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Understanding Slipform Pavers

Designed to automate various concreting procedures, a modern slipform paver

still relies on basic practices and standard tools of the concrete trade

strikeoff tool. Vibrators. A

A tamper. Finishing equip-

ment. All these standard
tools for placing tradi-
tional, formed concrete flatwork
are also vital components of a slip-
form paving machine. Although
they may appear quite complex,
modern slipform concrete pavers
are made up of a series of strikeoff,
consolidation, and finishing tools
firmly mounted onto a self-pro-
pelled machine. The machine au-
tomates traditional concreting
procedures in a continuous
process that still relies on the fun-
damentals of placing, consolidat-
ing, and finishing concrete. Despite the complexities of today’s models, slipform pavers still follow the basic
procedures for placing concrete flatwork: strikeoff, vibration, and finishing.
Slipforming Is Extrusion This system confines the concrete When confined inside the paving
All modern slipform pavers con- (just like the toothpaste tube) and machine, the energy applied to the
solidate and shape concrete using provides the mold for the desired concrete for consolidation or fin-
an extrusion process that pulls or shape. ishing is transmitted through the
“slips” the forms continuously over A slipform paving machine pro- concrete in all directions back to
and through the plastic concrete. vides the energy, or squeeze, to the the paver. As a result, any changes
The most common example of ex- concrete to force it through the in the energy the paver applies to
trusion is squeezing a tube of mold. The concrete is squeezed ver- the concrete or changes in the
toothpaste. The squeeze provides tically by the weight of the paving concrete properties will alter the
the energy to move and consoli- machine on the profile pan, and results of the paving process.
date the toothpaste; the top end of h o ri zontally by the taper adjust- This is why uniformity is a criti-
the tube is the mold. The tooth- ment of the sideforms confining the cal issue in slipform paving. Distri-
paste emerges from the tube con- concrete. The energy of the squeeze bution of concrete to the paver
solidated and in the exact shape of comes from two sources: must be continuous to meet the
the mold. The slipform paver pro- 1) The continuous movement of demands of high production, and
duces similar results: Concrete is the machine’s mold through the squeezing of the concrete
squeezed through the mold to the confined concrete must be constant to produce a
form the pavement. One major dif- 2) The energy applied by continu- continuous, uniform shape and
ference is that in slipform paving ous vibration, which fluidizes finish. Uniformity in design (mix
the mold moves, not the concrete. and consolidates the concrete and geometrics), logistics (con-
The mold on the slipform paver crete supply and delivery), and en-
is the extrusion envelope. The Uniformity Is Key to ergy levels (vibration, squeeze,
components of the extrusion enve- Quality Paving and movement) are all vital for sat-
lope consist of the bottom of the isfactory machine perf o rm a n c e
One important characteristic of
profile pan and the interior sur- and paving results. Any changes in
fresh concrete that affects slipform
faces of the sideforms (Figure 1). these variables will cause changes
paving is its hydraulic nature. Plas-
The profile pan is also known as an in the concrete—some undesir-
tic concrete acts like a fluid, which
extrusion meter, or forming plate. able. Pavement smoothness,
means it cannot be compressed.
The angle at which the
nose of the profile pan shears
the concrete, also known as
the angle of attack, is critical.
Since the mix characteristics
will determine how much en-
ergy the machine needs to
put into the concrete to suc-
cessfully complete the extru-
sion process, the best angle of
attack will be different for dif-
ferent concrete mixes.
Achieving the proper angle of
attack of the profile pan
means applying enough pres-
Figure 1. Typical slipform paver cross section. Each element of the paver can affect the s ure to properly slipform the
machine’s reaction in the crucial extrusion envelope. c o n c re t e, but not too much
p re s s u re, which—through
h yd rostatic forces—will lift
strength, durability, and ove ra l l additional equipment for sec-
the machine (Figure 2).
performance may suffer as a result. o n d a ry finishing of the concre t e
Just in front of the nose of the pan
If the concrete mixture and applied s u rface behind the paver is used
is the tamper bar. It performs sec-
energy (squeeze and vibration) re- to re m ove slight irre g u l a ri t i e s
o n d a ry consolidation on the con-
main constant, the result is a uni- and provide a tight surface mi-
c rete mix and helps the performance
form, geometric shape and sur- c ro t e x t u re.
Figure 1 shows each part of a typ- of the profile pan by moving large
face—a smooth, durable concrete
ical slipform paver. To understand a g g regate to just below the pave-
the crucial elements that affect ment surface at the critical shear
As with concrete flatwork, the
paver performance, it is important point at the nose of the profile pan.
characteristics of the concrete mix
to begin at the extrusion envelope, The thin layer of mortar created by
affect how the tools will perf o rm .
where the slipforming process ac- the tamper bar at the surface be-
Harsh or sticky mixes, which do not
tually takes place. Each machine el- t ween the concrete and the profile
consolidate or fluidize easily when
ement affects the concrete at the pan lowers friction between the ma-
vibrated, will affect the ability of the
front of the extrusion envelope. At chine and the concrete, helping the
slipform paver to produce a
this crucial point, the machine per- s l i p f o rm pan slide along the new
smooth, durable pavement.
formance and quality of the final p a vement surf a ce.
Slipform paving also requires a
balancing act with the concrete product are determined.
Internal Vibration
slump: The slump must be low The most crucial area of con-
c e rn in the slipform paving Consolidation is a vital part of fin-
enough to produce sharp pave-
p rocess is the front, or nose, of ishing concrete flatwork. In slipform
ment edges, yet the mix must re-
the profile pan. At this point, vi- paving, the role of the internal vibra-
spond well to the extrusion process
b rated, fluidized concrete is tor is even more vital to success—
and consolidate properly. Typical
s h e a red off at the proper eleva- the paver simply will not perform
slipform paving mixes require a 1-
tion to form the concrete slab. It is well without proper vibration of the
to 2-inch slump to meet these re-
also where uplifting forces that c o n c re t e. Im p roper concrete vibra-
the concrete transmits to the ma- tion can also lead to the concre te
Tools of the Slipforming Trade chine concentra t e. The key to a p a vement not perf o rming as in-
smooth paving job is to maintain tended.
Despite its modern complexi-
There are two purposes for inter-
t i e s, the slipform paving pro c e s s u n i f o rm pre s s u re at the nose of
nal vibrators in the paving process:
still consists of using a series of the profile pan. Changes in pres-
to consolidate the concrete mass
s t a n d a rd concrete tools to per- s u re at this point will cause the
( re m ove undesirable voids), and to
f o rm the functions of consolida- slipform machine to compensate
f l u i d i ze the concre t e, helping the
tion and finishing: an auger or by lifting or diving. Since the pro-
p a ver move over and through the
paddle for uniform concrete dis- file pan cannot compensate ade-
c o n c re t e. Fluidization reduces the
t ribution in front of the pave r, a quately for large changes in pres-
f riction of the particles within the
strikeoff, a tamper bar (also used s u re at the nose, a nonuniform
concrete, permitting the “slipping”
for consolidation), and a finish- surface and nonuniform consoli-
required for the slipforming
ing tool (the profile pan). Often, dation can result.
Each vibrator on a slipform c re t e. Ge n e ra l l y, vibrators are set cure other problems in the paving
paver is adjustable for both posi- to produce a uniform level of vi- operation, such as poor paver ad-
tion and energy level. Position is b ration energy ranging fro m justment or improper paving tech-
adjusted mechanically prior to 6,000 to 9,000 vpm. nique. Vibrators may identify and
paving. Energy level is adjusted The hyd rostatic head, or accentuate a poor concrete mix
h yd raulically to a uniform level of amount of concrete above the design, but they do not cause the
vibrations per minute (vpm) to be- v i b ra t o r, also affects the effi- problem directly. Improperly ad-
gin paving, and then it’s readjusted ciency of an internal vibra t o r. justed vibrators can create unde-
to appropriate levels depending The greater the hyd ro s t a t i c sirable paving results.
upon the reaction of the concrete. head, the greater the effect the
Internal vibrators have a coni- v i b rator has at the bottom of Concrete Delivery to the Paver
cal-shaped zone of influence. The the slab. Pa vers today are de- At the front of the grout box is a
zone of influence changes as the signed with a “g rout box” (Fi g- strikeoff plate (Figure 1), which
energy level—vpm—changes. In- u re 1) to confine the concre t e performs the same function as the
creased vpm widens the zone, de- and take advantage of this ef- straightedge used to strikeoff con-
c reased vpm narrows the zo n e. fect. Another benefit of con- crete for flatwork. The strikeoff
The vibration energy level re- fined vibration in the grout box plate is the first component to
quired for a particular mix design is the reflection of vibration en- control the amount of concrete in
and depth of placement may re- e rgy back into the mass of con- the grout box and, therefore, in
quire changing the number of vi- c re t e. This lowers the energy re- front of the nose of the profile pan.
b rators and operating them at q u i red to fluidize the mix and In front of the strikeoff plate is
higher or lower energy levels. p re vents or limits segregation of an auger or some device used to
Vibrators are mounted in a the particles within the con- control the distribution and
paver in a line across the width of c re t e. amount of concrete in front of the
the slab. Spacings are set for a The grout box also provides a paving machine. The height of
slight overlap of each zone of in- constant head of concrete in concrete at this point influences
fluence. Typical vibrator spacings f ront of the nose of the pro f i l e the amount of concrete, or hydro-
on slipform paving machines pan, further reducing adjust- static head, in the grout box. As
range from 12 to 24 inches. Out- ments the machine has to make discussed earlier, changes in con-
side vibrators are usually set ap- in the extrusion pro c e s s. A con- crete pressure will affect vibration
proximately 6 inches from each crete level in the grout box of ap- and machine performance. There-
sideform of the machine (Figure proximately 11⁄2 times the paving fore, it is important that distribu-
3). The vertical position of the vi- depth is recommended. tion of the concrete in front of the
brator should be kept as near hor- Paver speed can also change the machine be as uniform as possi-
izontal as possible. zone of influence of the vibrator. ble.
The vibration energy level re- The forward motion of most As when placing concrete flat-
q u i red to consolidate and flu- pavers should be maintained at 3 work in forms, concrete that will
idize the concrete in a successful to 7 feet per minute, with uniform be slipformed should be placed as
s l i p f o rm operation va ries with concrete delivery in front of the close as possible to its final posi-
mix design and depth of con- paver to maintain constant speed. tion. Distribution should be uni-
Paver speed form in height. Since part of the
should be ad- role of the slipform machine is to
justed to match vibrate and consolidate concrete,
changes in con- apply the same rule used for the
crete delivery operation of hand-held internal
rates. Speeds vibrators: Do not use the vibrators
greater than 10 to move the concrete.
feet per minute Remember that the slipform ma-
may require chine is designed primarily to con-
changes in the solidate and extrude concrete, not
number and to move the material. Control of
spacing of the vi- concrete distribution at this point
brators. is why many contractors use plac-
While neces- er/spreader equipment in front of
Figure 2. The angle the profile pan makes with the sary for the the paver. A placer/spreader deliv-
concrete surface is referred to as the angle of attack. If paving process, ers the concrete very close to its fi-
the angle of attack is too high, it must be overcome by a
vibrators will not nal position, allowing the slipform
combination of machine weight and vibration.
Figure 3. Internal vibration is an
essential element of quality slipform
paving. Vibrators are typically set
horizontally at the paving surface at
12- to 24-inch spacings.

machine to perform its function of

consolidation and extrusion, rather
than act as a bulldozer.
Despite the complexities of mod-
ern slipform pavers, the basics of
placing and consolidating concrete
still apply. And although many ad-
vances have been made since the
machine’s invention in 1954, there
is always more to learn about the
art of slipform paving. When a del-
icate balance of concrete mix de-
sign, delivery, vibration, and ma-
chine adjustments is achieved, the
equipment can produce smooth,
durable, and economical concrete
pavements. Happy paving.
Information for this article was based
on a presentation made by Chapin
Sipherd, national accounts manager of
concrete paving products for CMI
Corp., Oklahoma City, at the Trans-
portation Research Board annual
meeting in January 1995.


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