What’s Construction Material Testing & Why is it Crucial?

We often come across the words clinically tested and proven for all the consumer related products. Before we consume anything, it undergoes multiple tiers of testing to ensure the safety of that product such that it wouldn’t cause any damage to our body. However, what about the health of buildings and structures? Don’t you think that the materials used in the construction should be tested to ensure the overall integrity and safety of the building? A highly specialized wing of civil engineering called as construction material testing would shoulder this responsibility. Read on to know about what kind of construction material testing is done in general and more details about the same.

Several regulatory bodies were formed to govern the quality and standard of the raw materials used in the constructions. In the United States of America, ASTS (American Society for Testing and Materials) regulates the quality of materials and all the construction materials used in the construction should predominantly meet the norms laid out by ASTS.

In 2019, Montana State University gym roof collapsed, thankfully there were no casualties. The preliminary investigation revealed that the damage occurred due to the use of raw materials. A similar incident was reported in the Chirajara bridge collapse in 2018 in Columbia although the later report suggested that the damage occurred due to structural and design issues. In 2018, Florida International University Pedestrian Bridge collapse that claimed a few lives and sent shock waves amongst the locals, which was again due to flaws in the construction. To ensure that these incidents don’t happen, a thorough investigation into the materials is mandatory.

A geotechnical engineer would usually perform the following construction material testing to ascertain that the products are best in class and can be used in the construction.

Soil testing: In civil engineering, soil testing revolves around the in-depth analysis of the soil to check if it’s moist or dry based on which the engineer would ascertain if the construction at this site can be carried out or not. In the absence of the same, the foundation can sink or deteriorate, leading to the entire structural collapse. There were many instances where constructions were made in wet soils or near the lakes that resulted in partial inundation of structures during heavy rainfall or even total collapse. The initial investigation reports of the soil must meet the subsurface soil examination in a laboratory.

Rock Testing: It is a known factor that rocks would be used in the construction of the building. Some structures have a rock foundation. However, it’s important that stones used in the construction should meet the standards laid out by ASTS. A civil engineer would perform various tests in the laboratory to understand what kind of rock it is. There are three different types of rocks such as igneous (formed by cooling the molten lava), sedimentary (weak stones such as limestone or sandstone) and metamorphic (sedimentary rocks formed due to heat in the atmosphere). The civil engineer would also check for the electrical resistivity of rock, which is crucial in countering the electric shocks. The slaking and durability of the rock would also be performed to ascertain that the rock isn’t disintegrating when exposed to moistures. The rock should also be durable, which purely depends on the mass of the rock.

Concrete Testing: The construction of any modern structure isn’t possible without the use of concrete. There are multiple concrete tests that a civil engineer would perform in the laboratory to determine that the concrete that’s intended to use is ideal. The first one would be a slump test wherein the concrete should comply with the mix design. The comprehensive concrete test is performed to test the overall strength of the concrete if it’s attaining the heat and losing the temperature naturally, which would provide a clear picture about possibility of cracks. An engineer would also perform a water permeability test to determine the concrete’s durability.

Brick Testing: The bricks used in the construction should be durable and hard. If weak quality bricks are used in construction, the structure will demolish within a couple of years or even months for that matter. To ensure that you don’t purchase substandard bricks from a vendor, a civil engineer would ascertain the sample in a dedicated laboratory and verify if the cube is durable enough to withstand natural calamities.

Cement Testing: Cement plays a crucial role in your construction. It’s one of the materials that’s used in large quantities. To justify that the cement you purchase is good enough to support your structure, a couple of tests are carried out in a laboratory. The size of the cement grain is individually examined through the fineness test, which is further done through the sieve method, sedimentation method, and air permeability tests. Cement should always be fine to be labeled as durable. The next step your engineer would investigate is—consistency test, which is done to check how much water is required to make the cement into a paste. Based on the calculations, the right amount of water would be mixed with the cement at the time of construction that saves time, effort, and even your money. Next comes the setting time as in how much time would be required for the cement to become hard.

Apart from the above standard materials’ testing, your civil engineer would also investigate the quality of geotextile materials, wood, and steel. So, next time, when you plan to construct a building, ensure that a civil engineer thoroughly examines all the materials used in the construction.

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