Surface hardeners: The return of the long game

15th September 2014

Surface hardeners: The return of the long game

Wet-on-wet application

The floor of a huge new distribution centre in France has been finished using two different surface hardening techniques. Here we explore why the continental approach to industrial floor protection is set to make a comeback in the UK.

Those responsible for creating an industrial floor make a key decision during the specification process. They decide – intentionally or by default – how long that floor is going to last.

Some make the decision to build cheaply and worry about the consequences later – or not worry about them at all. When the floor surface is damaged beyond recognition in a few years’ time, it will be someone else’s problem on someone else’s budget; so why burden today’s project with tomorrow’s costs? During tough economic times it’s not difficult to understand the cost driver behind this approach.

Yet for others, the decision is to do things ‘right first time’ – to build something with a lifespan of twice as long or more and which will give better performance and thus reduce operational costs. It’s encouraging now to see more clients, and even developers, adopt this longer-term thinking. They appreciate that there is hard cash to be made or saved by investing in the floor. For the industry, this change in attitude and confidence has to be one of the ‘greenest shoots’ of recovery.

Case study: Distribution centre, western France

A French automotive components giant is one company proving the point. Established for over 50 years, and with an international presence, the company turns over €50 million and employs 60 people.

To support its domestic activities, the company commissioned a new distribution centre in Saint Hilaire de Loulay, western France – a two-and-a-half year project, which was completed in July 2014.

Planning the layout and slab design

The racking plan for the warehouse was varied, detailed and complex. This led to careful flooring specification discussions between the engineer and the specialist flooring contractor, RCR Flooring Applications company Placeo.

The result was a specification for a jointless floor (the RCR branded Conductil system), built for strength both within the slab design and in the surface finishing. Removing saw-cut joints across the majority of the space means that long-term joint maintenance will be reduced – an issue the client had faced on other buildings.

To enhance the durability yet further Permaban Signature armoured joints were used. The award-winning design allows traffic to pass over the joint in challenging directional traffic situations without impacting on the joint, preventing damage to both the joint and vehicles passing over. It can also accommodate the larger joint widths common with jointless floors, up to 40mm. Permaban’s popular AlphaJoint 4010 was also used, in the less taxing free movement areas.

The concrete slab design was enhanced by the use of both fabric reinforcement and steel fibres.

Two approaches to surface hardening

While building strength and versatility into the slab design was vital, the most exposed and vulnerable part of the floor is its surface.

Dry-shake surface hardeners are often associated with fibre suppressing – and of course this is one function, and a pertinent one for this particular project.

But even when fibres are not used, surface hardeners can bring many benefits. As well as adding colour cost-effectively, they protect the floor from four operational threats: impact, punching, scraping and abrasion. Thus using a dry-shake surface hardener can extend the life of a hard-working floor.

Yet although commonly called ‘dry-shake’, there is an alternative, superior surface hardener application method: wet-on-wet. The surface hardener is pre-mixed into a slurry, which is spread manually over the top of fresh concrete.

Premixing brings numerous benefits – a thicker layer of protection, a flatter finish, and a deeper and more even colour. Although a more expensive process, the life of the floor is greatly enhanced: it could potentially last four times as long as a floor without such a coating.

Importantly too, unlike a dry-shake, a successful wet-on-wet application does not depend on the bleed water in the concrete, meaning that the risk of delamination is significantly reduced compared to dry shake. A monolithic slab is still achieved.

By working alongside clients and designers RCR is able to ‘value engineer’ a concrete floor, ensuring that performance and cost are balanced. On the French distribution centre project, both dry-on-wet and wet-on-wet applications were used, the choice depending on the likely damage each floor area would be subjected to during its operational life.

Resurgence for wet-on-wet application

Wet-on-wet application was once popular in the UK and remains so in continental Europe. We can certainly expect to see a revival of this technique in the UK, as international clients seek consistency in their flooring specifications, and once again appreciate the value of investing in an industrial floor.

This article first appeared in Concrete Magazine, September 2014

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