Playground Engineering: It’s More Than Just About the Fun
There’s more to a playground than fun…a lot more goes into it.
When you see a playground, you see a place for children to get some much-needed physical activity, socialization, creative play, and fresh air. Children see the excitement of ladders, slides, bridges, and activity panels. However, what you and your children do not see is the complex engineering that goes into designing and manufacturing each piece of playground equipment.
While it may not seem as thrilling as the finished product, designing and producing a playground component is crucial for its success. For our Nature of Early Play products, every detail of each playground set is artfully designed. Even the handle on our new EV Supercharger took 15 test drafts before we landed on the realistic curved handle you see today. This level of craftsmanship is why our Nature of Early Play and Play Mart team has some of the best designers and engineers in the industry. Rest assured, your children’s safety is as paramount for our team of engineers as it is for you. The only way to provide your kids with the safe and fun play equipment you trust is by meticulous design and engineering that meets our high standards.
Our professionals start with a deep understanding of the needs of children during their developmental years, apply their architectural genius and high-tech equipment, and turn them into playground fun for everyone!
The Vine House Redesign
A great example of our ingenuity took place when we recently revamped our Vine House, a popular natural playground design for preschool children and toddlers. We wanted to give it more standing and headroom and structural stability without changing the appeal of the arch and greenery. “We came up with different graphics on the sides,” explains Luke Dunlap, a member of our design team, “but we wanted to keep it fairly similar because we know the customers really like the Vine House.” We gave it the look of a trellis and combined two similar products into one. We eliminated the old click-clack trike tunnel to feature beveled edges that were previously exclusive to the trike tunnel.
Because our shared environment is so top of mind at Nature of Early Play, we try to keep as much of our process and materials in-house as we can. We use our own Recycled Structural Plastic (RSP). This material is not only earth-friendly, but it meets our high standards for safety and longevity. We purchase whatever we cannot construct with our own RSP through vendors who also use recycled plastic whenever possible.
Our team at Play Mart ensures each structure, such as the Vine House, can stand the test of time while being exposed to the elements and years of enthusiastic play. In this case, as part of our continuous improvement efforts, we conducted several trials using previous Vine House molds with the RSP material and found that by changing the structure slightly, the Vine House remained stronger over time. Integral to our product design standards, we are constantly looking for opportunities to improve our products. In modifying and improving the Vine House we decided to stick with a proven, simple construction for the frame while maintaining the elegant natural aesthetic.
Our challenge here was to keep the arched appearance that makes the Vine House so beautiful. That’s where our engineer’s creative expertise came into play. Our RSP material performs best in straight segments. In order for the base structure to be safe and sturdy, we decided to use only straight components, resulting in a boxy frame. We noticed that the original Vine House design incorporated more two-by-fours than needed, so we could eliminate these extraneous components while maintaining the frame’s structural soundness.
Knowing the changes we wanted to make, it was on to the final design. Most of our designs are made using SketchUp 3D Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software. SketchUp is a state-of-the-art program that is popular with architects, industrial engineers, mechanical engineers, and many other types of professionals to produce realistic 3D models. We use this and other high-tech software in the playground design process to get a look at our ideas before we bring them to life. Once we produce a viable draft, we turn to our highly skilled CNC department for production. Because our designers work closely with the CNC department, they take our production capabilities into consideration during the design process. This means that the CAD model presented to the CNC department is already compatible with our machines, saving our CNC team the time and hassle of making adjustments. After the CNC machines cut and engrave the components, we make the final touches with a handheld router and drill.
Engineering for Safety
This cutting-edge technology also helps us fulfill our intensive playground safety criteria. Nothing ruins a great day at the playground more than an accident or injury. While no playground equipment can eliminate all playground injuries, designing for safety from the onset significantly reduces them and their severity. Playground accidents may be more of a problem than you may realize. In fact, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there are over 200,000 visits to Emergency Rooms as a result of a playground accident every year. While some bumps and bruises are an inevitable part of childhood, we want to minimize the risk of our playground equipment being a part of it. That’s why our equipment meets or exceeds the regulations the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) laid out for playground safety. Most injuries are a result of falls, sharp edges, protrusions, and impacts.
Many playground injuries are preventable with proper engineering.
We have professionals in-house who are credentialed through the Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) certification program given by the National Recreation and Park Association. This rigorous program requires its members to complete an exam every three years in order to hold their certification.
We have special equipment, such as our protrusion gauge, that tests the safety of each component so that nothing gets overlooked. In addition to the equipment itself, we offer safety surfacing and padding to protect little ones when they fall. For instance, our Vine House is available with a safety pad made from marine-grade vinyl over 2 inches of open-cell foam. One of the fun parts of our safety inspectors’ job is the chance to push, pull, twist, and yank every part of the structure to make sure it can hold up to real-life play from children like yours. None of our designs get passed without comprehensive testing.
Engineering for Fun!
Most childcare professionals consider the learning, socialization, and, entertainment aspects of a natural playground design in addition to its safety and longevity. However, most people do not realize the amount of science, technology, math, and engineering applied before their play equipment is even installed. This is part of the reason that we are so passionate about our educational STEM /STEAM playground equipment. In addition, you may not have realized that the playground at your preschool, church, or daycare was first a playground for our engineers!
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