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Playtop


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Playtop

History
 

Ever since the first installation of Playtop impact-absorbing playground safety surfacing in 1977, the product has maintained its market-leading position by continually upgrading the technical performance while finding ways to bring down the cost.

Over the same period, the company has built up an international network of Licensee partners who now market and install the Playtop system in more than 40 countries around the world.

In his article ‘The first thirty years of Playtop', Barry Baker, who has held senior positions in the company throughout this period, traces the technical development of the product and the commercial development of the company through their first three decades.
 

The first thirty years of Playtop
 

by Barry Baker, International Business Development Manager, Playtop Licensing Limited

 

From the time of the earliest installations of Playtop impact-absorbing playground safety surfacing in the 1970s, the product has been the market leader in Britain, and it has held a similar position in Europe since the mid 1990s. Today it is marketed and installed in more than 40 countries by an international network of Licensee partners.
 

Playtop has maintained its position against competitors and imitators by continually upgrading the technical performance while finding ways to bring down the cost.
 

The technical story
 

The very first installation of Playtop was on a housing estate near Loughborough in England in 1977. Originally part of the Charles Lawrence Group of companies, Playtop already exhibited many of the crucial features of the product: a continuous, resilient surface without joints, mixed on site from rubber particles and polymeric binders and installed by a team of specialists - in contrast to pre-manufactured items such as rubber tiles.

The present-day Playtop (Playtop is now a registered trademark of Playtop Licensing Limited) surfacing is the fifth distinct generation of the product and results from a policy of continual research and development. It has been fully tested for compliance with both the European (CEN) and American (ASTM) Standards. With the development of the company's international Licensee network, the landmark of the first million square metres of Playtop was passed early in the new century and the product is now well on the way to its second million.
 

The development of Standards


The first Playtop installations in 1977 consisted of 12 mm thickness of porous rubber laid on asphalt or concrete, with a sprayed top coat. Being resilient, the material clearly provided better cushioning than traditional hard playground surfaces, but there was no scientific basis for its performance.

Soon afterwards, research in America established the medical criteria needed to prevent brain injuries in falls. The crucial factor was found to be deceleration. If the deceleration of a child's head as it struck the ground could be limited to 50 g (fifty times the force of gravity), permanent brain injury was very unlikely. This became the basis of new British and then European Standards for impact-absorbing playground surfacing.
 

From then on the performance required of a playground surface was clear. It must have just the right elastic properties, neither too soft nor too hard, to maintain deceleration below 50 g. And it must be thick enough to go on deforming progressively until the child's head was safely brought to rest.
 

Achieving the performance was relatively easy. For higher equipment you just added more material. But the considerable thickness of the resilient material required under the highest play equipment - typically 150 mm for a fall height of 3 m - made the first products very expensive.
 

Better performance at lower cost


Starting from the unchanging basic requirement of safety through impact absorption, the development of Playtop was therefore directed towards bringing down the capital cost of surfacing able to give the required performance, and at the same time improving its durability, so improving total Life Cycle Cost.

In the first product, 12 mm of black rubber crumb and shred was hand-laid onto an asphalt or concrete base, followed by a spray application of red- or green-coloured rubber-polymeric material to provide a cosmetically attractive coating. Very little impact absorption was provided, but Playtop offered a comfortable, level surface for children to circulate and play on - a considerable improvement on the muddy potholed grass, sand, gravel, broken asphalt, hard concrete or uneven paving slabs that were the norm in the 1970s.

The second-generation Playtop saw the introduction of through-coloured EPDM-rubber for a full depth of 15 mm as an alternative to applying colour by spraying. Previously the need for calm conditions for spraying - and even more the restricted temperature range at which early binders would cure - had limited installation in Britain to the months between spring and autumn, on a good day!
 

By the early 1980s, playground safety was the subject of public debate in Britain. The consumer television programme ‘That's Life', presented by Esther Rantzen, raised parents' awareness of the potential for accidents in the playground and increased pressure on politicians to make funding available. At the same time, some absurd claims for impact-absorbing surfaces were made - such as "you can bounce an egg on it without breaking the shell".

After exhaustive tests with leading scientific consultants at the Greater London Council, the Charles Lawrence Group responded with their third-generation product, Playtop 85. This had a 15-mm-thick top layer laid over a mixed base of mineral aggregate and rubber, which in turn was laid on a 150 mm thickness of clean stone. This structure, coupled with improved binders, allowed all-year-round installation, improved the porosity of the surface and eliminated the expense of providing a concrete or asphalt foundation. Playtop 85 was available in standard thicknesses from 15 mm to 150 mm and certified for fall heights from play equipment of up to 3 metres. The system was an immediate success and was imitated worldwide.
 

Recycled tyres


The most crucial breakthrough in reducing cost came in the 1990s, when we discovered that the rubber used for commercial-vehicle tyres has ideal elastic properties for playground surfacing. Furthermore, it was available very cheaply in old, unwanted casings, which in an increasingly ‘Green' age were becoming expensive to dispose of.

In order to secure itself a feedstock of known quality, and to achieve economies of scale, the Charles Lawrence Group therefore designed and built its own plant to recycle old tyres into rubber granules. Today this processes 400,000 tyres a year and produces some 13,000 tons of granules for sports and play surfacing.


In the resulting fourth-generation Playtop of the 1990s, the base layer consisted of coarse recycled-rubber granules and the top layer of finer recycled-rubber granules, mechanically interlocked as well as chemically bonded at the joint to create an immensely strong structure.


The top-layer granules could be pre-coated red or green to provide basic colour effects at low cost. The product was significantly cheaper than previous versions, especially in thicker layers beneath high play equipment. About this time the Charles Lawrence Group also started to design and manufacture its own specialised mixing machines and hand tools, making itself largely self-sufficient.
 

The current product


The fifth and current generation of Playtop followed toward the end of the 1990s and was marked by refining of the granulate size in the base layer and by improvements to pre-coating techniques in the top-layer rubber. This further increased the product's strength and durability and allowed the construction of two-layer systems down to 40 mm in thickness that could be laid directly on a loose-stone base, without the added expense of an engineered layer.

THe cross-section of Playtop






















 

At the same time a huge colour range of fine EPDM-rubber granules was introduced for the top layer. This has provided a wealth of new opportunities for creating exciting - and permanent - playground designs that will attract children to come and play where it is safe.


 

Playtop in multi-coloured splendour

















 

Partnership with Nike

The most recent development occurred in 2005, when Playtop became one of Nike's first international partners in the sportswear company's Reuse-A-Shoe programme for recycling old sports shoes and trainers.

The best of the shoes are sent to the third world for the benefit of less advantaged young people, while those beyond further use are sliced and then mechanically ground to create materials for sports and play surfaces. The rubber granules from the outsoles, branded as Nike Grind, can be incorporated in the top layer of Playtop at levels up to 20%. Apart from the environmental and cost benefits, the recycled granules produce an attractive speckled effect. The fees paid to Nike by Playtop and other partners go to fund sports and play facilities in the third world under the Let Me Play scheme.

One of the first installations of Playtop with Nike Grind was for the red perimeter track at Manchester United Football Club, which also acts as one of Nike's collection partners for the old shoes.
 

Nike Grind in Playtop

 

Leading the industry


From the earliest days of impact-absorbing playground surfacing, Playtop has committed itself to developing internationally accepted technical Standards for product performance and methods of testing and installation. It has assigned personnel and finance to working on or with British and European Standards Committees, trade associations, test houses, consultants and National Safety Committees in individual countries.

The company has also worked closely with other responsible manufacturers and contractors to create and supervise recognised codes of commercial practice in the industry.

The Charles Lawrence Group was a founder member of the Association of Play Industries (API) in Britain and was instrumental in the production of the API's Guide to Safety Surfacing.

Playtop with Nike Grind

Playtop with Nike Grind









 

Playtop with Nike GrindPlaytop is the only play surfacing company in the world to offer a range of four coloured blends that include Nike Grind and are made from at least 82% worn out sports shoes and recycled rubber products. Every square metre of Playtop coloured blends with Nike Grind contains rubber from up to 22 sports shoes!




 

This latest range is:

  • Made using recycled products, having a minimum recycled content of 82%. The black option is 91% recycled rubber.
  • Designed so that the top layer goes further.
  • Available in black, green, red and blue.
  • Fully compliant with all international standards for critical fall height.
  • Exclusive to Playtop

     
Green Nike Blend
Green
Nike Blend

 
Blue Nike Blend
Blue
Nike Blend


 
Red Nike Blend
Red
Nike Blend


 
Black Nike Blend
Black
Nike Blend

 

Contacts:

country:  United Kingdom

 

 
 

 
 
Total Views: 2974

Services


Company offers:
- playground recycled surfacing |


 
(with support of):

Association of Play IndustriesInternational Playground Equipment Manufacturers Association
Federation of European Play IndustrySports and Play Construction Association