Update on field paint technologies from manufacturers

Pioneer Athletics

Have you ever noticed that a painted field looked slightly better right after it dried than after a particularly wet night? Have you ever stepped into an area you painted yesterday only to leave tracks as you leave the painted area?

When paints are dry to the touch they begin to cure. Many solvent-based paints cure very quickly. However, water-based paints can take hours and sometimes days to cure. If a coating is not sufficiently cured, water can re-saturate the paint causing it to track or, in instances such as rain, run off the blade.

Various additives and formulation tricks can speed up the curing process. However, that often means compromising plant health and coating flexibility. Many of the potential additives are very damaging to grass and the soil profile. Making paint cure too quickly will leave the coating too stiff, which will cause the paint to flake off the grass blade quickly in moderate traffic.

Curing of grass paints is difficult because the plant itself is regularly releasing water. When you factor in cool weather, dew, and normal sprinkling, the curing process can take days instead of hours. Additionally, there are circumstances when turf managers have to throw a tarp over a freshly painted field. This can virtually stop the curing process.

Fortunately, new technologies occasionally become available that give paint formulators an opportunity to make more environmentally friendly grass coatings that perform better for sports turf managers. For example, a new resin development allows us to get a water-based paint to cure much more quickly, remain very flexible, and not damage grass.

Research at various test sites throughout the US on bermudagrass, ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass has concluded that the new resin system does not harm grass after repeat applications. Due to these results, our team of chemists was given the challenge to create a grass coating that had to be bright, durable, easy to use, have a finished film pH between 6 and 6.5, have great hiding, have as little VOCs as possible (preferably zero), dilute easily and have the other properties that sports turf managers require.

During our comparative tests with existing grass coatings, we noticed significant differences in curing and re-wetting. The new formulation was performing extremely well all summer and into early fall. Unfortunately, product development often does not move in a straight line. While trying to create a solution to one problem, you sometimes create a coating that has unexpected characteristics.

After an unusually cool and dewy evening, we noticed that the square with the experimental coating had noticeably more dew than the squares painted with our existing formulations. Regardless of the intense dew, the experimental paint did not re-wet. Although the paint on the other squares had little dew, they re-wet overnight. The water resistance of the experimental product is a result of its extreme hydrophobicity. Therefore, water will bead on the coating like water beads on a freshly waxed car.

Internally, we faced the question: Is this new formulation a success now that sports turf managers can get on their fields earlier in the morning without tracking paint? Or does the new formulation require additional work because turf managers might have to wait longer for the dew to dissipate? Unfortunately, the new resin technology does not play well with currently used paint technology. So, combining the two will not provide a perfect middle ground.

Our new formulation was sent to a variety of climates for evaluation. In each case, pails, randomly labeled A, B and C were sent to test sites in different regions of the US. We asked for feedback on ease of use, whiteness, brightness, quickness to dry, and tendency to re-wet. We asked each test site to carefully evaluate the health of the grass from the samples. Finally, we wanted to know if anyone saw anything different or unusual.

In general, these tests confirmed what we saw. The new formulation would not harm grass and was often brighter in the morning than other paints because no pigment bled down the blades with the dew. However, the new formulation held noticeably more dew than the surrounding areas.

Rarely do improved technologies come along that are perfect replacements for existing ingredients. A new ingredient may significantly enhance one performance aspect while slightly degrading another. Turf coatings are carefully balanced formulations and it’s our job to find dependable solutions.

Overall, there is a steady march toward better performance, an enhanced environmental profile, and more niche products to allow turf managers greater choice in providing good looking, healthy and sustainable fields.

Eco Chemical

The trend toward increased multi-event use is the biggest driver of evolution and innovation within the sports field industry and particularly, with synthetic turf venues. The days of simply buying and applying paint without regard for preconditioning and eventual removal are gone, displaced by the demand for a more systematic approach to field maintenance.

There is also an increased awareness and demand today for ecologically sound field maintenance practices that will minimize the release of harsh chemicals and materials into the environment. These materials have the potential to be hazardous, and can also create long-term issues with field performance caused by material buildup and chemical impact on the synthetic turf and grass surfaces.

Technological advances in field paint are providing more options for field managers to maintain their fields with environmentally savvy products and methods, while saving time, labor, and cost.

According to Jeff Fisher, manager for the TempLine Coatings and Equipment Division of Eco Chemical, “The industry just demands it. Sports are huge and growing; everything from kindergarteners playing soccer, up to the big professional sports events on multi-use, high level fields. Today’s sports fields are expected to be available for play 15 to 20 hours a day, so having an efficient and reliable field maintenance plan is essential.”

According to Fisher, “It’s not always just in the product that we’re putting down, but it’s in the packaging, the technology, the system, the man-hours, and the money it takes. All those things add up to being efficient as well as being ecologically responsible.”

When it comes to innovation in the workplace, Fisher says that, “As a group, we have always been problem solvers who look at every situation in our market as an opportunity for delivering improvement or a totally new solution. We come at it with a long-term perspective, and I think because we’re from the Pacific Northwest, we bring an additional ‘ecocentric’ dimension to our long-term thinking. We definitely come at it from a different angle.”

When asked where the company gets the inspiration for new products, Fisher says, “I’m typically not in the lab. I’m in the field talking with customers and that’s where a lot of the ideas come from. When I’m out there looking at the problems people are having, or how people typically do something, I try and streamline it and figure out what we can do to make the situation more efficient. Then I go back to the lab and explain the problem, and our R&D team comes up with solutions for it.

“We are pursuing several other significant opportunities in our current markets, in addition to other product ideas that might possibly take us off the athletic field and onto some other surfaces” says Fisher.

Grass paint has historically taken a back seat in the drive for continuous product improvement. Many of the products in the market deliver adequate performance in terms of opacity, color, and durability, but aren’t efficient to work with, nor are they eco-friendly. Many field managers use thick latex paints (similar to house paint) on their grass fields. This choice of product gets the job done, but brings with it many potential problems for the natural grass environment, chief among them being the buildup of materials in the soil, eventually killing the grass and causing other field management problems. Eco Chemical is asking, “How do we take grass paint to the next level, and provide the best possible on-field performance for long-term use with maximum efficiency and protection for the grass and the general environment?”

The current market does not offer a superior, yet affordable natural grass green paint. There is a growing concern in many markets that the shortage of water for sports field and golf course maintenance will make it increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain the “green.” Eco Chemical is leveraging their existing product technology to develop a more cost-effective solution for this market challenge. According to Fisher, “This year will be important because California is predicting this summer will bring one of the worst droughts in 20 years, so a product to efficiently and safely paint grass and have it look green is vital.”

Change in the synthetic field turf industry is inevitable. The increased use of sport fields for multiple events and the resulting ever-expanding engagement calendar creates a steady demand for continued innovation. The buyers’ search for greater efficiency and/or convenience will continue to challenge everyone on the supply side of the equation, including manufacturers and distributors. The incentives are substantial for those in the field-marking segment of the industry, but will require constant creativity and new ways of thinking about how the market is best served in terms of products, packaging, delivery, and service. Regardless of one’s position at the table, the need for information will be at the heart of the challenge, along with the ability to respond with innovative solutions that also reflect the shared interest in environmental stewardship.