Introduction to prestressed concrete

Mohammed Zaid
Posted on : 27 Feb 2016

February.26.2016, By Mohammed Zaid, CEng.M.ASCE

Pre-stressed concrete is a particular form of reinforced concrete. Pre-stressing involves the application of an initial compressive load on a structure to reduce or eliminate the internal tensile forces and thereby control or eliminate cracking. The initial compressive load is imposed and sustained by highly tensioned steel reinforcement reacting on the concrete. With cracking reduced or eliminated, a pre-stressed section is considerably stiffer than the equivalent (usually cracked) reinforced section. Pre-stressing may also impose internal forces which are of opposite sign to the external loads and may therefore significantly reduce or even eliminate deflection

With service load behavior improved, the use of high-strength steel reinforcement and high strength concrete becomes both economical and structurally efficient. As will be seen subsequently, only steel which can be tensioned with large initial elastic strains is suitable for pre-stressing concrete. The use of high-strength steel is therefore not only an advantage to pre-stressed concrete, it is a necessity. Pre-stressing results in lighter members, longer spans, and an increase in the economical range of application of reinforced concrete.

Pre-stress is usually imparted to a concrete member by highly tensioned steel reinforcement (wire, strand, or bar) reacting on the concrete. The high strength pre-stressing steel is most often tensioned using hydraulic jacks. The tensioning operation may occur before or after the concrete is cast and, accordingly, pre-stressed members are classified as either pre-tensioned or post-tensioned.

Pre-tensioned concrete

The pre-stressing tendons are initially tensioned between fixed abutments and anchored. With the formwork in place, the concrete is cast around the highly stressed steel tendons and cured. When the concrete has reached its required strength, the wires are cut or otherwise released from the abutments. As the highly stressed steel attempts to contract, the concrete is compressed.

Pre-stress is imparted via bond between the steel and the concrete.

Pre-tensioned concrete members are often precast in pre-tensioning beds long enough to accommodate many identical units simultaneously. To decrease the construction cycle time,

steam curing may be employed to facilitate rapid concrete strength gain and the concrete is often stressed within 24 hours of casting. Because the concrete is usually stressed at such an early age, elastic shortening of the concrete and subsequent creep strains tend to be high. This relatively high time-dependent shortening of the concrete causes a significant reduction in the tensile strain in the bonded, pre-stressing steel and a relatively high loss of pre-stress.

Post-tensioned concrete

With the formwork in position, the concrete is cast around hollow ducts which are fixed to any desired profile. The steel tendons are usually in place, unstressed in the ducts during the concrete pour, or alternatively may be threaded through the ducts at some later time. When the concrete has reached its required strength, the tendons are tensioned. Tendons may be stressed from one end with the other end anchored or may be stressed from both ends. The tendons are then anchored at each stressing end.

The concrete is compressed during the stressing operation and the pre-stress is maintained, after the tendons are anchored by bearing of the end anchorage plates onto the concrete. The post-tensioned tendons also impose a transverse force to the member wherever the direction of the cable changes.

After the tendons have been anchored and no further stressing is way, the tendons are bonded to the concrete and are more efficient in controlling cracks and providing ultimate strength. In some situations, however, particularly in North America and Europe, tendons are not grouted for reasons of economy and remain permanently unbonded.

Most in situ prestressed concrete is post-tensioned. Relatively light and portable hydraulic jacks make on-site post-tensioning an attractive proposition. Post-tensioning is also used for segmental construction of large-span bridge girders.

Prestress may also be imposed on new or existing members using external tendons or such devices as flat jacks. These systems are useful for temporary prestressing operations but may be subject to high time-dependent losses.

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