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Steel Fiber Reinforced Concrete vs.


Mix Design Theory

The mix design for cast-in-place slab-on-ground concrete is based on ACI 211. Shotcrete mixes
are discussed in ACI 506. These are the fundamental methods used to design a conventional
concrete/shotcrete matrix. To design a cast-in-place, slab-on-ground, steel fiber-reinforced
concrete (SFRC) mix, consult ACI 544.4R, which adjusts the principles espoused in ACI 211 to
accommodate the addition of steel fibers. ACI 506.1R provides design information for steel fiber-
reinforced shotcrete, which is incorporated in ACI 506 standard criteria.

Steel fibers provide the concrete designer an opportunity to incorporate three-dimensional

reinforcement in the concrete matrix in lieu of the labor-intensive single-plane of welded-wire
fabric (WWF) or rebars. A major problem associated with the use of WWF is placement.
Typically, WWF is found on the ground in the finished slab because, in practice, chairs are not
used to support the mesh in the cross section—this despite the Wire Reinforcement Institute’s
(WRI) mandating their use in all its literature. The obvious reason the field ignores this directive
is economics—the cost of chairs and the labor time to place them translate into considerable add-
on expense. (The WRI is conspicuously silent on this issue.) Using steel fibers instead of WWF
can potentially save actual construction time by eliminating wire mesh. On one project, concrete
placement time was reduced from 8 weeks to 24 hours. Although this does not represent the
norm, it does reflect the potential.

Another cost saving in SFRC is the elimination of the concrete pump. Concrete trucks cannot
drive over WWF, and thus a pump is needed to place the concrete. With steel fibers providing
the secondary reinforcement, there is nothing impeding the ready-mix trucks from moving on the

The use of WWF as secondary/temperature-shrinkage reinforcement has always created more

questions than answers since the general drag coefficient formula recommenced in ACI 318 is
acknowledged to be based on empirical data. Furthermore, there are no recognized standard
test methods that can be used to evaluate the actual performance of the WWF. Couple this
known problem with the fact that design engineers use other more accurate temperature-
shrinkage formulae in calculating secondary reinforcement, one must question what the WWF
actually contributes to the cross-section.

What does this mean to the contractor and owner? WWF is specified based on the drag formula
in ACI 318, which yields a smaller cross-section wire resulting in a lower cost and the obvious
lower performance level. This creates a problem with the technical promotion of steel fiber.
When Nycon’s Engineering Department specifies a given quantity of steel fibers for a given set of
performance requirements, the quantity is based on engineering properties. When the project
engineer, contractor, and owner look at the quantity required, they look at cost. With WWF
typically under-designed, the advantage in terms of cost may favor WWF when compared to steel
fibers. Therefore, it is advisable to insure like performance levels are being compared prior to
performing a cost analysis.

The steel fibers can be added within the range of 20-100 pounds depending on the mix
application requirements. At lower dosage levels the effect of the fiber on the mix characteristics
can be minor, whereas at the upper end of the range the effects can be dramatic. The Nycon
engineering department needs to be contacted regarding questions of mix proportions. In
general, as the fiber quantity increases the amount of mortar must be increased to accommodate
the surface area on the fiber. It must be remembered the fibers are incorporated in the mortar
which means fiber volume must be balanced with mortar volume. If the ratio goes out of balance
the workability, density, strength and long-term durability can all suffer.
The benefits of using steel fibers vs. WWF include:

- Isotropic reinforcement of the concrete mass vs. the single plane.

- The ability to calculate specific engineering properties using standard equations
(Westergaard) vs. empirical formulate, which yield no loading properties.

With steel fibers at 50 pounds per cubic yard and above, there is a direct contribution to the
flexural strength of the cross-section. This increase in flexural strength can provide greater load
capacity for the originally designed cross-section or permit the cross-section to be reduced.
WWF as secondary reinforcement will not contribute to the flexural strength and/or the reduction
of the cross-section.