Those attending the rivalry varsity game between Parsons and Labette County High School may have noticed the detailed painting of the football field, from the large Viking head in center field, to the big block numbers along the side lines and blocked words in the end zones.
Those perfectly straight lines and the professional look were courtesy of the new Turf Tank One autonomous robotic field painter the district purchased.
USD 503 Director of Maintenance Eric Bortz said the district has multiple sports fields to paint weekly, including game and practice fields for football, soccer, baseball and softball.
Time and manpower the district was devoting to measuring off and using a line striping machine and manually painting each field, could now be applied to many other maintenance projects, Bortz said.
About a month ago, maintenance personnel stood on the practice soccer field at Parsons High School with Turf Tank regional territory manager Luke Sellers, from Omaha, Nebraska. Sellers used a small tablet and dragged and dropped some information they had already logged in. The robot went to work, using a stationary GPS station connected to satellites, and Google Earth, through which the sports fields were mapped out.
The men watched. Bortz and district maintenance worker Kurt Forbes talked about the tedious weekly process of pounding stakes and using string to help them paint the lines and arches for the soccer fields. It would take four staff about 2 ½ hours to paint the practice soccer field. About 45 minutes of that time was devoted to cleanup of the striping machine.
“Now, with this robot, it takes 90 seconds,” Forbes said of the cleanup.
In 14 minutes, the robot completed painting of the practice soccer field, and the lines and arches were neat.
Whereas when a person walks behind a striping machine, small dips, divots or bumps the tires of the striping machine hit are noticeable in the white lines, the men watched in awe as the robot managed to produce straight lines despite its tires hitting the same bumpy terrain
“You can see the machine making moves and it still keeps it so straight. It’s just nuts to me,” Bortz said.
Painting the basic lines for the practice football field took 37 minutes for the little robot. The same project would take the crew of four or five about 4 to 5 hours, including mixing paint and clean up, Forbes said.
The game ready football field for the PHS vs. LCHS game, including, hashes, vertical ticks on the sides and block numbers on the yard lines took about 3 hours. The Viking head in center field took about another half hour for the robot. Those were all added details the maintenance workers would not have personally tried to tackle.
While the robot was busy painting, maintenance workers were able to work on other needed repairs around the stadium.
“It is all about time management,” Bortz said. One man is able to operate the robot to paint the field, leaving the other three or four to perform other needed work around the district.
Paxton Swanson is the main operator of the robot now. While they are not presently using it to paint in the solid colors of the block letters in the end zones, Swanson said he believes they will be able to do that as well in the future.
The robot has already contributed to saving dozens of man hours painting sports fields. Superintendent Lori Ray said the robot will pay for itself quickly given the amount of manpower and time it saves.
“That is why we invested in it. It will be well worth it,” Ray said. “It’s pretty neat.”