You are on page 1of 15

Soil Slope Stability Analysis Using the Friction Circle Method Programmed in EXCEL

Eugene Washington , P.E.

Learning Objective
The purpose of this course is to show the reader that slope stability design by friction circle theory can be easily and accurately calculated by PC computer using EXCEL worksheets. This powerful program can solve in seconds which used to take days or weeks to calculate by hand. The reader will be able to readily design both safe and economical excavation solutions. n today!s competitive construction market it is crucial to be able to design the steepest possible stable temporary excavation slopes. "ith crew and public safety a first priority# the designer can not afford to rely on guesses and hope to be correct. $%&' offers guidelines that are so ultraconservative as to be considered impractical and the classification sub(ect to opinion. "ith this program tool in hand the slope designer can instill confidence in crews# engineers# inspectors# owners and satisfy $%&' re)uirements.

Course Content
The selection of a construction slope usually is based on opinion# not fact. The contractor wants to build the steepest safe slope and reduce cost while the engineer and owner prefer a no risk slope.. The contractor says he has been doing this for *+ years. Engineer says how do you know your experience applies to this situation, This type of argument gets us nowhere# as both sides are relying on guesswork. -ut there are ways to achieve factual answers and satisfy both concerns. $ften thousands of dollars and lives hinge on the bank cut slope selection. -ank slope failure are often catastrophic and without warning. recently was commissioned to investigate at trench failure fatality. The contractor was using an ade)uate trench shield. .or an unknown reason one of the crew left the box and entered an unprotected portion of the trench. The bank chose that place and moment to collapse. The young man left a bride and baby to suffer his passing. t was one of the most depressing times in my career to do the forensic investigation. The accident should never have happened# because every reasonable protection was in place. The young man!s death cost everyone involved dearly. Conversely# and excavation bank cut to flat will cost unnecessary time and money. 'ssume a s)uare structure excavation twenty feet deep with a bottom width of /0 feet. f the bank is cut on a 1 to 1 slope versus a 2 to 1 slope# there is *0* cubic yard of additional excavation. The cost of that excavation and backfill is typically about 314.++ per cubic yard for an added cost of 34#454.++. f the soil must be replaced with processed aggregates# then cost can be easily increased by another 3/+.++ per cubic yard or 30#67+.++. That makes the total cost over 31*#+++.++ for (ust one excavation.

"hen an engineer has the tools and proper soils data# an excavation design can be completed in less than five minutes. .rom start of examination of the 8eotechnical report to issuing a professionally stamped recommendation usually takes me less than an hour# using a speciali9ed computer program this author wrote. That is well worth the time spent determining the steepest# but safe slope. The reason the program was written by the author is because it was discovered that a program being used by ma(or state department of transportation is highly inaccurate when applied to the typical construction excavation situation. :arely is a thorough analysis of a construction excavation bank performed. The reason for this lack of analysis is that solving an accurate solution for bank stability is one of the most complex and tedious procedures in civil engineering. There is no known direct solution. The accepted methods of slices# log spiral or friction circle must assume a solution and then plot the solution and test another. This procedure is repeated until the maximum re)uired cohesion ;shear< for a given set of parameters is found. =obody has time to do very many of these by hand. The easier methods of :ankine and Culmann that assume a flat slip plane often produce dangerously inaccurate solutions and do not lend themselves to compound slope situations. .riction circle theory has been around for about 1++ years and is probably the most accepted method of analy9ing soil slope stability. The theory is deceptively simple. The soil has three basic properties that are fundamental to the analysis> 1. ?oist density of the soil in pounds per cubic foot ;pcf<. /. nternal .riction angle in degrees *. Cohesion in pound per s)uare foot ;psf< ' well prepared 8eotechnical report will offer all of this data. ?any soils reports do not include the direct shear test that shows the .riction angle and cohesion because it is not often used by the design engineer or the contractor. t is often well worth asking for the data or even having your own direct shear tests performed. The in situ moisture content of the soil must be added to the dry density of the soil that is shown in the 8eotechnical :eport for the pro(ect site. The friction angle is a measure of the particle shape. Perfectly round ball bearings will not stand in a pile. -all bearings have a 9ero nternal 'ngle of .riction. @ry sand will form a cone when poured on a table. That is because the angular shape of the grains does not allow the particles to roll freely past each other. %ands and gravels typically have a friction angle of *+ to *4 degrees. The friction angle is also the natural angle of repose of the soil with 9ero cohesion. "hen processed gravel is stacked off a conveyor at a mine it can be seen that the pile forms a uniform cone that maintains a constant slope between 1.4 and / to 1. The slope of a friction angle of *+ degrees is also 1.0*/ to 1 Cohesion is the shear strength of soil# the glue that binds the grains together. Cohesion can stem from many sources. f water is added to the above sand sample# it can be molded in intricate shapes such as sand castles often seen at the beach. The surface tension of the water provides a weak bond between the sand grains. The moisture present in most soils provides a significant cohesion. $ften a gravel bank will safely stand on a 1 to 1 cut bank for a short duration. 's the bank surface dries it will ravel to a 1.4 to 1 slope. =atural minerals that have been leached into the soil#

such as caliche and salts# can provide a very strong cohesion. &eat fusion and long term overburden pressure will tend to fuse the soil grains together# producing significant cohesion. -elow is the fundamental friction angle diagram. The critical failure plane is assumed to be a circle arc. The weight of the soil mass between the circle failure plane and the exterior surfaces of the bank provides the impetus for slippage along the critical circular failure plane. The soil mass is a vertical vector passing through the center of gravity of the enclosed soil mass. The slippage is resisted by the passive soil support below the critical plane and the cohesion along and tangential to the critical failure plane. The passive soil support force is always applied as a vector passing at a distance of the slip circle radius focus times the sine of the nternal .riction 'ngle. The cohesion is a vector placed at the center and tangential to the failure plane arc. %tatics dictate that all three forces of weight# reaction and cohesion must intersect at a single common point. =ote that the intersection point is not shown on the arc.

" A %oil gross weight including moisture inside the slip plane and the ground surface plus any live load surcharge. P A The passive weight reaction. C A The soil total cohesive resistance ;shear<. : A The slip circle radius. X A The distance from the slip circle focus to the centroid of the total weight ;"<. . A The soil internal friction angle. & A The -ank &eight L A The sip circle setback from the top of bank slope % A The slope of the bank excavation. =ow resolve the vectors>

There are three statics e)uation available to solve the problem> 1. Conservation of the moments about the focus of the slip circle radius. ? A "X B P:sin;.< BC: A + /. Conservation of vertical forces> " B Pcos;-< BCsin;@< A + - A the angle between the " and P vectors @ A the angel between C and the hori9ontal axis *. Conservation of hori9ontal forces Ccos;@<BPsin;-< A + The soil!s internal friction angle and cohesion are found using the direct shear test. The solution to this problem becomes very complex. The slip circle radius and the set back distance are unknowns. The shape of the contained soil is complex to calculate and the centroid of the weight must be determined. Then the trigonometry of the vectors must be solved for each case of radius and setback. This is tedious and demanding for (ust one case. To find the critical combination of radius and setback sometimes re)uires hundreds of combinations to be calculated and compared. %o we let the computer do the work for us. 'bout twenty years ago personal computers became readily available# but they lacked the power to )uickly calculate a friction circle solution. Those early PCs were suitable for :ankine or Culmann theory# but those calculations can be dangerously inaccurate. $nly in the last few years have PC!s developed the memory capacity and speed to easily and truly solve a bank stability problem using the .riction Circle ?ethod. %ome of the programs have seen are not designed for steep temporary construction slopes and produce highly inaccurate results. %o started the process of writing a friction circle computer program. selected EXCEL " =@$"% as the software base. EXCEL has all the trig functions and the

e)uation building capability to make the calculations. EXCEL is also commonly used in the engineering and construction industries. The first step is to define a starting point for the series of calculations. .or illustration purposes we will compute a simple *C6 to 1 slope on a /+ foot high bank. The given soil properties are a density of 1++ pcf and a friction angle of *+ degrees. The radius ;:< is initially defined as intersecting the toe and top of slope and the focus is exactly over the toe.

& A /+ ft 8 A 1++ pcf ' A *+ degrees : A &C/ D %&C/ A /+C/ D +.04E/+C/ A 10.4 ft The next step is calculating the mass and center of gravity.

.irst we enclose the soil mass in a rectangle. The area of the rectangle is calculated and the triangles outside the mass are subtracted. Then the soil in the circle segment is added. The reason this techni)ue is used# is that it makes it much easier to find the center of gravity when compound bank slopes are being analy9ed.

Lb A %& A +.04;/+< A 14 ft Ls A 4 ft This Ls A 4 feet is an arbitrary number chosen for illustration purposes and confirmation of correct calculation as the program is developed. The setback is usually started at 9ero and changed until the maximum cohesion is found. The area of the rectangle is> 'r A &;Lb D Ls< A /+;14 D 4< A 6++ s)ft The area of the soil triangle is then> 's A 'r B &LbC/ B &;Lb D Ls<C/ A 6++ B /+;14<C/ B /+;14 D 4<C/ A 4+ sf The center of gravity for the soil triangle is> Xs A F'r;Lb D Ls<C/ B &LbG/C7 B &;Lb D Ls<G/C*HC's A A F;4+<;14 D 4<C/ B /+;14<G/C7 B /+;14 D 4<G/C*HC4+ A 11.70 ft The area of the circle segment is now calculated> The rectangle bisecting line length is> Lr A F&G/ D;Lb DLs<G/HG+.4 A F;/+<G/ D ;14 D4<G/HG+.4 A /I./I ft The arcsine of one half of the circle segment is> -c A asin;LrC/:< A asin;/I./ICF/;10.4<H A asin;+.I+I< A 4*.5 degrees ;EXCEL uses radians so a conversion must be made< Lc A 6Pi:-cC*7+ A 6;*.1617<;10.4<;4*.5<C*7+ A */.5 ft# is the length of the circle segment. This calculation will not be used until the cohesion calculation. The distance from the circle center to the arc segment is> :b A F:G/B ;LrC/<HG+.4 A F;10.4<G/ B;/I./IC/<G/HG+.4 A 1+.*1 ft The area of the circle segment is> 'c A Pi-c:G/C1I+ B Lr:bC/ A *.1617;4*.5<;10.4<G/C1I+ B /I./I;1+.*1<C/ A 16/.* sf The centroid of the circle segment is> :c A4;:B:b<C1/ A 4;10.4 B 1+.*1<C1/ A *.+ ft The 4C1/ factor is a approximation which is accurate enough for slip circle calculations.

The centroid of the circle segment is Xc A :c&CLr D ;Lb D Ls<C/ A *;/+<C/I./I D ;14 D 4<C/ A 1/.1 ft The combined area of soil mass is> 't A 's D 'c A 4+ D 16/.* A 15/.* sf The combined centroid of the soil mass is> Xt A ;'sXs D 'cXc<C't A F;4+<;11.70< D ;16/.*<;1/.1<HC15/.* A 1/.+ ft The soil weight is> "s A 8't A 1++;15/.*< A 15#/*+ lbs The next step is to locate the intersection point of forces of weight# cohesion and passive support.

:r A : B :b A 10.4 B 1+.*1 A 0.15 ft Xi A :r&CLr D ;Lb D Ls<C/ A ;0.15<;/+<C/I./I D ;14 D 4<C/ A 14.+I ft Xo A Xi B Xt A 14.+I B 1/.+ A *.+I ft Jo A Xo&C;Lb D Ls< A *.+I;/+<C;14 D 4< A *.+I ft Jr A ;Lb D Ls<:rCLr A ;14 D 4<;0.15<C/I./I A 4.+I ft The height of the forces intersection point above the toe of the slope is> Jt A &C/ B Jo B Jr A /+C/ B *.+I B 4.+I A 1.I6 ft The reason that these calculations are made will be explained later# but they are used to resolve the passive force vector. =ow as the radius and setback changes the focus of the radius will no longer be directly over the toe of the slope. This point must located hori9ontally in order to calculate the moment and determine the cohesion re)uired.

Xf A :b&CLr A 1+.*1;/+<C/I./I A 0./5 ft Xe A Xf B ;Lb D Lf<C/ A 0./5 B ;14 D 4<C/ A B/.01 ft Xm A Xt D Xe A 1/ D ;1/.01< A 5./5 ft -y choosing an arbitrary set back of 4 feet# the focus of the radius is moved inside the toe vertical axis. =ow the vector forces can be resolved. The below set of e)uations are shown to illustrate that a different approach is re)uired to solve the cohesion using EXCEL. The hori9ontal cohesion force is> Cx A Px A Ccos;X< Ccos;X< A ;Lb D Ls<CLr The vertical cohesion force is> Cy A " B Py A Csin;X< Csin;X< A &CLr Py A " B Cy C A ;CxG/ D Cy<G+.4 P A ;PxG/ D Py<G+.4 ? A "Xm B P:sin;'< B C: A + "Xm B KFCsin;X<G/ D ;" B Ccos;X<<G/HG+.4L:sin;'< B C: A +

"Xm B KFCG/ D "G/ B /"Ccos;X<HG+.4 L:sin;'< B C: A + This set of e)uations are difficult to reduce to directly solve for C using the EXCEL worksheet program. f the hori9ontal Px and Cx are canceled# a null e)uation is created. %o the P vector has to resolved.

J b A :b;Lb D Ls<CLr A 1+.*1;14 D 4<C/I./I A 0./5 ft Jr A Jb D &C/ A 0./5 D /+C/ A 10./5 ft =otice that Jr is less than : at 10.4 ft# that is because the focus is not directly over the toe of the slope# but the circle intersects the toe of slope. Jm A Jr B Jt A 10./5 B 1.I6 A 14.64 ft =ow the angle of the passive force can be resolved. Lu A ;XmG/ D JmG/<G+.4 A F;5./5<G/ D ;14.64<G/HG+.4 A 1I.+* ft .r A asin;JmCLu< A asin;14.64C1I.+*< A asin;+.I475< .r A 4I.50 degrees .v A asinF:sin;.<CLuH A asinF;10.4<;+.4<C1I.*H A asin;+60I1< .v A /5.+* degrees .p A 5+ B .r B .v A /.++ degrees

The passive force is (ust short of vertical ;+ degrees<. f the angle .p is less than + degrees a negative cohesion force will be generated. =ow we can solve the e)uations for cohesion now that the P vector is defined. The hori9ontal cohesion force is> Cx A Px A Ccos;X< Ccos;X< A C;Lb D Ls<CLr A C;14 D 4<C/I./I A +.0+0/;C< Px A Psin;.p< A Psin;/.++< A +.+*65;P< P A Ccos;X<Csin;.p< A ;+.0+0/C;+.+*65<;C< A /+./7;C< =ow the moment e)uation is> ? A "Xm B P:sin;'< B C: A + =ow subsitute the e)uivalent C term for P and the e)uation be comes> "Xm B CFcos;X<Csin;.p<H:sin;.< B C: A + =ow resolve for C> C A "xmCKFcos;X<Csin;.p<H:sin;.< D :L A A F;15#/*+<;5./5<HCF;/+./7<;10.4<;+.4< D 10.4H A 510 lbs The 510 pounds is the total cohesion accumulated along the circle segment. The soil cohesion in pounds per s)uare foot is the total cohesion divided by the circle segment length# Lc> Cs A CCLc A ;510<C;*/.5< A /0.5 psf -ecause of rounding as the calculations progress# the computer will generate a slightly lower number. 's you can see this calculation is tedious at best. =ot only that# but this is only one of hundreds or even thousands of radii and setbacks combinations that need to be tested to find the critical arc for a given situation. This is where EXCEL spread sheet programming comes in handy. The first step in writing your program is to write in the bank design parameters such as height and slope with text labels above or beside the number cells. "e did not address the issue here# but an e)uipment surcharge can be added to the soil weigh# The surcharge is usually taken as an industrial uniform load of /6+ psf along Ls# with the center of gravity at Lb D LsC/. f this is done it should be part of the parameter list. 'lso install an M'dd to :M cell and have the original radius ;:< calculation cell address the M'dd to :M number cell as an add. The reason for this is in flat# high slopes# with a very low internal friction angle# the radius can be huge# many thousand feet

=ow list the soil properties such as density# internal friction angle# and tested cohesion with descriptive labels beside the number cells. 'lso show a starting Ls# often e)ual to 9ero. The only time Lb A 9ero is a problem is when the bank is vertical. This places the cohesion force exactly vertical and the weight force vector and the cohesion force vector can not intersect. =ow drop down a couple of rows and start installing the e)uations step by step in ad(acent cells. 'lways write the e)uation above the e)uation cell so you can keep track of where you are. Jou can use this tutorial as a guide to make sure not mistakes are being made. @o not try to combine several steps into one long and complex e)uation. t will take a lot of effort to debug if you have trouble finding a mistake. =ever enter a number into the calculation cells. 'lways address a previous calculation cell or a previously entered parameter cell. 's you go along left to right entering the calculation steps in ad(acent cell# fix the address of the parameter cell that is not in the same row as the e)uation cell by using the .6 key or place a 3 sign before the row and column designation. $nce you have the solution for cohesion correctly solved# copy the entire row down one row. =ow go to the original radius ;:< calculation cell in the newly copied lower row and change the cell formula to read as the formula> A1D: ;actually address the cell above< =ow copy this second row down as many rows as you wish usually a hundred rows is sufficient for most construction banks. =ow use a cell near the setback ;Ls< number cell to install a maximum cohesion read out cell. This is done by entering> A?'X;< in a cell that addresses the entire column of cohesion calculations ;Cs<. =ow you can easily see what difference is made when you change the setback ;Ls< number to find the critical combination of set back distance and radius. .or each change of set back number the computer computes cohesion across a broad range of radii. The same setback ;Ls< is used to calculate all radii. Nse the split screen command to make sure the maximum cohesion is within the range of radii being tested. f the cohesion calculation trend is still upward at the least radius or the maximum radius tested# then add or subtract to the radius using the M'dd to :M number cell. =ow you have a working program. t is wise to protect the worksheet# leaving on the number entry parameter and property cells unprotected. This action will prevent accidental corruption of the program. The first step to insure the program is making correct computations. This can be established by using text book published stability numbers for simple bank slopes. The %tability =umbers shown below are published in the text book M%oil ?echanicsM by @. ". Taylor# .eb 1574. The %tability =umber is defined as> = A CsC8&. Cs A the re)uired minimum cohesion for stability# psf 8 A the moist soil density# pcf & A the bank height# ft This calculation can easily be installed and displayed as a reference. .or this above calculation> = A **CF;1++<;/+< A +.+174 which a study of the below table will reveal

the above calculation is not for the critical failure plane. The computer will generate the same or (ust slightly higher stability numbers# not more than /O# in a couple of instances. -ecause the calculations were made before 1574 they were probably calculated by hand. n addition to the friction circle calculations the table also includes log spiral# slices method and Culmann theory. This represents a monumental effort and it is ama9ing how accurate the calculations are. -y using the state of the art EXCEL worksheet software we can take the calculations to an even higher level of accuracy.

The prevailing theory at the time ;pre 150+!s< stated that the critical slip plane for very flat slopes and very small internal friction angles passed below the toe of the slope rather than intersecting the toe of the slope. This always pu99led me because it didn!t fit common sense. -y having the critical circle daylight past the toe only moved the center of mass closer to the focus of the radius of the slip circle# thereby shortening the moment lever arm length. t also increased the cohesion arc length. That only reduces the amount of cohesion re)uired for stability. The program that the author has written shows that the critical slip circle can always intersect through the toe of the slope. This proves that only slip circles that pass through the toe of the slope need be calculated to determine the critical failure plane.

"hen compound slopes are being analy9ed# be sure to check all possible critical slip circle configurations. n the above example either :a or :b can generate the critical cohesion# depending on the soil properties and excavation configuration. The minimum recommended safety factor is 1./ for short term exposure. This should be increased if the excavation is going to be open for a long term or there is uncertainty as to the actual soil properties. The procedure shown above assumes a dewatered condition so that the ground water table is below the critical slip circle plane. This program can be expanded to include brokenBback excavation slopes and original ground slopes. This is accomplished by introducing more triangles and rectangles that are subtracted from the slip circle enclosing rectangle. E)uipment surcharges can be added by placing a uniform load along the setback length. The surcharge weight and center of gravity are added to the soil. ?ultiple soil layers can be analy9ed where soil layers with significantly different properties will be exposed by the excavation. The upper layers are treated as triangular surcharges. Nsing computer lookup and macros functions the program can be almost completely automated and be very user friendly# displaying all the important data in a sketch. The program has also been modified to generate soil pressures on shoring. This is particularly useful when only partial shoring is needed in an excavation. ?ost prevailing methods of calculating increased soil loadings on the shoring due to a steep overburden slope are cumbersome at best. -y applying slip circle theory and using the overburden as a surcharge# an accurate active soil pressures can be accurately determined.


1. .undamentals of %oil ?echanics# .eb. 1574 by @onald ". Taylor /. The Encyclopedia of 'pplied 8eology# 15I6 edited by Charles ". .inkl# Pr. *. &andbook of &eavy Construction# /nd edition# 1501 Edited by Pohn '. &avers and .rank ". %tubbs# Pr.