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Cement Balls or Lumps in Freshly Mixed Concrete

Causes and Cures

At one time or another most ready mixed concrete producers have experienced problems with cement
balls or concrete lumps. These cement balls are moist, roughly spherical of cement and aggregate. Usually,
the problem creates a crisis of short duration during which time the producer relies on a trial and error search for
a solution.

Principle Causes: Any loading or batching sequence which is likely to place concentrated quantities of
cement and water together may cause cement balls. The following conditions are the most common causes.

1. Rapid addition of water in sufficient quantity to produce high slump during some portion of the
batching sequence. Cement balls formed in high slump concrete will float and do not break up.
However, in 2 to 4 inch slump concrete, cement balls do break and can be mixed out.

2. Addition of all the water required to produce 6 to 8 inch slump concrete before the start of
mixing.

3. Charging cement to rapidly tends too create balls. Cement should be fed at a moderate and
uniform rate. Variations in the tendency to form cement balls between brands or shipments of
cement may be due to differences in flowability of the cement rather than change in other cement
characteristics.

4. Batching procedures resulting in an efficient mixing will eliminate cement balls.

Contributing Causes Include:


1. Charging wet sand and or cement before coarse aggregate and water.
2. Use of hot water, hot cement, or both
3. Excessive blade wear or excessive accumulation of hardened concrete will result in poor mixing
and the formation of balls.

Corrective Actions
Most often a change in batching sequence will help prevent cement balls.

1. In a one-stop or ribbon loading plant, a variety of different loading procedures are used to avoid
cement balls, but generally they are designed to separate the addition of water from the addition
of the cement in the loading process.

a. Ribbon all but 25 gallons of the added water with two-thirds of the aggregate. The remaining
25 gallons is added after all other ingredients are charged. Note that to avoid head packs
coarse aggregate must start ahead of sand.
b. Ribbon all ingredients simultaneously, but avoid surges in the cement flow. Again, coarse
aggregate must start ahead of sand or cement.
c. Another variation is to ribbon aggregates simultaneously throughout the loading but to
separate the addition of water and cement. Here the water might start early and be confined
to the first and last quarter of the aggregate. The cement would be blended with the middle
half of the aggregate.
d. In some instances producers add or more of the total added water from the truck tanks after
arrival on the job. If this is done, avoid rapid addition or addition of more than to 1/3 of
the total added water from the nozzle in the discharge end of the drum. This is to avoid
producing a wet spot of very high slump in the discharge end of the drum.
e. Some producers favor charging at drum speeds of 10 to 12 rpm instead of 18 rpm or higher.
Other producers report good results with drum speeds of 18 rpm during charging and with
the front axle 18 in. lower than the rear axles. Drum speed during charging does not appear
to be a very highly significant factor in the formation of cement balls.

2. In a two-stop plant (or a one-step plant with cement added as the last of the solid ingredients.)

a. Load the aggregates starting the coarse aggregate ahead of the sand, but finishing somewhat
after the sand. The aggregates can be added at any speed from 10 to18 rpm. Then add the
cement on top of the aggregate at the second stop. Generally cement is added at 4 to 6 rpm.
The key to achieving good mixing and avoiding cement balls is in the addition of the water.
About of the total added water must be added into the discharge end of the drum on top of
the cement to lubricate it. The amount of water added in this manner should not be greatly
more or less than of the added water. The remaining of the total added water could be:
(1) batched before the gravel and sand, (2) ribboned with the gravel and sand, (3) added
through a nozzle in the hub of the drum before the last is added to the discharge end of the
drum, or (4) a combination of the other three methods.
b. A drastic, but not very practical method in a two-stop plant is to slurry mix. In slurry mixing
all of the water is charged first, then the cement is batched and mixed 10 or more turns.
Finally, the aggregate is loaded. The gravel should start ahead of the sand.

Things to Investigate

1. If cement balls appear suddenly in a large number of trucks in the fleet:

a. Is the fleet furnishing a high slump job? Mix to a 3-inch slump an temper to the level
required.
b. Is the fleet on a short haul? Mix at 18 rpm or higher in the yard to obtain a minimum of
100 revolutions at mixing speed.
c. Has the flow rate of the cement changed?
d. Have the sand and coarse aggregate bins been interchanged? Is the coarse aggregate
starting ahead of the sand as it should?
e. Is the plant water flowing more rapidly and simultaneously with concentrated amounts of
cement?
f. Is too much of the mixing water being added after other ingredients have been charged?
Not that the mixing water can always start before other ingredients.

2. If cement balls occur only in certain trucks:


a. Are the fins and hopper free from build up?
b. Are the blades in good condition?
c. Are the water nozzles in good condition?
d. Is the water flow from the truck water system too rapid or is it leaking into the drum
before mixing starts?
e. Is too much water being added at the discharge end of the drum? Remember that with
cement-last loadings about of the water must be added to the discharge end of the drum
after the start of mixing. The remaining water must come from somewhere else.
f. Is the mixing speed different than other trucks? Note that the centrifugal force will
inhibit or prevent proper mixing at drum speeds above about 25 to 30 rpm.
g. Is the revolution counter working and proper mixing being accomplished?

*Prepared by the NRMCA committee on Engineering and Research and Development