Providing a Kind of Landing for our Children
One of the major considerations made during the planning of a new playground is what type of surfacing is under the play structure. It is a consideration that is so important that there are guidelines and standards that are written specifically concerning what surface is found underneath a set of play equipment.
One of the leaders in the playground surfacing industry, SofSURFACES Inc., based out of Petrolia, Ontario, Canada, started in 1993 and, early on, focused mainly on installing poured-in-place surfacing.
Although the company enjoyed success installing the poured-in-place surfacing, SofSURFACES knew that there were more, and perhaps better, options out there that they could find. They sought out to design and manufacture a surfacing product that would be attractive, effective, durable, and cost less than other surfacing products. Out of their research and development came the idea to use high-density rubber tiles that could be interlocking to make for quick, easy installation while still maintaining a high level of effectiveness. Thus the SofTILE family of products was born.
"Our product is very unique," said Jeromy Morningstar, vice president of sales and marketing. "In fact, there isn't a single, similar product out there. Our sustainable competitive advantage is our interlocking mechanism. Unlike 'me too' systems, our U-shaped interlocking mechanism is built right into the tile itself and provides a strong lock along the entire seam of the product."
Although there are other companies manufacturing rubber tile surfacing materials, Morningstar believes there are three major differences between SofSURFACES products and the other guys'.
First of all, as was previously mentioned, is the KrosLOCK U-shaped interlocking mechanism. This mechanism allows the surfacing to be installed over a compacted aggregate sub-base, thus, eliminating the need for a concrete sub-base. It also greatly reduces the adhesive requirements and costs associated with other tile surfacing products.
The KrosLOCK mechanism also eliminated potential for gaps between the tiles and curling at the seams of the tiles.Perhaps one of the best features of the product's design, however, is the installer-friendly nature of the product.
"The system does not utilize clips or mechanical systems and is designed to be user-friendly," Morningstar said.
The process makes it unnecessary to use specially trained installers to put in the surfacing.
The second specific advantage that Morningstar believes sets his company apart from others, is the way in which the tiles are designed to actually absorb the shock of a falling child. The tiles are designed with a hollow-core stanchion design that not only provides the highest critical fall height rating available but also increases the density and longevity of the product, reducing cost and weight.
Thirdly, the SofSURFACES tiles are backed by a five-year warranty for ASTM Fl 292-99 in any weather condition. Many companies will offer a warranty on their product for three years, but because of the design of the tiles and the way they are manufactured, SofSURFACES tiles are guaranteed for an industry-leading five years.
This increased warranty feature is something that Morningstar is proud of, but he notes that even his company needs to do better.
"In 2000 we elected to lead the market in this area by becoming the first manufacturer to warrant our product for ASTM Fl 292-99 performance for five years," he said. "We now believe that we have the product design and process in place to take it to the next level. We are currently setting our goals on providing a product that will be warranted not only against materials and workmanship but also for the critical fall height performance for the life cycle of the play equipment above it, which we estimate to be 20-25 years."
And Morningstar believes that this increased performance will continue to be more and more necessary as the current trend toward increasing fall height requirements continues. He also believes that the overall cost of the surfacing will be lower than even loose-fill surfacing products due to the cost involved with maintaining loose-fill levels throughout the lifetime of the play equipment.
But one of the best benefits of the SofSURFACES products from the perspective of the children is that the materials can be produced in a wide-range of colors and patterns with no extra cost involved. This enables designers and planners to use variety in the building of the playground. Kids will be attracted to the color and will learn more concerning the world around them if they are able to see patterns and colors on the playground.
And as long as there are children that need to be effectively protected from the falls that seem inevitable while testing their own personal limits and learning all that they can through playing on a playground, SofSURFACES Inc. will continue to try to improve on their own industry-leading products and services.