Synthetic turf - Advancements in maintenance equipment

Curtis Allenin Synthetics

We have seen much advancement in the design, construction and maintenance of synthetic turf facilities in the last decade. The constant desire to push the boundaries of what is possible encourages the synthetic turf industry to constantly evolve and shift its focus. The evidence of this evolution is most visible in the maintenance of synthetic turf. The requirements to ensure the expected lifespan of a facility is not only reached, but to be exceeded, is greater than ever. Charterhouse's Curtis Allen gives an update to the subject

With operators' budgets being squeezed, it becomes imperative that any cash generating assets, such as synthetic turf pitches, are returning maximum revenue for as long as possible. In some cases, the synthetic pitch is the biggest source of income for a facility. Therefore, the maintenance of the synthetic turf is a crucial part of its successful operation - but at a cost in several ways.

I have written, many times, about the importance of maintenance and will always advocate this message. It is not something that can be ignored and, whilst the damage may not be evident immediately, there will be a cost attached to not maintaining. It is frustrating to see a maintenance regime not implemented or indeed the maintenance being reduced and operators believing they are saving money in staff costs, machinery and resources.

Manufacturers of machinery have a duty to respond to the requests of customers. Customers require equipment to carry out tasks to a certain standard, within a time-frame, considering external factors such as prime movers and cost. These requests change over time as the synthetic turf industry evolves.

Redexim Charterhouse have manufactured synthetic turf machinery for fifteen years and have developed many new machines in that time to assist customers with their needs. The range of products has grown to meet customer demands as a result of continued innovation, trialing and testing.

As synthetic turf is a versatile product, it can be installed in some strange places - roof-tops and boats are just some of the places we have seen carpet installed; though no matter where the carpet is situated, it will need the same maintenance as a more traditional installation.

Over time, it has been necessary to adapt equipment to suit the market trends; for example, good practice (and more recent legislation) would dictate that an ambulance should be able to drive onto a pitch, having negotiated any bends and access gates. If an ambulance can do so, then it is highly likely that any maintenance machinery would also be able to navigate the same route.

However, we regularly see pedestrian only access onto full-size pitches which can make it difficult to get any suitable equipment in situ, especially when there are steps onto the pitch. If maintenance gates are located at the far end of a pitch, with no route to access them from a hard surface, it would be necessary to drive any equipment across areas of natural turf prior to reaching the pitch, therefore possibly contaminating tyres. Those tasked with facility design should realise the drawbacks the access restrictions present and consider the access of machinery at the initial design stage.

As perceptions of maintenance have shifted over the years, the willingness to invest in equipment has become clear. It is now accepted that the maintenance has a cost attached, both with the physical purchase of machinery and in staff time to operate any equipment. I wrote an article for Pitchcare issue 54 entitled 'Synthetic Turf - consider the x factor' - in this article, there is a method to assist with the calculation of maintenance considering usage, users and size of area. When we use this calculation, it demonstrates that some pitches require brushing daily. Whilst this isn't a taxing task, it is crucial it is carried out to stand the pile up and move the infill in situ to support the pile.

The purchase of larger brushes and using cabbed tractors may seem like an unnecessary cost for those investing, but it will go a long way to ensuring this process is carried out. If the operator brushes the pitch in poor weather, with a small ineffective brush, it does not inspire any satisfaction or enjoyment in the task. Using larger brushes will reduce the time this process takes and be just as effective. It should take approximately thirty minutes to brush a full-sized pitch with a suitable brush and tractor, a smaller brush may take fifty minutes to cover the whole surface. This twenty minute saving every time it is brushed would add up to eighty-seven saved hours per year (assuming the pitch is brushed five times a week) - the additional eighty-seven hours of man-hours required would cost considerably more than the one-off additional cost in a larger brush.

Depending on the facility type, it is necessary to be able to supply different types of machinery; sites with only synthetic turf may not have a prime-mover or someone with prior knowledge of machinery operation to utilise it. We will, therefore, need to provide machinery which encompasses the brush into the prime-mover and can be stored in a relatively small area.

The Redexim RTC is a unit that has been developed specifically with this requirement in mind. With the brushes folded up, the machine will pass through a single 90cm gateway then, when folded out, it offers a working width of 200cm to allow effective maintenance to be carried out in a realistic timeframe. It is also crucial that training is available to educate those on the safe and effective operation of such equipment.

The evolution of machinery goes further. This is demonstrated with the design and production of machinery to remove infill -such as the Redexim Eliminator - specifically developed through customer and industry demands. The Eliminator can be used for two processes; the first may be as part of a rejuvenation process which involves removing the upper layers of infill which are most prone to becoming contaminated through poor, or no, maintenance. This material is disposed of as the contamination is often too great to efficiently clean, and new infill can then be applied. On a sand filled surface, it is normally the top 10mm of sand which is replaced. The second use is for 'end-of-life' processes, such as removing all the infill material. This allows the different materials to be separated for efficient recycling, giving additional environmental benefit and cost savings.

Finer particulate within the infill material of a pitch can cause drainage issues and prevent the water from permeating through the carpet and into the constructed drainage channels below. The design of a synthetic turf pitch means it is likely to accrue dirt and contaminates naturally and these can only be removed with the intervention of machinery.

As water and foreign material passes through the infill, it acts like a filter, trapping the finer material in the granules. You could pour dirty water in the top of a carpet and see cleaner water exit the bottom. However, there is only so much of this material a surface can hold before it will no longer drain and the infill becomes too contaminated to clean, therefore requiring it to be removed and replaced in the required rejuvenation process.

The understanding of this issue has further progressed the machinery utilised for cleaning these surfaces. The Verti-Top cleaning machine has a vacuum system integrated into the unit to collect this finer particulate. The machine's ability to lift and collect this material means it can be removed from the surface, preventing build up and compounding drainage problems. A pedestrian version is also available, which is designed to access smaller areas such as tennis courts and five-a-side areas where a tractor driven machine may not be suitable.

Interestingly, five-a-side areas and tennis courts usually need the same level of maintenance, despite having very different sports played on them and at different frequencies.

The five-a-side area will normally be utilised across the whole surface and will be subjected to a large amount of wear over a smaller area, thus requiring regular and effective brushes. The tennis court will experience large amounts of footfall and potential compaction on the base lines, whilst the other playing areas will have relatively less usage - therefore, the whole area should be brushed, but with more attention paid to the base lines.

In either case, the cleaning and removal of dust and fines is equally as important and will need to be considered when the maintenance is planned, as with most external environmental factors. I would suggest the 'little and often' approach is more effective when using this type of equipment, as it ensures that material is not allowed to accrue and the results are measurable.

The purchase of the machinery to maintain a pitch is often a once in its lifetime occurrence. This means the equipment needs to be as suitable and as functional at the end of the pitch's life as it is on day one. With this in mind, we would encourage customers to buy the best equipment possible when procuring, which will ensure the machinery is always functional and present when the maintenance is to be done.

It is recommended that customers confirm the equipment they intend to utilise is ratified by the manufacturer of their carpet, as warranties could be invalidated should it not be. It is also worth liaising with others who own and operate machinery to maintain their own facilities, as they will offer the best advice on the suitability and how to measure the results.

There are training courses and many online resources available for those wishing to learn about maintenance today. This resource is something which has developed, as synthetic turf itself and the machinery to maintain has, making this side of the turf care industry a very different place to that of a decade ago.

Curtis Allen is Synthetic Specialist for Charterhouse Turf Machinery

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