk with sufficient information to find continue and adapt his solution to the airport situation.
Snowballing: From Idea to Product
With a background in Mechanical Engineering at the Technical University of Eindhoven, Henk established a strong connection with Schiphol. He pitched his idea in August 2011 to the Schiphol Group and after receiving very positive feedback, he went on and started his master thesis on his innovative idea in January 2012. At Schiphol Henk received business support from Schiphol’s incubator and Climate-KIC partner ‘theGROUNDS’ and further feedback from snow removal department ‘Airside Support’.
“Apart from these subject related inputs, talking to the Schiphol employees during coffee breaks and lunches proved to be invaluable.”
– H. Arntz, SNOCOM
The idea really took off In April 2012 when SNOCOM was granted the Valorization Grant phase 1 of STW in July 2012. Henk successfully tested the first prototype in Austria, January 2013. Where he teamed up with Austrian farmer, Hermann Heidenreich, who helped perform initial testing. Feeling confident after this success, SNOCOM applied for Climate-KIC’s acceleration programme and was granted stage 1 incubation in February 2013. After graduating in May, Henk started working full-time on his business idea which helped to secure further financing and support in preparation of the final stage of product testing in the winter of 2013/2014. By this time SNOCOM was also granted the STW Valorization Grant phase 2 and Stage 3 incubation in Climate-KIC’s acceleration program.
After successful preliminary testing at the ice rink and Royal Air force base Eindhoven in the early winter of 2014, the SNOCOM team set out to Kuusamo at the arctic circle of Finland for final product testing. The goal of the expedition was to proof the capability of the Snowcuber to perform under all-weather conditions and according to its specifications. The Snowcuber was transported in a large sea-container, filled with equipment and shipped to ‘Finland’s snowiest region’. Then, disaster struck when after two months of waiting not a single snowflake had fell and Kuusamo recorded its highest temperature for the time of year in history. “The temperature was so high (+2-4 °C), it wasn’t even possible to drive on and safely use the snow and ice on the arctic lakes”.
After Winter Comes Spring
Returning home from this major set-back, the market entry of SNOCOM was delayed by a year, since the demonstration of a product is an absolute necessity. Having spent a large portion of their budget SNOCOM, put down its activities for a while, and adjusted its goals towards a 2015 market introduction. Meanwhile the team focussed its activities on securing a new round of investment and launching customers throughout the spring, summer and early autumn of 2014.
The teams’ confidence and efforts paid off, managing to secure investment from the Mainport Innovation Fund (MIF), funded by the Schiphol Group, KLM, Delft University of Technology and Rabobank. Furthermore, it’s strong ties with the theGROUNDS incubator and Schiphol Airside Support made it possible to set-up and receive an intent of purchase for the Snowcuber system before the end of autumn 2015; that is, if the Snowcuber lives up to its name and manages to safely clear an aircraft stand, the place where passengers enter an airplane. For this reason, the final stage of product testing scheduled for this winter will prove to be essential. If all goes to plan SNOCOM estimates major hub-airports like Schiphol Amsterdam, can have a return-on-investment well within two years. Major airline companies such as KLM are estimated to save even more, since their costs are more than tenfold of the costs for the airport.
“Schiphol has been collaborating with Henk Arntz for quite some time now. We’ve seen him as an effective student, and an aspiring innovator. Schiphol Group shares Climate-KIC’s trust in both Henk as entrepreneur, and SNOCOM as Start-up. We are certain Henk will deliver on his promise. The first results are very promising!”
– J. Stekelenburg, Schiphol Group
Saving the Environment via Efficient Snow Removal
As an added benefit, the Snowcuber will significantly reduce the environmental impact and potassium formate used by the airports snow clearing activities. Major airports use fleets of snow ploughs and brushes combined with vehicles that spray potassium formate which acts as an anti-freeze. The goal of this mechanical and chemical snow removal is to ensure safety for passengers and employees at all times. SNOCOM promises to deliver a far better result with fewer vehicles, which results in fuel and operation cost savings of up to 80 %(!) In addition, SNOCOM’s new way of mechanical snow harvesting will lead to a significant decrease in the amount of potassium formate used.
To conclude, SNOCOM’s future is looking bright; with strong ties to the Royal Air force Base Eindhoven and Eindhoven Airport, who provide access to hangar space needed for storage and with the support of VDL Containersystemen providing production and capacity for expansion; SNOCOM is ready for the winter and is expected to implement its Snowcuber at Schiphol Airport in the Autumn of 2015.
Contact: Henk Arntz, CEO & Founder
Address: Den Dolech 2 Building Gemini 5612 AZ Eindhoven