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QUALITY-CONTROL TESTING FOR PRECAST CONCRETE

If you're not performing quality-control tests, you could be missing out on an investment that can pay dividends.
The advantage for specifiers and purchasers of plant-produced concrete products lies primarily in the consistency of quality in the manufacturing process. Precast is the only type of concrete product available that is created under controlled conditions, because only a precast producer has the ability to govern the outcome of product quality with consistency and precision. And yet, manufacturing concrete products is not a precise science. Many precasters are not aware of all the ways to maximize the predictability and consistency of quality in their products. Quality control (QC) tests were developed to help precasters learn how concrete behaves, how to produce a better mix, how to identify and prevent problems created by varying conditions, and, ultimately, create better products. Initially, a QC program requires an investment of time and money, but eventually leads to overall savings. You might see savings, for example, from cement reduction, eliminating costly follow-up testing, reducing broken or damaged products, producing more economical mix designs, reducing energy consumption, avoiding law suits, or even just catching mistakes early in production. Probably the greatest benefit from QC testing is that you will have gone a long way in maintaining a reputation for producing reliable, quality precast, which not only strengthens your current market position, but increases your customer base, especially with government and contractors. "Performing quality control tests was a definite benefit because it taught us how to produce consistent concrete," says Dave Eddy, quality control manager at Terre Hill Concrete Products, Inc., in Terre Hill, PA. "It also provided us with credibility with state DOTs and contractors." As technologies advance, the quality of concrete must also advance. Learning QC tests now will make you more competitive in emerging markets such as high-performance concrete. "It is to everybody's advantage to strive for higher quality and excellence because if you do, work seems to come automatically," says Tim Queior, vice president and head of quality control at Jefferson Concrete Corporation, Watertown, NY. "We can prove that through our history" The precast industry has long realized that, because concrete contains so many variable materials, it is difficult to produce a consistent quality mix. To aid in producing consistent quality concrete, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) developed an array of tests for the precast industry to follow. In Canada, CSA International developed its own set of concrete tests that are similar to ASTM tests. These tests serve as guidelines for production and, in some cases, are legally binding when issued by governments or cited in contracts. Detailed specifics about ASTM and CSA testing procedures are beyond the scope of this article, and many of the existing tests are not addressed. The article does, however, provide an overview of some of the most useful tests for precasters, identifies pitfalls associated with them, and suggests ways they can save you money. Be sure not to end your education here, but find out what other tests are relevant to your precast operation.

Concrete Testing
The specific type of test and frequency of testing fresh concrete is usually dictated by the wishes of your customer. Government departments usually require all the concrete tests mentioned in this article, with some variation from region to region. The frequency of testing also varies. For example, to qualify as an approved supplier for the state of New York, Jefferson Concrete is required to test every six cubic yards of concrete and is monitored by state inspectors on every 75 cubic yards. ASTM C 172/CSA A23.2-1C: Sampling of Fresh Concrete Proper sampling methods are required to obtain representative test results on fresh concrete. A sample must remain true to the actual product. Avoid taking samples from the first and last portions of the batch to

avoid segregation in the mix. Take samples soon after the batch is made to retain the temperature and moisture content; do not let samples sit and dry out. ASTM C143/CSA A23.2-5C: Slump Test The slump test measures the consistency of freshly mixed concrete. It is, however, only an indication--not a measure--of workability. Workability involves placement, consolidation, and finishing properties. A slump test only provides some indication about how the concrete will perform in regard to these properties. Sometimes the slump from batch to batch changes even though the mix remains constant. Incomplete mixing from worn mixer blades, improper or inconsistent mixing speeds and times, or improper loading may cause the variance. Slump changes may also occur from changes in mix design. Admixture amounts, aggregate moisture content, aggregate proportioning, and even temperature affects the slump. A 3 percent change in water content can produce a one inch slump increase. A one percent change in air entrainment can result in a one inch slump change, and as temperature increases, slump decreases. The slump test is also helpful in developing mix designs. If a mix turns out stiff with a low slump, you may decide to add a water-reducing admixture instead of water. This achieves a more workable mix and keeps your water-cement ratio low, a crucial factor in quality concrete. On the other hand, a very runny mix with a very large slump may require a reduction in the mix's water content or possibly an adjustment in your aggregates. When performing a slump test, over-wetting the surface may allow the sample to disperse more, indicating a larger slump than actual. Improper rodding may cause incomplete consolidation, also giving a false reading. For a true reading, make sure to measure the slump from the center of the original sample, not the highest or lowest point. ASTM C 1064: Temperature of Fresh Concrete Testing for temperature is simple and the results are important. Hot concrete sets up rapidly, gaining early initial strength but resulting in lower later strengths. Concrete that is too cold experiences delayed curing times, hindering stripping time and product availability. Freshly poured concrete exposed to varying ambient temperature will experience cracking. Temperature also affects admixture performance, slump, and air content. A temperature change of ten degrees results in as much as one percent variance in air content. Concrete temperature is affected by a few things: mix-water temperature, materials temperature, and cement and admixture type. Optimum mix-water temperatures are required to achieve adequate curing and high quality. Aggregates stored outside will affect your concrete temperature as well, and may require adjusting. Certain cement types and admixtures generate more heat in concrete than others, emphasizing the importance of knowing the concrete temperature. When you perform temperature tests, it is important to take readings quickly and make sure to use a good, accurate thermometer that is surrounded by at least three inches all the way around to ensure an accurate reading. Note that small samples lose heat quickly. Temperature tests are useful, not only in determining concrete performance, but for creating possible cost savings. By adjusting mix-water and aggregate temperatures, boiler energy, curing-equipment energy and building heat may all be adjusted to achieve optimum curing temperatures, creating the most efficient energy-use situation. Testing for Air Content Air tests determine the total content of entrained and entrapped air in concrete. During mixing, existing air content in concrete is broken down into tiny bubbles. If the concrete contains an air-entraining admixture, these bubbles remain stabilized in the mix by the binding together of air, water, and cement. In concrete without air entrainment, all but about 2 percent of the air content escapes or dissolves after consolidation because the bubbles are not bonded to the water and cement. This is called "entrapped" air. The main reason for entraining air in concrete is to reduce damage from freeze/thaw cycles. Entrapped air will not aid in preventing this damage. Further, entrained air reduces corrosion of reinforcement, prevents scaling, aids in placeability, reduces bleeding, reduces segregation, and aids in preventing alkali silica

reaction (ASR) and delayed ettringite formation (DEF). ASR occurs when aggregates in the concrete containing silica react with the alkalis in the cement. This reaction causes a gel to form around the aggregates, which expands in the presence of moisture, eventually cracking the concrete. DEF occurs when concrete cured at high temperatures is exposed to wetting/drying conditions. Water that penetrates the concrete reacts with existing sulfurs, causing an expanding, crystalline structure that cracks the concrete. It is important to introduce air-entraining admixtures early during mixing to maximize its potential. It is also important not to add more air entrainment than the mix design calls for. Since air content reduces strength, an addition of air will result in an unaccounted strength loss. This further emphasizes the need for testing, in order to achieve a balance between the positive and negative effects of air content. Certain properties and materials in fresh concrete have an effect on air content. Some admixtures, for instance, cause additional air entrainment while others deplete it. Fly ash containing carbon will destroy some of the air content. Even pigments, especially black ones containing carbon, destroy the air. Temperature, aggregate size, and mix water will also affect air content. To manufacture a more durable, economic product, it is crucial to know the air content of your concrete. Most government and contract work requires proof of air content in concrete products, especially in regions exposed to freeze/thaw conditions, and where sulfate conditions and ASR problems occur. It is possible to entrain air in concrete from admixtures or from air-entraining portland cement. The amount of air entrained from cement, however, is not adjustable and emphasizes the need to test for air content. ASTM C231/CSA A23.2-4C: Pressure Method The pressure method is used for mixes containing normal- to heavy-weight aggregate. Applying a predetermined pressure to a calculated sample volume of concrete squeezes out the air content, resulting in a pressure drop that corresponds to the percentage of air in the concrete sample. It is important to have your meter calibrated periodically to ensure accurate readings. ASTM C173/CSA A23.2-7C: Volume Method If you are testing lightweight concrete or drycast concrete, the pressure method is not recommended because the applied pressure compresses the air out of the aggregate, indicating a higher than actual air content. The volume method entails adding water to a known volume of concrete. The apparatus containing the sample is then agitated to release the air. The amount of water displaced equals the volume of air in the mix. ASTM C 138/CSA A23.2-6C: Unit Weight, Yield, and Air Content (Gravimetric) of Concrete This test is used for determining three things: unit weight, yield, and air content. Once the unit weight is measured, the yield and air content can then be calculated using certain formulas. Unit weight is a measure of weight per volume; in this case, how much a sample volume of concrete weighs. The unit weight of fresh concrete is similar to the density of hardened concrete. It is very important to perform the unit-weight test on light-weight concrete to ensure the product's density. Once the unit weight is determined, yield can be calculated. Yield is the ratio of total weight of mix material to the actual concrete unit weight. It can also be expressed as the volume of concrete produced per batch. Yield will indicate right away if a mix-proportioning problem exists. If concrete is supplied to you from a ready-mixed company, yield is used to determine if you are actually receiving 27 cubic feet per cubic yard. Discrepancies in yield may result from errors in material measurement or additional air content. The unit-weight test is also a quick method for checking the air content of concrete, but it should not replace volume- or pressure-test methods for air content. This test is also not appropriate for determining the air content of light-weight concrete. Once the unit weight and yield are determined, the air content can be calculated numerically. To perform this test, fresh concrete is placed in a container of known volume (usually the air sample container, which is a cubic foot), and weighed on a scale, either in pounds or kilograms. It is important to not overfill the container and then strike off the excess. This can push the aggregates down in the sample, squeezing out the mortar, and resulting in an inaccurate sample. It is also important to tap the container with a rubber mallet to release any large air voids.

Testing for Compressive Strength One of the most important properties of concrete is its compressive strength. It dictates whether or not a product meets specified strength standards, when to strip forms, and also when a product is ready for shipping and service. Strength results are also used for evaluating mix designs. ASTM C 39/CSA A23.2-9C: Compressive Strength of Cylindrical Concrete Specimens The objective behind compressive-strength tests of concrete cylinders is to determine the amount of force it takes to break a cylinder of concrete. A hardened cylinder is placed in a compression-testing machine, which applies a constant load to the cylinder until it breaks. ASTM C 31/CSA A23.2 3C--Making and Curing Concrete Test Specimens, describes how to make a cylindrical concrete specimen. Cylinder sizes are usually 6" x 12" or the newer, more popular size of 4" x 8" and are either specified in job criteria or based on personal preference. Curing techniques for test samples (ASTM C 31/CSA A23.2-3C) are important and the method you choose depends on the product and customer specifications. Specimens are usually required to cure in a lime-water bath solution. Sometimes it is necessary to cure samples in the exact environment that the product is made in, as is true with drycast concrete. Whatever size or curing method you choose, it is important to make enough specimens to supply ample information on a product's strength. "One problem we find is precasters aren't testing enough cylinders," says Steve Boyd, an engineer at Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. "Some will perform 7- and 28-day tests, but ship the products after three days." Terre Hill Concrete's quality control manager Dave Eddy recommends making eight cylinders for each batch being tested. "We typically make eight cylinders, two each for testing following-day strengths, 7-day strengths, 28-day strengths, and two extra for testing shipping strengths." The reason for making two cylinders for each test date is to obtain an average strength, which represents a value closer to the actual product strength. Cylinders of the same batch will sometimes break at different strengths for various reasons, including testing procedures or actual specimen properties. When breaking test cylinders, remember that loading rates, sample alignment, and capping procedures affect the results. It is important to center the cylinder between the loading plates, and apply the load at a constant rate. Otherwise, test results will be lower than actual. Improper capping or surface irregularities of specimens will cause a non-uniform load, also resulting in a lower reading. The proper method for capping is described in ASTM C 617, Practice for Capping Cylinders. When a break occurs, note what it looks like. Five different break types are shown in Figure 1. The break type yielding the most accurate reading is the hourglass; others may yield erroneous strength values. Compressive testing machines require proper calibration to ensure accurate results and should be re-calibrated every year. Making and testing all those cylinders allows you to know your concrete's durability. You may find your cylinders are breaking at strengths much higher than required, allowing you to reduce the cement content. If you have performed the tests and discovered that the concrete strengths are low, you have isolated the problem before it is too late, preventing the need to remake the products. Knowing your concrete's strength before you strip or ship is beneficial. Testing two extra cylinders may save you from breaking an expensive product and having to remake it. It will also cut back on repairs to pieces damaged during handling because of inadequate strength. When you are experimenting with mix designs, you will need to evaluate its strength. Performing tests ahead of time and keeping records prevents doubt about how a product will hold up. Test results help determine the most durable and economic mix for the job. Some government agencies and contracts require you to test the actual strength of finished products. Two other methods for obtaining compressive strengths of your products are ASTM C 42/CSA A23.2-14C--Core Testing and ASTM C 805--Impact Hammer Test. You may also want to perform these tests to find out how your actual strengths compare to cylinder results.

Aggregate Testing Aggregates comprise 60-70 percent of the volume in concrete. In order to produce quality concrete, the aggregate must possess high qualities like sufficient strength, non-siliceous constituents, and cleanliness. ASTM C 33--Standard Specifications for Concrete Aggregates defines requirements for grading and quality of fine and coarse normal-weight aggregates. Other tests on aggregate are available and the ones you choose will depend upon such factors as your geographic location, product type, and mainly, your customer. Aggregates from different regions contain different constituents, and tests to determine its mineral composition are usually performed by your aggregate supplier. Make sure they supply you with the results; you do not want aggregates containing reactive silica. ASTM D 75, ASTM C 702, and CSA A23.2-1A: Aggregate Sampling As with fresh-concrete sampling, a quality aggregate sample is required to achieve representative results. Some aggregate sources may contain only a few of one particle size, or maybe only portions of the sample are contaminated. An adequate sized sample is required to properly represent the aggregate source. Proper sampling also prevents unwanted segregation. Other conditions, such as water content and temperature, vary throughout the aggregate source, further emphasizing the importance of proper sampling. ASTM C 136/CSA A23.2-2A: Sieve Analysis of Fine and Coarse Aggregates Aggregate grading is determined by performing a sieve analysis. This test may seem difficult to perform, but it just takes a little practice. A sieve is a container with bars or wires placed in opposite directions on the bottom of the container to create square openings. Different sized openings are designated for different sieve sizes. Aggregate is loaded into a stack of sieves, ranging from large openings to small, and the apparatus is agitated, allowing the aggregate to pass through the sieves. Each sieve will retain a certain percentage of aggregate and this becomes the particle size-distribution, or "grading." Fine and coarse aggregates are usually tested separately. ASTM C 33 describes a wide variety of acceptable grading requirements to accommodate different localities. Since there is no "perfect" grading requirement, the right one depends on factors such as material availability and product type. A sieve analysis showing that an ample amount of each different particle size within the aggregate was retained on every sieve is considered a uniform grading or uniform particle-size distribution. An aggregate possessing this type of grading will yield a good, workable mix, requiring less water content, which in turn leads to less cement and, in the end, creates a denser final product. You may want to experiment with using more than one size of coarse aggregate to obtain a more efficient mix design. Limits do exist for percentages of large and small particle sizes. Particles that are too large cause placement problems, where small particles found in fine aggregates tend to require more water content for complete mixing. Certain architectural products with exposed aggregate surfaces may require specially graded aggregates for aesthetic purposes. Not only is it a good idea to perform your own sieve tests, but sometimes it is specified. For example, Terre Hill Precast is required by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to perform its own sieve analysis on aggregate each time the bins are loaded. When changing aggregate sources, it is important to perform a sieve analysis. ASTM C 566,ASTM C 70/CSA A23.2-11A: Moisture Content in Aggregates The moisture content in your aggregates will add to the amount of water in your concrete. Knowing this net water content is necessary to yield correct batch weights. Different aggregates retain different amounts of water. Fine aggregates usually retain more water than coarse aggregates. Four different moisture conditions of aggregates are shown in Figure 2. There are a number of ways to check for moisture content. One way is to install moisture sensors, either in aggregate bins or in the mixer. These systems usually compensate for the added weight of water and adjust the mix accordingly. Even if you use these automated systems, you should periodically perform manual tests, as well. Perform these tests in the morning and when moisture contents are doubtful, such as after a rainfall. Knowing moisture content allows you to adjust your mixes accordingly. See the example below: Material Design Moisture Content Aggregate Moisture Adjusted

(lbs./cu yd) Cement Sand Coarse Aggregate Water Total 500 1200 1900 300 3900

(%) 6.0 1.0

(lbs.) 72 19 91

(lbs./cu yd) 500 1272 1919 209 3900

Note that the adjusted weights of aggregates reflect the increase due to moisture, while the weight of water is reduced by (72 + 19) = 91 lbs. ASTM C 40/CSA A23.2-7A: Organic Impurities in Sand Depending upon your region, fine aggregates sometimes contain foreign substances that may harm your concrete. It is recommended that you perform this test at least once a year or when your aggregate source changes. If you are not performing quality-control tests on your concrete and aggregates, you are missing out on a number of benefits. Quality-control testing takes much of the guesswork out of concrete production. Even under the controlled conditions of a plant setting, there are plenty of variables that can affect quality, and consequently, your company's bottom line. Testing provides a means to evaluate and adjust your processes and the quality and quantity of raw materials you use. It allows you to adapt to constantly fluctuating conditions such as temperature of air and materials. Testing permits you to plan better and be more efficient, which can positively affect your production volume and the services you provide, such as on-time delivery. Testing allows you to measure not only the quality of the specific product you're making at the moment, but also provides a way to follow production and quality trends over time. Making your products the choice for specifiers requires an ongoing commitment to quality. Establishing a quality control program using the various tests available is a great way to start.

Staffing a Quality Control Program


The first step to reaping benefits of producing high-quality concrete is to implement a Quality Control program. NPCA has developed a valuable QC program for precasters, which can be modified as needed. Suppliers can also be a valuable resource during development of a QC program. Whatever method you choose, remember that government agencies and some contractors often require more extensive testing than what is included in your program. QC programs can vary widely from one precast plant to another. A large precast operation producing a high volume and large variety of products requires a fairly extensive program. To head such an operation may require a full-time QC manager, who may be in charge of a number of qualified test technicians. For example, Terre Hill Concrete Products, Inc. in Terre Hill, PA, have a QC program with a QC manager, while the foreman, batch operator, and a pre/post pour inspector perform testing. A smaller plant, on the other hand, would likely require fewer people and might be best served by having the plant manager or foreman manage the program and a production employee carry out testing. Whatever the number of staff you use, it's critical that only qualified employees perform testing. Whether a person is in management, production, or sales, they should understand the concepts behind QC testing and learn how their own role contributes to producing quality products. Tim Queior, vice president and QC manager at Jefferson Concrete Corporation in Watertown, NY, and his two technicians are American Concrete Institute (ACI) certified. "I've got a strong opinion that not just anyone should perform quality-control tests," Queior says. "You should be an ACI-certified technician." ACI certification courses are offered throughout the year. Employees learn correct testing procedures, why the tests are important, and how they affect quality. More information about training and ACI certification is available from your local ACI chapter or by calling ACI at (248) 848-3700.

A quality-control program can also be outsourced to a testing lab. The main advantage of third-party testing is to obtain unbiased results, but the downside is that you miss out on the opportunity to learn from performing the tests yourself. Regardless of the method you choose, a quality-control program is not complete without good, organized record keeping. Record keeping is a vital but sometimes overlooked part of quality-control testing. Records on every test should remain on file for three to five years. Keeping records can help you in a couple of ways. First, testing records can help you defend yourself in the event of litigation by documenting your product's durability using standardized tests. Second, records provide you with valuable reference material. It allows you to compare the durability of a product made two years ago with one made just last week. Or suppose you are not getting the same good results now as you did two years ago, or maybe they are better and you want to know why. Perhaps your aggregates have changed over the years, possibly affecting your mix, or you are utilizing new equipment that is having some type of effect on your products. Whatever the situation may be, good records give you a basis for comparison that is readily available, allowing you to more quickly identify the source of both good and bad changes in your process and products