Line markers

The latest machines have simplified the process of line marking using cutting-edge technology and even robotics, Sally Drury reports.

Kombi: sprayer-type line markers use pump and nozzles to apply the paint to both sides of grass blades - image: HW
Kombi: sprayer-type line markers use pump and nozzles to apply the paint to both sides of grass blades - image: HW

Few aspects of groundsmanship have changed so radically as that of line marking. Within the space of three decades we have jumped from boxes on wheels to, potentially, robots.

In a fast-moving world we may look back and think that 30 years ago marking out a pitch or court was simple. But was it? In those days the line-marking machine was basically a box on wheels. The groundsman would pour compound into a bucket, add water and mix — no doubt splashing it onto themselves and onto the ground — then pour the mixture into the unit.

After numerous calculations and using string and pegs to measure out the lengths and angles, the machine would be pushed along for the wheel-to-wheel transfer system to leave a white line to indicate key features such as semicircles and the parameters of play.

Subsequent marking was just a matter of following the previous line. But whether initial or overmarking, if conditions were wet and muddy — as so many facilities were back in the late 1970s and 1980s — dollops of mud and paint would drop off the machine every now and again. At the end of the marking process the machine had to be thoroughly cleaned using water and brushes. More mess.

Then came a major breakthrough, the sprayer-type line marker. Using a pump and nozzles, the paint could be applied to both sides of the blade and the ground regardless of conditions. It meant no more muddy dollops falling off the wheel at the end of a run. Still popular today is the Kombi from Fleet Line Markers of Malvern in Worcestershire.

The ability to spray the line onto the playing surface was quickly followed by paint-in-a bag. That meant no more mixing in a bucket and no more pouring and sloshing around of paint. Instead, the groundsman connected the bag to the pipework, turned on the tap and walked. It was easier and cleaner.

More developments followed. Fleet introduced the FastLiner, a system that fitted onto turf-maintenance vehicles and carried 150 litres of paint to speed up and simplify the marking out of multiple pitches. Next up came the e-ROK, a battery powered ride-on line marker from Fleet, and the Trike from Bowcom. Line marking, and especially overmarking, was becoming faster and less tedious. But in the background the latest technology was about to revolutionise the process. Witness the BeamRider.

Another development from Fleet Line Markers, the BeamRider used the power of the laser beam to do away with pegs, string and tape measures. It combined laser technology with digital recognition software to produce perfectly straight lines time after time, irrespective of the operator’s competence, experience and patience. Using lasers it was impossible to be straighter. Premier and top-division clubs were quick to see the benefits, but at £5,800 + VAT (today’s price), it was not a system for everyone.

Continued development

Aside from software developments and the use of modern technology in line marking, both the traditional wheel-to-wheel transfer and the spray-type machines continued to develop. Generally they became more user-friendly. The paint-holding tanks on transfer markers enjoyed the benefits of plastics as well as metal and were redesigned to be splash-proof and easier to clean — see the latest Briteliner Arrow from Vitax. Sprayer markers saw the addition of features such as self-flushing tanks, again making the clean-down easier. Among the newest in this department is the Supaturf TXE range.

Ready-to-use paints have also seen important developments over the past couple of years, notably the introduction of the Impact paint system from Rigby Taylor. Not only does it enjoy the benefits of no measuring, no mixing and no mess, it also gives a cost saving by using as little as 1.1 litres per pitch. That means a 10-litre drum can mark out nine standard-sized football pitches (using Rigby Taylor’s iGO or Glider machines with a gold cone nozzle) without the inconvenience of returns to base for refilling and with no time lost mixing and pouring.

The claims are backed by Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council. An impressive efficiency saving of £18,090 has been made in the cost and time of line marking Doncaster’s football pitches.

Last year the concept of fitting a marker to a vehicle was taken up by Rigby Taylor with the introduction of the Armaline system. Like Fleet’s Fastliner, the Armaline is suited to local authorities, schools and training grounds, and consists of an attachment featuring a four-bolt clamp to fix the unit to a vehicle
such as a Gator, Workman, Cushman or Kubota.

The system connects to a compact battery and pump unit in the flatbed but then takes advantage of Rigby Taylor’s advanced paints, with a 10-litre drum able to mark nine or more pitches. Paint for up to 100 pitches could be carried without the vehicle being overloaded.

Utilising GPS technology

Despite being faster and cleaner than ever before, the act of line marking has gone through another transformation over the past 12 months. Perhaps it was inevitable in a world constantly driven by satnav that GPS would be used to provide a tool for line marking.

In November 2015 Supaturf, which is part of Vitax, introduced Swozi — a line-marking system that does away with pegs, string and tape measures and reportedly gives up to 75 per cent time saving compared to laser marking systems. In fact, Vitax claims that a full-sized football pitch can be marked from scratch
in just 30 minutes, including the centre circle — and we are talking pinpoint accuracy.

"The Swozi system brings new levels of accuracy to one of the most fundamental ground-care duties," says Vitax sales and marketing manager Mike King. "With no recourse to strings or other traditional methods, the Swozi is accurate to 10mm over 100m."

The specially developed machine boasts Swiss accuracy, reliability and Bluetooth technology combined with British engineering to give what King describes as "military-grade precision" lines. It carries an on-board computer that can be uploaded with software for marking out whichever sports are required.

A GPS receptor positioned on the pitch "talks" to the on-board computer via Bluetooth and triangulates Swozi’s position with help from its own GPS unit, directing the machine to the appropriate line selected.

Deviation from the marking map by even a few millimetres triggers the head to adjust to maintain an accurate line. Should the machine move too far out of the correct alignment, the computer tells the marker to stop spraying until the operator positions the machine to the correct marking pattern. A beep sounds a warning 1m ahead of the line ending and the spray automatically cuts off.

The computer allows the operator to name and store all the markings from multiple sites and Swozi remembers their sizes and exact locations in its 4GB memory. The system is unaffected by weather conditions such as heat haze or by uneven ground and, just like your smartphone, it has easy-to-use touchscreen controls.

Replacing old techniques

In January this year, Pitchmark announced the launch of its LineMaster GPS line-marking system. Again designed to replace the age-old method of measuring and stringing sports pitches, it uses Swiss technology and millimetre-accurate GPS technology to make line marking hassle-free. It also consists of a base (receiver) unit on a tripod plus a rover unit, Pitchmark’s Eco Pro spray line marker.

The company reports the system to be up to eight times quicker than the conventional string-and-measure method for marking out any shape or size on any surface. LineMaster is available in a variety of packages depending on service level and includes a three-year warranty. Incidentally, Pitchmark has been chosen to supply product for the UEFA Euro 2016 football championship in France.

From boxes on wheels to GPS, line-marking machines have seen it all. Yet the industry stands on the cusp of another radical development. The world’s first automatic robot for precision line marking made a first appearance at IoG Saltex in November last year. The Intelligent One, Rigby Taylor’s latest development, combines GPS and Integrated Paint Technology, allowing programmable marking using WiFi control from a tablet.

Intended for use with the Impact five-litre Eco-Bag, it features the iGO pump, solenoid and nozzle. It is programmable for travel between pitches on the same site and can mark 12 to 16 pitches on a single battery charge. Customised pitch plans are supplied or can be accessed from Google Maps. The robotic solution to line marking is expected to be available this year.

Paint for lines on synthetic playing surfaces

Duraline Synthetic (pictured) is the latest addition to the range of Duraline and Impact line-marking paints available from Rigby Taylor. This advanced, ready-to-use formulation is specially designed for use on synthetic playing surfaces.

Acrylic-based and available in a range of rich deep colours, Duraline Synthetic is said to give many benefits, including improved flow properties, better surface adhesion, stronger water repellency and longer storage stability.

The product is supplied in 10-litre containers and can be applied straight from the pack through Rigby Tayor’s iGO or Glider spray markers.

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