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Artificial turf: a perfect pitch

When our favorite teams face advance or elimination on the pitch, we’re as enthusiastic as any soccer fan. But our passions extend beyond the game: we also get a kick from the technology used to create the stadium grounds.

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It’s the hottest sport this summer: football or also known as soccer. Teams in Europe and in the Americas have been battling on the fields for the desirable trophies, and fans everywhere are passionately following the competition on the pitch.

An important part in the game is the grass that is being played on. Stadiums were once the exclusive domain of natural grass. However, artificial turf is rapidly replacing grass as the surface of choice for many sports facilities due to the many advantages that they bring – both from artificial turfs and hybrid versions, where a hybrid grass pitch features 100% natural sport grass reinforced by artificial turf fibers.

But why are artificial turfs scoring goals in the world of sports? The blades of manmade grass are synthetic, but from the way they look and respond, you’d think they were as genuine as the action when the ball is in play.

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This manmade material can even claim a role in helping Iceland to qualify for Euro 2016. In a climate better suited to cold-weather sports, the team trained on a mix of indoor and outdoor pitches, many of which featured artificial turf. That makes Iceland a part of a tradition that dates at least to 2003, when ten FIFA U17 World Cup matches took place on the synthetic field in Helsinki, Finland. Artificial turf has also helped to promote play in Norway’s top division and in major athletic venues in Salzburg, Bern and Moscow.

It’s a big-league player in other sports, too. The U.S.-based Synthetic Turf Council notes that 13 National Football League (NFL) teams play on artificial turf. It’s also used by 11,000 North American high school and university teams in sports as diverse as football, soccer, hockey, baseball, rugby, and lacrosse. And that’s not even taking into account its use on a growing number of golf courses. Each new implementation creates another showcase for its low maintenance requirements and operating costs.

And just as its use is expanding, its appearance is diversifying. Thanks to advances in material and technology, the newest generation of synthetic blades can be made to match the color, texture, and bounce of grass that’s indigenous to the area. The result is turf that not only looks natural, but looks and feels like it was “grown” locally.

“The more attentive we are to details at every phase of the R&D process, the less likely you are to be aware that the grass on the field isn’t ‘real,’” says Jens Weinhold, Senior Manager Process Engineering at Oerlikon Barmag in Chemnitz, Germany. “By creating a synthetic material that looks and behaves like nature’s own product, we let you stay focused on the game and not the grounds.”

The Synthetic Turf Council also touts the role that artificial turf can play in water conservation. According to the organization, a “typical grass sports field” can consume 500,000 to one million gallons of water annually. That’s 1,892,706 to 3,785,412 liters. By making it possible to reduce water use by that substantial an amount, synthetic grass has the potential to deliver an advantage that’s especially important in drought-prone regions.

But for athletes, artificial turf scores highest by replicating the feel, function, and responsiveness of blades of grass created by nature. That’s essential not just to meet aesthetic standards, but to protect players and support their best performance. Advances in materials have reduced the risk of injury on the field, one of the early challenges that had to be overcome in artificial turf’s evolution. At the same time, its properties allow grounds to be used more frequently. Teams don’t have to factor in time for the field to recover after a practice, match, or rainstorm, so they have more time to hone their skills and prepare for competition. More advances in materials and technology will continue and lead to new breakthroughs in artificial turf quality. Such ingenuity simply cannot be faked.

“We’re as competitive in our field as the top players are in their matches,” Weinhold says. “Our team is always looking for strategies to add to our playbook, opportunities to innovate, and ideas that can propel new market advances. When it comes to optimizing this science, we’re on top of our game, not only in artificial turf but also in all manmade fibers applications.”

Check out website to learn more about Oerlikon Barmag’s research and development on continuous improvements in artificial turf .

By Randy B. Hecht

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