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Inspection of

post tensioned
concrete: WHO
and WHY?

wners and municipalities are becoming more

aware of the need for detailed inspection to insure
safe and economical construction, particularly for design-build or fast-track construction and for more sophisticated structural systems such as post-tensioned
c o n c re t e. For such inspection to be effective, the inspection team must understand the basic design
process, structural behavior, and field installation of the
structural system.
The owner can frequently save money when post-tensioning is properly used. Howe ve r, these potential savings may disappear if the structure is inadequately constructed. Completion delays and repair costs associated
with improper construction sequence, tendon elongation discrepancies, and concrete distress are avoidable
with proper quality control and inspection at the site.
While inspection is not a cure-all, it goes a long way in
eliminating jobsite problems and assuring quality construction. To eliminate structural inspection in a move to
cut costs is asking for trouble.

Inspection team qualifications

Inspection and quality control may involve seve ra l
organizations, depending on the owners standards and
municipal regulations. The first line of quality control is
the contractors own quality assurance program. Quality placing of post-tensioning tendons and mild reinforcing steel in proper sequence requires little or no rework
upon final inspection by the reviewing authority. Many
times, rework of post-tensioning material is the source
of tensioning problems. Installation of post-tensioning
material is not necessarily difficult, but repair after a
concrete pour usually is.
In addition to the contractors review, the local municipality may require a final inspection of the embedded
steel before any concrete pour. This review is usually
p e rf o rmed by the structural engineer of record, local
building department, or independent testing lab. If the
governmental agency, by law, does not require a final review prior to each concrete pour, the owner who ap-

Well painted datum marks and careful measuring give

accurate readings of tendon elongation. This is an important
part of inspecting tendon stressing operations, as outlined
in the guidlines given on page 3

praises the risks associated with lack of inspection may

want to retain a qualified inspection service. The obvious question becomes: Who is qualified to review posttensioning installation?
To assure quality review, the owner should require the
following of the inspection team:
1. Understanding of the most common post-tension ing systems and components such as types of prestressing steel, anchorages, sheathing and corrosion
protection, stressing equipment, and proper terminology.
2. Knowledge of the post-tensioning design p ro c e s s
and basic principles. While the front-line inspector
may not need detailed design experience, he should
have a basic knowledge of such concepts as load balancing, initial and stage stressing, anchorage zone
bursting, and hydraulic force/pressure. Without this
knowledge it is virtually impossible to intelligently
and reasonably inspect post-tensioning placement.
The importance of tendon profile, bursting or backup steel, stressing sequence, and jacking force/pressure becomes obvious with this knowledge.

Properly spaced tendon anchor groups with adequate

bursting steel prevent concrete blowouts during tendon

3. Experience in major phases of field installation and

plant fabrication. Years of hands-on experience is
not necessary, but regular plant tour and complete
review of all phases of field installation are a must. An
understanding of why, when, and where helps the inspector and engineer appreciate the practical limits
for tendon sweeps, fixed end quality control, and
stressing equipment behavior.
4. Experience inspecting conventionally re i n f o rc e d
concrete structures. Since post-tensioned structures
are in part conventionally reinforced, it is appropriate to require related experience.
If testing laboratories or other inspection agencies do
not have the recommended experience, the structural
engineer of record can be retained to review the tendon
and conventional steel placement. A separate contract
for such detailed inspection service may be negotiated.
While this approach may cost the owner more, it has advantages. The engineer is most familiar with the structural design and the design criteria, and has seen the
project evolve from the owners requirements. As a result, he can make appropriate judgements re g a rd i n g

Improperly tied tendons can be severely displaced during

concrete pours, resulting in substantial damage when
stressing is applied. Full-time inspection can help to
alleviate such problems.

field deviations, discrepancies, and conflicts. In fact,

some city building codes now require construction inspection by a structural engineer.

Early coordination among the owner, contractor, engineer and testing laboratory is a must to establish monitoring guidelines, areas of responsibility, and re p o rt submittal procedures. Discrepancies of any nature must
be brought to the attention of the appropriate parties,
formally and immediately, so corrective action can be
taken. The longer a post-tensioning field problem remains unsolved, the more difficult it is to correct. For example, restressing or lift-off operations to verify tendon
force may be relatively easy immediately after stressing,
but impossible 6 weeks later due to freezing of wedges,
damage to anchor head threads, removal of tendon
stressing tail, and other flaws.

Full-time inspection
Is full-time site inspection required, including monitoring the in-place stability of mild reinforcing steel and
post-tensioning tendons during concrete pours? Steel
displacement can occur for a variety of reasons after an

A simple engineers log for tracking post-tensioning submittals and tendon stressing. A form like this will help the structural
engineer of record in his review of stressing records.




Are fixed end wedges evenly and adequately seated in

the anchor?

Are the anchor heads properly machined, cleaned, and

protected from corrosion?

Is excessive sheathing stripped at the fixed end?

Are the wedges or threaded nuts free of rust and steel

shavings, and of consistent quality?

Is the plastic sheathing of sufficient and uniform thickness?

Is the grease evenly applied and of consistent texture?
Does the strand appear to be of new quality, free of corrosion when sheathing and grease are removed?
Are the anchors properly cast with smooth wedge

Is the duct manufactured from quality steel strip with

specified thickness and watertight seams?
Is the bare prestressing steel free of corrosion and
debonding contaminants, and adequately protected during storage?

Are the wedges free of rust and steel shavings, and of

consistent quality?
Are mill reports and certifications available for the prestressing steel and other components, as required by
the specifications?
Are the tendon high and low points at the correct elevation?
Are the tendon profiles smooth and correctly shaped
(parabolic, circular, or straight) between re f e re n c e
Do the tendons have excessive horizontal wobble?
Is the sheathing damaged, and if so, has it been repaired?
Does the chair or support-bar system conform to contractor documents?
Are the stressing anchors securely fastened to the form
with appropriate pocket formers?
Is bursting steel installed behind the anchorages as required by the contract documents?
Has the method of concrete placement been reviewed
as to its effect on tendon stability during placement?
Has the conventional steel placement been reviewed?

Are high and low points of the center of duct at the correct elevation?
Are duct profiles smooth and correctly shaped (parabolic, circular, or straight) between reference points?
Are all duct joints properly mated and sealed with duct
Are there any holes in the duct, and if so, have they been
repaired to prevent concrete intrusion?
Are there any kinks in the duct which will prevent prestressing steel installation?
Is the support system adequately tied to prevent displacement and floating of the duct during concrete
Are the bearing plates securely fastened to the form
Is bursting steel installed behind the anchorages as required by the contract documents?
Has the method of concrete placement been reviewed as
to its effect on duct stability during placement?
Has the conventional steel placement been reviewed?

Are the stressing anchor wedge holes free of grout, dirt

and plastic?

Are the anchor heads, wedges and nuts free of corrosion,

dirt and grease?

Is a consistent dimension used for the elongation datum mark on the strand?

Has the elongation datum mark for the initial and final
reading been logically and clearly located?

Is the stressing equipment well maintained, and are calibration charts available?

Is the stressing equipment well maintained, and are calibration charts available?

Is the stressing ram operator careful with the equipment and consistent from tendon to tendon?

Is the stressing ram operator careful with equipment and

consistent from tendon to tendon?

Are the tendons stressed slowly enough to allow the

strand to overcome as much friction as possible prior to

Are the wedges, shims, or nuts properly seated after


Are the wedges seated evenly and under pressure?

After elongation approval, are the tendon tails cut off
well inside the pocket to allow proper grout cover?
Are pocket surfaces sufficiently clean to allow good
grout bond during and after patching?

Are the tendon ends and stressing pockets properly prepared for patching?

inspection has been completed. To preclude or at least

minimize this potential problem, full-time inspection
may be appropriate. One critically displaced tendon can
cause concrete distress during tendon jacking that will
result in added construction costs ranging from a few
dollars for repair to substantial damages for project delays.

Monitoring stressing operations

Typically, technicians are familiar with hydraulic jacking operations, and can be trained to properly monitor
tendon stressing and measure elongations (see photo,
page 1). A preliminary briefing by the structural engineer
regarding tolerances and stressing sequence is important.
Normal daily inspection reports may be handwritten
or typed, but should be issued to all concerned parties
( ow n e r, contractor, engineer, and architect) within 24
hours of the actual inspection. Stressing logs recording
jacking pressure and tendon elongations should be
neatly handwritten and formally submitted for engineer
review within 24 hours of stressing.
The structural engineer of record usually reviews shop
drawings and other such construction submittals. Similarly, review of stressing records should be the engineers
responsibility. He will know best what deviations may be
tolerated beyond those specified in the construction
documents. A simple form makes tracking of field data
and submittals easy, and helps assure complete execution.

Inspection guidelines
As in any industry, there are tricks of the trade which
should be understood by the inspection team to assure
quality. Three phases are involved for all post-tensioning
Material manufacturing
Tendon installation
Tendon stressing

The table (opposite) lists important questions about

each of these phases for both bonded (grouted) systems
and unbonded (greased and sheathed) tendons.
Material manufacturing: Most fabrication plants have
similar production facilities. Depending upon the magnitude of the project and the general reputation of the
material supplier, plant inspection may be appropriate.
If not, then jobsite material review is in order.
Tendon installation: An experienced inspection team
will review the process with the placer during installation of the first pour, and reach an understanding with
the crew regarding critical elements.
Tendon stressing: Stressing or jacking is probably the
most stra i g h t f o rw a rd operation associated with posttensioning. Yet it seems to be the most troublesome and
controversial. Experience with the various stressing procedures is a must for the inspector.

If experienced inspection services are employed and
quality work is maintained by the contractor, the inspection can be quick and relatively inexpensive, compared
to costs of repair should improper procedures be allowed. With the current prevalent atmosphere of litigation, inspection by qualified and experienced persons is
well worth the investment. One only needs to read the
newspaper to recognize the costly settlements associated with construction failures. While inspection is not 100
percent effective in eliminating mistakes and failures, it
is the most cost-effective method known for minimizing risk.
Well painted datum marks and careful measuring give
accurate readings of tendon elongation. This is an important part of inspecting tendon stressing operations,
as outlined in the guidelines given on page 3.
Copyright 1983, The Aberdeen Group
All rights reserved