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Selecting Quality Synthetic Turf Infill

When legendary rocker Billy Joel penned the words to “Get it right the first time that’s the main thing,” it probably wasn’t because of bad experiences on a sports field. When applied to today’s highly sophisticated synthetic turf fields, however, suddenly they are words to live by. With the growth of artificial turf facilities around North America, forward thinking field designers and constructors need to be intrinsically aware of how to maintain excellent playability – and build it in right from the beginning. The selection of appropriate high-performance infill raw materials is a key factor in field performance – and one which should not be taken lightly or compromised.

At the installer level today’s reality is that the synthetic turf business has become anything but a level playing field. Intense competition has become the name of the game. There are countless combinations of infill materials applied on new and retro-fit fields across the U.S. – most of which utilize silica sand and/or rubber granules, also known as crumb rubber. With warranty offerings always at the forefront of customers’ requirements, virtually all field constructors have had to focus on a couple of basic field absolutes: playability and drainage. While, many infill manufacturers and producers have come forward to service the synthetic turf industry some have simply put forth materials developed for other industries. In some instances, these off-the-shelf products may offer appealing initial cost savings for certain field installs – especially where razor-thin margins are a concern. However, the real value of quality infill materials needs to be viewed from a much higher level.

While the old adage “you get what you pay for” may bring groans of sorrow from the upper echelons of sales departments, no truer words have ever been spoken in the world of quality procurement. Truthfully – a high quality field requires high quality infill materials. Take the crumb rubber used on a typical field as an example: a scrap passenger or truck tire is destroyed to make a few pounds of crumb rubber. Tires contain incredible compositions of fiber, steel, plastics composites and a host of other obscure materials. Firstly, to destroy a tire is to do exactly the opposite of what the tire manufacturers’ had in mind for their product. For the crumb producer, add to this fact the complexities of getting all the contaminants out of the scrap tires and you have a costly and time consuming process. In fact, only a few producers achieve the desired result: crumb rubber ready for field application that is free of liberated fiber, fines, and contaminants. Along the way, others offer some less-than-spec hybrids of the above characteristics.

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With silica sand, choosing the right product is equally as crucial to ensure excellent field playability and drainage. Generally most sports field architects specify washed, high quality 99.5% silica sand for their fields - with a specification of 20-40 or equivalent. Roundness of the sand is also an important factor. However, an incredible variety of sands exist on the market today. As with crumb rubber, raw aggregate sand goes through many different processes to be refined into the high quality product specified for artificial turf fields. Each stage of washing, drying, and sieving adds additional cost to the product – but also add additional value. Less expensive sands, while appropriate for certain industrial uses, may quickly fail the test-of-time by crushing and compacting on impact – leading to premature performance failures. In extreme cases – sometimes in conjunction with contaminated rubber infill, drainage performance may be significantly denigrated leading to the necessity for field replacement. Costs of crew relocations and delays can quickly mount.

If the moral of this story really is “to get quality infill you must pay for quality infill,” how then do we address this single most anticipated question: how do field contractors stay competitive, when faced with infill-quality undercutting by their competition? The answer lies somewhere in the course of best-value analysis – or quite simply put: the lowest cost material doesn’t always lead to the best overall cost value for the company. Progressive field installers should consider the five step “C-L-E-A-R” approach to best-value infill procurement:

  • Choose your suppliers based upon their industry experience, knowledge, QC programs, and past ability to deliver quality product
  • Look at the cost of your infill materials versus that of the entire project: how much extra cost is really added to the bottom line by buying high-quality, in-spec infill versus the potential for large rebuild & warranty costs later?
  • Evaluate your supplier’s production capacity. Will your infill supplier be able to deliver the quantities you require, when required? If contract trucking is required, will transport be available in this lane on shipping day?
  • Allow experienced third-party material and logistics providers to handle your infill procurement needs. For minimal extra cost well-connected industry specialists can provide supply-chain strategies, guaranteed quality programs, in-spec inventory, and the freight components necessary to handle your infill requirements for you.
  • Remember that quality infill may cost more, but ultimately adds performance value to your product marketing.

 

When ordering silica sand or crumb rubber for their synthetic turf projects, the use of high-performance infill materials by field builders needs to be a reflection of their commitment to build quality fields. Put another way: quality infill adds only inches to costs – but yards to performance. Get the field right the first time – that’s the main thing.



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