As a foundational building material, concrete must exceed quality and strength expectations. This means rigorous testing throughout the construction process. Concrete is the most commonly used material in construction projects. Indeed, the durability (and safety) of every structure depends on a solid concrete foundation. As a result, it is critical for project stakeholders—from owners to engineering firms—to be as certain as possible that the concrete used in their projects meets expectations. This is where concrete testing comes in.
Concrete testing occurs in the field and the lab. Field testing happens during the pouring process at the construction site. Technicians will sample fresh concrete and typically conduct slump, air content, unit weight, and temperature tests. At the same time, technicians will cast cylinders and bring them to a lab to cure until the date of testing: usually after 3, 7, and 28 days. On those dates, the lab will test these cylinders for compressive strength to verify the concrete has met necessary requirements.
Unfortunately, the potential for error is present at many steps of the concrete testing process.
In the field, even the smallest mistake can cause strength reductions in test cylinders. According to data from the National Ready Mix Concrete Association (NRMCA), the compressive strength of cylinders can reduce up to 27% if they are not properly cast, stored, or prepared for testing.
Then, in the lab, concrete testing is largely driven by manual, human-performed tasks—making it highly error-prone. Here are the four biggest problems labs face:
- Misreading, misidentifying, or misplacing concrete specimens due to illegible handwritten labels
- Inconsistent test results due to limited machine functionality and variance among technicians
- Errors from handwriting, retyping and data entry during and after the test
- Difficult to collect, process, and analyze unstructured or handwritten data
Luckily, concrete testing software is designed to help solve these problems.
What is Concrete Testing Software?
Concrete testing software—also known as a construction materials testing platform—is a platform that consists of a database, an interface for accessing and communicating with that database, and a way to integrate everything with your concrete testing machine.
In short, concrete testing software automates how data moves through the testing workflow – and, in the process, is better able to structure and secure the data forever.
Concrete testing software is not a LIMS or QC system. But it can connect to either, bringing your entire testing process together and providing a number of benefits.
#1. Fewer Specimen ID Errors
Concrete testing software allows you to eliminate manual specimen identification.
Instead of writing on cylinders with a permanent marker, you can print a label with a unique QR code and stick it on the cylinder. Then, once you get to the testing machine, you simply scan the code. This removes any potential for misreading, misidentifying, or misplacing test cylinders.
#2. Smarter Testing Machine
Before, your testing machine was isolated from the process. It was up to the technician to verify that the cylinder being tested was the right one on the right date. The process is fully integrated with concrete testing software, connecting the machine interface to the software database.
Your machine is smarter. When you scan the cylinder QR code at the machine, you are retrieving sample data from the software’s database and pre-loading it into the testing machine. Now, the testing machine “knows” what it is testing, saving the technician time, and preventing premature destruction and other errors.
While some platforms allow machines to export data after a test, only integrated concrete testing software can pre-load the machine with relevant sample data before the test. This isn’t something that any LIMS, QC, or homegrown system can do.
#3. Streamlined Data Collection & Transfer
In this fully connected ecosystem, technicians no longer have to worry about handwriting results and passing them to someone else to enter into another system.
You can go completely paperless in the field and the lab, eliminating redundant and error-prone handwriting, retyping, and data entry. Plus, technicians can focus on more valuable tasks—like casting more cylinders in the field and preparing the next test in the lab.
Concrete testing software automatically transfer results from the machine back to the cloud database—and, from there, results can either be accessed through the concrete software interface or your own software of choice.
#4. Access to Complete & Original Concrete Test Data
Concrete testing software allows you to access complete, unalterable, and accurate information about the characteristics of concrete. From mix design to field test results to information about the test cylinders, like the number of specimens curing in the lab, what has been tested so far, and the results of those tests (including original XY graphs—forever!).
For the concrete lab concerned with continuously improving quality (if it’s your own concrete recipe) and delivering product on time and on spec, the ability to access and analyze critical testing information is important. With access to all this information, you can better understand the quality of concrete and defend your test methods and results.
The concrete testing process is crucial to construction projects but prone to human error and manual inefficiencies. Concrete testing software can help you overcome these issues through automation and seamless integration. As a result, project stakeholders can be more certain about the reliability of their materials.
Scott Grumski is Vice President of Platform Development, Forney LP.