Workability | Definition | Factors affecting Workability in Fresh Concrete



A theoretical water/cement ratio calculated from the considerations discussed above is not going to give an ideal situation for maximum strength. Hundred per cent compaction of concrete is an important parameter for contributing to the maximum strength. 

Lack of compaction will result in air voids whose damaging effect on strength and durability is equally or more predominant than the presence of capillary cavities.


To enable the concrete to be fully compacted with given efforts, normally a higher water/ cement ratio than that calculated by theoretical considerations may be required. That is to say the function of water is also to lubricate the concrete so that the concrete can be compacted with specified effort forthcoming at the site of work. The lubrication required for handling concrete without segregation, for placing without loss of homogeneity, for compacting with the amount of efforts forth-coming and to finish it sufficiently easily, the presence of a certain quantity of water is of vital importance. The quality of concrete satisfying the above requirements is termed as workable concrete. 

The word “workability” or workable concrete signifies much wider and deeper meaning than the other terminology “consistency” often used loosely for workability. Consistency is a general term to indicate the degree of fluidity or the degree of mobility. A concrete which has high consistency and which is more mobile, need not be of right workability for a particular job. Every job requires a particular workability. A concrete which is considered workable for mass concrete foundation is not workable for concrete to be used in roof construction, or even in roof construction, concrete considered workable when vibrator is used, is not workable when concrete is to be compacted by hand. Similarly a concrete considered workable when used in thick section is not workable when required to be used in thin sections. Therefore, the word workability assumes full significance of the type of work, thickness of section, extent of reinforcement and mode of compaction. For a concrete technologist, a comprehensive knowledge of workability is required to design a mix.

 Workability is a parameter, a mix designer is required to specify in the mix design process, with full understanding of the type of work, distance of transport, loss of slump, method of placing, and many other parameters involved. Assumption of right workability with proper understanding backed by experience will make the concreting operation economical and durable. Many research workers tried to define the word workability. But as it signifies much wider properties and qualities of concrete, and does not project any one particular meaning, it eludes all precise definitions. Road Research laboratory, U.K., who have extensively studied the field of compaction and workability, defined workability as “the property of concrete which determines the amount of useful internal work necessary to produce full compaction.” Another definition which envelopes a wider meaning is that, it is defined as the “ease with which concrete can be compacted hundred per cent having regard to mode of compaction and place of deposition.” Without dwelling much on the merits and demerits of various definitions of workability, having explained the importance and full meaning of the term workability, we shall see the factors affecting workability.

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Factors Affecting Workability in Fresh Concrete

Workable concrete is the one which exhibits very little internal friction between particle and particle or which overcomes the frictional resistance offered by the formwork surface or reinforcement contained in the concrete with just the amount of compacting efforts forthcoming. The factors helping concrete to have more lubricating effect to reduce internal friction for helping easy compaction are given below:


Water Content


Mix Proportions


Size of Aggregates


Shape of Aggregates


Surface Texture of Aggregate


Grading of Aggregate


Use of Admixtures

(a) Water Content: 

Water Content: Water content in a given volume of concrete, will have significant influences on the workability. The higher the water content per cubic meter of concrete, the higher will be the fluidity of concrete, which is one of the important factors affecting workability. At the work site, supervisors who are not well versed with the practice of making good concrete, resort to adding more water for increasing workability. This practice is often resorted to because this is one of the easiest corrective measures that can be taken at site. It should be noted that from the desirability point of view, increase of water content is the last recourse to be taken for improving the workability even in the case of uncontrolled concrete. For controlled concrete one cannot arbitrarily increase the water content. In case, all other steps to improve workability fail, only as last recourse the addition of more water can be considered. More water can be added, provided a correspondingly higher quantity of cement is also added to keep the water/cement ratio constant, so that the strength remains the same.

(b) Mix Proportions:

Aggregate/cement ratio is an important factor influencing workability. The higher the aggregate/cement ratio, the leaner is the concrete. In lean concrete, less quantity of paste is available for providing lubrication, per unit surface area of aggregate and hence the mobility of aggregate is restrained. On the other hand, in case of rich concrete with lower aggregate/cement ratio, more paste is available to make the mix cohesive and fatty to give better workability.

(c )  Size of Aggregate: 

The bigger the size of the aggregate, the less is the surface area and hence less amount of water is required for wetting the surface and less matrix or paste is required for lubricating the surface to reduce internal friction. For a given quantity of water and paste, bigger size of aggregates will give higher workability. The above, of course will be true within certain limits.

(d) Shape of Aggregates:

The shape of aggregates influences workability in good measure. Angular, elongated or flaky aggregate makes the concrete very harsh when compared to rounded aggregates or cubical shaped aggregates. Contribution to better workability of rounded aggregate will come from the fact that for the given volume or weight it will have less surface area and less voids than angular or flaky aggregate. Not only that, being round in shape, the frictional resistance is also greatly reduced. This explains the reason why river sand and gravel provide greater workability to concrete than crushed sand and aggregate. The importance of shape of the aggregate will be of great significance in the case of present day high strength and high performance concrete when we use very low w/c in the order of about 0.25. We have already talked about that in the years to come natural sand will be exhausted or costly. One has to go for manufactured sand. Shape of crushed sand as available today is unsuitable but the modern crushers are designed to yield well shaped and well graded aggregates.

(e ) Surface Texture: 

The influence of surface texture on workability is again due to the fact that the total surface area of rough textured aggregate is more than the surface area of smooth rounded aggregate of same volume. From the earlier discussions it can be inferred that rough textured aggregate will show poor workability and smooth or glassy textured aggregate will give better workability. A reduction of inter particle frictional resistance offered by smooth aggregates also contributes to higher workability. 

(f ) Grading of Aggregates:

 This is one of the factors which will have maximum influence on workability. A well graded aggregate is the one which has least amount of voids in a given volume. Other factors being constant, when the total voids are less, excess paste is available to give better lubricating effect. With excess amount of paste, the mixture becomes cohesive and fatty which prevents segregation of particles. Aggregate particles will slide past each other with the least amount of compacting efforts. The better the grading, the less is the void content and higher the workability. The above is true for the given amount of paste volume. 

(g)  Use of Admixtures: 

Of all the factors mentioned above, the most import factor which affects the workability is the use of admixtures.It is to be noted that initial slump of concrete mix or what is called the slump of reference mix should be about 2 to 3 cm to enhance the slump many fold at a minimum doze. One should manipulate other factors to obtain initial slump of 2 to 3 cm in the reference mix. Without initial slump of 2 – 3 cm, the workability can be increased to higher level but it requires higher dosage – hence uneconomical. Use of air-entraining agent being surface-active, reduces the internal friction between the particles. They also act as artificial fine aggregates of very smooth surface. It can be viewed that air bubbles act as a sort of ball bearing between the particles to slide past each other and give easy mobility to the particles. Similarly, the fine glassy pozzolanic materials, in spite of increasing the surface area, offer better lubricating effects for giving better workability.


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