Waterjetting Technology – Repairing Concrete

By Dr. David A. Summers, Curators’ Professor at Missouri University of Science & Technology

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Blog

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Blog

Some years ago, we were on a bridge in Michigan, working on a demonstration of the ability of high-pressure jets to remove damaged concrete from the surface of the bridge. Before the demonstration began, the state bridge inspector walked over the bridge armed with a length of chain. He would drop the lower links of the chain against the concrete at regular intervals and, depending on the sound made by the contact, would decide if the concrete was good or not. He then marked out the damaged zones on the concrete and suggested that we got to work and removed those patches.

Automated removal of damaged concrete with water pressure

Figure 1. Automated removal of damaged concrete with water pressure

The change in the sound that he heard and used to find the bad patches in the concrete was caused by the growth of cracks in that concrete. It was these longer cracks and delaminations in the concrete that made it sound “drummy” and which identified it as bad concrete.

Now here is the initial advantage that a high-pressure waterjet has in such a case. The water will penetrate into these cracks. As I mentioned in an earlier post, water removes material by growing existing cracks until they intersect and pieces of the surface are removed. The bigger the cracks in the surface, the lower the pressure that is needed to cause them to grow. This is because the water fills the crack and pressurizes the water – the longer the crack, the greater the resulting force, and thus the greater the ease in removing material.

At an operating waterjet pressure of between 11,000 and 12,500 psi for a normal bridge-deck concrete, the cracks that are long enough for an inspector to call the bridge “damaged” will grow and cause the damaged material to break off. The pressure is low enough, however, that it will not grow the smaller cracks in “good” concrete, which is therefore left in place.

Damaged area of bridge after jet passes

Figure 2. Damaged area of bridge after jet passes.

In order to cover the bridge effectively and at a reasonable speed, six jets were directed down from the ends of a set of rotating crossheads within a protective cover. The diameter of the path was around 2 feet, and the head was traversed over the bridge so that it took about a minute for the head to sweep the width of a traffic lane.

Scarifying jets with the head raised above the deck so that their location can be seen

Figure 3. Scarifying jets with the head raised above the deck so that their location can be seen. Normally, the nozzles are positioned just above the deck, so that the rebounding material is caught in the shroud.

Unfortunately, while this means that the rotating waterjet head could distinguish between good and bad, and remove the latter while leaving the former, it could not read marks on concrete. So where the bridge inspector was not totally accurate, the jet removal did not follow his recommendations. It was, however, quite good at removing damaged concrete from reinforcing bar in the concrete where the water migration along the rebar had also caused the metal to rust. And, since the pressure was low enough to remove the cement bonding without digging out or breaking the small pebbles in the concrete, they remained partially anchored in the residual concrete. As a result, when the new pour was made over the cleaned surface, the new cement could bond to the original pebbles, and this gave a rough non-laminar surface, which provided a much better bond than if the damaged material had been removed mechanically with a grinding tool.

Rebar cleaned by the action of the jet as it removes the surrounding damaged concrete

Figure 4. Rebar cleaned by the action of the jet as it removes the surrounding damaged concrete.

Waterjets had an additional advantage at this point: In contrast to the jackhammer that had previously been used to dig out the damaged region, but which vibrated the rebar when it was hit, so that damage spread along the bar outside the zone being repaired, the waterjet did not exert a similar force, so that the delamination was largely eliminated.

Now this ability to sense and remove all the damaged concrete is not an unmixed blessing. Consider that a bridge deck is typically several inches thick and it is usually sufficient to remove damaged concrete to a point just below the top layer of the reinforcing rods. Once the damaged material is removed, the new pour bonds to the underlying cement and the cleaned rebar. But the waterjets cannot read rulers either. So in early cases where the deck was more thoroughly damaged than the contractor knew at the time that the job began, the jet might remove all the damaged concrete, and this might mean the entire thickness of the bridge deck. And OOPS this could be very expensive in time and material to replace.

What was therefore needed was a tool that still retained some of the advantages of the existing waterjet system, namely that it cut through weakened concrete and cleaned the rebar without vibration, but that it did so with a more limited range so that the depth of material removal could be controlled.

There was an additional problem that also developed with the original concept. For though the jets removed damaged concrete well in this pressure range, the jets were characteristically quite large (about 0.04 inches or so). The damaged concrete is contaminated with grease and other deposits from the vehicles that passed over it. Thus any large volumes of cleaning water would also become contaminated and as a result will have to be collected and treated. That can be expensive, and so any way of reducing the water volume would be helpful.

The answer to both problems was to use smaller jets at higher pressures. Because of the smaller size, their range is limited and at the same time the amount of water involved can be dramatically reduced. It does mean that the jet is no longer as discriminatory between “good” concrete and “bad.” This is not, however, a totally bad thing, since when working to clean around the reinforcing rods, there has to be a large enough passage for the new fill to be able to easily spread into all the gaps and establish a good bond.

Thus the vast majority of concrete removal tools that are currently in use are operated at higher pressures and lower flow rates. This allows the floor to be relatively evenly removed down to a designated depth, and this makes the quantification of the amount of material to be used in repair to be better estimated and the costs of disposal of the spent fluid and material to be minimized.

Scarified garage floor showing the rough underlying surface

Figure 5. Scarified garage floor showing the rough underlying surface. This will give a good bond to the repair material, as will the cleaned rebar.

The higher pressure system has the incidental advantage of reducing the back thrust on the cutting heads so that the overall size of the equipment can be reduced allowing repair in more confined conditions.

Waterjetting Technology-Adding Cracks to Nature

By Dr. David A. Summers, Curators’ Professor at Missouri University of Science & Technology

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Blog

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Blog

In the last few weeks of the KMT Waterjet Weekly Blog Series, I have focused on demonstrating, with examples, that water effectively removes material by penetrating into natural cracks in the material and causing them to grow. But what happens when there are not enough cracks to remove material at an economic rate? The modern approach has been to raise the pressure of the water so that smaller cracks grow faster, thus providing the production rates needed, but that option wasn’t available in the past.

I mentioned last time that miners in the Caucasus Mountains of what is now Georgia used the power of mountain streams to erode gold deposits over 3,000 years ago. Perhaps learning from that, when the Romans came to Las Médulas in Spain some 2,000 years ago, they thought of water again as a way of mining the gold-bearing sandstone of the local hills. And though they had to modify the initial idea, the result became the most important gold mine in the Roman Empire. It is now a World Heritage Site.

Location of Las Médulas in Spain

Figure 1. Location of Las Médulas in Spain. (Google Earth)

The sandstone was more resistant than soil, and so the Romans came up with two ideas to improve the rate at which the gold ore could be removed. The first idea was to run galleries into the sides of the hills, creating large chambers underground, with support for the roof from wooden supports that were left in place.

Tunnel driven into the bottom of the hill at Las Médulas

Figure 2. Tunnel driven into the bottom of the hill at Las Médulas.

Underground room at Las Médulas

Figure 3. Underground room at Las Médulas.

At the same time that the mining preparations were going on local streams were being diverted and dammed so that a large volume of water was held in reservoirs and then carried by manmade channels to a point over the mining chambers. With the water ready, the timbers, which initially weakened the overlying rock so that it began to fail, were set on fire falling into the opening, and as the support burned away, more rock fell into the opening until the cavity worked its way up to the surface. At this point, the reservoir gate was opened and water flooded down the channel to fall into the cavity. As the water fell it further broke the rock into grain-sized pieces, and carried these down and out through the original opening in the hillside.

A Collapsed cavity

Figure 4. A Collapsed cavity, not the two figures at the arrows to get a sense of scale.

The water and debris flow was directed into flumes, in much the same way as modern miners in Alaska practice today, except that where carpet is used to catch the gold particles in Alaska, in Spain the Romans used plant stems (silex) to catch the gold. After drying the plant could be burned easing to recovery of the gold. (In more modern times Spanish miners have lined the flumes with oxen hides.)

Artist sketch of the troughs used to capture the gold particles at the Spanish mines

Figure 5. Artist sketch of the troughs used to capture the gold particles at the Spanish mines.

The use of heat to weaken rock before using water pressure for cutting has been tried with a couple of interesting wrinkles both by researchers at Rolla and at the then U.S. Bureau of Mines and in Colorado among others. But those more modern trials will be described later in the series. Using water streams to erode surface outcrops of mineral survived as “hushing” in the North of England and elsewhere until fairly recently.

Move forward some 1800 years or so from Roman Spain, and at the turn of the 19th Century miners in both Russia and New Zealand had a problem in mining coal. In both countries there were good quality coal seams, but they sloped at a steep angle that made it difficult to move men around without their slipping and falling. It was also difficult to support the roof, which was achieved at the time by sawing wooden props to length and wedging them between the roof and floor. Both nations had the idea of modifying the Roman idea of using water to remove the mined coal, but coal was thought to be somewhat stronger and more resistant than the Spanish sandstone.

In the New Zealand case the mountainous countryside makes it expensive to drive roads and as early as 1891, wooden flumes were being used to carry coal to the consumer. However, it was then realized that the water could be used to also remove the mined coal, particularly that which was left in regions of the mine where it was not safe for men to go. The coal was therefore initially blasted, and then the flow from the nearby streams was directed at the debris pile. The volume of water and the slope of the mine combined to remove all the mined coal, often overnight, so that a new area could be worked the following day. It was not until 1947 that pumps began to be used to drive the water at greater pressures. At this point, with the higher pressures that pumping brought, it was no longer necessary to pre-crack and break the coal with explosives.

While the New Zealand coal seams outcropped at the surface in very hilly ground, the situation was somewhat different in the Donets coal seams in the Soviet Union, where the seams were thinner, and production was barely economic. The seams in these mines were much deeper than in New Zealand, and so jet pressure could be provided from the drop in height from the mine surface to the location of the large nozzle or monitor that was used to aim the water flow at the coal. As with the New Zealand experience the Soviet miners (at the Tyrganskie-Uklony mine) initially blasted the coal with explosives to weaken it with a high density of cracks, before applying the water. However the miners found that not only did the water double production (to 600 tons/shift) the streams were powerful enough that it wasn’t necessary to pre-blast the coal. The nozzle diameters of the time were up to 2-inches in diameter, and could throw a jet up to 60 ft.

Early Soviet underground coal miner

Figure 6. Early Soviet underground coal miner

It was from these small beginnings that hydraulic mining began, it was, in its time the most productive method of mining gold in California and was used for many years around the world for mining coal and other minerals. But that again is a subject for more detailed discussion at a later time.

The combination of explosives and water power remains in use in harder rocks, particularly in South Africa in the gold mines. Here again the seams of gold are very narrow and can slope or dip at a steep grade, the working area is thus kept very cramped and difficult to work. By blasting the ore with explosive, it can again be moved with water pressure, although there is an additional advantage to water here that I will further explain when I write about cleaning rust from plates.

Gold, as is shown by the way it can be collected in flumes, is very heavy, and part of the problem in the South African mines is that small pieces can get trapped in small pockets on the floor of the seam. The higher pressure water flows can flush out these pockets driving the gold particles down to a common collection point. In that particular, the practices haven’t changed that much in three thousand years.

Using Nature’s Crack System

By Dr. David A. Summers, Curators’ Professor at Missouri University of Science & Technology

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Blog

KMT Waterjet Systems Weekly Waterjet Blog

In this section of the series on Waterjetting, the focus is on the way in which high-pressure waterjets grow cracks in their target. As John Field showed, even the presence of microscopic cracks on a glass surface are enough to initiate the larger cracks that lead to failure. In many cases, however, the most useful growth can be achieved if the cracks only extend to the point that they remove a desired amount of material. This becomes important where there are weaknesses and flaws in the material – such as the layers between plies of wood, or even Kevlar – which should not be grown as the jet cuts down through the material. And in a later article, this topic will be a part of a discussion as exactly what happens as a jet drills a hole into a target. But, for today, I would like to talk about crack growths in rock and soil, both because it is one of the oldest ways in which water can penetrate into material, and also because it holds the potential to be one of the newest areas into which waterjetting is growing, and will likely further advance into a more significant business.

And to begin consider that, as water penetrates into the cracks in a rock and grows those cracks slowly under natural forces, rocks with minerals in them will see those mineral particles separately broken out. The classic example of this is with gold. One of the ways in which the Forty-Niners found the gold in California was by panning for the gold particles in the rivers and tracking the gold deposits back up-stream until they reached the original gold deposits of the Sierra Mountains. Not that this was the first time that water transport had helped in gold mining. One of my favorite stories to begin classes is to remind them of Jason and the Argonauts.

Movie poster for Jason and the Argonauts

Figure 1. Movie poster for the 1963 film version of Jason and the Argonauts (IMDb)

It is a theme that has been made into a movie several times, and tells the story of how the Greek Prince Jason and a band of companions go in search of the Golden Fleece, and the adventures that he has along the way. Despite the mythical creatures the story is thought to be likely based on some measure of truth, with the voyage taking place some time before 1300 B.C. But our focus is on the fleece rather than the voyagers.

Suggested path that Jason followed to get to the River Rhion in Georgia

Figure 2. Suggested path that Jason followed to get to the River Rhion in Georgia.(Google Earth)

Within the Caususus mountains of Georgia lies the modern town of Mestia, which was thought in Roman times to be the site of Colchis, where Jason found the Golden Fleece. The reality is not quite as dramatic as the legend since as the Roman historian Strabo noted

“It is said that in the country of Colchis, gold is carried down by mountain torrents, and that the barbarians obtain it by means of perforated troughs and fleecy skins, and that this is the origin of the myth of the Golden Fleece”

The torrents of water in the Svaneti valley outside Mestia

Figure 3. The torrents of water in the Svaneti valley outside Mestia, (Nika Shmeleva Google Earth at 43deg02’29.74”N, 42deg42’25.13E)

It is thought that the miners of the time directed the streams so that they flowed over the veins of gold and eroded out the particles so that the gold was carried down to the valley. Here it was fed through the troughs that Strabo described, and the heavy gold particles were captured as they tangled in the wool of the fleece. To recover the gold the miners would then hang the fleeces in trees, so that they would dry, and the gold could be shaken loose. Unfortunately as the fleeces hung in the trees they provided a tempting target for Greek thieves. (In a later version that I will write about in the next post the sheep fleece was replaced with brush that could be dried and burned to release the gold).

Water was thus, in one of the earliest “automated” mining processes, used to both dislodge and then carry the valuable mineral from the mining site. The overall power of water to move soil has been used to wash away material for over a hundred years. In the 1973 War between Egypt and Israel, the Egyptian Army gained a significant advantage in the early hours of the war by using waterjet monitors to wash away the defensive barrier along the edges of the Suez Canal, rather than using conventional mechanical excavators.

To deal with the massive earthen ramparts, the Egyptians used water cannons fashioned from hoses attached to dredging pumps in the canal. Other methods involving explosives, artillery, and bulldozers were too costly in time and required nearly ideal working conditions. For example, sixty men, 600 pounds of explosives, and one bulldozer required five to six hours, uninterrupted by Israeli fire, to clear 1,500 cubic meters of sand.

The quoted Sunday Times report of the time suggested that the Israeli Army had anticipated that it would take 24-hours to remove the barriers giving time for their Army to mobilize and arrive. However, using a set of five pumps per breech site the Egyptian Army was able to make an opening in as short as a 2-hour time, with the mobilized water cannon opening 81 breeches, and removing 106 million cubic feet of material in that first day of the war. They were thus able to initially advance into the Sinai with relatively little resistance.

The pressure of the water does not have to be high to disaggregate the soil, but large volumes were needed in that application both to break the soil loose and to move it out of the way. Moving the debris out of the way is an important part of the operation, and while, in the above case it could be just pushed to one side, in many more localized jobs, particularly in cities, that is not an answer. However if the soil can be collected with the water, then the fluid can help to move the soil down a pipe away from the working area. And, more importantly, if the soil can be captured as it is being broken loose, then both can be collected before the water has had a chance to penetrate into the soil around the hole, and so the walls of the hole will not get wet and will remain stable and not fall in.

One way that we have achieved this is to rotate a pair of waterjets relatively rapidly (depending on the material the jet pressure can range from 2,000 psi to 10,000 psi) so that the surface layer is removed, and to immediately take this away by combining the jet action with a vacuum for removal. (In the initial trials we used a Shop Vac to remove both water and debris). This combination has become known as hydro-excavation, and will be the topic of a couple of posts in the future.

Similarly the use of high pressure to break an ore down into its different parts, so that the valuable mineral can be separated from the host rock at the mining machine, is become a new way to reduce the costs of transporting and processing the ore and make mining more efficient. As yet this latter is still more of a laboratory development, though it will develop for greater use in the future, and there will be additional posts on this too in the future. But, in both cases, the use of waterjets to effectively rely on extending pre-existing cracks makes the systems work. In the next post I’ll write about a couple of other ways of getting enough cracks into the rock as ways of making it easier to separate and remove valuable materials from underground.