SAPCA Awards 2020: Sports Labs Wins Product of the Year Award for New Lightweight Traction Device

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Sports Lab has created an innovative piece of equipment, which is set to transform the testing for rotational resistance in sports surfaces. It is significantly lighter and less cumbersome than anything else on the market, making it far more mobile and versatile. It is also notably more accurate than many of its predecessors.

Losing Weight

Since its inception in 1975, the device used for measuring the rotational resistance of sports surfaces has remained largely unchanged in its rudimental design and operation. With a specified dropped mass of 46kg, the equipment weighs the same as an average 16-year old – requiring two technicians to manoeuver it between test locations. The device also requires partial disassembly for transit – and full disassembly into multiple cases, if flight travel is required to reach the testing site.

To overcome these issues, Sports Labs has developed a simple, but innovative lightweight and highly portable rotational resistance tester (LwRR), capable of providing results with a resolution ten times greater than that of a conventional device with comparable accuracy and precision.

The device requires no disassembly for flight transit and comes in at a total weight of under 10kg – more than 35kg lighter than the current device, making it safe for operation and lifting by a single technician. The overall outcome is a device that is highly accurate and will help to reduce overheads incurred through staffing and travel costs.

Innovative Design

From a design point of view, the device includes a number of innovative solutions. A shortened central shaft benefits ease of use and reduces inaccuracies due to twisting in the material, while advanced solid-polymer bushings prevent the ingress of sand and moisture – providing very low friction support to the central shaft.

An oversized taper-roller bearing ensures spring concentricity and results in negligible rotational friction when under load. The device’s rigid footplate also allows the user to utilise bodyweight to compress the internal spring – and apply the equivalent downward pressure of the traditional traction devices of 451Newtons.

“The concept of using springs in traction testing equipment has been around for some time,” says Tom Chilvers, special projects engineer at Sports Labs who led the work to build the device.

“But until now, the idea has yet to be executed in such a way that’s accurate, repeatable and easily used by anyone with minimal training.”

Chilvers adds that, at a fraction of the overall size of traditional traction devices, shipping and transit between facilities is simple.

“The existing devices – all weighing more than 46kg – were not only expensive and difficult to transport but also breached HSE manual handling regulations when used by a single operator,” he says.

Constructed almost entirely from anodised aircraft-grade 6061 aluminium and stainless steel, there’s also no need to worry about testing in the rain or storage in damp conditions. Easily removable footplates also allow for quick switching between a variety of stud profiles.
These features add further to the device’s versatility.

Making It Work

The first prototype of the equipment was designed and built in March of 2018. Sports Labs then continued to test and improve upon the initial prototype until around April of 2019, when the company arrived at the design as it stands today. It was then that Sports Labs was able to manufacture its initial batch and register the design with the Intellectual Property Office.

According to Chilvers, the new product doesn’t only allow increased mobility and versatility – but also significantly heightened accuracy. This is thanks to a digital – as opposed to the traditional analogue – torque gauge.

“Through incorporating a digital torque transducer, the rotational resistance value is measured to a resolution 10 times higher than that achievable when using a traditional analogue torque gauge,” he says.

He adds that, when it comes to the potential changes the new device will instigate, there are many.

“We’d like to see an increased uptake of surface measurement tools, particularly in natural turf, such that comparisons can be drawn between surfaces across the industry,” Chilvers says.

“The new generation of traction devices should help facilitate that through reduced equipment cost, ease of use and improved repeatability in the results data collected.”

Award-winning Response

The device has already been widely adopted for use on both artificial surfaces as well as natural grass and is expected to feature in a number of test specifications in the near future.

The device isn’t only for the use of Sports Labs, either – it has been made available for purchase from the company’s equipment company Sports Test Equip.

According to Sports Labs managing director Eric O’Donnell, the creating and bringing the device to market is part of its vision to promote the safest and best sports surfaces possible.

“We always say that if we improve the surface, we improve the game,” O’Donnell says – and adds that the SAPCA Award is a reward for its wider strategy.

“So we were delighted to receive the SAPCA award for best product this year. It underscores our Company strategy to lead innovation in our sector and is a fantastic accolade for Tom Chilvers who designed and built the device.”

For more information on Sports Labs Ltd, please click [here]