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How Synthetic Turf Is Benefiting from Latest Fiber Technology

By Denise Valenzuela

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How Synthetic Turf Is Benefiting from Latest Fiber Technology

Recent technology innovations have made synthetic turf better for consumers. The industry has been working on a design to create thicker, concave filaments that stand upright, ensuring predictable performance and appealing look and feel.

On the surface level, this may seem like a subtle change, but the latest advances in synthetic turf are rooted in fiber technology. The departure from smooth, rectangular blades that tended to lie flat hasn’t come overnight, but field manufacturers have been drawing unprecedented attention to their fiber tweaks this year in particular. Some turf companies claim the manufacturing of its latest fiber as “the biggest technological advancement the industry has seen in decades” and say the advancements are better for companies, people, athletes and the environment.

Separating state-of-the-art yarn manufacturing from marketing spin can be challenging. For years, at least, fibers have taken one of two forms – mono-filaments or slit-film tape. Mono-filament fibers are extruded as singular strands, while slit-film fibers are cut from sheets of polymer to a predetermined width and then perforated by design. During slit-film installation, the perforations are combed through, or fibrillated, to form the individual filaments that will comprise the finished playing surface. This process is not to be confused with post fibrillation, which is the unintentional and undesirable fraying of fibers over time due to wear.

Currently, fields composed of slit-film fibers are believed to outnumber mono-filament fields, for no other reason than slit-film technology has been around longer. Some fields feature a hybrid of both fiber types.

The manufacturing process for both types involves taking raw materials – namely, the polymer (polyethylene is now used exclusively for long-pile turf) and melting them in an extruder. The melted material is then either formed into a film and cooled or pushed through a spinneret and cooled. The spinneret features an interchangeable die plate in which holes are cut in the shape desired for the finished fiber. Mono-filament turf fibers, which have emerged as a popular alternative to slit film only within the past five years, are manufactured in dozens of different shapes – from horseshoes to dog bones – when viewed in cross section. Rectangles, triangles and diamonds are common, as are turf blades exhibiting one or more vertical spines along their length. One fiber introduced this year combines a concave shape with multiple spines, much like a natural grass blade.

Shape can determine how well a fiber resists fraying or how the entire field responds to solar glare and heat retention (since a shaped mono-filament loses some of its gloss). Above all, various shapes have been introduced to enhance fiber memory – the ability of the filament to stand up after being trampled down.

But shape is only one third of the mono-filament fiber equation. The other two thirds – polymer and process – are harder to explain, since both are the stuff of proprietary secret. Suffice to say that even though polyethylene is the polymer of choice among all manufacturers of long-pile synthetic turf, polyethylene formulas vary from one manufacturer to the next as each searches for the right chemistry to balance fiber softness and rigidity. Chemistry also plays a role in a field’s ability to maintain color, withstand UV exposure and reflect heat.

Process, or how raw materials are oriented into a specifically designed mono-filament fiber, likewise differs depending on the manufacturer. Manufacturers’ specifications often vary but include a denier, a yarn’s weight measured in grams per 9,000 meters of material. More important in terms of finished synthetic turf quality is face weight – the combined weight of fibers and the backing to which they’re tufted, which is measured in ounces per square yard. In other words, fiber exhibiting a high denier number, but sparsely tufted, will not add significantly to the face weight of the finished field.

A monofilament fiber’s thickness, measured in microns, is another spec more worthy of a buyer’s attention which we will examine in our next post. For more information contact us today.

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