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Factors Affecting Concrete Mix Design Strength

The mixing of concrete constituent materials i.e. cement, water, aggregates and admixtures in specified proportions will produce a concrete of adequate strength. The mix design strength developed for a given type of cement is dependent on the following factors:

  1. Water/Cement Ratio
  2. Cement Content
  3. Relative proportion of fine and coarse aggregates
  4. Admixture

Factors Affecting Concrete Mix Design Strength

The above stated design strength variable factors are explained below based on different theories and specifications.

1. Water/cement ratio

Water to cement ratio (W/C ratio) is the single most important factor governing the strength and durability of concrete. Strength of concrete depends upon W/C ratio rather than the cement content.

Abram’s law states that “higher the water/cement ratio, lower is the strength of concrete.” As a thumb rule every 1% increase in quantity of water added, reduces the strength of concrete by 5%.

A water/cement ratio of only 0.38 is required for complete hydration of cement. (Although this is the theoretical limit, water cement ratio lower than 0.38 will also increase the strength, since all the cement that is added, does not hydrate) Water added for workability over and above this water/cement ratio of 0.38, evaporates leaving cavities in the concrete. These cavities are in the form of thin capillaries. They reduce the strength and durability of concrete. Hence, it is very important to control the water/cement ratio on site.

Every extra liter of water will approx. reduce the strength of concrete by 2 to 3 N/mm2and increase the workability by 25 mm. As stated earlier, the water/cement ratio strongly influences the permeability of concrete and durability of concrete. Revised IS 456-2000 has restricted the maximum water/cement ratios for durability considerations by clause 8.2.4.1, table 5.

2. Cement content

Cement is the core material in concrete, which acts as a binding agent and imparts strength to the concrete. From durability considerations cement content should not be reduced below 300Kg/m3 for RCC.

As per IS 456 –2000 , higher cement contents is required for  severe conditions of exposure of weathering agents to the concrete. It is not necessary that higher cement content would result in higher strength. In fact, latest findings show that for the same water/cement ratio, a leaner mix will give better strength.

However, this does not mean that we can achieve higher grades of concrete by just lowering the water/cement ratio. This is because lower water/cement ratios will mean lower water contents and result in lower workability. In fact, for achieving a given workability, a certain quantity of water will be required. If lower water/cement ratio is to be achieved without disturbing the workability, cement content will have to be increased.

Higher cement content helps us in getting the desired workability at a lower water/cement ratio. In most of the mix design methods, the water contents to achieve different workability levels are given in form of empirical relations.

Water/cement ratios required to achieve target mean strengths are interpolated from graphs given in IS 10262 Clause 3.1 and 3.2 fig 2. The cement content is found as follows:

Thus, we see that higher the workability of concrete, greater is cement content required and vice versa. Also, greater the water/cement ratio, lower is the cement content required and vice versa.

3. Relative Proportion of Fine & Coarse Aggregates

Aggregates are of two types as below:

  1. Coarse aggregate (Metal): These are particles retained on standard IS 4.75mm sieve.
  2. Fine aggregate (Sand): These are particles passing standard IS 4.75mm sieve.

When comparing coarse and fine aggregates, the coarse aggregate tends to occupy one third of the volume of the concrete. This means that a change in coarse aggregate would bring a change in the strength of the concrete.

Proportion of fine aggregates to coarse aggregate depends on following:

  1. Fineness of sand: Generally, when the sand is fine, smaller proportion of it is enough to get a cohesive mix; while coarser the sand, greater has to be its proportion with respect to coarse aggregate.
  2. Size& shape of coarse aggregates: Greater the size of coarse aggregate lesser is the surface area and lesser is the proportion of fine aggregate required and vice versa. Flaky aggregates have more surface area and require greater proportion of fine aggregates to get cohesive mix. Similarly, rounded aggregate has lesser surface area and require lesser proportion of fine aggregate to get a cohesive mix.
  3. Cement content: Leaner mixes require more proportion of fine aggregates than richer mixes. This is because cement particles also contribute to the fines in concrete.

The grading of the aggregates in the concrete mix design is an important factor that would determine the amount of paste that is required for the concrete. If the amount of voids present is high, more cement will be required to fill it. The use of well graded aggregates will help to reduce this void content to some extent. This will demand for less paste.

4. Admixtures

A variety of admixtures are available in the market that is used to serve various purposes. The admixtures are used in the concrete mix design when they have to solve certain concerns. Some of these concerns are:

  • To decrease the cost of construction
  • To achieve certain properties effectively
  • To maintain the concrete quality throughout the process of mixing, transporting, placing and compacting

Among various admixtures available, the strength gain in concrete is achieved through the use of water reducing admixtures. As mentioned above, the water cement ratio cannot be decreased to a certain limit as it would affect the workability of the mix. This property can be achieved by the use of water reducing admixtures that would give both a cement rich mix and a workable mix without the use of excess water.

A good workable mix can be obtained only by adding 45 to 55% water by the weight of cement. This will result the water to remain in excess even after the completion of hydration. These excess water in the pores get evaporated and create voids. These voids are the primary reason behind the development of failure cracks which weakens the concrete. Hence decrease in voids by the use of less amount of water can be achieved through water reducing admixtures.

Mentioned below are some of the admixtures and their respective roles in the concrete mix design strength.

Table.1: Strength Property Gained by Different Admixture

Sl. NoType of AdmixtureProperty Gained
1High Range Water Reducers
  • Decrease the water and cement content hence lower the water cement ratio.
  • Early Strength Gain
  • Results in High strength Concrete
  • Reduce Chloride-ion penetration
2Accelerating Admixtures
  • Increase Rate of Hydration- Initial Setting of the concrete
  • Early Age Strength Development
3Water-Reducing Admixtures
  • Reduce water-cement ratio
  • Reduce cement content
  • Increase slump

About Gopal Mishra

Gopal Mishra is a Civil Engineer from NIT Calicut and has more than 9 years of experience in Civil Engineering and Construction. He is the founder of The Constructor.

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Comments ( 15 )

  1. Venkateshwar Kolipaka
    Apr 19, 2014 at 04:03

    Thanks for valuable information.

  2. thanks for that piece of information. can u give us pratical procedure on how to test the concrete mix design strength.

  3. thanks sir please upload the tutorial link about EAGLE POINT

  4. Thanks for all information sir
    please upload about Mix Designe and its calculation , Formulae etc

  5. thanx for important information

  6. The concrete mix design basic requirements.

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  8. This is wonderful information.

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