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What is Self-Compacting Concrete?

Self-compacting concrete (SCC) is a relatively new technology, in terms of construction. Since its introduction over 10 years ago in Japan, the concept of SCC has captured the imagination of researchers and practitioners around the world. This material can be considered as a high performance composite, which flows under its own weight over a long distance without segregation and without the use of vibrators. For the past decade, the focus on SCC has been on its fresh properties. Research and practical experience were well documented in the first symposium of self-compacting concrete held in Stockholm [RILEM 1999], and later in the state-of-the-art RILEM report [2000]. More  information,  particularly  hardened properties, can be found in the second symposium held in Tokyo [SCC 2001].

The complete elimination of the consolidation process in SCC can lead to many benefits. Besides the obvious benefit of improved concrete quality in difficult sites relating to access and congested reinforcements, the use of SCC increases productivity, reduces the number of workers on site, and improves working environment. The reduction in overall construction cost could be around 2 to 5%. Depending on competition, the supply cost of SCC could be from 10 to about 50% higher than that of conventional concrete of similar grade. This leads to the low consumption of SCC in practice amounting to less than 5% of total concrete production. With improved quality control by suppliers and increased competitiveness in the market, the use of SCC is accelerating in many developed countries.

self-compacting concrete mixtures
Use of High-performance admixtures 
(ZPP-1 and ZPP-2) to decelerate slump
 loss of self-compacting concrete mixtures
Fresh SCC must possess high fluidity and high segregation resistance. Fluidity or deformability means the ability of the flowing concrete to fill every corner of the mould as well as the ability to pass through small openings or gaps between reinforcing bars, often referred to as filling ability and passability of SCC respectively. To satisfy this high fluidity requirement, the maximum size of aggregate is generally limited to 25 mm. To improve flow properties, the amount of coarse aggregates is reduced and balanced by the increase in paste volume. Superplasticizer is needed to lower the water demand while achieving high fluidity. The common superplasticizer used is a new generation type based on polycarboxylated polyether, which is considerably more expensive than the traditional type used in conventional concrete. For SCC to have high segregation resistance, high powder content ranging from 450 to 600 kg per cubic meter of concrete should be specified. Powder generally refers to particles of sizes less than 0.125mm. Since cement content of 300 to 400kg/m3 is often available, SCC usually incorporates 150 to 250 kg/m3 of inert or cementitious fillers. Limestone powder is the common filler used, with fly ash and blast furnace slag enjoying increased popularity. Viscosity agent is sometimes incorporated to minimize the addition of fillers. This admixture is similar to that used in under-water concreting. It increases the viscosity of water, thereby increasing segregation resistance.

The rheology of fresh concrete is most often described by the Bingham model. According to this model, fresh concrete must overcome a limiting stress (yield stress, to) before it can flow. Once the concrete starts to flow, shear stress increases with increase in strain rate as defined by plastic viscosity, m. The target rheology of SCC is to reduce the yield stress to as low as possible so that it behaves closely to a Newtonian fluid. The other target property is “adequate” viscosity. The addition of water reduces both the yield stress and viscosity. Too much water can reduce the viscosity to such an extent that segregation occurs. The incorporation of superplasticizer reduces the yield stress but causes limited reduction in viscosity. The use of Bingham parameters is useful in describing the behavior of fresh concrete, but there is no consensus, at least at this stage, on their limiting values appropriate for SCC.

For site quality control, tests requiring simple equipment are often performed to indicate qualitatively or quantitatively the three basic properties of SCC: filling ability, passability, and segregation resistance.

Slump-flow test is the most popular test method used because of it simplicity. A representative sample of concrete is placed continuously into an ordinary slump cone with a jug without tampering. The cone is lift and the diameter of the concrete (i.e., slump flow value) after the concrete has stopped is measured.

The time to reach a flow diameter of 500 mm and final flow diameter are also noted. The degree of segregation can be judged to a certain extent by visual observation. This test reflects the filling ability, but the passability is not indicated. L-box, U-box, and V-funnel are other common tests available to assess one or more of the basic properties of SCC.

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