Five Concrete Construction Innovations That are Changing the Game
After water, concrete is the most consumed substance worldwide. Below we explore some recent concrete innovations that are impacting the construction industry.
1. Carbon Reducing Concrete
In June 2019 The Environmental Commission of Austin,Texas considered a new way to build with concrete without adding to greenhouse gas emissions. The low-carbon concrete is just as strong as traditional materials, but when hardened, traps carbon dioxide permanently. If the plan is adopted, the city of Austin will join the Illinois Department of Transportation and the city of Calgary in using this new eco-conscious alternative. CarbonCure carbon-reducing concrete can retain its CO2 even if it’s cut, broken or destroyed, offering a long term solution to concrete’s negative environmental impact.
The environmental impact of transitioning to CarbonCure concrete in Central Texas would be equivalent to taking 8,000 cars off the road annually. Concrete’s most notorious drawback is that it produces large amounts of CO2. Carbon reducing concrete reduces CO2 emissions by converting captured CO2 into mineralized carbon inside the concrete. Across the world, 3 billion tons of concrete a year emit as much as 10 percent of the carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, released into the atmosphere. The carbon trapped in the material also reinforces the concrete’s strength so that it’s stronger and lasts longer.
GPR, or ground-penetrating radar, enables workers to survey dense structures. Comprised of two major components, a transmitter, and a receiver, GPR tech helps eliminate costly “hit” damage and workplace accidents by identifying foreign substances and either maneuvering around them, or using different equipment to access them. GPR can identify objects around 24” deep under the host material’s surface; however, things like moisture, material composition, small target size, and shallow targets can either mask or inhibit GPR’s effectiveness.
GPR helps eliminate structure and tool damage when drilling into solid, dense structures like concrete and soil. For instance, utility lines are vital to everyday life, but they often fail, deviate, or malfunction. Accessing these lines for maintenance requires precise, technical drilling and digging, and any mistake could compromise the structure, injure workers, or damage expensive tools. GPR scanning allows workers to identify potentially problematic objects (metal, debris) in concrete to allow for technical planning and cutting to access those lines.
By sending a radio wave into a “host” material, like concrete, the GPR detects any refractory waves given off by objects of differing composition. These waves detect foreign substances and then map them out for locating, planning, and possible removal.
Practical applications include but aren’t limited to:
- Locating rebar
- Locating post-tension cables
- Locating metallic and non-metallic conduits
- Locating wire mesh
- Locating radiant heat tubes (easier if they are water-filled)
- Locating dowel bar and tie-bars in road/bridge construction
- Detecting a hollow-core slab
- Measuring cover depth above targets
- Measuring asphalt thickness over concrete
- Identifying glass rebar and cracks (more difficult)
3. 3D-Printed Concrete
3D-printed concrete is becoming more and more popular as different applications take shape. Essentially, large 3D printers can be programmed to print out concrete sections and various other materials to construct bridges, homes, and other structures. While not necessarily new, huge leaps were made in 2015 with WinSun Decoration Design Engineering constructing multiple “demonstration houses”. Recently, in 2017, two bridges were built entirely by using 3D-printed methods on-site.
These 3D printers use liquid mortar that is printed into the design required for the terrain. Then steel wire is fed through the head of it for reinforcement. These methods, while best for concrete-based mixtures, should transfer well to steel fabrications, and Dutch firm MX3D hopes to implement steel based 3D printing in the near future.
3D-printed structures help minimize the amount of concrete used since materials are placed more precisely. This leads to fewer CO2 emissions and less waste are produced. Also, since no framework is required, 3D-printing offers a more affordable option to current home building processes. WinSun details how it can build low cost homes for around $5,000.
Another problem 3D-printed concrete structures solve is the issue of planning around or removing geological formations. Where traditional building methods typically alter the geological scenery to allow access for equipment, vehicles, and tools, 3D printing methods can accommodate many landscape and geological formations to minimize its carbon footprint in order to protect the environment while expanding the design possibilities for projects.
4. Smart Roads
Smart roads are made of panels which contain “touch pads” that help update motorists and state officials about hazards, wrecks, traffic, and other driving nuances to better improve road conditions, road health, and driver safety. Featuring factory-made concrete slabs that connect to wi-fi and fiber optic cables, these roads have the potential to drastically improve traffic safety. Each panel has its own port for access and maintenance which enables faster and cleaner repair or replacement of equipment.
Testing of the new roads will begin in Colorado this summer, but many obstacles still exist before implementation across the United States can occur. Questions remain whether the innovation will be feasible in rural areas or if the signal transmission will fail if an individual slab's cable fails. Cost is also an issue as the initial creation of these roads costs twice that of regular road construction.
Largely focused on improving motorist safety, these smart roads seek to minimize wrecks and traffic congestion. However, the potential for turning data into one of the most valuable assets from roads is immense. Smart roads will also have these capabilities:
- Lane departure detection
- Driving off-road detection
- Collision detection
- Automatic traffic updates
- Eliminate manual accident entry (into apps like Waze)
- Provide business/advertising insights
5. Vacuum Lifting Attachments
Using vacuum lifting technology, contractors can handle concrete pipe, slab and precast structures safely and efficiently. A vacuum lifting system consists of 4 principal components: a vacuum pump, which is driven by a self-contained engine or hydraulically powered by the host machine; a vacuum reservoir and valve, which provides vacuum in the event of a power failure; vacuum pad(s); and visible and audible vacuum alerts. The vacuum pump maintains a constant vacuum in the pressure reservoir. When activated, the system creates a vacuum between the pad and object to be lifted, providing a powerful positive seal.
Vacuum lifting systems eliminate the need for unsafe and time-consuming lifting mechanisms such as hooks, slings or chains. In addition, vacuum lifting systems offer an alternative to using jackhammers for concrete slab removal. With fewer saw cuts required since the concrete can be handled in larger pieces, using vacuum lifting can help limit the amount of silica dust that would otherwise be released in the air.
Benefits of using vacuum lifting include:
- Less downtime between lifts
- No need for employees to climb on trailers to attach slings or chains
- Can lift material without displacing adjacent pieces
- Can remove concrete without damaging the sub-base
- Creates a powerful positive engagement of the load (hooks, slings and chains can shift or come loose, endangering employees)
- Reduces or eliminates need for tag line operators on the ground
- Vacuum lifting systems are able to go where people should not be