Numerical modelling of tension piles

S. van Baars
Ministry of Public Works, Utrecht, Netherlands

W.J. van Niekerk
Ballast Nedam Engineering, Amstelveen, Netherlands

Keywords: Tension piles, shaft friction, installation effect, bearing capacity, case study, CPT ABSTRACT: For determinations of the ultimate tension capacity of a piled foundation, often use is made of empirical relations between soil strength and skin friction. The disadvantage of these (analytical) methods is that they are in general not very accurate for most soil conditions. Therefore a numerical method for determination of the ultimate bearing capacity is presented here. Results were successively compared with actual test results which were measured during pile tests. It was found that the numerical model assessed the actual pile bearing capacity more closely than analytical models based on empirical calculation rules. Therefore lower factors of safety can be accepted. The behaviour of the (virtual) interface between pile and soil significantly influences the behaviour of the pile.

Foundations of large civil constructions are often loaded in tension. For determination of the ultimate tension capacity of a piled foundation, often use is made of empirical relations between soil strength and skin friction. In these methods the actual circumference of the pile is multiplied by the skin friction that can be generated from the soil as measured in the laboratory or in situ, e.g. through the results of unconsolidated undrained tests or torvane tests, which form the basis for su (undrained shear strength) based methods. Other methods take the in-situ shear strength and stress into account through in-situ measurement of the soil resistance based on the qc (cone resistance) following from the Dutch CPT tests. It can be shown that from a substantial amount of pile tests, satisfying relations between qc and su based methods exist for cohesive soils (Van Niekerk et al. 1998). These convenient and simple to use methods are considered as analytical. The disadvantage of the analytical methods is that they are in general not very accurate for most soil conditions. This is for instant caused by changing soil stresses due to installation effects. Other inaccuracies can follow from relaxation of soil stresses due to excavations of normally and over-consolidated soils. Especially granular soils are susceptible to this phenomenon. During loading of a tension pile, the surrounding soil stress is reduced due to uplift of the soil mass surrounding the piles. This yields changes in the ultimate bearing capacity which is often based on empirical values for compression loading. Finally during construction of cast in situ piles, soil stresses are governed by the concrete pressure during curing of the concrete. The soil stresses generated from the cast in situ piles are subject to

This procedure has two advantages compared to modelling of the pile with elastic soil elements. this allows for applying a random traction load on the boundary where the beam element is put. the soil was considered to be normally consolidated. and its effect on in-situ stress is modelled. The accuracy of analytical methods is reduced by not taking into account all these soil stress related items. Firstly. enables one to use any stress distribution measured on the pile. The presented method here was used by Van Niekerk (1996 a. interface elements are situated along the pile shaft. b) and Van Baars (1997) for research purposes to determine the suitability of a finite element model to implement the in-situ stresses after installation of a pile. Results were successively compared with actual test results which were measured during pile tests on the De Gaag aqueduct project as a test case for the Second Beneluxtunnel project.0 and secondly. In the (simplified) mesh of Figure 1. Thus. Therefore in contrast to the analytical methods a numerical method for determination of the ultimate bearing capacity is presented here. vertical effective stress and relative penetration depth. In their proposal the radial effective stress on the shaft is determined by the cone resistance. Both projects are situated in the Netherlands. the number of elements reduces. It is proposed here to model the skin by a beam element. which allows for faster calculation in especially versions of Plaxis prior to release 7. axially loaded pile typically allows for the use of an axi-symmetric mesh. Since internal stress states of the pile and effects of diameter changes due to loading (Poisson effect) are neglected. the pile could be modelled by modelling the skin only. as for instance proposed by Lehane and Jardine (1994). The in-situ stress acting on the pile can be modelled by applying a traction load on the mesh boundary as presented in Figure 2. This allows for a simple calculation to generate the horizontal and vertical stresses before installation. 2 THEORY OF PLAXIS MODELLING In this paper pile shaft capacity is assessed by subsequently modelling in-situ soil conditions and soil conditions after driving of the pile. Here it is initially assumed that for the in-situ soil conditions prior to installation. By applying the following steps the stresses after installation can be generated: . not only the soil resistance but also the effect of on-going penetration of the pile tip. according equation 1: σ h = K0 ⋅ σ v (1) in which K0 is determined by Poisson’s ratio ν according equation 2: Ko = ν 1− ν (2) For overconsolidated soil other value’s of K0 apply. as well on every boundary of the model. such as the maintained hydraulic head during and after casting of the concrete. With these equations the soil stress can be determined at every point of the FEM mesh.phenomena related to execution of the piling works. The possibility to do so. The study of a single.

1. The ultimate shaft capacity is determined as the point were displacements continue without load increase. The influence of the interface is also discussed below in the explanatory calculation presented. The importance of the interface thickness is caused by the dilatant behaviour of the interface. The load displacement behaviour of the pile is mainly determined by the dimensions of the pile and the soil shear modulus. Perform an elastic calculation with traction loads on the 'free' boundaries to generate a stress condition with equal K0 for the entire mesh. As was to be expected from field experience. It was found that the load direction had little effect on the ultimate shaft capacity. Apply additional traction loads along the future pile shaft location to model pile installation effects. by varying the length/diameter ratio. the stress state before and after installation. the internal friction angle. after which the load needed for additional displacements decreases. . the degree of consolidation and the interface thickness. 3. which can cause additional radial stress increase. the interface friction angle. the shaft capacity in tension loading is some 10% lower than it is in compressive loading. Increase of the interface thickness led to a significant higher shaft capacity of the pile. The interface elements next to the pile are subject to a stress greater or at least different than the original stress and are subject to shear. 3 GENERAL PLAXIS RESULTS AND SUITABILITY OF THE MODEL Shaft capacity of the basic model was compared with the shaft capacity of a modified model. the reference shear modulus. The load displacement curves for all different scenarios have been compared in the study. the shaft friction angle. the interface thickness. By applying a pile head displacement the pile can be loaded.) The radial stress increase caused by installation has now been introduced in the FEM mesh correctly. It is considered that this (minor) difference is caused by the difference in principal stress rotation. The shaft capacity is mainly determined by the dimensions of the pile. 2. the distance of a reaction force on the soil surface and last but certainly not least. The results of varying input parameters that particularly involve Plaxis modelling are highlighted below. Radial displacements are allowed. the general load displacement curve is initially virtually linear. the presence of a compressible layer. the radial stress on the shaft. Additional information on dilatancy and the importance of a correct thickness of the dilatant zone can be found in Houlsby (1991). the load direction. which differed from the original. The pile is not present yet. Activate the beam element and lock its position by prohibiting displacements of the nodes in radial direction (See Figure 4-5.

e. Its main drawback however is its large inaccuracy because of its highly empirical basis for shaft resistance factors. at The De Gaag aqueduct casting of concrete was terminated at 11. Vibro or Vibrocom piles) are considered.6 m. only an easy assessment can be made of the total bearing capacity. Geotechnical model De Gaag . whereas in the higher Holocene layers the ground water table is found at NAP .1 -19.000 3 Peat 14 1500 2 Clay 18 3000 cu [kN/m ] 30 50 1 80 120 2 φ' [deg] 25 - ψ' [deg] - ytop [m to NAP] -1. cast in situ piles (i.4 APPLICATION For economical reasons. Also no direct relation between the diameter of the CPT cone and the diameter of a pile is appropriately taking into account the soil displacement and subsequent stressing of the surrounding soil. Table 1.3. In this paper.4.1 . Furthermore the effect of stress reduction during retrieval of a tube or other equipment during installation of cast in situ piles is not considered. Also air and water intrusions were formed during installation.6 -7.6 m. 3 Vibrocom piles. the method does not consider the effect of variation of the concrete level when not at ground level during installation of a pile. 2 HP piles and a single steel tubular pile were test loaded. Stratum 3 [kN/m ] [kN/m2] 6 Clay (+peat) 15 1000 5 Clay (+sand) 16 2000 4 Sand B 19 10. The shear resistance factor is dependent on the soil type and the pile type. In addition to this.Vibro piling γ wet G50 No. mainly because the in-situ stresses for those piles are better known than for steel piles.5 m below ground level.1 Choice of Pile For the tension pile research near De Gaag 3 Vibro piles. 5 CASE VIBROCOM PILE DE GAAG 5. Ground level is situated at NAP -1.2 Geotechnical profile of De Gaag Below the used model of the geotechnical conditions are given. in the Netherlands and some surrounding countries.6 m. the most common method of calculation of the ultimate bearing resistance of a pile is the qc method. In this method the maximum shear force that can be generated along a pile shaft is determined by the integral of the cone resistance multiplied by a shear factor over the full height of all relevant layers. The main merit of this method is its simplicity.6 -18. 5.6 -11. It was therefore considered most interesting to model the Vibrocom piles. For instance. which yielded less stress increase in the soil than usual. In Sand layer A the ground water table is found at NAP . In numerical calculations these effects can be considered accurately. Furthermore it was found later that the w/c ratio of the concrete used for the Vibro piles was lower than usual. see Lings et al (1994). as appeared after excavation of the pile. Based on a CPT test.

1 -13.6 -18. whereas the outer boundary of the axi-symmetric mesh is put at 10 m from the centre line of the pile axis.6 m.5 -22.6 -31. Horizontals -36.6 b xt l xt xt xt s xw s xw s l s s -1.13. CPT results were available in sufficient amounts in contrast to the amount of direct soil tests to determine strength and stiffness of various layers. In Table 2 the positions are given for the horizontal mesh lines. therefore contains best estimates that should however be assessed carefully. In this case the lower boundary is put at NAP . Verticals 0 0.1 -11. Subsequently Vibro tubes with lost tip (Ø 557/508 mm) were driven to NAP . It was considered in design that these layers would not contribute to the ultimate bearing capacity before the deeper sand layers has failed (loads in excess of the maximum shear stress in the sand). pile length (l).0 -26.6 -7.0 m.6 -19.1 m.6 -20.258 b w 0. Successively an instrumented prefab core (Ø 320 mm) was installed in the tube and the annular space was filled with concrete mortar. the pile was not installed in the upper two clay layers.3 Pile installation Prior to installation of the Vibrocom piles a casing Ø 1. In Figures 1-3 the mesh is shown. during which the casing was cleared.6 -24. Table 2.5 5 10 b Two Plaxis mesh blocks are used.1 Sand A 20 25.6 -28. additional nodes for weak layers (xw) and additional nodes for the thick soil layers (xt).36. By using the casing. the bearing capacity is significantly more than for Piles A and C.6 b For the position of the vertical mesh lines the results of Table 3 apply: Table 3.000 1 35 2 -20.1 -18.1 Soil For numerical calculations the entire geometry needs to be modelled. Positions of the mesh nodes are mainly determined by the pile wall (w). . one supporting the pile tip and the other along the first up to the pile top.1 Measured bearing capacities were compared with manual calculations.28. the latter based on CPT results (qc method).1 m was driven to NAP . Calculations are made using 15-noded triangular elements in between 6 verticals and 15 horizontal mesh lines. For Pile B problems with the piling hammer occurred. which have led to interruptions and once a maximum delay of 15 minutes.5 1. Table 1. 5. 6 NUMERICAL MODELLING OF THE GEOMETRY 6. Although no clear indication is found that this pile has been influenced by these interruptions. boundaries (b). soil layers (s).1 -19.

0 m) and one for the casing (NAP . To avoid numerical problems.0 times the in situ shear strength of the soil. In the calculations the casing is put on the same vertical as the tubular pile for convenience. Only by applying an additional node this singularity problem can be avoided. Since the pore pressure P changes at NAP -20.1 m.6. The new interface needs not to be extended in the mesh.6 to . .13. In this paper the strength of the interface is taken at 0. also here an additional interface is required. The roughness of this interface is found to be 0.2 Interface Much of the pile strength depends on its interaction with the subsoil through the interface layer. At NAP -13. These beam elements can be activated during calculations.1.3 Pile In simple situations the pile can be modelled using one beam element. although the radius in non-equivalent.13.28. i. however here two beams should be used.9 times the soil strength.1 to .8 to 1. one for the pile shaft (NAP .e. pile stiffness parameters EA and EI shall not be taken to big in relations to the soil stiffness. Since the interface contains only one integration node at this point. there is only one strain and one stress. However piles should be stiff enough to model actual soil behaviour. 6.1 m a change in the effective soil stresses occurs at the boundary of the casing and the pile.1 m). Here this is achieved by applying an extra interface perpendicular to the previous interface.

1 m. Thus we find that the support pressure B is dependent on the depth z: σ B ' = −( z + 131)(22 − 10) .75 kN/m2 and a vertical effective stress of 223. while this is not the case for the fluid mortar.5 = 4 to model pile driving effects.5 Boundary condition B (mortar) For the final stage of the installation.1 m. At pile tip level (NAP -28. To model stress increase from driving of the piles. To avoid changes in the soil stresses at every change of soil type. it was chosen to apply an equivalent soil pressures coefficient at rest of K0 = 0. 6.0 + 16) × (22 − 10) + 3 × 10 = 346. {+10} (4) Near the pile tip (z = NAP -28. the pressure would be significantly higher: σ B ' = − ( −28. When the pile would be installed to ground level.5. an additional pressure of 10 kN/m2 is accounted for in the deeper layers starting at NAP . The horizontal effective stresses are calculated using: σ A ' = ( − z γ wet − p) K 0 (3) where z = depth and p = water pressure. Introduction of the stress in the mesh was done numerically by applying first a load step considering gravity [Mweight = 1]. Connectivity plot Figure 2. 7 NUMERICAL MODEL TENSION PILE IN DETAIL Below is given in detail the procedure for all stages of the numerical test loading of the pile: . which denotes K<Kp. which is a simplification of complex matter.0 m) we thus find a maximum horizontal effective stress of 111. Concrete mortar has been installed to level NAP -13. The weight of the mortar is taken at γmortar = 22 kN/m3. the horizontal effective stress is temporarily increased.8 kN / m 2 .4 Boundary condition A (soil) Initially the boundary stresses are kept equivalent to the in-situ horizontal effective stress.20.Figure 1. It can be assumed that during driving the soil will never react completely passive. it is assumed that the effective stress at the pile shaft is dependent on the mortar pressures during curing [Load B].8 kN/m2. Since the ground water table at this level is 1 m lower than at ground level.0 m) we find a maximum horizontal and vertical effective stress of 188. The soil stresses introduced to the mesh were derived from equations 1 and 2. (5) Effects of higher support pressure are considered later. Boundary B (mortar) 6. If chosen to adopt K = 2 then the effective horizontal stress needs to be increased temporarily by a factor f = K/Ko = 2/0. Boundary A (soil) Figure 3.5 kN/m2.

To model stressing of the soil from pile driving. Casing (Beam II) is activated. boundary condition A (soil) is increased by a factor 4.1] . beam I = +. [staged construction. Below the casing (place of futur tension pile). [reset displacements. The upper three nodes resist the casing (Beam II). Also the weight of the soil elements is activated. Boundary condition A (soil) is activated. 1. Beam I ( = tension pile) is activated and Beam II ( = casing) is deactivated to prevent the latter from being pulled up. [load A = 4] E. but also reload by the fluid mortar. [load A = 1. while the inner boundary is resisted to move horizontally. All displacements from previous can now be reset (to zero). By applying a forced displacement to a single node on Beam II (Figure 4 and 5) the pile is pulled out. staged construction. Mweight = 1] B. [load A = 0. [boundary_x = fixed. load B = 1] F. beam II = -] The tension pile is now ready to be pulled. beam II = + ] C.A. Inner boundary is released. G. boundary_x = fixed . boundary condition A satisfies equilibrium. By pulling the Vibro tube the soil is unloaded. Thus boundary condition A acts only vertically on mesh block no. de inner boundary of the mesh is resisted from deforming horizontally. The increased boundary pressure A is replaced at the same time by boundary pressure B (mortar). During curing of the pile. Σ_Mdispl = 0. [below casing: boundary_x = loose] D.

04 0. Force versus displacement of the tension pile . a load displacement curve is generated.02 0. 1800 1600 1400 Force [kN] 1200 1000 800 600 400 200 0 0 0.08 0.Figure 4.06 0. Displacement at one node By multiplying the vertical force (Force y = normal force in Beam I) by 2 π and plotting this force against the total displacements [Sum-Mdisp]. Boundary conditions Figure 5.1 Displacement [m] Figure 6. as given in Figure 6.

Ratio of shear stress to maximum shear stress 8 RESULTS PILE LOAD TESTS The measured pile bearing capacities as measured at De Gaag strongly deviated from the empirical calculation results as based on the qc method (pre-calculated). directly next to the pile shaft (Figure 7). which is only 16% less than the average capacity of the three piles.5 D = 0.e.7 E = 0. Table 4. .3 C = 0. even if qc results are considered which are taken after installation of the pile (post-calculated). Plastic points are only found next to the shaft and the pile tip. This means that the numerical results are almost equal to the measured results. see Table 4. From additional numerical simulations followed that by increasing the hydraulic mortar head level to ground level. which is an increase in bearing capacity of 140 %. Measured and analytical calculated bearing capacities Pile Measured Pre-calculated [kN] [kN] A 1800 3260 B 2580 3200 C 1850 3190 Post-calculated [kN] 2960 2950 2830 According the numerical simulation the ultimate bearing capacity is 1740 kN.1 B = 0. and only 5% less than the average capacity of Piles A and C. A B B B C D D τ τ max A = 0. a bearing capacity of 4200 kN could be achieved.Failure of the soil appears rather locally. i.9 C B B C C Figure 7.

from which yields that the upper and lower layers can not resist the tension load at the same time.4 Differences in stiffness In the De Gaag case we find mainly cohesive top layers and at greater depth mainly noncohesive layers. especially for cohesive soils. It can however be considered that pile driving gives more irregular stress distribution after driving than casting piles in situ. the ultimate resistance was only 6% lower. For actual constructions however it might be considered using drained parameters to model longer time spans of loading. from which it can be concluded that the process itself of pile driving. if an Advanced Mohr Coulomb model is used.1 Dynamic pile driving versus static calculation Computer programs like Plaxis and most others are based on static equilibrium. which is typical for Dutch soils. among others. in principle. From research performed by. was found that if the temporary stressing of the soil was abandoned at all. can not be modelled accurately. The assumed stressing of the soil is however introduced in the mesh. In the presented calculation an undrained strength is used rather than a drained strength. In numerical simulations.8. Tejchman and Wu (1995) follows that a rough steel surface is remarkably well capable of transferring shear stresses from a solid body to the soil.3 Time dependent behaviour For geotechnical calculations time is usually a major issue. 8. which yields that in this case less accurate modelling of the soil stressing has no significant effects on the results of cast in situ pile calculations. However. or continuous loading in one direction. The deeper layers are stiffer and therefore considered to fail prior to the upper layers.2 Interface behaviour In the numerical calculation of the tension pile. In the presented simulation here. 8. It suggested here to study creep phenomena on the bearing capacity of a tension pile in a similar study as presented in this paper. It was found earlier however (Van Niekerk 1996a) that the interface strength can increase the ultimate significantly by either increasing the dilatancy or the virtual thickness. an interface is modelled. However this condition is not to be found during pile driving. 8. It can be questioned whether or not this is justifiable (does this interface exist in reality ?) and furthermore one can wonder how to model an interface. So the philosophy for pile . Therefore the total resistance of the pile should not be equivalent to the sum of the maximum individual contribution of the soil layers. simulations of the tension pile with a hydraulic mortar head level up to ground level (with a bearing capacity of 4200 kN) showed that the sum of the individual contribution was only 1% higher than the total resistance. It follows that rough surfaces need hardly or no shear strength reduction at all. only temporarily soil is stresses additionally to model the pile driving.

Firstly. Secondly.constructions with bearing only in deeper layers. contains two mistakes. the contribution of the upper layers hardly need any reduction. the higher mortar head creates a much higher mortar pressure [load B]. .

The Lateral Pressure of Wet Concrete in Diaphragm Wall Panels Cast under Bentonite. G. van. S. van. In relation to this. Proc. van.J.W. D. Plaxis Bulletin. Tejchman and Wu 1995 Int. vol 19. Report BSW-R-97. 1998. Handout Annual Plaxis Users Meeting (24 April 1996). determination of correct soil parameters remains an issue of great importance.J.Y. and Tonnisen.M. In Geomechanics. B.9 CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS In general numerical modelling of test loading of a tension pile proves to be a convenient research tool. Num. July 1994. M. M. The Netherlands. Ng.F. Boss. Balkema. soil and pile models can be calibrated. 23-36 Lings. Dynamics during installation. Niekerk. as well as poor execution of piling works can change soil parameters beyond the conventional models for assessing pile bearing capacities. Niekerk. Institution Civil Engineers. Effects of changes in soil stress.J.W. which will reduce the number or size of the tension piles. 1189-1202. 163-172. yielding more information of actual soil conditions and pile bearing capacities. Proc. J. Performance of bored piles in Lignite. 1996a Modelling of a single tension pile in sand. Time dependent effects are generally neglected in empirical models but can be taken into account in numerical models. of 3th International Conference on Bored and Auger Piles. J. 1981. The behaviour of the (virtual) interface between pile and soil influences mostly the behaviour of the pile. Installation effects and their modelling in numerical models remains an issue of concern. 10 REFERENCES Baars. Utrecht. pp.J. 1994 Shaft Capacity of Driven Piles in Sand: A New Design Approach. Journ. Meth. From the explanatory case was found that the numerical model assessed the actual pile bearing capacity more closely than analytical models based on empirical calculation rules. July 1994. Therefore lower factors of safety can be accepted. R.T. pp. and Jardine. van. Balkema Rotterdam. W..J. Lehane. as should the effects of differences of stiffness of various subsequent layers. 1991 How the dilatancy of soils affects their behaviour.. Its presence and properties should be studied more in detail to determine the actual behaviour of the soil. Geotechnical Engineering. 10th European Conference on Soil Mechanics . Ultimately the best way to compare shaft resistance in numerical models and prototypes is probably comparing load displacement curves. pp.T. Niekerk. By closely modelling the loading-unloading from prototypes in computers. Pile design and foundation analysis. and Nash.48. Proc. C. Case Study: Numerical Modelling of Tension Piles. no. 1994. Dutch Ministry of Public Works Houlsby. Proc. soil stiffness and interface behaviour in particular can be studied in detail. Rösingh.L. W. London: Viewpoint Publications . and Anal. 1996b Calculation of a tension pile. Rotterdam. 15. pp 513-536 Tomlinson.W. 1997. W.

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