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More Compression and a Faster Machine -


Big Steps Forward For A New Age of
Masonry
February 1, 2016 · David Easton (/blog/?author=52c1bfcbe4b06d4d4f536d25)

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Watershed Materials has


been sequestered in our
research lab working on
improvements to our
prototype machine for
making high performance
concrete block with less (or
zero) cement.
(http://watershedmaterials.c
om/blog/2015/4/27/back-
to-the-beginning-radically-
re-thinking-the-concrete-
block-machine)We’re proud
to share our progress
towards a market ready
High power in a small package. What sets the Watershed Materials block
platform for masonry block
machine apart from the others is the Archimedean principle of compound
manufacture using a much
force. “Give me a long enough lever and a place to stand and I could move
wider array of locally the earth.” And it's not just brute force that squeezes grains into stone but
sourced, unwashed, often smart force. Eight 4:1 lever arms multiply the compression energy of four
recycled aggregate and four inch hydraulic rams working on two heavy steel platens, all teaming
using far less cement - even up to deliver 250 tons of force into each block.
zero cement with our
newest lime / slag
(http://watershedmaterials.com/blog/2015/11/24/announcing-a-new-zero-cement-block-
formula-made-with-lime-slag-and-natural-aluminosilicates) and geopolymer mix designs
(http://watershedmaterials.com/blog/2015/8/4/new-geopolymer-masonry-from-watershed-
materials-turns-natural-clays-into-durable-building-products).

The newest iteration of our high compression prototype masonry block manufacturing
equipment has increased the total applied compressive force to 500,000 pounds - yes, that’s
half a million - and has been equipped with computer controls and improved hydraulics for
faster production. The intense compressive force that this new block machine applies in the
manufacturing process is critical to achieving Watershed Materials’ two guiding principles -
reducing cement in structural masonry and utilizing locally sourced, minimally processed
natural aggregates.

Our new machine is able to reduce - or eliminate - cement by compacting aggregates with
such force that the mineral grains are lithified into a kind of man-made stone, mimicking the
natural forces that create rock deep in the earth under intense geologic pressure. The
difference between our machinery and the earth’s is that what takes eons in nature can be
expressed in seconds on the factory floor, especially with computer controls.

Traditional concrete block isn’t made


with any significant compressive
force in the manufacturing process
because concrete block achieve all
their strength from cement. Which
would be fine if cement weren’t the
notorious polluter that it is,
responsible for a whopping 6% of all
of humanity’s greenhouse gas
emissions. Watershed Materials has
invented a new, smarter way to
manufacture concrete block that
doesn’t just rely on cement to glue
One of the tricky parts of making any block is getting it out of the
rock together but rather re-
mold without breaking. High compression and clay in the
structures aggregate into a dense
formula help the newborn blocks to stand up on their own but
matrix that produces durable and
that doesn't mean they're not fragile. The same thick steel plates
beautiful structural masonry block.
that form the sides of the mold carry the fresh blocks out of the
compression chamber and set them gently onto the offloading
Some of Watershed Materials’ mix
conveyor where they quickly gain more strength.
designs still use cement, but at a
significantly reduced level - up to
half the cement of traditional
concrete block. Other more advanced mix designs eliminate cement altogether by utilizing
alternative binder formulations including lime, slag and aluminosilicate
(http://watershedmaterials.com/blog/2015/11/24/announcing-a-new-zero-cement-block-
formula-made-with-lime-slag-and-natural-aluminosilicates) as well as natural clay
geopolymers (http://watershedmaterials.com/blog/2015/8/4/new-geopolymer-masonry-
from-watershed-materials-turns-natural-clays-into-durable-building-products). All these mix
designs require and take advantage of the ultra high compression provided by this new block
machine.

The second big way that compression is key to the Watershed Materials’ masonry manufacture
process is that compression takes advantage of the natural grains present in aggregate -
minerals that are traditionally washed out of the aggregate used in concrete. Traditional
concrete - and concrete block - rely on cement for stabilization, and the minerals and rock
dust naturally present in aggregate interfere with cement’s stabilization process, so those
minerals are washed clean of the virgin mined aggregate. Watershed Material’s process,
however, takes advantage of these minerals and rock dust in the high compression
manufacturing process. We can use a much wider range of locally sourced, often repurposed
or recycled aggregate rather than the dull grey washed virgin mined aggregate used in
concrete, saving a lot of water and repurposing existing material.

Beyond increasing the


compression used in the
manufacturing process, the
Watershed Materials team is
working to speed the
production cycle time so
that more block can be
made in each production
shift, increasing output and
reducing cost-per-unit.
We’ve added faster
hydraulics and a computer
control network sending
signals through six solenoid
operated valves. If all goes
To raise eyebrows in the deeply entrenched world of concrete masonry we
as planned, anticipated
knew it wasnt enough that our new block machine produced beautiful,
cycle time will be fifteen
sustainable block with less cement. It had to be FAST. Solenoid valves and a
seconds, resulting in a
programmable digital logic controller speed up cycle time.
production output of over
1,500 block per shift- all
with mostly automated,
computer controlled systems.

Watershed Materials envisions three real-world scenarios for applying the technology: large
scale, permanent high output factory applications like those traditionally used in the
manufacture of concrete block; temporary on-site “pop-up” manufacture of block using on-
site aggregate from off-haul, excavation and demolition on large job sites; and smaller,
distributed hyper-local manufacture of block for disaster relief and other housing needs in
remote areas where cement is imported and expensive.
Next up is a four month
testing regimen where the
new high compression
block manufacturing
platform is tested over
repeated 7 hour production
shifts, highlighting further
room for improvement. Stay
tuned for the next release of
updates - we’re on a quest
to develop technology for
making high performance
masonry using as little
cement as possible and
taking advantage of the
Programmable logic controllers are used to run things like sorting
beautiful, natural aggregates
machines at Amazon and giant earthmoving equipment for construction
found locally all around the
sites. They eliminate guess work, increase efficiency, and reduce errors.
world.
They can tell you that a part is going to need to be replaced before it does.

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Comments (11)

Preview POST COMMENT…

Craig Wood A year ago · 0 Likes

Hi,
I was just wondering about the cost of compression compared to the cost of
cement.
Regards
Craig
Alex Wright (https://alexwright.net) A year ago · 0 Likes
(https://alexwright net)

Hi Criag -

It's a good question.

Cement is the most expensive component of a concrete block, and it's by


far responsible for the most CO2 output. The Portland Cement
Association itself says that "the cement content of the CMU accounts for
91% of the CO2 content embodied in the CMU."

Reducing cement by using compression does have costs in terms of re-


designing the manufacturing equipment, which is much of our focus.

It's not easy to compare the cost of cement per block with the cost per
block of using Watershed Materials' high compression manufacturing
equipment mostly due to our manufacturing equipment being early in the
design and development process.

It's our hope that we'll be able to seamlessly and efficiently replace
cement with compression in a way that saves both CO2 and money. After
all, that's where real change happens.

We appreciate the question - it's a good one.

Marcelo Henrique Baggio 2 years ago · 1 Like

Good evening. I am writing in Brazil. I wonder if there is forecast to provide or


sell the machine design to press the blocks. I was interested. Thank you.
Marcelo Baggio - Contact email: marcelohbaggio@hotmail.com

Alex Wright (https://alexwright.net) 2 years ago · 0 Likes


(https://alexwright net)

Thanks for getting in touch, Marcelo. We're getting a lot of interest in this
machine technology, including people like you writing in from six
continents. We'll be running this machine through a testing regimen over
the next few months, and we'll be releasing the data from that testing
along with information about partnership opportunities. We'll stay in
touch!

G G
Guillermo Garcia 2 years ago · 0 Likes

Hi, a good advance and important solution for construction clean, green and
affordable houses all over the world. I agree with Luis Rosado, multilateral
finance institutios must engage and support these types of projects to helping
solve one of the most important problems particulary in developing countries. I
am interesting in the machine to developing houses in Venezuela. Please send
me more information: finanzasaldia@gmail.com

Thanks, Guillermo Garcìa N.

Jeff Pyles 2 years ago · 1 Like

Is the press designed to be able to easily swap out the molding chamber parts,
allowing for quick changes between different block sizes and designs? If so,
what's the range of block dimensions that the current press can handle?

Do you plan to make the press's design open source and available to anyone
who wants to start making blocks in their region, or do you intend to license the
tech, or have you made plans that far ahead yet?

Alex Wright (https://alexwright.net) 2 years ago · 0 Likes

(https://alexwright net)

Hi Jeff - The machine can make standard 8 inch, 6 inch and 4 inch block
by changing out parts. We're definitely looking to spread the technology
so that as many block are made in as many areas as possible. We'll likely
not open source the technology for the reason that a large amount of
resources went into it's design and development. There are a lot of
opportunities for distributed manufacturing and we're really looking
forward to exploring them. Thanks for the interest!

Kevin Foray 2 years ago · 1 Like

Is it extrusion?
Alex Wright (https://alexwright.net) 2 years ago · 0 Likes

(https://alexwright net)

Hi Kevin - the process involved compression, not extrusion. The aggregate


and binder mix is poured into a chamber then compressed with 500,000
pounds of force then extracted from the compression chamber.

Luis Rosado 2 years ago · 1 Like

This is a realy great contribution for solving two big problems: 1) Climate, and 2)
Access to decent housing in many places around the world. This is real solution
to real problems; This is the kind of project that should get support from
International cooperation institution, including World Bank, IDB, etc.

Alex Wright (https://alexwright.net) 2 years ago · 0 Likes

(https://alexwright net)

Thanks for the kind words, Luis. These are the exact problems we're
looking to solve. You've hit the nail on the head.

Watershed Block Named a Green Builder Hot 50 Product


for 2016
February 24, 2016
(/blog/2016/2/24/watershed-block-named-a-green-builder-hot-50-product-for-2016)

Open House
February 1, 2016
(/blog/2016/2/1/open-house)

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