Image shown is from a recent drop test – a bowling ball dropped on a Cor-Tuf slab from 22.5 feet up. The Cor-Tuf 4-inch slab wasn’t even scratched, but the bowling ball shattered.
The overall concrete market is expected to see steady growth between 2018 and 2023, driven largely by the development of smart cities, infrastructure repair, and new concrete technology. The non-residential market will see the largest growth, forecasted at 4 percent in the United States in 2018.
Concrete producers who want to maximize their share of this growing market need to stay on top of the most recent improvements in concrete technology. Advanced concrete technology is the best way to ensure you stand out from other producers and contractors, helping you win more repeat business.
Here is a look at the latest trends in concrete across three categories—the product itself, the process, and the technology.
The product: New innovations in concrete construction technology
Electronically conductive concrete
Electronically conductive (or heated) concrete can deliver great benefits on roads and other surfaces during times of snow and ice.
The Des Moines International Airport is testing two slabs of this heated concrete to see how it improves runway conditions during the winter. The concrete is managed through a smartphone app, with performance and quality being carefully monitored and captured.
If successful, this type of concrete can be used in cold-weather conditions on roads, bridges, and airports to increase safety.
Ultra-High Performance Concrete (UHPC)
UHPC is a new class of concrete that is extremely strong and durable. UHPC is very similar to traditional concrete, but roughly 25 percent of its composition is composed of a variety fibers and mineral/ chemical additives that create a significantly stronger end product. The integrated fibers vary from polyester to fiberglass, basalt and steel, with each bringing its own unique advantages.
UHPC has an estimated lifespan of 75-100 years compared to 25-35 years for traditional concrete. It also has a compressive strength of 30,000 pounds per square inch (psi), with some mixtures achieving 100,000 psi. Traditional concrete has a compressive strength of just 4,000 psi.
Other benefits of UHPC include flexibility, ductility, and extraordinary resistance to salt, moisture and chemicals. All of these remarkable improvements result in a projected dramatic increase in the life cycle of infrastructure constructed with Cor-Tuf UHPC as a major component. The properties of this concrete make it ideal for traditional applications, as well as newer and more advanced uses in areas such as architectural design, which require thinner components and complex shapes.
Cement production is responsible for approximately 5 percent of global man-made CO2 emissions. Steps are being taken by many concrete producers during the mix process to make a product that lasts longer and requires less maintenance in order to conserve energy and reduce these emissions.
UHPC is a great example of such a product, given its longer lifespan and minimal maintenance needs. New types of concrete (such as UHPC) that are stronger and thinner also require significantly less material and steel reinforcement per project, further reducing CO2 emissions.
The process: Changes in concrete production and labor
The global market for precast concrete is expected to see a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.1 percent between 2018 and 2025. Off-site production of precast elements shortens production time and reduces costs.
Prefabricated elements can be delivered quickly to construction sites, reducing the disruption to traffic and increasing worker safety at the site. Quality control for temperature and mixing can be more closely monitored off-site, increasing the quality of the end product.
Robotic concrete 3D printers are now being used to automate some concrete production. Two such devices were introduced last year, one from Apis Cor and one from MIT. Both machines are mobile, allowing them to be moved to various sites, and they can build structures such as a small house in less than a day.
The world’s first 3D-printed bridge was unveiled in Spain in 2017. A structure of this size took roughly 18 months to build and install.
This type of advanced concrete technology requires fewer laborers and produces less waste for the environment. While this technology is still very new, it has promising implications for disaster relief and other emergency situations.
There is a labor shortage in the construction industry, with the top concern for builders being the cost and availability of labor. Construction workers—and specifically concrete workers—will also need to be more skilled, as new concrete technologies demand a wider skill set.
This need for more highly skilled workers combined with a shortage will likely drive up wages. Concrete producers and contractors should plan accordingly.
The good news is some of the recent advances in concrete technology in 2018, such as off-site production and automation, can reduce the total number of workers needed on a given job.
Technology: Advances in tech deliver benefits
GPS sensors on trucks and equipment deliver updates to foremen about concrete deliveries and pours. Mobile devices keep the communication lines open at all times, regardless of where workers are in relation to supervisors.
Customers can be updated in real-time on delivery and pour status. Concrete workers spend less time idling with real-time updates, and schedules can be adjusted quickly.
Embedded sensors on concrete mixers and equipment can monitor machines for maintenance issues.
When a certain threshold is reached (whether that be a temperature, mixing rate, or other setting), an alert is sent out immediately. Issues are addressed and fixed before an actual break-down occurs. Strength gauges can be used to better monitor concrete for curing times.
These advances reduce downtime during the production process and save money on maintenance costs. They also help produce a higher quality product.
2018 is seeing many innovations in concrete construction, with improvements ranging from better concrete products to the incorporation of advanced technology to create and deliver a better product more efficiently. Knowledge of these latest advancements and trends enables concrete producers and distributors to stay competitive, especially when it comes time to bid on contracts. We will do our best to keep you updated.