What is a ‘suitability report’?

cover page of a suitability report
Cover Page of Suitability Report

This is an article that explains what a ‘suitability report’ is within the context of sports surface performance, and its limitations with regard to predicting field performance.

So, “What is a Suitability Report?” Many in the sport surface industry refer to the reports issued from a 3rd party that outlines the surface’s performance in the lab as a suitability report. I’m not sure how the name was arrived at, but one simple explanation may be that surfaces that met the performance levels contained in the specification were considered ‘suitable’ for submission, selection and installation. While not every sport or play surface uses this term, it is commonly used throughout the world and in North America.

You might be surprised to learn that performance reports are issued to systems regardless of whether they meet the standard that was used for testing or not. Such reports normally clearly identify why the system fails to meet the required performance levels. During the selection process architects and owners should take the time to verify that each suitability report that has been submitted matches the specified performance levels and passes the standard referenced in the specification.

Owners and specifiers should note that suitability reports are not a guarantee that the performance measured in the lab will be delivered to the actual installation. A suitability report does not even mean that every installer follows the construction details needed to all the surface to perform the same way that it did in the lab. On site performance requires the same materials used during lab testing, as well as the same installation steps and details used in lab testing. (Click here for some of those reasons).

Performance can be significantly altered by minor and major changes in the components of a sports system without changing the appearance of the finished system, or even the components. Samples used for lab testing may be slightly different than the installed product. One example of this is that hardwood court surfaces are normally tested unfinished. Finishing each wood test sample would add several days of lab time for the finish to cure, and even if it were finished it would not be accurate in every market. Even within North America certain finishes are prohibited in certain states and cities. This means that there is no one finish that could be applied that would represent the final product across North America or around the Globe. We have seen finish problems cause significant reductions in the force reduction and vertical deformation levels delivered to the job site versus the levels measured in the lab.

Performance can be significantly altered by improper installation and by installing the system differently in the field than in the lab. Improper installation might include installing the system over an uneven slab, over anchoring a wood floor, or over compacting poured playground surfaces. Sometimes something as over compaction of areas of a poured playground system by dumping a wheelbarrow in one pile can cause Gmax and HIC readings to be significantly different. Sometimes something as simple as changing the direction of a layer of plywood in a wood system (from perpendicular to 45 degrees) can cause the field performance to be different than the lab sample.

One option is to routinely monitor the materials and installation and verify that it confirms to the details in the suitability report. Another option is to specify commission testing of the final surface and to verify that the proper performance was delivered to the owner, athletes and community.

Whether you’re an architect or an owner, consider addressing these points in your specifications:

  • Include language requiring the entire suitability report to be submitted. This is often the only way to know if the correct components arrive on site and that the system is being installed the same way it was installed in the lab.
  • If performance is important, make sure your specification clearly outlines requirements for on-site performance levels, includes product testing, and establishes corrective actions.

I hope this has provided you with an understanding of what a suitability report is and why it does not guarantee performance in the field. I also hope it has provided you with some indication of how easy it is to have different construction details in the lab and actual installation.

Contact me if you have further questions or want to learn more about sports surface testing, performance, specifications and field testing, www.asetservices.com/contact.

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