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Avoiding uniformity problems

in truck-mixed concrete

cement ball

Correct
mixing
speed and
batching
sequence
are keys to
producing
wellmixed
concrete

ixing concrete in a truck is


different from mixing it in a
central batch plant. Mixing
blades in a plant lift and drop
the concrete. Width limitations on truck
mixers dictate the use of spiral blades that
first move the concrete down toward the
head end of the drum then back up the
central axis toward the discharge end.
When a truck mixer doesnt produce
well-mixed concrete, the lack of uniformity
is usually caused by failure to set up the
flow down the spiral blades and the
counter flow up the drum axis. Other causes include the development of head packs
or cement balls.

By Richard D.
Gaynor

Developing the flow pattern


A high mixing speed helps set the desired flow pattern in the drum. Preferable
speed is 20 to 22 revolutions per minute
but not more than 25 or 27 rpm. Sometimes 17 or 18 rpm is fast enough, while
some truck mixers produce well-mixed
concrete at 12 to 15 rpm. However, the
flow pattern may be only partially developed at lower drum speeds.
To see if youre getting the correct mixing
action, use a flashlight and look into the
discharge end of the drum (wear goggles).

At a low drum speed the concrete surface


will be level with the ground. Increase the
drum speed in 1- or 2-rpm increments until
the concrete surface changes from level to
almost perpendicular to the drum axis. A
change as slight as 1 rpm will make the difference. Eye protection is essential because
concrete tends to splash when the desired
mixing action is reached. If you consistently produce this mixing action, the concrete
will be mixed in 40 or 50 turns.
Avoiding cement balls
Cement balls are round lumps of cement,
sand, and coarse aggregate, typically about
the size of a baseball (photo above). Generally, they appear infrequently, and occur
only in a few trucks.
There are several ways to deal with cement balls. Mixing will grind them up in a
2-inch-slump concrete, but not in a 5- to 6inch-slump concrete. So one quick fix is to
mix the concrete at a 2-inch slump, then
add enough water to reach the desired
slump. However, this is an inefficient solution because cement balls are evidence of
improper loading or batching sequences.
You can also eliminate cement balls by
changing to slurry mixing. There isnt
enough water to make a real slurry, but

this procedure still works. Load all the water, then load the cement and mix for one
minute at high drum speed. (Dont try to
load cement before water. No known truck
mixer will mix concrete properly if cement
is the first ingredient.) Next, ribbon in the
fine and coarse aggregate. Although slurry
mixing prevents cement balls, truck loading
can be slow and dusty.
A better solution is optimizing the loading procedure. The sequencing of two ingredientscoarse aggregate and wateris
important. Put about 4,000 pounds of
coarse aggregate into the drum first to
avoid a head pack. The remainder of the
aggregate and cement can be ribboned in.
About three-fourths of the water can be
added first, before coarse aggregate, ribboned with the aggregate, or at almost any
time except as the last ingredient. Often,
batching this three-fourths starts early,
stops during cement batching, and ends
well before the last of the aggregate. The
important point is that one-fourth of the
water must be the last ingredient.
Nonuniform mixing will result if you
batch more than about one-fourth of the
water last. A wet spot forms in the discharge end of the drum before concrete in
the head of the drum has any measurable
slump. This prevents the needed flow pattern from developing. The concrete will
sound and look wet, but becomes progressively drier as it is discharged.
Occasionally, when cement is batched
from a separate remote bin, its added as
the last ingredient. With this difficult mixing
sequence, its even more important to get
coarse aggregate in the head of the drum
and add part of the water after all other ingredients are in the drum. To obtain a uniform slump throughout discharge, you may
have to add slightly more or less than onefourth of the water at the end of the batching cycle. Slurry mixing is also an alternative to cement-last loading, but water can
rarely be batched at a remote cement silo.
Controlling head packs
When sand is loaded before coarse aggregate, it sometimes packs in the head of the
drum and breaks loose after about half the
load has been discharged. In severe instances, streaks of unmixed sand appear in
the chute while the last half of concrete is
discharging. Usually the head pack goes unnoticed because the sand gets mixed into
the concrete before it reaches the chute. De-

spite the absence of visual clues, head packs


are undesirable because they cause variations in slump, air content, and strength.
No one knows to what extent a head
pack prevents a desirable mixing action
and flow pattern in a drum. But it is known
that additional drum revolutions wont
break up a head pack. Thus, its better to
prevent them.
Prevention measures are the same ones
used for cement balls. Batch about 2 tons
of coarse aggregate into the drum before
adding other ingredients.
Beware of blade wear
Nonuniformity in concrete thats properly
batched then mixed at the correct speed

may also be caused by worn mixer


blades. The National Ready Mixed
Concrete Associations Plant Certification Program sets blade wear criteria. Vertical height of the blade
shouldnt be worn down by more
than 10% of the original height (excluding any of the fin or tee as
shown in the illustration above). If
you have the serial number for
your mixer, the manufacturer can
provide original blade dimensions.
Testing for mixing uniformity
Standard Specification for Ready
Mixed Concrete, ASTM C 94, contains uniformity testing procedures
and requirements. Samples are taken from two parts of the batch and
tested for slump, air content,
strength, coarse-aggregate content,
and air-free unit weight of concrete
and of mortar. Usually, changes in
slump, air content, and strength correlate to changes in the other characteristics, and a complete test of all
six characteristics is rarely necessary.
The specification also suggests
that slump tests are a quick way of
checking the probable degree of
uniformity. Observation of concrete
slump during unloading, supplemented by occasional testing, will
be enough to confirm basic mixing
uniformity.
Uniformity tests must be per-

formed by skilled personnel because any variations in testing


methods will be reflected in the
uniformity test results. For instance,
ASTM C 94 requires strength tests
from two samples to agree within
7.5%. Based on ASTM precision
statements for the strength test,
about half of the strength difference
between two concrete samples will
be a result of testing variation
rather than real variation in the
concrete. The inherent variability in
slump, air content, and unit weight
tests is greater than that for strength
tests, and deviations from standard
testing methods increase variability.
Thus, its critical to perform these
tests correctly.
When a mixer truck is discharged
without excessive waiting, wellmixed, uniform concrete should be
expected. If uniformity variations
do occur, first check the mixing
speed, number of revolutions, and
batching sequence. If these are correct, blade wear or accumulations
of hardened concrete in the drum
may be the problem.

No one knows to what


extent a head pack prevents a desirable mixing
action and flow pattern
in a drum. But it is known
that additional drum
revolutions wont break
up a head pack. Thus, its
better to prevent them.

Richard D. Gaynor retired as National


Ready Mix ed Concrete Associa tion
(NRMCA) executive vice president in
1996 and is currently a consultant to
NRMCA. He has conducted or supervised several studies of truck mixing.

PUBLICATION #J960570, Copyright 1996, The Aberdeen group, All rights reserved