In 2017, the National Concrete Pavement Technology Center (CPTech) issued a task order describing technical transfer in the construction industry: “Implementation of current understanding, analytical tools, and new test methods must be accelerated if the construction industry is to continue to meet the infrastructure needs of the community at large in an environment of shrinking budgets.” In this task order, CPTech Director Peter Taylor highlighted the importance of implementing new technologies and educating employees about best practices.

The ever-changing landscape of materials, mix design, and application is forcing architects, engineers, and contractors to look at new and emerging technologies to solve real-world problems. Product development and introduction involve numerous steps – including writing and publishing ASTM International standards and receiving federal and state approval – designed to prove a technology’s efficacy and reliability.

However, bringing a new technology into the concrete industry isn’t like bringing an iPhone to the masses. Features and benefits become meaningless as the concrete becomes less manageable in its fresh state. As a pioneer of new and emerging technology for grout and concrete once said: “If it ain’t grey concrete coming down the chute, it ain’t never going to work.”

Therefore, it’s imperative to understand the concerns of key industry players and techniques for ensuring a new technology and/or process is continuously integrated into daily concrete practices.

Saying ‘No’ is Easier

Everyone involved in mixing, making, taking, and forming concrete recognizes the legacy-type investment they make when they say yes to a new technology. Key players involved in the critical path and decision-making process include (but are not limited to) the civil engineer, concrete producer, placement contractor, and project owner. Each plays a part in the work plan and assumes some level of professional liability. They must certify the concrete is made and delivered with quality and control, and that the placement will meet service life and strength and durability requirements.

As a result, any change to what has already been proven and sequenced into the critical path goes against the grain of the work flow. Expectations are increased on all sides of the critical path for proving a new product is viable.

This dynamic doesn’t give new technology a fair chance. The primary reason key players say no is ownership of the approval and employment of the technology in the concrete structure. A 45-minute presentation never leads to a 45-year decision. Engineers and contractors aren’t convinced by the first, or even fifth, presentation. Their first question is, “Who’s going to pay for this if things go wrong?” When they say yes, they own that decision and the enhanced-concrete structure for five years to 45 years.

Saying no reduces liability and saves money related to jobsite failures, which are inevitable during the application learning curve. It saves time and money on demonstrations and plant trials, and eliminates the need for sales and technical training so the technology can be introduced to the local market. Operational personnel don’t have to learn how to order, batch, mix, deliver, and place the enhanced concrete. Saying no eradicates the need for a recurring maintenance program for dispensing equipment and new safety protocol/measures.

But Saying ‘No’ Also Eliminates Competitive Advantages

Most new products that are mixed into fresh concrete or applied to hardened concrete enhance the hydrated cementitious matrix, effectively increasing strength, durability, and service life. Thus, producers and contractors miss significant potential cost savings and business opportunities by refusing to consider new technologies.

One benefit of adopting a new technology is value-added performance. Technologies like carbon-nanotubes and colloidal silica can reduce binder and admixture content without compromising specified fresh or hardened properties. This lowers structural costs by enabling a reduction in concrete element thickness and reinforcing steel and an increase in spacing between joints.

Fly ash, slag, and other supplementary cementitious materials increase resistance to physical and chemical attack (abrasive wear, steel corrosion, alkali-silica reactivity, and freeze-thaw cycles), but supplies and/or quality are diminishing. New technologies have facilitated enhancement of these matured-supplementary cementitious materials and a replacement of materials traditionally used to make concrete stronger and last longer.

By adopting and employing new technologies, we can manipulate the molecular kinetics of cementitious hydration to densify the porous sponge that is the concrete matrix, toughening the backbone of concrete and extending the service life of concrete infrastructure worldwide.

Giving Everyone What They Need

The first step in transferring innovation from the laboratory to the field is to disseminate experimental and consensus-based information of the technology to key players in a technical forum. The next is to evaluate the technology’s real-life efficacy via low-risk placements such as small slabs, blocks, and curbs and gutters that generate field performance data.

If the technology is to be integrated industrywide, each key player needs certain key pieces of information.

Engineers want to see how the enhanced concrete conforms to specified fresh and hardened requirements over the short- and long-term. Producers and contractors want to know cost per cubic yard, storage, environmental, health, safety, and dosing information in addition to fresh and hardened properties. They also need technical support on mixing practices and/or placement techniques that must be adjusted to accommodate the technology.

By tailoring education for each player’s unique informational needs, we can reduce the pain of adopting new technologies and get to yes. Our role as concrete innovators is to save the world with all the concrete in it. This is done through education, adaptation, and adoption of innovative technologies to begin solving today’s problems with tomorrow’s solutions.