Garry Martin, managing director of Replay Maintenance talks about the steps to prolong the life of your artificial surface whilst also preserving player safety.

Whilst the low maintenance requirements of artificial turf pitches (ATP’s) have always been one of their strongest selling points, it has become clear that a planned, proactive maintenance programme is the best way to maximise the life of it whilst also preserving player safety.

‘Maintenance free’ is associated with car batteries, not as some would have you believe, about artificial surfaces. The reality is that everything requires some sort of maintenance if you want it to perform to the highest standard and also stand the test of time.

Artificial surface maintenance is crucial to the longevity of an ATP. A poorly maintained pitch may show signs of premature aging. Things to look out for are an uneven surface, compaction, infill loss, poor shock absorption, loss of traction for players, moss and algae and also drainage issues.

It is a false economy to scrimp on artificial surface maintenance. Whilst you may save money in the short term by extending maintenance intervals or waiting until problems occur, an expensive recovery operation or total renewal will be required far sooner than if the correct maintenance programme is put in place from day one.

Although suppliers and installers of artificial surfaces opinions generally differ over what is best for their clients, there is at least agreement from all parties on the fundamental aspects involved in the maintenance of the surfaces once they have been installed.

Any artificial playing surface which contains an infill, whether its sand or rubber, will at some stage, suffer migration away from the areas which are used most often. The intensity will vary dependent on the usage and the particular system used, but rest assured, it will happen.

Dirt and debris will accumulate on the playing surface which may have been brought on by the wind and rain, the player’s footwear, or if an indoor facility is being used, general dirt and dust from within the building.

If left untreated, the surface will gradually deteriorate.

Degradation of the artificial carpet fibres and infill (whether using rubber and/or sand) will occur. The severity of this will depend on the system being used and the quality of materials used during the installation of the carpet. However, through general play and exposure to the natural elements of the weather, there will be some loss of integrity.

With no maintenance programme in place to counter these issues, the playing surface will eventually become contaminated. This will not only affect the performance of the surface but also the general health and safety of the surface. It is therefore imperative that an appropriate maintenance programme is introduced as early as possible from the installation date.

Drag Brushing is now considered to be a fundamental part of any maintenance programme. Various recommendations exist on what machinery should be used for this process, which can include the use of static/oscillating brushes or drag mats fitted to a suitable vehicle. Whatever method is preferred, it is important that the process should ensure that the infill is kept evenly spread and the pile is kept erect. The frequency will depend on a number of factors i.e. amount of usage, sport being played etc but should be carried out on a weekly basis wherever possible.

It is important to remove organic debris from the surface to prevent the material rotting, breaking down and stopping the drainage properties of the surface. If the surface cannot drain properly it remains damp in warm conditions providing the perfect environment for moss and algae growth. This can then seal the surface with it eventually flooding in certain places. Having regular and also the correct maintenance programme in place is the key.

Brushing or ‘drag brushing’ is an essential part of any artificial pitch maintenance regime and will help to keep the sand and/or rubber infill evenly distributed over the surface, which will naturally migrate from high wear areas of the pitch to the edges and or/corners. As the infill acts as the ‘wearing course’, it is essential that it is returned back to these high-use areas in order to prolong the overall life of the synthetic carpet.

Replay Maintenance can supply a range of artificial maintenance equipment which allows facilities to carry out their own in-house maintenance.

Perhaps the most critical maintenance step is to regularly de-compact the infill. Rubber, especially small granules of rubber, will compact over time and make the playing surface harder under foot. The Fieldman testing device is a way of testing the affect that maintenance has on a surface. It provides an instant force reduction ratio, deformation reading and energy restitution reading that can be replicated across a synthetic pitch to provide an overall firmness ratio.

The Fieldman testing device measures the safety of the surfaces to the players where a player is running and falling onto a surface. The foot stability and deformation to an artificial surface is important to make sure the infill to the surface hasn’t caused the carpet to compact to be almost like concrete.

The testing is carried out on-site and monitors the results of several areas giving the vertical deformation, energy restitution and force reduction test reports. For the first time, groundsmen and facility managers will be able to monitor how effective their maintenance regimes are and be able to predict when a surface may need rejuvenating.

The Fieldman could end the long search for quantifiable research into how best to maintain artificial pitches. The Fieldman is only available in the UK through Replay Maintenance and we offer it free of charge as part of our Service Agreements.

So to conclude; artificial surfaces, whilst being able to be played on in all weather conditions, are not ‘maintenance free’ as some people would have you believe – like all playing surfaces, they require a maintenance programme to be able to perform at their best.

Replay Maintenance is at the forefront of the artificial sports surfacing industry and is one of the most respected and long established names within the sector. Their aim is to provide a quality service at a competitive price, all delivered via their professional and approachable in-house team. Their client base spans the length and breadth of the country and includes large local authorities as well as small clubs and private court owners; Replay are the official training supplier to the IOG, hold partnership status with the East Midland Counties FA and were the Supplier of track cleaning services (Olympic Stadium) to the London 2012 Games.