While many say that the grass is greener on the other side, it does not matter at all to Mahesh Ganapathy because whichever side he is on will turn out to be greener. Mahesh, the managing director of ACT Global Sports Sdn Bhd, is in the business of manufacturing artificial turf.

Breathing life into artificial grass in Malaysia

While many say that the grass is greener on the other side, it does not matter at all to Mahesh Ganapathy because whichever side he is on will turn out to be greener. Mahesh, the managing director of ACT Global Sports Sdn Bhd, is in the business of manufacturing artificial turf.

The company, which was set up in 2010, is working in collaboration with ACT Global Sports Ltd, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of artificial turf. The factory in Malaysia is the ACT Global Sports Ltd fourth manufacturing hub after the US, Holland and China.

ACT Global Sports Ltd is one of only nine makers of turf recognised by football’s governing body FIFA as a “preferred producer”, making its turf a standard accepted by many professional leagues globally.

“Most European and American manufacturers are affiliated to either the European Synthetic Turf Council (ESTO) or the Synthetic Turf Council (STC) in the US. It is difficult for companies outside Europe and the US to get accreditation,” Mahesh said.

Since there are no other international bodies like ESTO and STC setting standards outside Europe and the US, getting accreditation from international sports bodies like FIFA, among others, becomes a time consuming and costly affair.

The joint venture with ACT Global Sports Ltd in the US eliminates this problem, making ACT Global Sports Sdn Bhd the only FIFA certified artificial turf manufacturer in Asean.

“Our lower manufacturing costs and closeness to the market gives us a distinct advantage to the European and American imports.

“Our range of sports and landscape turf is now being accepted both locally and internationally,” Mahesh said.

The company, which is privately funded, has paid-up capital of RM1.8mil and authorised capital of RM5mil.

Mahesh spent nine years working in the Middle East and North Africa before returning to Malaysia in 2010 to start the artificial turf business.

“It was while I was working overseas that I got exposed to the artificial turf market and saw the potential in setting up a dedicated turf manufacturing unit to cater to the Asia Pacific market for both sports and landscape turf,” he said.

Artificial turf is used for a variety of purposes and can be seen at airports, supermarkets, landscaping, and sports fields.

Factors including the country’s stable political and economic climate, combined with its modern infrastructure made it an ideal choice for them to base their operations here.

“The Asia Pacific market is heavily dependant on imports from US, Europe, Australia and China,” said Mahesh.

“Malaysia is the perfect platform to launch a range of high-quality turf at competitive pricing to meet the market demands.”

He cites credibility as one of the main challenges of the business.

“We did not want to get grouped with China manufacturers and drown in a sea of low-priced turf. We set out to establish ourselves as a high-quality premium-turf manufacturer, comparable to European and American manufacturers,” he explained.

Another challenge includes educating customers on the cost of installing artificial turf.

“The cost of implementation is high, but after a heavy rain the field can be used within half an hour, compared to natural grass,” he said.

“We need to educate people that it is an investment.”

The company has done work on several local and overseas projects, including in Singapore and the Middle East. They have surfaced schools in Singapore and Changi airport, and are currently working on a project in Abu Dhabi.

The company has worked with the Kuala Lumpur Football Association (KLFA), and have done projects including two football fields in Bukit Jalil, one in Bayan Lepas and Epsom College in Sepang.

Some of the advantages of turf includes year-round playability for users, as the turf is usable when weather conditions are unfavourable.

In some aspects, turf is more durable than natural grass as artificial turf allows flexibility in the use of the field under varied conditions.

Factors such as heavy rain or dry spells do not prevent player from using the field, compared to natural grass, which might suffer under such circumstances.

Mahesh says maintenance for artificial grass is cheaper in the long run as turf does not need water, fertiliser, pesticides or mowing, translating to lower operating costs.

“You can save a lot of water,” said Mahesh, adding that replanting on a regular basis is not needed, and there are no insects to worry about.

Natural grass may give users a problems with uneven ground, but artificial turf does away with the problem.

Other benefits of using artificial turf include its aesthetic appeal since there is no chance of brown spots appearing.

“Cost-wise, it is more expensive but maintenance over time is cheaper,” said Mahesh.

The cost of installing turf varies from one project to another.

“It’s all a question of construction and the subbase. We have to do a site inspection,” said Mahesh.

A full-sized football field can cost between RM1.7mil to RM1.9mil and take approximately five months to install. After installation, an artificial pitch can last up to seven years with average use.

The turf contains drainage channels, with pipes below below, while the turf layered on top of this.

“While the subbase is being done, we manufacture the turf,” he said, adding that it takes approximately four weeks to install the turf on a field.

Technical specifications may vary from one type turf to another, depending what it is used for. The “infill”, a layer under the turf that contains rubber granules, may move over time.

Maintenance involves ensuring the infill remains level throughout by lightly brushing the field, which can be done every two months.

Regular brushing to keep dirt and leaves off the turf is also important.

Some of the challenges of the business include gaining the acceptance of players who may be used to playing on natural grass.

“Most teams in Europe are already playing on artificial grass,” said Mahesh.

ACT Global Sports uses fourth-generation fibres that are more resistant to wear.

“It has natural playing characteristics, with a better slide and feel,” he said.

All the materials used in the manufacture of the turf here are from Europe and the Middle East, while their machines are from the UK.

The company hastwo plants in Sungai Buloh.Onene plant does the stitching of fibres and the other does the synthetic latex coating.

All the work is done using machinery while the factory workers help with quality checking.

“If there is anything to mend, such as trimming the turf if is is uneven, the workers will do so by hand,” said Mahesh, .

Their two-tone green fibres contain elements of brown to give it a natural look.

An average football field requires 12 tonnes of yarn, while the duration of installation varies depending on the project as ground conditions may vary.

Artificial turf can provide multiple uses for one field, and not only be used for sports but other outdoor activities, including concerts.

“In the future, water will become an increasingly valuable resource and artificial turf will definitely help in the conservation of water,” he said.

Mahesh believes that artificial turf has not reached the stage where it is a green alternative, but it already helps with conservation efforts.

For last year, 40% of the company’s revenue came from local sales, while 60% came from foreign projects.

“About 70% of our business is in sports,” said Mahesh, adding that the company does not plan to go into the retail market.

“We want to maintain our emphasis as a manufacturer for sports related use.”

As for their expansion plans, Mahesh hopes to increase the company’s product range and not just volume. He also sees a potential of their businesses coming from schools. He believes that schools can benefit from artificial turf as it allows one surface to be used for multiple sports, such as football, rugby, running and other activities, saving space and cost.