Understanding the effects of decompaction maintenance on the infill state and play performance of third-generation artificial grass pitches

Third generation artificial grass pitches have been observed to get harder over time. The maintenance technique of rubber infill decompaction is intended to help slow, or reverse, this process. At present, little is understood about either the science of the infill compaction process or the efficacy of decompaction maintenance. The objective of this study was to measure the changes in rubber infill net bulk density, force reduction (impact absorption) and vertical ball rebound under various levels of compactive effort in controlled laboratory-based testing. The assessments were repeated after the systems had been raked to simulate the decompaction maintenance techniques. These tests defined the limits of compaction (loose to maximally compacted) in terms of the change in rubber infill net bulk density, force reduction and vertical ball rebound. Site testing was also undertaken at four third generation pitches immediately pre and post decompaction, to determine the measurable effects in the less well controlled field environment. Rubber infill net bulk density was found to increase as compactive effort increased, resulting in increased hardness. Decompacting the surface was found to approximately fully reverse these effects. In comparison, the site measurements demonstrated similar but notably smaller magnitudes of change following the decompaction process suggesting that the field state pre and post decompaction did not reach the extremes obtained in the laboratory. The findings suggest that rubber infill net bulk density is an important parameter influencing the hardness of artificial grass and that decompactions can be an effective method to reverse compaction related hardness changes.