Concrete always draws to the mind block upon block of boring, drab, grey conformity. Massive, squarish, sturdy grey walls of typical concrete are great at holding up buildings, but they don't inspire the awe of curtain wall, metal paneling, and other sleek building materials. But thanks to new technology, today's colored concrete can match the color diversity of many other surfaces and easily and cheaply spruce up any concrete surface.
Adding pigments to a concrete mix before placement to create integral color is the most common method of colorizing concrete. A wide range of color intensity and contrast can be produced by modifying pigment dosage. Concrete ready-mix suppliers can install liquid-dispersed color equipment to meter colors directly into truck mixers. Any color can be formulated from three or four tanks holding primary colors, with the advantage of color consistency. Integral concrete color (for typical slab-on-grade concrete) costs $20–40 per cubic yard.
Davis Colors of Los Angeles, a brand of Princeton, N.J.-based Rockwood Pigments, has created a computer-controlled, automatic color metering system designed to weigh and dispense liquid color into ready-mix and precast concrete. Its Chameleon system lets you pick from more than 17,000 color combinations using a simple PC interface.
Working with Davis's hydrotint pigments, the system connects your PC (set up with the Chameleon software) to five liquid color tanks (two reds, a yellow, a plain gray, and a black pigment); a logic control unit then translates your selections into mixing actions. A dispensing system dumps the final mix into a ready-mix truck. You select colors by name from a pull-down menu ("brick red," for example). The system comes pre-loaded with more than 1,000 color recipes. There are no code numbers for you to look up, just number amounts of color additives for each tank.
To create custom colors, the firm's Concrete Palette program can mix, match, and preview custom colors to create a recipe ready for a concrete test batch. You create a color with the Palette software and the program then converts the choice to a test recipe.
The system also lets you store color selections by color swatch, view the effect of different surface finishes, use a built-in calculator to figure the cost custom colors, and order sample swatches.
"Before this, we still sold colored concrete, but there were always complaints about the mixing of the recipes and all the work the end user had to do," says Nick Paris, VP at Davis Colors.
The company has also created Mychameleon.net, a Web-based monitoring service available only to Chameleon customers. All the color-dosing systems operating across the country are configured to automatically report back to the Mychameleon.net server once a day. Customers can view their inventory, consumption, and batch recipe history through a dial-up or broadband Internet connection on a single Web page.
The service also includes remote diagnosis and repair of concrete by Chameleone technicians via dial-up or broadband internet connection.
"The software works with any PC," Paris said. "We like to think we've eliminated all the guesses and work involved with colored concrete."