Concrete made with Portland cement is widely used as a construction material because of its many favorable characteristics. One of the most important is a large strength-cost ratio in many applications. Another is that concrete, while plastic, may be cast in forms easily at ordinary temperatures to produce almost any desired shape. The exposed face may be developed into a smooth or rough hard surface, capable of withstanding the wear of truck or airplane traffic, or it may be treated to create desired architectural effects. In addition, concrete has high resistance to fire and penetration of water. But concrete also has disadvantages. An important one is that quality control sometimes is not so good as for other construction materials because concrete often is manufactured in the field under conditions where responsibility for its production cannot be pinpointed. Another disadvantage is that concrete is a relatively brittle material—its tensile strength is small compared with its compressive strength. This disadvantage, however, can be offset by reinforcing or prestressing concretewith steel. The combination of the two materials, reinforced concrete, possesses many of the best properties of each and finds use in a wide variety of constructions, including building frames, floors, roofs, and walls; bridges; pavements; piles; dams; and tanks.

Important Properties

Characteristics of portland cement concrete can be varied to a considerable extent by controlling its ingredients. Thus, for a specific structure, it is economical to use a concrete that has exactly the characteristics needed, though weak in others. For example, concrete for a building frame should have high compressive strength, whereas concrete for a dam should be durable and watertight, and strength can be relatively small. Performance of concrete in service depends on both properties in the plastic state and properties in the hardened state.

Properties in the Plastic State

Workability is an important property for many applications of concrete. Difficult to evaluate, workability is essentially the ease with which the ingredients can be mixed and the resulting mix handled, transported, and placed with little loss in homogeneity. One characteristic of workability that engineers frequently try to measure is consistency, or fluidity. For this purpose, they often make a slump test.

may give additional information on the cohesiveness,In the slump test, a specimen of the mix is placed in a mold shaped as the frustum of a cone, 12 in high, with 8-in-diameter base and 4-in-diameter top (ASTM Specification C143). When the mold is removed, the change in height of the specimen is measured. When the test is made in accordance with the ASTM Specification, the change in height may be taken as the slump. (As measured by this test, slump decreases as temperature increases; thus the temperature of the mix at time of test should be specified, to avoid erroneous conclusions.) Tapping the slumped specimen gently on one side with a tamping rod after completing the test workability, and placeability of the mix (“Concrete Manual,” Bureau of Reclamation, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402 (, workable mix settles slowly, retaining its original identity.

A poor mix crumbles, segregates, and falls apart. Slump of a given mix may be increased by adding water, increasing the percentage of fines (cement or aggregate), entraining air, or incorporating an admixture that reduces water requirements. But these changes affect other properties of the concrete, sometimes adversely. In general, the slump specified should yield the desired consistency with the least amount of water and cement.

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