Lafarge Construction Development Lab

Lafarge Construction Development Lab

Indian Cement Review visited Lafarge´s Construction Development Lab to know more about the science that goes into developing the perfect concrete mix. Here is a glimpse of new innovations from Lafarge.

With c With cement plants in Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and West Bengal, the total production capacity of Lafarge is currently over 8 million tonnes. The company is one of the leaders in the ready-mix concrete business, with 66 plants across the country. Lafarge has two aggregates mines/crushers, one each at Badlapur (Maharashtra) and Kotputli (Rajasthan). Lafarge Readymix concrete offers innovative products that include the Mega series, Concrete Master, Artevia and Hydromedia.

The company also partners with local developers to provide solutions that make the various stages of construction simpler, faster and affordable. This partnership involves continuous interaction of the product development team at Lafarge with its consumers, gathering their feedback and supporting them with customised products and testing facilities.

Lafarge has set up a one of its kind Construction Development Lab (CDL) in India for such tasks. Over all, the group has three such labs dedicated to construction development, one in Lyons (France) and the other in Chongqing (China). The lab in Mumbai, India, was opened recently, in 2012. These laboratories support the group´s international R&D network; the CDL in India focuses on developing products that meet the needs peculiar to the Indian market

We visited the CDL lab in Mumbai to take a closer look at the process. Maruti Srivastava, VP Marketing for Lafarge Aggregates and Concrete India and Jean - Philippe Thierry, QC and Product Development Head for Lafarge Aggregates and Concrete India, took us through several stages of product research and development process at the lab. Srivastava is an MBA and a civil engineer with more than 10 years of experience in readymix industry and has managed different portfolios in this industry. Currently he is VP Marketing for Lafarge Aggregates and Concrete India , while Thierry has a Degree in Materials Science with more than ten years of experience in concrete R&D. Previously Jean-Philippe played a key role in the transfer of concrete technology to Lafarge operations in Asia and Middle-East including India. He is currently in charge of the Quality Control and Product development for Lafarge Aggregates and Concrete in India. We took a guided tour of the lab to appreciate the scientific methodology that goes behind research, development and validation of new products at Lafarge.

The three-storey lab has floors dedicated to developing new mixes, product testing, product demonstration and for testing in real- life conditions. A huge area around the lab is dedicated to building structures using materials developed at the lab.

Researchers at the lab work closely with experts in the materials science and construction techniques across India. The Lafarge team showed us several interesting products designed to tackle issues typical to construction situations in India. Here is a list of some of the innovations that caught our eye:

Coffor House
Lafarge has built a three- storey structure, which stands right next to the lab with its innovative concrete product including Concrete Master and Roof Master. What is really striking about the structure is that it does not have any embedded steel reinforcement to support itself. The structure stands tall on the strength derived from concrete and formwork. Moreover, the structure applies a new method in constructing multi- storey buildings.

Higher grades
Lafarge has produced some of the highest grade concretes available. The higher the strength, the better the load- bearing capacity of the structure and its components. A column made with M 60 or M 90 grade concrete will have a significantly smaller footprint than that made using M30. This allows for building columns with smaller footprint and thinner walls leading to a higher carpet area that can be sold, which, in turn, translates into higher profits for builders. Besides, these structures require lesser reinforcements, thus saving on the cost of steel, too. Many builders are now opting for higher grade concrete as it offers better returns on investment. Stronger concrete also opens up new possibilities for engineers. Lafarge has supplied M 95 grade concrete for the construction of one of the tallest residential buildings in Mumbai , a testament of the concrete´s strength.

Being one of the leaders in aggregates (Number Two in the world), Lafarge Aggregates brings to India, international expertise and extensive market knowledge. Being the only organised player in the Indian aggregates market, one can naturally expect superior product performance from the company.

Lafarge uses mined and manufactured aggregates and sand. The lab studies the effect of various types of aggregates on the RMC produced and consequently, structural integrity. The manufactured sand is first sieved to obtain material of uniform grading for producing RMC of consistent quality. The M 95 grade concrete is made using the manufactured sand.

´Sieving is important as it imparts consistency to the product. Size variation in aggregates leads to inefficient binding and lowers the concrete strength,´ explains Srivastava. Though aggregate is not an innovation here, the lab has studied the effects of various aggregate sources in depth and this expertise is made available to customers looking for better concrete products.

Lightweight concrete
Lightweight concretes have an endless range of applications. We were surprised to see a display where a block of concrete was kept floating in a water tank. The concrete is so light in weight that its density is lesser than that of water (1Kg/m3) and so, it was floating in it. The concrete has tiny beads of binder material mixed in the concrete mix. These beads impart low weight characteristics to it without compromising on structural integrity. One would not realise the lightness of the material till the block was held in the hand. The block was not porous nor did it have any air pockets. It was solid concrete, only a lot lighter in weight.

Hydromedia TM
Imagine highways and parking lots that get dry seconds after heavy rain. It is possible with Hydromedia TM, a type of concrete developed by Lafarge that is permeable to water. It is a pervious concrete system that allows free water to flow directly through the concrete system to the substrata below it. The concrete lets water pass through it in seconds, as if it was a sieve. The material has average permeability of 150 - 1000 L/min/m´.

With applications such as in parking lots and pavements, Hydromedia TM absorbs rainwater and allows it to run off into soil. This allows for natural groundwater recharge and helps in reducing the load on the stormwater drainage system. If concrete is laid around a tree, it will allow water to seep through, reaching the roots of the tree. Channels made of Hydromedia TM could be placed along the roadside acting as drainage systems or used as pathways in garden, footpaths, tennis courts, industrial areas, etc. This concrete is specifically useful for tackling water- logging issues in several Indian metropolitan cities. The applications are plenty.

The lab as well as the outdoor area showcased splendid examples of decorative concrete. Lafarge supplies decorative concrete under the Artevia TM brand, with various possibilities of texture, colour and print on concrete for indoor and outdoor use. Artevia combines freedom of design with low maintenance and durability. Some of the samples looked stunningly real and beautiful; specially, the detailing seen in wood textured concrete was unbelievably real. The colour range too, was quite wide.

ArteviaTM is much more than just another kind of concrete; it is a beautiful design material that keeps all the advantages of concrete. It is hard- wearing and long- lasting and available in an array of splendid colours, patterns and textures. Home- owners, architects and landscapers can apply their unrestricted creativity to make a variety of flooring used in kitchens, on terraces, at pool sides, on garden paths and even on walls. Like any concrete, it can be moulded when fresh. Combined with brick, metal, wood or glass it makes for a wealth of unbelievable possibilities.

Concrete for everyone
Gone are the days when using concrete meant setting up huge mixing plants or ordering huge volumes in transit mixers. Now RMC is now available in small volumes for small buyers, too. It was at the Mumbai CDL that Lafarge developed and perfected a process to supply concrete in bags. The company offers Concrete Master, a range of ready to use concrete and mortar in bags delivered directly to the job site. Concrete master is available in 30 kg bags can be used effectively for building columns and walls for small structures. It also leads to faster and cleaner construction without any wastage in the process. Concrete Master enables availability of RMC to individual home builders in small volumes. It can also be delivered efficiently through narrow alleys and congested areas.

New formulations
The scientist at the lab keep experimenting with new combinations of materials to be mixed to produce new concrete formulations. We saw a range of materials being tried for RMC right from simple fly ash to advanced polymers. The effect of such performance chemicals has taken ready- mix concrete to a new level.

Different mixes developed in the lab are tested rigorously for their characteristics. As different environmental conditions can have different impact on the product`s performance, the effect of each factor must be studied carefully and in isolation. Humidity is one of such key parameters and its effect must be factored in the development process. The lab has a well equipped walk- in humidity testing chamber; the room has different test walls built inside where new concrete mixes were being tested. The chamber also has a storage room for keeping different concrete blocks in different humidity conditions. Data from different combinations can be used to perfect the mix formulation.

The ground floor is more like a workshop where promising mixes were tried on a large scale in an open environment. Here, lab technicians and engineers study the structures built using various concrete mixes. The floor also housed a concrete strength-testing machine. The system allows engineers to measure the exact amount of load bearing capacity of the concrete and its modulus of elasticity. These numbers are critical for engineers to design a safe structure. The machine is regularly calibrated using a standard aluminium block (reference material) to ensure accuracy of the figures obtained.

Collaborative research
Lafarge R&D works in close partnership with the world´s leading research institutes, schools and universities, to facilitate progress in research into building materials. The group shares its experience and knowledge while benefiting from complementary expertise. Research contracts, internships, university exchange programmes, seminars and visits are all organised within the framework of these partnerships. A publication policy for international reviews has also been implemented. The lab has been working in association with IITs and such other reputed science and technology centres in India.

Connecting with the market
With the CDL facility in Mumbai, Lafarge has strengthened its associations with local contractors, builders, developers, architects and small individual home- owners. The insights that were gained from understanding customers in the local market have been very well applied to develop customised concrete solutions for their construction needs.

The lab has helped customers gain access to technical expertise in concrete and to then make technically informed decisions.

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