On the way to world’s best concrete solutions – interview with Primekss CTO, Dr. Rolands Cepurītis

Why Primekss started to work with concrete floors?

Initially Primekss worked with floor coating materials. After some time there were made conclusion that quality of performed works is very dependent on concrete base on what these coatings were applied. There were needed repairs, and it was difficult to guarantee and deliver high quality for works done in long-term.

Initially we looked at SFRC (Steel Fiber Reinforced Concrete), because there was a possibility to reinforce constructions that was problematic to do with traditional steel rebar enforcement because of the design. And this method ensured more durable concrete structures, providing an opportunity to offer thinner slabs with same load bearing capacity.

However after some time it become clear that to ensure quality end result, there is same importance for the quality of concrete. There was huge difference when reinforcement was added to appropriate and not so appropriate concrete. And there was challenge with appropriate concrete delivery. Cement and components were different from project to project and difference became more substantial from region to region. So, there was needed solution, as predictable quality is of crucial importance. And there borne an idea to work on concrete as material to build system how to ensure appropriate material for each project despite of quite different concrete composition case by case. By both controlling concrete and installing floors, Primekss could take full responsibility regarding the quality of the whole process. Otherwise, there was no option to guarantee end result, as it was very dependent on quality of concrete – company that was responsible for its delivery. So Primekss decided to take control over concrete quality as well.

Further development of material

It became clear soon that with a traditional composition of concrete there is no way to solve major problems that was evident from project to project. The solution was to improve concrete matrix (composition). Initially there were some attempts to adjust traditional concrete to fit more for SFRC, however soon it became evident that this approach will not bring expected results. And then we came to conclusion that solution is completely new material – concrete with special additives that ensure new properties for this material.

Main problem with concrete was shrinkage that causes additional problems, such as cracking, curling etc. Without change of material properties we could make better and not so good solutions but still main problems remain. And it didn’t allow to use full potential of SFRC that we believed was future for more sustainable construction.

One of main problems was curling of slab what was caused by shrinkage of upper concrete layer as it dries faster than the deeper ones. That caused problems near the joints, joints opened and became wider. There is high pressure on efficiency in logistics sector, and speed with what forklifts and other technique can drive is critical. Smooth, with as less as possible or no joints, without curling and other damages floor is very important. Having not even floor, was significant problem as it causes speed reduction, problems for technique and health and safety of its operators. There were needed repetitive repair works and it was clear that constant repairing is not the solution.

To avoid problems with the joint curling and opening there were some general attempts in industry to design more thick and massive slabs (concrete layers), as then it shrinks more slowly and curled edges are going to turn down because of its weight. So designs were not economical and problems in long run still remained.

Looking at that, borne an idea that there should be potential for HP material that would allow thinner designs that means a lot less material used, much economical. An opportunity to use thinner layer of material with better properties and ensure even better result than with a traditional method using much thicker slabs and much more material.

So we started to work on material development, improvement of concrete matrix (material properties), and we tried different amount of steel fiber reinforcement and made numerous loading tests to come up with the best solution. We came up with a new product HPSFRC that solved problem actual to traditional concrete – shrinkage and in same time ensured necessary load bearing capabilities used in thinner designs.

Thinner slabs along with material economy give us more opportunities. We are capable to install larger areas of concrete slab as there often are limits how much concrete is available during the day. If in most cases companies can deliver 2000 m2 area, we can ensure more – even up to 3000 m2 and in some cases even more during one day.

The other important division of our work – we were one of pioneers in SFRC application in suspended slab constructions, i.e. constructions not based on ground but piles. There were actual challenges to reach necessary stretch and bending capabilities for the material, ensuring the right density of steel fibers in material. We developed special dosing equipment to ensure very uniform steel fiber distribution (spread) in material. One of our first buildings when our suspended slabs were used is Ditton Nams located in Daugavpils, Latvia.

Is there any general trend for concrete material improvement in industry?

Situation in general is following – there are several parties interested, always at least three parties are involved: designers that are designing visual elements, construction company that will ensure its installation and concrete producer. All of involved parties want to progress and ensure better and better results. But it turns out that interests of these parties are quite different. In general, all of them want to maximize own profit and reduce responsibility. Best way to minimize responsibility is to use standardized solutions that are regulated with standards. And in this case client suffers because design was made according to the standards, construction company worked according to the standards and concrete producer made concrete according to the standards, however the end result is construction that causes exploitation problems, repairs are needed etc. And there is nobody to blame. There is huge dispute in construction industry but problem is hard to solve. And not many try to do that.

What about competition?

Our major competition is similar profile companies or concrete producers. So, general trend for concrete producers is to improve concrete with made additives that leads to product that is intended to some special application, but will not be suitable/applicable for other purposes (other concrete work). There are some companies that try to copy our approach, but none of them is ready to devote such an amount of company resources to product development.

One meaningful difference is that Primekss has been working a lot on the right and efficient method regarding fiber distribution in concrete admix (right amount and dosage), to ensure uniform distribution and prevent forming of fiber clusters. Competitors rely on concrete plant approaches but we in Primekss have implemented own solution that has been successfully used already in more than thousand projects and it works all around the world. Our solution of fiber dosage is really efficient and much better.

Primekss major technology challenges in nearest time

Our main goal is ensure that all our inventions are applicable regardless of region where its applied. This is challenge as concrete composition is different from project to project and solution that can ensure predictable quality is critical. We are working on optimization of processes to be able to deliver high quality solutions fast.

We also are working on additives that improve product properties. There still are areas of potential improvement and we are working on that.

Also, we see potential to offer in the market our intellectual capacities in form of consulting services. We have already done that and see that there is demand for such services in the market.

At the moment, we are devoting more and more effort to structural element development – how we can optimize foundation slab installations, how we can build elevating slabs and walls efficiently.

Own R&D function is a must

One of our main advantages is own R&D department and concrete testing laboratory that is not available to any one such profile company. And we strongly believe that it’s actually the must to deliver quality product for each project.

In general building industry is changing slowly. Innovations are not coming in quick. If one would be asked what differences we see in construction site if comparing it before 10 years and now, probably not so many changes will be noticed, except that there were no iPads before 10 years in construction site. So not so many differences would be observed. And we see this as a great opportunity.

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