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Technologies changing the concrete industry

Edwin Warui

12 technologies changing the concrete industry

Concrete is the most commonly used artificial material today. In fact, only water beats it as the most-utilized resource on earth.

Cement is a key ingredient in concrete. And with widespread concrete usage, this popularity comes at a cost. To put it into perspective, if the cement industry was a country, it would be the third largest source of carbon dioxide(CO2) emissions in the world just behind China and the US.

With the push towards sustainability, concrete technologies are being developed to help conserve the environment.

So what are some of these concrete innovations?

Let’s get started.

#1. Concrete 3D Printing

3D printing can either involve building a project on-site, or using printers in a factory that create components of a structure that are later assembled. This technology has enabled the creation of unique concrete designs that previously seemed impossible. Some of the benefits of 3D printing are:

  • There’s reduced waste and hence lowers carbon emissions.

  • Cost savings because for instance you don’t require formwork.

  • Lower construction times.

#2. Project Management Software

For any construction project, concrete and masonry contractors set the pace. At the same time, these teams have to ensure quality and timely delivery of projects. The downside is that with traditional processes, delays are bound to happen and this costs valuable time and money.

Today, there’s management software specifically for concrete contractors. This technology allows you to track real-time labor and production hence ensuring efficiency. As a result, you keep your projects on schedule and within the budget. And isn’t that every contractor’s dream?

#3. Intelligent Equipment

In this case, IoT sensors and GPS trackers are placed on equipment such as mixers and concrete pumps. As a result, foremen can receive updates about concrete deliveries and pours. Likewise, customers can also be updated in real-time on delivery and pour status. By ensuring timely communication, there’s reduced idle time and schedules can be adjusted quickly.

Additionally, this technology allows the optimal usage of equipment through predictive maintenance.

#4. Ultra-high Performance Concrete (UHPC)

This is a new concrete technology that contains fibres. The fibres could be anything from polyester, stainless steel, glass or carbon which help improve the strength and durability of the final concrete product.

UHPC was initially referred to as Reactive Powder Concrete (RPC). And with a compressive strength in excess of 150MPa, UHPC is five to 10 times stronger than standard concrete. Common applications are bridge decks and precast concrete piles since it has a lifespan of about 100 years.

So why settle for UHPC?

  • It allows for speedy construction.

  • It offers improved strength.

  • It improves the durability of structures.

  • There’s reduced maintenance.

#5. Self-healing Concrete

Infrastructure deteriorates over time with continuous use. For instance, cracks can cause significant damage if left unrepaired. The good news, it’s possible to extend the life of structures. And the really cool part? You can do the repair autonomously.

Believe it or not, self-healing concrete was used by the Romans more than two millennia ago. But it’s now finding its place in today’s construction. The technology uses limestone-producing bacteria as a concrete admixture that fixes fine cracks as they form. The action starts only if the concrete cracks and water gets in. In that case, the bacteria eat the calcium lactate and produce limestone that patches the cracks.

Similarly, self-healing concrete can be used on existing buildings and roads by simply spraying the special liquid containing the bacteria onto cracks.

Here are some advantages of self-healing concrete:

  • It helps reduce the corrosion of reinforced concrete.

  • It helps reduce repair and maintenance of concrete

  • It reduces the permeability of concrete.

  • It helps improve the strength of concrete.

#6. Graphic Concrete

It’s a technology that allows one to have custom concrete patterned surfaces be it on facades, pavers or interior applications. Graphic concrete can even work on already prefabricated concrete products.

After imparting an image or a pattern, you can then add colour pigments to enhance the designs. By lasting just as long as plain concrete, graphic concrete gives architects the versatility to deliver unique imagery on surfaces.

#7. Light-generating Concrete

This is concrete that is capable of absorbing and radiating light. To achieve this, the micro-structure of cement is modified to get rid of crystals and turn it into a gel that allows light to pass inside. In addition to absorbing solar energy and emitting light at night for around 12 hours, this cement is also sun-resistant and has a lifespan of 100 years.

Light-generating concrete can be used to light up areas such as roadways, bridges and bike paths. And the best part? You can adjust the brightness level during production to avoid dazzling drivers or cyclists.

#8. Translucent Concrete

Did you know it’s possible to transmit light through concrete?

Yes, translucent concrete allows light to pass either from the outside to the inside or the vice versa. To make it possible, acrylic, optical fibres or a translucent fabric is cast into fine-grained concrete. At the same time, the strength and durability of the concrete is maintained.

Depending on the project, this type of concrete is customizable. For instance, the diameter and the density of the fibres determines the concrete’s transparency.

Translucent concrete can be used for facades or cladding of interior walls. And by allowing daylight inside a building without solar gain, it helps take the load off HVAC systems.

#9. Self-consolidating Concrete (SCC)

Honey combs or exposed reinforcement in concrete structures is a constant concern. It only gets worse when dealing with complex formwork or heavily-reinforced structures. 

The solution?

A high-performance concrete that smoothly flows into tight spaces without vibration. By eliminating mechanical consolidation, self-consolidated concrete has the following benefits:

  • Increased efficiency on site.

  • A better surface finish without mix segregation.

  • Environmental conservation because vibrators use fuel.

  • Formwork is not subjected to the stresses that are caused by vibration.

  • Improves working environment and safety by reducing noise pollution.

#10. Concrete Sensors

The curing phase is the most critical part of a concrete project. To monitor the formation of concrete, cumbersome laboratory equipment is normally used. The only problem is that it’s inefficient and could lead to delays.

Enter concrete sensors. When embedded in concrete, this technology can accurately measure and predict the performance of concrete. By providing real-time data such as humidity and temperature, one can assess a structure’s health condition. As a result, concrete sensors can significantly reduce structural failure.

#11. De-icing Concrete

Slippery snow-covered roads can be dangerous for drivers. In other words, 21% of road accidents in the UK from December to March are caused by dangerous winter conditions.

Terrifying, right?

But there’s a solution.

De-icing concrete has the ability to carry a small amount of electric current that generates enough heat to melt snow and ice on its surface. To achieve that, 20% of the concrete mixture is a combination of carbon particles and steel shavings.

And it’s simple. All you have to do is to connect the de-icing concrete slabs to a power source and voila! the snow or ice melts away.

#12. Bendable Concrete

Concrete is durable and dense but unfortunately brittle. But by adding microfibres to the conventional mix of cement, water, gravel and sand, you can produce thinner and lighter concrete.

Bendable concrete is also referred to as Engineered Cementitious Composites (ECC). When compared to standard concrete, it has 300 times more deformation capacity and more than two times the flexural strength.

Finally, since it’s less prone to cracking and requires minimal maintenance, bendable concrete is ideal for structures in high seismic regions.

It’s up to you!

We have come a long way and you’re now familiar with some of the ways that technology is changing the concrete industry. As evidenced above, the motivation behind these innovations is safer and longer-lasting structures.

And let’s be honest. Initially adopting new technologies may be expensive. But it’s important to look at the long-term. Here’s the guiding question:

What problem is the technology helping you solve?

All in all, construction companies have to learn to take advantage of modern technology. By doing so, such firms are becoming the business partners of choice.

Can you really afford not to?

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Technologies changing the concrete industry

Technologies changing the concrete industry
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