Novel technique for graphics on concrete

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Novel technique for graphics on concrete

The setting of artwork and patterns on concrete surfaces has traditionally been a time-consuming and demanding job that has exposed workers to high amounts of dissolvent and dust. But now a much improved technology is available.

The use of a solid printed membrane shortens turnaround time and enhances work safety by significantly decreasing solvent, dust, and waste. At the same time a better fine exposed surface is achieved. The leading company in its industry, Elematic has an interest in all new matters related to concrete. We aim to be constantly aware of upcoming changes and to participate actively also in the developing of precast end products to keep our production technology up-to-date and proceeding in the right direction. Therefore, it was quite natural for Elematic to participate in a joint project together with companies Graphic Concrete Oy, Parma Oy, and Consolis Technology, who all brought their special expertise to the cooperation - from research, design, and manufacturing to the administration of extensive international activities. The background of the project was that with previous methods of setting artwork and patterns on concrete, it was difficult to achieve particularly a low, fine exposed surface of uniform quality, and the using of retarder materials on mould surfaces exposed workers to high amounts of smell and dust. The process also extended turnaround time and lowered productivity.

Solid printed membrane

The starting point of the project was an invention by Graphic Concrete Oy, a specially treated membrane on which surface retarder is printed as a pattern. In the casting phase, this pattern is created on the surface of the concrete by the effect of the contrast between the fair face and the exposed fine aggregate surface. When the element is washed, the surface retarder is dissolved and brings out the pattern. Parma Oy took the new technology into use at one of its precast factories, where the entire process was thoroughly tested. The project results were notably positive. With the membrane technique, a low fine exposed surface of more uniform quality is reached and production efficiency is increased. Importantly, a much safer working environment is achieved as the use of solvent based materials is decreased, less dust is generated when cleaning the mould, and retarder waste in the wash sludge lessens, as does the total amount of wash waste. Further, this technology enables the simple use of regular patterns and striping on elements, which provides opportunities for new architecture in normal production.

Precast is practical and beautiful

The Managing Director of Graphic Concrete Oy, Mr. Harri Lanning, describes the motives for developing this now patented technology. "In a nutshell, the foremost intention was to achieve impressive looking element surfaces cost-efficiently, to enable the use of the technology in industrial production. Although the works of art that have been made with this technique have perhaps received most attention, it is the surfaces that can be used for entire buildings that create real opportunities for everyone involved. This technology can be applied to elements for façades, partitions, barriers, plates - as well as for interior decoration and furniture. In fact, this type of surface cannot be achieved with any other technique. Architects can design new patterns or works of art to be implemented on the membrane, but catalogue patterns are also available for an easy start."

No need to change process

The use of the solid printed membrane requires no changes in a plant's basic production process. The reinforcements can be applied as usual and the surfaces are washed normally, with just a few particular considerations. However, the use of a vacuum table is highly recommended, as it reduces the amount of work and waste, and there is no need to worry about creasing of the membrane. The handling of the membrane is also easier and end quality bettered (tidier corners, for example). The vacuum table consists of a honeycombed level, which is installed over a normal table mould. The cell level composes two steel plates with a wave-formed steel profile between them. Vacuum is produced in the cell by connecting it with the nozzle and the vacuum cleaner hose to the central vacuum cleaning system of the factory, for example.

Better and safer

Mrs. Leena Raukola, Development Manager at Elematic, is pleased to note the many benefits of the membrane technique in production: "The fact that solvent based materials and dust decrease make for a much safer and more pleasant working environment. The improved end quality with a time-saving process is also a significant achievement. New alternatives that can be mass produced for the market are likely to promote building with precast". Concludes Graphic Concrete's Mr. Harri Lanning: "This method of producing graphics on concrete is cost-efficient, safe, and well-suited to industrial production. There is no limit to the size of elements it can be applied to and the freedom of architectural design is unbounded. The technique has a true potential to awaken interest and increase application of patterned concrete elements on the construction market." For more information, contact: leena.raukola@elematic.com harri.lanning@graphicconcrete.fi

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