If you work with UHPC, possibly you are used to explain what it is. It is highly likely that your words do not vary a lot whether your audience is a potential client, your neighbour or even your grandma (which answers you asking why you didn’t study medicine). In most of the cases, the sentence starts with something like this:
“UHPC is a special concrete with a strength 3 or 4 times higher than ordinary concrete…”.
On many occasions, the receiver acquires from this explanation a distorted view of the spectrum of UHPC applications: “UHPC is a concrete to do very strong structures”. The reason is that we start describing a property of the material instead of describing what is it for.
So… what is it for?
In the following ternary diagram, I have weighted the relevance of what I consider the three key features that provide competitiveness to different UHPC applications:
- Durability (resistance to corrosion, abrasion, freeze-thaw cycles…)
- Aesthetics/design (visual harmony, uniqueness…)
- Lightness (reduced weight compared with the alternatives and implying a significant reduction of costs)
Each of these features is what we call, in marketing terms, a Unique Selling Proposition (USP), which is the most relevant factor that differentiates a product from the competitors. In some UHPC elements, the total advantages perceived by the clients are more than one, but in general there is always one that prevails over the others (the USP). It should be borne in mind that we are highlighting the factors that provide significant and perceived value for the client, not properties that simply exist. As an example: Stairs made of UHPC are more durable than ordinary stairs, but a client does not perceive a significant advantage in this additional durability.
This study includes the most common structures and elements in civil engineering and architecture. Applications in the field of security have been excluded.
Though the aesthetics of the element is related with its lightness, they are differentiated because they are two different reasons to purchase a UHPC structure. The first is the will to pay for something which beauty is appreciated by the client, and the second implies that the reduced weight of the structure has significant benefits in transport, manipulation, assembling, floating or to reduce the dead load of the structure.
On the figure, one can distinguish two main regions:
- Civil engineering structures under aggressive/abrasive environments, where durability is the USP. Most of them are related with the reduction of the operational expenditure of large infrastructures.
- Architectural elements where slenderness and design are appreciated, and the complementary advantage of the lightness helps to reduce or remove the price gap with the traditional solutions.
This brings me to show the second figure, which links these key factors with the costs and prices of the whole life cycle of the UHPC structure. Now we can appreciate why they are so relevant:
- Lightness can reduce costs during the design, production, and installation process.
- Durability reduces the inspection, maintenance, and reparation costs of the client during service.
- Aesthetics/design increase the price that the client is willing to pay, even if there is certain gap with the traditional solutions.
After reflecting a little bit about all these factors, I think that in the future I will be briefer introducing this material. I will tell my grandma that UHPC is a material that allows us to do lighter, nicer, and durable structures. In the end, as Einstein said:
“You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother”.
Feel free to send your comments, or to propose a different position in the ternary diagram if you produce UHPC structures!