Title:
Synthetic Turf System Having Two Types of Fibers
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The present invention is directed to a synthetic turf system including a backing member having a plurality of monofilament ribbons—soft and stiff—projecting there from. A layer of particulate material lies above the backing member and among the monofilament ribbons wherein the soft monofilament ribbons facilitates the stabilization or trapping of the particulate material.



Inventors:
Gilman, John (Hampstead, CA)
Bearden, Derek (Dalton, GA, US)
Application Number:
12/253655
Publication Date:
02/12/2009
Filing Date:
10/17/2008
Assignee:
FIELDTURF TARKETT INC. (TMR-Montreal, CA)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
E01C13/08
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
JUSKA, CHERYL ANN
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
FACTOR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LAW GROUP, LTD. (CHICAGO, IL, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A synthetic turf system comprising: a backing member; a layer of particulate material dispersed above the backing member; and, a plurality of first fibers and a plurality of second fibers, each fiber from the plurality of first fibers and each fiber from the plurality of second fibers being secured to the backing member, the first fiber being a monofilament fiber and the second fiber being selected from the group consisting of: a slit film fiber, a fault-line monofilament fiber, a multi-strand monofilament fiber, and a fibrillated monofilament fiber; and, wherein a portion of each fiber from the plurality of first fibers and a portion of each fiber from the plurality of second fibers extends above the layer of particulate material.

2. The synthetic turf system of claim 1, wherein at least one fiber from the plurality of first fibers and at least one fiber from the plurality of second fibers are formed into a bundle.

3. The synthetic turf system of claim 2, wherein bundle includes four first fibers and four second fibers.

4. The synthetic turf system of claim 2, wherein the bundle includes at least four first fibers and at least four second fibers.

5. The synthetic turf system of claim 1, wherein the first fibers are stiffer than the second fibers.

6. The synthetic turf system of claim 1, wherein the first fibers each have a geometry with a cross section such that the first fibers are stiffer than the second fibers.

7. The synthetic turf system of claim 2, wherein the first fibers are stiffer than the second fibers.

8. The synthetic turf system of claim 2, wherein the first fibers each have a geometry with a cross section such that the first fibers are stiffer than the second fibers.

Description:

RELATED APPLICATIONS

The present invention is a continuation application of U.S. Utility patent application Ser. No. 11/273,584, filed Nov. 12, 2005, which claims the benefit of the priority date of U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/594,267, filed Mar. 24, 2005, both of which are incorporated by reference herein.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention is directed toward synthetic turf systems, and more particularly toward synthetic turf sports surfaces. The present invention utilizes a synthetic turf system having an infill material atop a backing and interspersed between upwardly projecting monofilament ribbons simulating blades of grass, wherein the blades of grass have an improved appearance and performance.

2. Description of Related Art

Synthetic turf systems have been utilized for over forty years to provide a surfacing alternative where it is impossible, impractical, or simply undesirable to have a real grass surface. The more desirable synthetic turf systems on the market incorporate an infill material between upstanding blades of synthetic fibers that resemble blades of grass. The infill material enables a variety of features and characteristics to be imparted to the actual playing surface, while simultaneously enabling the synthetic fibers to retain a grass-like appearance. Thus, improved drainage, resiliency, predictability of sports play, reduction of injuries, and other advantages can be imparted to the synthetic turf surface, while maintaining an appealing appearance.

One particular function of the infill in a synthetic turf system is as a stabilizing force for the synthetic fiber blades. The synthetic blades in infill-type synthetic turf systems are relatively long (as compared to non-infilled systems); for example, between 1½-2½ inches long—so as to provide optimum surface “feel” and appearance. Therefore, to maintain these types of fibers in a substantially upright orientation, the infill material has been applied up to a pre-determined depth (or thickness), relative to the height of the fibers. In turn, the infill provides, amongst other things, a supportive base for the synthetic fibers.

The existence of a thickness of infill material incorporates its own problems, however. Infill materials preferably include a combination of particulate material, such as hard particles, a mixture of resilient and hard particles, or resilient particles alone. In turn, the particulate material can interfere with enjoyment of the synthetic surface by dislodging when struck by feet, played balls, or by direct contact with athletes. The dislodging of the infill is known generally as “infill splash.” The synthetic fiber blades help to diffuse and/or eliminate infill splash by, amongst other things, acting as a barrier for dislodging the infill materials, and by stabilizing the infill between the blades.

Conventionally, the combination of fiber-positioning and infill retention was accomplished, in part, through the use of relatively flexible slit-film-type polymeric blades. Such blades were typically woven or tufted into the backing layers of the synthetic grass surface, and then fibrillated into a web-like structure to maximize infill support and retention of the infill by the blades. Additionally, the free ends of these fibers would bend over the top of the infill to create an infill trapping effect. Unfortunately, such has resulted in problems in certain synthetic turf fields, including the tendency of these fibers to flatten out into a smooth surface without adequate grooming.

As an alternative to the slit-film type blade, monofilament blades can be utilized. Monofilament blades for synthetic grass are manufactured by extruding a resultant single polymer (or similar) blade from a device, such as a spinneret, into a long polymer strand, finishing that strand and then cutting single monofilament pieces from the strand. Typically, multiple monofilament elements are bound together at their base to create a single bundle of blades, which are then tufted into the backing layer of the synthetic grass surface, and fibrillated outwards.

One significant problem with the use of monofilament fibers in this manner, however, is the balance between the fiber characteristics needed for proper installation of the surface, and fiber characteristics that ensure the best surface conditions for game play and/or surface use. Typically, in order to properly install the infill on the synthetic grass surface, it has been necessary to utilize a relatively rigid/stiff monofilament fiber, so that the monofilament bundles are not buried under the infill as the infill is being applied.

After the infill has been applied to a desirable depth, the free ends of the monofilament fibers (those ends extending above the top of the infill) stand substantially upright. While this type of fiber positioning does offer some benefits—such as balls rolling closer to the way they would roll or bounce on a natural turf surface—it unfortunately also results in some undesired side effects. Specifically, unlike the free ends of softer fiber, which fold or bend over as a ball rolls over them, such an effect is not as prevalent when the stiffer fibers are used. Accordingly, as a ball rolls over the top surface of a synthetic playing surface using such relatively stiff fibers, the infill material becomes more easily displaced resulting in a significant amount of infill splash during game play.

On the other hand, the use of flexible fibers creates problems as well. While the fibers can help reduce infill splash during game play, they can make infill application more difficult during installation, and, can result in less than desirable resistance for ball roll and ball bounce during use. Similar to conventional carpet-type surfaces, rolling or bouncing balls are subjected to “sliding” issues on soft fibers surfaces. Sliding issues include unexpectedly proficient hops, a lack of grass-like roll response, and slippage on spinning balls when they contact the synthetic grass surface.

It is therefore an object of the present invention to overcome these and other issues associated with conventional synthetic turf systems. These and other objects will become apparent to one of ordinary skill in the art in light of the specification, claims, and drawings appended hereto.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention is directed to a synthetic turf system comprising a backing member and a layer of particulate material dispersed above the backing member. A plurality of monofilament ribbons, preferably bundled, are operatively attached to the backing member. Each bundle may exclusively include a plurality of soft or stiff ribbons, or may include a combination of soft and stiff ribbons. The bundles of monofilament ribbon may be configured within the synthetic turf system in various geometric patterns; including, but not limited to, parallel and/or intersecting straight or curved rows, circles, rectangles, etc. The soft ribbon and the stiff ribbon each include a free end extending out of and above the layer of particulate material wherein the stiff ribbon stands substantially more erect above the layer of particulate material than the soft ribbon.

Another aspect of the present invention is directed to a synthetic turf system comprising a backing member and a layer of particulate material dispersed above the backing member. A relatively stiff monofilament ribbon having a free end is operatively attached to the backing member wherein the free end of the stiff monofilament ribbon extends through and above the layer of particulate material. A relatively soft monofilament ribbon—as compared to the stiffer monofilament ribbon—includes a free end and is operatively attached to the backing member wherein the free end of the soft monofilament ribbon extends through and above the layer of particulate material. The soft monofilament ribbon further includes a means for trapping particulate material such that the soft monofilament ribbon stands substantially less erect above the layer of particulate material than the stiff monofilament ribbon.

Yet a further aspect of the present invention is directed to a method of installing a synthetic turf system wherein a backing member including a relatively soft monofilament ribbon and a relatively stiff monofilament ribbon is laid above a support base. A layer of particulate matter is dispersed above the backing member such that the soft monofilament ribbon and the stiff monofilament ribbon extend through and above the layer of particulate matter. The soft monofilament ribbon includes a means for trapping particulate material wherein application of an outside element to it results in the soft monofilament ribbon standing substantially less erect above the layer of particulate material than the stiff monofilament ribbon.

The means for trapping particulate material may include materials integral with, or coated upon the soft monofilament ribbons such that its response to the outside element results in shrinking, curling, coiling, bending, etc. Alternatively, the means for trapping particulate material can also include the soft monofilament ribbon having a geometry, e.g., cross section (trilobal, star-shaped, or the like) and texture; such that the soft monofilament ribbon can be formed into trapping forms.

One particular type of soft monofilament ribbon may comprise a multi-strand monofilament ribbon, including two or more monofilament ribbons with an extruded spider-web or net-like structure connected there between. Another type of geometry utilized in the soft monofilament ribbon may include a fault therein. Alternatively, the soft monofilament ribbon may be fabricated so that the structural integrity of at least the free ends (the area located above the infill material) facilitates folding, or bending over—so as to cover a portion of the infill material.

In yet another aspect of the present invention, six to eight monofilament fibers or ribbons (it is to be understood that the terms “ribbon” and “fiber” are interchangeable) are bundled together and include at least three stiff monofilament ribbons and at least three soft monofilament ribbons within the bundle.

A still further aspect of the present invention is directed to a synthetic turf system utilizing a micro fiber material attached to the backing member and/or embedded within the layer of particulate material to assist the stabilization or entrapment of the infill material.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a side elevation view of a synthetic grass surface incorporating the monofilament bundles of the present invention;

FIGS. 2a-2c are perspective views of a monofilament bundle according to one of several aspects of the present invention;

FIG. 3 is a side elevation view of an alternative embodiment of the synthetic turf system according to the present invention;

FIG. 4a is a perspective view of a spinneret extruding a multi-strand monofilament according to the present invention;

FIG. 4b is a side view of a multi-strand monofilament according to the present invention;

FIG. 5a is a perspective view of a fault-line monofilament according to the present Invention;

FIG. 5b is a side view of a bundle including at least one fault-line monofilament;

FIG. 6 is a side elevation view of an alternative embodiment of the synthetic turf system according to the present invention; and,

FIGS. 7a-7c are schematic sketches of top views of portions of a synthetic turf system depicting several layouts of fiber bundles.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

While this invention is susceptible of embodiment in many different forms, there is shown in the drawings and will herein be described in detail one or more embodiments with the understanding that the present disclosure is to be considered as an exemplification of the principles of the invention and is not intended to limit the invention to the embodiments illustrated.

With reference to FIG. 1, a synthetic turf system 10 of the present invention is shown, including a flexible backing member 12, and a plurality of monofilament bundles 14 projecting upwardly through a bottom side 16 and upwardly from a top side 18 of the backing member 12. In between the monofilament bundles 14, and on the top side 18 of the backing member 12, is an infill material 20 helping to support at least some of the monofilament bundles 14 in a relatively upright position relative to the backing member 12. These elements cooperate to form an improved synthetic turf system with optimal aesthetic and functional characteristics.

The backing member 12 of the synthetic turf system 10 may comprise one or more layers of flexible material, which are capable of acting as a support structure for the synthetic turf system 10. As with conventional backing materials, the backing may be extruded, woven, non-woven, or a combination thereof.

The monofilament bundles 14 are operatively attached through and to the backing member 12 via any number of means known to one of ordinary skill in the art. For example, the monofilament bundles 14 may be knitted, woven, or tufted into the backing member 12, leaving the top portion 22 of the bundles 14 above the top side 18 of the backing 12, and the bottom portion 24 of the bundles below the bottom side 16 of the backing 12. Thereafter, the bottom portion 24 can be further secured in place using known mechanisms such as, but not limited to, an adhesive or stitching.

Generally, the monofilament bundles 14 are secured into the backing member 12 in generally straight, parallel rows; and then may be fibrillated out to fill the void between the rows. Alternatively, backing shifters or shifting needle bars can be utilized to shift the bundles from straight-line tufting, knitting, or weaving, so as to offset one or more bundles within the rows.

The infill material 20 is placed on the top side 18 of the backing member 12 and in-between the monofilament bundles 14. The infill material 20 can comprise any number of combinations of conventional particulate material, including hard particles, resilient particles, and combinations thereof. Some typical hard particulate material includes: sand, rock, and hard and heavy plastics; and typical resilient particulate materials can include: rubber (including cryogenic), cork, styrene, epdm rubber, used tires, and neoprene.

One embodiment of the monofilament bundle 14 is shown in isolation in FIG. 2a. As can be seen, the monofilament bundle 14 includes a bundle of monofilament polymeric fibers 30, including at least one stiff fiber 32, and at least one soft fiber 34. Alternatively, each bundle 30 can include only soft 34 or stiff 32 fibers as shown in FIGS. 2b and 2c. The monofilament fibers 30 are bound together about one end using a binding 36.

The terms “stiff” and “soft” are used to describe the relative flexibility of each of the monofilament fiber types. Stiff ribbons comprise ribbons that have free ends positioned above the top of the infill that remain substantially upright without additional supportive infill. On the other hand, soft ribbons comprise ribbons that bend easily, such that they would not remain as upright as the stiff ribbons without supportive infill. In comparison to soft ribbons, stiff ribbons can be manufactured from polymers having a higher degree of rigidity, tensile strength, tenacity, toughness, or structural integrity, or which result in a synthetic turf field having a higher degree of abrasion. For example, a stiff ribbon could be manufactured from a polymer having a high molecular weight, or which include a particular geometry—extruded from spinnerets having a particular cross section, such as circular, star-shaped, trilobal, or the like. Similarly, a stiff ribbon may comprise multiple individual monofilaments that are bonded or otherwise adhered together to form a more rigid monofilament element.

The composition of a soft ribbon may comprise the same or similar polymer as the stiff ribbon, but for example, at a lower molecular weight. Similarly, a soft ribbon may be formed from a completely different geometry or comprise a completely different polymer altogether, such as polyethylene, polypropylene or nylon. In fact, the relative flexibilities of the “soft” and “stiff” ribbons can be modified by any number of conventional means, including increasing or decreasing the polymerization of the materials, reactivity to cooperating elements, adding flexibility or stiffness additives, copolymerization, or the like.

By using a combination of soft and stiff ribbons within the bundle 14, it is possible to alter the playing and aesthetic characteristics of the field as desired. Thus, slippage and roll of the ball on the playing surface can be reduced by adding more “stiff” ribbons (at least with respect to their “free” ends) to the field, while the undesired splash effect can be reduced by adding more “soft” ribbons to the field. Further, the field characteristics may also be altered by increasing or decreasing the number of monofilament fibers in each monofilament bundle, by increasing or decreasing the number of monofilament bundles in the synthetic grass surface, or by increasing or decreasing the spacing between each of the monofilament bundles.

It may be desirable to have more than two levels of blade rigidity within the surface, such that at least one extremely rigid monofilament ribbon or at least one extremely flexible monofilament ribbon could be included in the synthetic surface. By adding multiple levels of firmness to the monofilament ribbons within the surface, a variety of playing characteristics can be imparted. In fact, due to the adaptable configurations of the present invention, specific playing characteristics can be imparted to specific areas of the synthetic surface, if desired. That is, bundles of exclusively soft ribbons, exclusively stiff ribbons, and combinations of soft and stiff ribbons can be configured within the synthetic turf system in a variety of patterns and geometric shapes, as desired; some examples of which are shown in FIGS. 7a-7c.

In order to minimize infill splash during actual use of the synthetic turf system, One alternative embodiment of the present invention directed toward minimizing infill splash during actual use is illustrated in FIG. 3 and depicts the monofilament bundles 40 to include at least one stiff (upright) ribbon 42, and at least one soft (trapping) ribbon 44; both of which include an end bound to the backing member 12 and a respective opposite free end extending above the upper surface 46 of the infill 48. In this embodiment, the upright stiff ribbon 42 extends above the infill to create a grass-like appearance for the synthetic surface, while the soft ribbon 44 acts as a trap or stabilizer for the infill to substantially maintain the infill within the synthetic grass surface.

The upright ribbon 42 can comprise a standard synthetic grass blade, or a stiff blade as described above, which extends through and above the infill 48 to create a grass-like appearance. The trapping ribbon 44, on the other hand, comprises a synthetic grass ribbon having a structure that facilitates “entrapping” or stabilizing the surrounding infill 48. For example, the trapping ribbon 44 may comprise a synthetic grass ribbon that includes a structure or trait—intrinsic or extrinsic—wherein the ribbon has a tendency to lean over, curls coil, wind, or bend after installation or as a result of the application of an outside element, e.g., heat, cold, light, fluid; which may be achieved through the selection of certain temperature, chemical, or light sensitive materials, e.g., polymers or resins, such as nylon, or through the selection of certain coatings or additives for the polymeric ribbons.

Additionally, the soft trapping ribbon 44 may facilitate trapping or stabilizing the infill 48 through a specific geometry or shape of the ribbon. For example, the ribbon may have a cross-sectional shape (such as the trilobal embodiments described above) that limits the movement of infill 48 surrounding the monofilament ribbons. The ribbon may also be formed into a shape or texture through processes such as steaming or gear crimping and the like. Also, the trapping ribbon 44 may include an entangled-type fiber, such as a bulk continuous filament-type ribbon, comprising an entangled extrusion of a plurality of micro fibers or smaller extruded polymer fibers.

Alternately, the stiff ribbon 42 may include a structure or trait—intrinsic or extrinsic—that facilitates its rigidity as compared to the soft ribbon 44 wherein the stiff ribbon retains or has a tendency to stiffen, harden, strengthen, etc., after installation or perhaps as a result of the application of an outside element, e.g., heat, cold, light, fluid; which may be achieved through the selection of certain temperature, chemical, or light sensitive components.

Another alternative embodiment of the invention is shown in FIGS. 4a and b. In FIG. 4a, a multi-strand monofilament 50 is shown being extruded from a spinneret 52. The multi-strand monofilament 50 includes at least two monofilament strands 54 (and is shown with three), and an ultra-thin slit-film extrusion 56 connecting the monofilament strands 54. The slit-film extrusion creates a thin polymeric connection between the monofilament strands 54, which, after conventional post-extrusion processes of stretching and relaxing, separates into a spider-web or net-like structure between the monofilament strands (as shown in FIG. 4b). These monofilament strands 54, when bundled together, may meet both functionalities of a rigid, upright fiber and an entrapping fiber.

A further embodiment of the invention is shown in FIGS. 5a and 5b. In FIG. 5a, a fault-line monofilament 60 is shown, which consists of an extruded monofilament fiber 62, having at least one fault line 64 thereon. The fault line 64 provides the monofilament fiber 62 with a breaking or fraying point so that the monofilament fiber 62 breaks and/or frays after installation into the synthetic turf field. The fault-line monofilaments 60 can be combined into a bundle (such as in FIG. 5b), and then frayed or broken, to create a stabilizing web or net-like structure for the surrounding infill 48. In general, only a portion of the fault-line monofilament 60 fibers will crack or fray in practice, such that the fault-line monofilament 60 can be combined with standard, stiff, or upright monofilament fibers, or can simply function as an operative bundle on its own.

Preferably, each monofilament bundle includes between six to eight monofilament fibers, including one or more that do not bend, i.e., stiff or upright, and one or more ribbons that facilitate the entrapment of the infill, i.e., the soft or trapping ribbons. Desirable combinations between the characteristics of these two types of ribbons can be determined without undue experimentation, but preferably a bundle includes at least three softer ribbons and three or more stiffer ribbons. Of course, other combinations of numbers of monofilament fibers, as well as the relative breakdown of soft and stiff ribbons within the bundle, can be configured as desired.

While the above description has focused on the structure and texture of the monofilament fibers to achieve the desired balance between field playability and infill control, the present invention may also achieve infill control through the direct control of the infill materials. Thus, in one embodiment of the present invention shown in FIG. 6, a synthetic grass surface 70 includes upright ribbons 72 of any conventional type including monofilament type ribbons, and an infill 74 interspersed between the ribbons. The infill 74 additionally includes micro-fiber strands 76 interspersed within the infill. The micro-fiber strands 76 can comprise any number of micro-fiber structures such as small pieces of polymer or the like, which can help to stabilize and/or maintain the infill in place during play. Preferably, the micro-fiber strands 76 are manufactured from a material that has a relatively low melting point—such as a low density nylon—wherein during use and play, the micro-fiber strand 76 can partially melt or deform; thus entangling itself with the infill material.

It should be emphasized that the above-described embodiments of the present invention, particularly, any “preferred” embodiments, are possible examples of implementations merely set forth for a clear understanding of the principles of the invention. Many variations and modifications may be made to the above-described embodiments of the invention without substantially departing from the spirit and principles of the invention. All such modifications are intended to be included herein within the scope of this disclosure and the present invention, and protected by the following claims.