The lubricating nature of workable concrete is the most important nature. Workability is dependent on the proportion of the constituent material as well as on their individual characteristics. The factors that affect the workability of concrete are given below:

1- Water Content of the Concrete Mix

The water content will have important influences on the workability of a given volume of concrete. The higher the water content per cubic meter of concrete, the higher will be the fluidity of concrete, which affects the workability.

Water requirement is mainly associated with absorption by aggregates surface and filling up the voids between aggregates.

However, adding extra water to the concrete mix can be disadvantageous, as given below:

  • The strength of the concrete may get reduced.
  • More quantity of water comes out from the surface of concrete resulting in bleeding.
  • Cement slurry also escapes through the joints of formwork resulting in loss of cement from concrete.

2- Size of Aggregates

Workability is mainly governed by the maximum size of aggregates. Water and paste require, will be not less if a chosen size of aggregates for concrete is bigger. Consequently, for a given quantity of water content & paste, a bigger size aggregate will give higher workability.

Note: On-site, the maximum size of aggregate to be used will depend upon many factors such as the handling, mixing, and placing equipment, the thickness of the section, and quantity of reinforcement. Later two are very important.

3- Shape of Aggregates

The shape of the aggregates seriously influences the workability of concrete. Angular, flaky, and elongated aggregate reduces the workability of concrete.

Rounded or subrounded aggregates increase the workability due to the reduction of surface area for a given volume or weight. Therefore, the excess paste is available to give a better lubricating effect. Rounded shape aggregate has less frictional resistance and gives high workability as compared to angular, flaky, or elongated aggregates.

Note: River sand and gravel provide greater workability to concrete than crushed sand.

4- The surface texture of Aggregates

    The rough textured aggregates have more surface area than Smooth rounded aggregates of the same volume. Smooth rounded or glassy aggregates will give better workability than rough textured aggregates. A reduction of interparticle frictional resistance offered by smooth aggregates also contributes to higher workability.

5- Porosity of Aggregates

The porous and non-saturated aggregate will require more water than non-absorbent aggregates. For some degree of workability, the latter will require less water. Overall, this factor is only of secondary importance.

6-  Grading of Aggregates

Grading of aggregate will have the greatest influence on workability. The better the grading, the less is the amount of void in concrete so well-graded aggregates should be used. When total voids are less in concrete, the excess paste is available to give a better lubricating effect.

With an excess amount of concrete paste present in the mixture, it becomes cohesive and fatty which prevents segregation of particles and the least amount of compacting effort is required to compact the concrete.  Forgiven workability, there is one value of coarse/fine aggregate ratio, which needs the lower water content.

7- Use of Admixture

This is one of the commonly used methods to enhance the workability of concrete. Chemical admixtures such as Plasticizers and superplasticizers greatly improve workability. Air entraining agents are also used to increase workability. Air entraining agents creates a large number of very tiny air bubbles. These bubbles get distributed throughout the mass of concrete and act like rollers and increase workability. Mineral admixtures like Pozzolanic materials are also used to improve the workability of concrete.

8- Ambient Temperature

In hot weather, if temperature increases, the evaporation rate of mixing water also increases, and hence fluid viscosity increases, too. This phenomenon affects the flowability of concrete and due to the fast hydration of concrete, it will gain strength earlier which decreases the workability of fresh concrete.

9- Type and Composition of Cement

There is also the effect of the type of cement or characteristics of cement on the workability of concrete. The cement with an increase in fineness will require more water for the same workability than the comparatively less fine cement. The water demand increased for cement with high Al2O3 or C2S contents.

10- Mix Proportions of Concrete

Mix proportion of concrete tells us the ratio of fine aggregates and coarse aggregates w.r.t. cement quantity. This can also be called the aggregate cement ratio of concrete. The more cement is used, concrete becomes richer and aggregates will have proper lubrication for easy mobility or flow of aggregates. The low quantity of cement w.r.t. aggregates will make the less paste available for aggregates and mobility of aggregates is restrained.

11. Use of Supplementary Cementitious Materials

Supplementary cementitious materials are those which are used with cement to modify the properties of fresh concrete. Fly ash, fibers, silica fume, slag cement are used as supplementary cementitious materials. The use of fly ash improves the workability of concrete by reducing the water content required for the same degree of workability or slump value.

The use of steel or synthetic fibers in concrete reduces the workability of concrete as it makes the movement of aggregates harder by reducing the lubricating effect of cement paste. The workability of concrete is reduced and increased based on the quantity of silica fume. The use of silica fume in concrete can improves workability when used at low replacement rates, but can reduce workability when added at higher replacement rates. Silica fume is used as pumping aid for concrete when used as 2 to 3% by mass of cement.

The use of slag cement also improves workability but its effect depends on the characteristics of the concrete mixture in which it is used.

12- Time

Fresh concrete stiffens with time and loss of workability though it is not exactly settling or getting strength at all. After mixing concrete, some water is absorbed by aggregate, some may be lost by evaporation and some may be spent for initial chemical reactions. The loss in workability by time depends on various factors like:

Initial workability: if initial workability is high, slump loss will be greater

Property of cement: if alkali content is high and sulfate content is low, sump loss will be greater

The moisture content of aggregate: dry aggregate will absorb more water and workability will decrease

13- Wind

If the wind is moving with greater velocity, the rate of evaporation also increases reduces the amount of water, and ultimately reducing workability.

How To improve the workability of concrete

1- Increase the water/cement ratio.

2- Increase the size of the aggregate.

3- Use well-rounded and smooth aggregate instead of irregular shape.

4- Increase the mixing time.

5- Increase the mixing temperature.

6- Use non-porous and saturated aggregate.

7- With the addition of air-entraining mixtures.

Click Here To See What Is Workability Of Concrete? Types And Effects On Concrete Strength

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