Prestressed concrete is a method for overcoming the concrete's natural weakness in
tension. It can be used to produce beams, floors or bridges with a longer span than
is practical with ordinary reinforced concrete. Prestressing tendons (generally of
high tensile steel cable or rods) are used to provide a clamping load which produces
a compressive stress that offsets the tensile stress that the concrete compression
member would otherwise experience due to a bending load. Traditional reinforced
concrete is based on the use of steel reinforcement bars, rebars, inside poured
Prestressing can be accomplished in three ways: pre-tensioned concrete, and bonded
or unbounded post-tensioned concrete.
Pre-tensioned concrete is cast around already tensioned tendons. This method
produces a good bond between the tendon and concrete, which both protects the
tendon from corrosion and allows for direct transfer of tension. The cured concrete
adheres and bonds to the bars and when the tension is released it is transferred to
the concrete as compression by static friction. However, it requires stout anchoring
points between which the tendon is to be stretched and the tendons are usually in a
straight line. Thus, most pretension concrete elements are prefabricated in a factory
and must be transported to the construction site, which limits their size. Pretensioned
elements may be balcony elements, lintels, floor slabs, beams or
foundation piles. An innovative bridge construction method using pre-stressing is
described in Stressed Ribbon Bridge.
Bonded post-tensioned concrete
Bonded post-tensioned concrete is the descriptive term for a method of applying
compression after pouring concrete and the curing process. The concrete is cast
around plastic, steel or aluminum curved duct, to follow the area where otherwise
tension would occur in the concrete element. A set of tendons are fished through the
duct and the concrete is poured. Once the concrete has hardened, the tendons are
tensioned by hydraulic jacks that react against the concrete member itself. When
the tendons have stretched sufficiently, according to the design specifications they
are wedged in position and maintain tension after the jacks are removed,
transferring pressure to the concrete. The duct is then grouted to protect the
tendons from corrosion. This method is commonly used to create monolithic slabs
for house construction in locations where expansive soils (such as adobe clay) create
problems for the typical perimeter foundation. All stresses from seasonal expansion
and contraction of the underlying soil are taken into the entire tensioned slab, which
supports the building without significant flexure. Post-stressing is also used in the
construction of various bridges; both after concrete is cured after support by false
work and by the assembly of prefabricated sections, as in the segmental bridge.
The advantages of this system over unbounded post-tensioning are:
1. Large reduction in traditional reinforcement requirements as tendons cannot
distress in accidents.
2. Tendons can be easily 'weaved' allowing a more efficient design approach.
3. Higher ultimate strength due to bond generated between the strand and
4. No long term issues with maintaining the integrity of the anchor/dead end.
Unbounded post-tensioned concrete
Unbounded post-tensioned concrete differs from bonded post-tensioning by
providing each individual cable permanent freedom of movement relative to the
concrete. To achieve this, each individual tendon is coated with grease (generally
lithium based) and covered by a plastic sheathing formed in an extrusion process.
The transfer of tension to the concrete is achieved by the steel cable acting against
steel anchors embedded in the perimeter of the slab. The main disadvantage over
bonded post-tensioning is the fact that a cable can distress itself and burst out of the
slab if damaged
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