Smart casting by active control of rheology


Project Title: Smart casting of concrete structures by active control of rheology

Acronym: SmartCast

Principal investigator: Geert De Schutter

Research Institute:   

Magnel Laboratory for Concrete Research,
Department of Structural Engineering,
Faculty of Engineering and Architecture,
Ghent University,
Technologiepark-Zwijnaarde 904,
9052 Ghent, Belgium.

Funding: ERC Advanced Grant (call 2015)

Project timing: 2016-2021


Concrete production processes do not take full advantage of the rheological potential of fresh cementitious materials, and are still largely labour-driven and sensitive to the human factor. SmartCast proposes a new concrete casting concept to transform the concrete industry into a highly automated technological industry. Currently, the rheological properties of the concrete are defined by mix design and mixing procedure without any further active adjustment during casting. The goal of this proposal is the active control of concrete rheology during casting, and the active triggering of early stiffening of the concrete as soon as it is put in place. The ground-breaking idea to achieve this goal, is to develop concrete with actively controllable rheology by adding admixtures responsive to externally activated electromagnetic frequencies. Inter-disciplinary insights are important to achieve these goals, including inputs from concrete technology, polymer science, electrochemistry, rheology and computational fluid dynamics.


We will develop new experimental test set-ups allowing to study active rheology control during different phases of the casting process (see figure): 1) concrete pumping (control of slip layer), 2) while flowing in the formwork (bulk control of rheology), 3) while flowing through formwork joints (control of formwork tightness), and 4) once the concrete is in its final position (trigger stiffening). Well-designed polymers with the desired response to the applied activation will be added to the concrete during mixing. The experiments will be analysed by advanced computational flow modelling based on fundamental rheological laws. Special attention will be paid to the compatibility of all responsive polymers selected for the different control phases.

Active rheology control during different phases of the casting process
Active rheology control during different phases of the casting process


In the short term, achieving the active control of the pumping slip layer will have an immediate impact on concrete industry, as this can be applied on pump trucks without interfering with the elements to be cast. In the longer term, making possible concrete casting with active control of flow and stiffening will be a totally new paradigm for concrete industry. Moving from ‘passively’ relying on evolving properties of fresh concrete, to ‘actively’ controlling rheology and stiffening will revolutionize concrete industry and bring quality levels to higher standards. The developed active rheology control will also provide a fundamental basis for the development of future-proof 3D printing techniques in concrete industry.  For society, it will mean more reliable construction, with less damage cases and less failures, while better preserving the environment (reduced carbon footprint, reduced noise and vibration levels, reduced exposure of technicians to safety and health risks).