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A vacuum dewatering demonstration

Floor slab durability enhanced while construction time is reduced

After initial consolidation of concrete in the warehouse slab, this double-beam vibrating screed levels the concrete to an elevation carefully set a little above the desired floor level to allow for compaction of concrete during dewatering. Camber can be introduced at this stage if desired.

he construction press was recently invited to a demonstration of vacuum dewatering in connection with floor slab construction for a warehouse in Bridgeport, Connecticut. This journal has kept its readers in close touch with the subject ever since 1963, when there was an upsurge of American interest because of European exploitation of the process. Although the Bridgeport demonstration involved no new technical developments, it was of interest because the work was supervised by one of the major manufacturers of vacuum dewatering equipment. The vacuum dewatering process, patented in United States nearly half a century ago, has attracted increased interest in recent years after several Scandinavian firms simplified the equipment enough to make it practical for almost any builder. Vacuum dewatering is used widely throughout Europe today, and in Sweden the method is used for 40 to 50 percent of all concrete floors. Basically, the process improves strength, durability, and other properties of concrete by reducing the water-cement ratio immediately after the mix is placed, usually in floors and other flatwork.

At the Bridgeport demonstration, concrete was placed in the slab forms, consolidated with immersion vibrators, then leveled and vibrated again with a double-beam vibrating screed. This vibrating screed, which can be powered by either gasoline or electric engine was pulled over the concrete surface by two men. After screeding, the concrete was immediately covered with a filter pad and a suction mat connected to a vacuum pump. Within a few seconds the vacuum created under the mat began to compress the concrete and cause water to be drawn through hoses to the suction pump. Vacuum was applied for about 3 to 5 minutes per inch of slab thickness. Typically this lowers the water content of the concrete by 20 to 25 percent, while the filter pad minimizes loss of cement fines with the water which is being collected. Less than half of one percent of the cement is ordinarily removed during vacuum dewatering. After a given area of floor was dewatered, the pad and mat were moved on to another freshly placed section of the slab. The dewatered surfaces were firm enough to be walked on, and were immediately floated with a power trowel fitted with a planing disc to remove any high spots or irregularities introduced during the vacuum processing. Where skid-resistant surfaces are desired, this completes the floor-finishing operation, and the slab is ready for curing about one-half to one hour after vacuum treatment. Where a smoother surface is specified, power troweling is done, usually 30 to 90 minutes after the planing operation.

Pliable plastic base filter pads are placed carefully on top of the freshly screeded concrete surface. The filter sheet minimizes loss of cement fines as water is removed.

The entire process from concrete placement to completion 1 of surface finishing can be accomplished in as little as 2 2 hours, with some time variations depending on the surface finish desired as well as the weather. Past experience has shown that daily capacities of 6000 to 8000 square feet

Flexible suction mats are unrolled on top of the filter pads, enabling vacuum to be created over the surface of the concrete.

New vacuum pump, less than half the size of earlier models, is capable of providing suction for two mats simultaneously.

When the filter mat and pad are removed after 15 or 20 minutes of vacuum treatment, the concrete surface is hard enough to support foot traffic without damage to either polished street shoes or the concrete surface.

Manifold attached at the center of vacuum mat is connected to the vacuum pump by a hose through which water is withdrawn from the concrete.
of 6-inch-thick floor can be finished per working day, using a single vacuum pump unit, organizing work to avoid overtime. Use of vacuum dewatering helps the contractor maintain better control of his slab construction schedules in both hot and cold weather. The vacuum processing method is said to be practical for both small and large contractors, with an investment of as little as $10,000 to $12,000 providing all of the necessary startup equipment. For this cost, the contractor can obtain the vacuum pump, two 20-foot-wide plastic base pads, two

This power trowel fitted with a planing disc completes the slab finishing operation where a nonskid surface is desired.
covering suction mats, one manifold with channel extending across mats to extract the collected water, and a power trowel with planing disc to remove the surface irregularities introduced by the vacuum process. A crew with basic knowledge of concrete placing practices can become familiar with dewatering techniques in one or two days.


Properties of concrete
Compressive strength improvements of about 30 percent over conventionally finished concrete are reported. The gain in strength is greatest at the upper wearing surface of the slab, where it is most needed. Youngs modulus of elasticity can be increased 10 to 15 percent. According to test results reported in Germany, abrasion damage to vacuum treated concrete averaged 24 percent less than for conventional concrete. Higher resistance to freezing and thawing damage has been demonstrated in laboratory tests. Quality variations evidenced by slump differences from load to load of ready mixed concrete can be eliminated because the vacuum process evens out variations in water content. Permeability of concrete is greatly reduced by vacuum dewatering; tests show water absorption reduced by 10 to 20 percent. The water-cement ratio at the surface of a concrete slab can readily be reduced from as much as 0.7 to 0.45. Consequently zero-slump concrete, or at least its practical equivalent, can be attained near the vacuum-treated surfaces. The vacuum cannot remove water needed for hydration of cement because capillary diameters in the cement paste decrease, limiting extraction of water when the water-cement ratio approaches 0.3.

Job operations
Slab depths up to 12 inches can be effectively dewatered by the vacuum process. Joint spacing can be increased because vacuum dewatering reduces shrinkage of floor slab c o n c re t e. Better use of construction manpower is possible with vacuum dewatering because positive control of floor finishing time can be established and overtime for floor finishers can be reduced or eliminated. For suspended slabs earlier form removal is often possible because of more rapid early strength development. Tilt-up construction may be speeded by the improved early strength development achieved with vacuum dewatering. The process can be used with lightweight aggregate concrete. Pumps now available for establishing the vacuum are little larger than a cocktail table, some weigh no more than 215 pounds. Mats shown in the photos are flexible, but rigid pads or plates can also be used to create the vacuum. The seal between the vacuum mat or plate and the fresh concrete is important; the tighter the seal the larger the area that can be dewatered with a single pump unit.

PUBLICATION #C810503, Copyright 1981, The Aberdeen Group, All rights reserved