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Concrete Casting News from the Hill and Griffith Company

Formwork Rust: Reasons and Prevention

Posted by Hill and Griffith Company on Jan 23, 2020 8:00:00 AM

Excerpt from the April 2007 issue of Concrete Construction by Peter Boos and Reiner Haerdtl

Rust on steel formwork leads to stains on the concrete unit


Steel formwork is used in prefabrication operations because of its robustness and reusability, as well as its ability to produce prefabricated units with smooth surfaces. On these steel molds, brownish-reddish rust spots sometimes form while the concrete hardens. This rust could lead to brown or red spotty discolorations on the concrete surface lower the concrete element's appearance. Removing these discolorations by sanding and resurfacing is costly and time-consuming.

Rusted Concrete Form

Reasons for corrosion

There are several reasons for metal corrosion, and thus different forms: contact corrosion, crack corrosion, inter-crystalline corrosion, pitting corrosion, etc. The corrosion of iron and/or steel is an electrochemical process in the presence of water and oxygen. Metal corrosion occurs at the spot with the higher electro-negative potential. Here, the metal ions dissolve from the surface into the solution and when they collide with hydroxide ions they precipitate as iron hydroxide.

The resulting iron minerals are formed, depending on temperature and air humidity. Due to constant recrystallization, no permanent protective rust layer is formed on the surface that would prevent further corrosion. Corrosion is prevented by protective coatings, such as greasy lubricants, a coat of varnish or other metals that prevent air and moisture from contacting the iron surface. Unfortunately, under the daily production load of a prefabrication plant, no protective layer will last long.

The appearance of rust on steel formworks can look quite different. While some steel molds rust over their whole surface, others show rust spots arranged linearly like pearls on a string. In other cases, rust spots occur only along the edges of the casting tables near the clamps. Frequently, rust appears periodically in certain seasons and disappears. Most causes for rust formation can be classified as process-related causes or environmental causes and causes related to concrete technology.

Process-related causes

Steel in direct contact with concrete forms a protective passivation layer in the alkaline milieu of concrete, which suppresses rusting. This hardened non-carbonated concrete is the best corrosion protection for reinforcement. Release agents are used to ensure reliable separation of the concrete from the formwork. This means that it acts like a contact barrier between steel formwork and concrete. Due to that, the formation of the protecting passivation is either slowed down or totally suppressed. Nevertheless, release agents prevent the direct contact of water to the steel surface. But a reliably effective form release agent is no rust protection agent for steel formwork, although a release agent may well contain small amounts of rust inhibitors. By taking the thinness of the release agent layers into account, no rust protection can be provided in this way.

In concrete's alkaline state, the metallic oxidation of the steel required for this effect to materialize does not take place. Rust can therefore develop only where water films or specific chemical elements and compounds enable oxidation, for example, in case of condensation water. It is always recommended to consult the supplier of the release agent when problems with rusting arise.

Magnets can promote rusting of steel casting tables, especially in contact with water. Clamps are placed over the magnets and positioned on the steel tables. When the magnets are placed on the casting tables before the surface has been sprayed and protected with release agent or when the steel surface underneath the clamps are not fully covered by the release agent, rust is more likely to occur. Typically, linear rust spot patterns are due to magnets.

Removing rust mechanically, such as by sanding, can lead to "activated" steel surfaces, which are especially prone to rust. Some manufacturers of casting tables sand the steel surfaces as a service. After sanding, the surface is treated with waxes and chemicals that penetrate deeply into the pores of the steel, which protect it from rusting for a period of time. Without such a treatment the formwork will definitely show rusting.

But this provides no long-term solution unless the real reason of the rust problem is eliminated. In the long-term, new rust will develop and the protective layer will wear off in the course of ordinary mechanical load. When the cause of rusting is analyzed and eliminated the rust spots will generally encapsulate themselves on their own (deeply embedded black rust).

Using chemicals to remove rust or attempts to form a protective coating on the casting tables, such as by phosphorizing, are usually no solution. The black coating that is produced in the process is not resistant to the mechanical load imposed on the surface during production and chips off, so steel surfaces can rust again. This chemical treatment may even lead to additional black discolorations on the concrete surfaces.

Environmental Causes

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Technological Causes

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Recommendations for Prevention

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