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Three-dimensional numerical modelling of the behaviour of a pile subjected

to cyclic lateral loading
E. Bourgeois
a,⇑
, M.H.J. Rakotonindriana
a
, A. Le Kouby
a
, P. Mestat
a
, J.F. Serratrice
b
a
Université Paris-Est, LCPC-MSRGI, 58 bd Lefebvre, F-75732 Paris Cedex 15, France
b
Centre d’Etudes Techniques de l’Equipement Méditerranée, LRPC Aix en Provence, Pôle d’activité les Milles, CS 70499 – BP3700, 13593 Aix en Provence Cedex 3, France
a r t i c l e i n f o
Article history:
Received 8 April 2010
Received in revised form 19 July 2010
Accepted 23 August 2010
Available online 17 September 2010
Keywords:
Non-linear kinematic hardening
Lateral load
Pile
Finite element method
Centrifuge test
Validation
a b s t r a c t
This paper presents a finite element simulation of the behaviour of a vertical pile subjected to a cyclic
lateral loading. First, the choice of a suitable constitutive model is discussed. The analytical solution of
the model equations for a monotonic triaxial compression is given, and the model is compared with
monotonic and cyclic triaxial tests on dry Fontainebleau sand. Simulations of tests carried out on a model
pile with the geotechnical centrifuge of the French Public Works Research Laboratory (LCPC) were then
performed with the model parameters derived from the triaxial tests. Results are in good agreement with
experiments.
Ó 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction
Deep foundations are widely used in civil engineering to pro-
vide the performance required by all types of structures. In most
cases, piles are vertical and designed to bear static vertical loads.
However, in some situations, static horizontal loads must be taken
into account. Design methods have been developed accordingly
and have proven efficient and safe. However, the design of some
advanced structures of civil engineering (e.g. windmills, towers
several hundred of metres high, and high-speed train lines via-
ducts) makes it necessary to take into account variable and re-
peated horizontal loads due to winds, tides and waves, or other
types of mechanical loads. The amplitude of the load under discus-
sion can be considered constant, and the evolution of the structure
towards large permanent strain or failure is caused not only by its
magnitude but also by its repetition. In other words, in the first ap-
proach, the variable loading can be seen as a cyclic load with a con-
stant amplitude.
Several modelling approaches have been proposed to account
for the behaviour of a single pile under a lateral load. Most of these
approaches fall into one of two categories. In the first category, the
ground is modelled by a set of linear or non-linear springs with a
thickness depending on the ground layers. This type of approach
makes it possible to reproduce the variations of the properties of
the ground by adjusting the parameters of the springs, represented
by the so-called p–y curves. Various normalised design procedures
are available (for instance, the design rules of the API [1], or in
France, the recommendations of the so-called Fascicule 62 [2]).
The main difficulty in practice is to obtain realistic p–y curves for
a given site. The simplest way to adapt such methods is to extend
the static p–y curves in the cyclic domain (API [1]). An attempt to
do so has been carried out on the basis of experimental centrifuge
tests for a small number of cycles by Rosquoet et al. [36] and, more
recently, for a larger number of cycles by Rakotonindriana [3].
In the second type of approach, the soil is modelled as a contin-
uum (see for instance [4–9]). Brown and Shie [10] derived p–y
curves from the results of three-dimensional finite element simu-
lations to obtain a better representation of the non-linearity of
the soil–pile interaction, then used finite element simulations to
capture group effects on the response of laterally loaded piles
[11] and to investigate the effect on the soil response of some
parameters such as in situ soil stresses and sloping ground [12].
Kimura et al. [13] showed the ability of the finite element method
to investigate the ultimate behaviour of a laterally loaded pile
group on the basis of comparisons between simulations and full-
scale tests. More recently, three-dimensional finite element analy-
ses have been carried out by Wakai et al. [14] to simulate the
0266-352X/$ - see front matter Ó 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.compgeo.2010.08.008

Corresponding author. Address: Laboratoire Central des Ponts et Chaussées, 58
boulevard Lefevre, F-75732 Paris Cedex 15, France. Tel.: +33 1 40 43 54 17; fax: +33
1 40 43 65 11.
E-mail addresses: emmanuel.bourgeois@lcpc.fr (E. Bourgeois), julio.rakotonin-
driana@lcpc.fr (M.H.J. Rakotonindriana), alain.lekouby@lcpc.fr (A. Le Kouby),
philippe.mestat@lcpc.fr (P. Mestat), jean-francois.serratrice@developpement-dura-
ble.gouv.fr (J.F. Serratrice).
Computers and Geotechnics 37 (2010) 999–1007
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Computers and Geotechnics
j our nal homepage: www. el sevi er . com/ l ocat e/ compgeo
behaviour of model tests of free- or fixed headed pile groups sub-
jected to lateral loading and to discuss the influence of the
mechanical connection between pile heads in the group. Yang
and Jeremic [15] used three-dimensional finite element simula-
tions to investigate the influence of a layered soil on the p–y
curves. On the whole, fully three-dimensional numerical simula-
tions are often considered as a way to overcome the limitations
of the classical p–y curve approach (or of Winkler-type ap-
proaches) because one is led to propose empirical modifications
of the curves when it becomes necessary to account for interac-
tions with neighbouring structures, slopes, group effects, or com-
bined loadings.
The aim of this study was to show that three-dimensional finite
element simulations can be used to analyse the cyclic behaviour of
a laterally loaded pile, provided that a suitable constitutive model
is used. The main interest of the approach is to solve the problem
of adjusting p–y curves to account for the progressive degradation
of the soil–pile interaction. However, special attention must be
paid to the difficulty of the determination of the model parameters
on the basis of standard laboratory or field tests. First, an overview
of the numerous models available in the literature is briefly pre-
sented, which provides the basis for the choice of a model suitable
for the simulation of a pile under cyclic lateral loading. The main
criterion is that the model must capture the main features of the
soil behaviour under cyclic loading with a small number of param-
eters. The results obtained in the case of a monotonic triaxial com-
pression test are presented. Then the model parameters are
adjusted by comparing simulations with monotonic and cyclic tri-
axial tests carried out on dry Fontainebleau sand. In the last sec-
tion, the results of a three-dimensional finite element simulation
of the behaviour of a single pile subjected to a cyclic lateral load
are compared with the results of experiments carried out in the
geotechnical centrifuge of the French Public Works Research Labo-
ratory (LCPC) in Nantes, France. Finally, the possibility of deriving
p–y curves from the numerical simulations and predicting their
evolution under cyclic loadings is discussed.
2. Theory
2.1. Constitutive models for cyclic behaviour
Constitutive models that make it possible to reproduce cyclic
behaviour such as adaptation, accommodation or ratcheting have
been discussed in numerous works (see, among many others, the
surveys by Dafalias [16], Hicher and Shao [17] for soils and rocks
or Besson [18] for other materials). Most models introduce a kine-
matic hardening law because isotropic hardening does not make it
possible to reproduce plastic strain accumulation under cyclic
stress, but can be divided into several categories:
– models with several yield surfaces, such as the CJS model [19],
which combines an isotropic mechanism and deviatoric mech-
anism defined by a yield surface that depends on the Lode
angle.
– other models that involve nested yield surfaces within a bound-
ing yield surface; see for instance [20–24].
The choice of the model features (e.g. the number of nested sur-
faces) depends on the precision required in the representation of
the behaviour. On the whole, such advanced models prove to be ex-
tremely polyvalent. On the other hand, they have two drawbacks:
– From the numerical point of view, the introduction of the mod-
els can prove difficult because of the large number of variables
needed to store the state and positions of the different surfaces.
– From a practical point of view, the identification of parameters
is an awkward problem that relies on laboratory tests in which
the soil sample is subjected to complex stress paths. Such a
complex determination procedure is acceptable for artificial
materials, for which one can prepare a large number of samples
with similar properties, but is far less useable for geomaterials,
especially if the model is to be used to discuss the behaviour of
actual structures, because of the natural variability in space of
the mechanical properties of soils. This problem is a strong
motivation to choose the simplest possible model.
Such models can accurately describe the evolution of stresses
and strains around a pile subjected to a cyclic lateral load but prove
costly to use if the number of cycles under discussion is large.
Wichtmann [25] combined a hypoplastic model of the same type
as the models mentioned above with a law describing the accumu-
lation of plastic strain over a large number of cycles. The approach
was developed in the case of triaxial tests and must store six sca-
lars for each integration point to describe the evolutions of the
plastic strain.
We chose to retain the approach consisting of reproducing the
behaviour cycle by cycle by means of an appropriate constitutive
law. However, keeping in mind that the simulation of a pile sub-
jected to a horizontal load is significantly more complex than the
simulation of triaxial tests (because the directions of the principal
stresses can rotate and because the values of the stresses are not
controlled), we tried to keep the model formulation as simple as
possible.
2.2. Choice of a model
To be able to perform numerical simulations of the behaviour of
real structures, the constitutive model must be formulated in a
general three-dimensional framework with no assumptions on
the principal directions of the stress tensor or on the relative values
of the principal stresses. Apart from this basic requirement, it was
preferable to use the familiar framework of elastoplasticity with a
linear elastic law characterised by Young’s modulus E and Poisson’s
ratio v; the model involves only one plastic (deviatoric) mechanism
with a smooth yield surface.
To account for plastic strain accumulation during cyclic load-
ings, a kinematic hardening law is needed. The yield surface is
translated in the stress space as plastic strain occurs, and the yield
function is given by
f ðrÞ ¼ Fðr ÀXÞ
where X denotes the hardening variable, and F(r) stands for the ini-
tial yield function. The simplest choice is the Drucker–Prager func-
tion [26]:
FðrÞ ¼
ffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
1
2
s : s
_
þa tr r Àk
where a and k are two material constants. As mentioned previously,
F is clearly a function of the first two invariants of the stress tensor
and does not depend on the Lode angle in the deviatoric plane.
The accumulation of plastic strain can be obtained with a non-
linear law to describe the evolution of the kinematic hardening
variable X. The simplest choice seems to be the law proposed by
Armstrong and Fredericks [27]:
_
X ¼ 2=3C
_
e
p
ÀDX
_
n
where C is a reference stress value, D is a dimensionless parameter
and
_
n ¼ ð2=3
_
e
p
:
_
e
p
Þ
1=2
. The term
_
n ¼ ð2=3
_
e
p
:
_
e
p
Þ
1=2
remains positive
even if the plastic rate changes sign; this makes it possible to in-
crease the plastic strain continuously. This simple formulation
1000 E. Bourgeois et al. / Computers and Geotechnics 37 (2010) 999–1007
makes the number of parameters as low as possible, which is the
reason why it is used hereafter. However, numerous improvements
can be used for better control of the rate of plastic strain. Among
other possibilities (for instance, [28,29]), one can introduce a varia-
tion of the coefficient of
_
e
p
:
_
X ¼ 2=3CuðnÞ
_
e
p
ÀDX
_
n
where u(n) is an additional scalar function. Other models activate
the back stress component ÀDX
_
n only if X matches an extra condi-
tion, making it possible to define conditions under which no rat-
cheting occurs (see [30]). However, such improvements to the
model increase the number of parameters and the difficulty of
determining these parameters on the basis of standard laboratory
tests.
For the plastic flow rule, the plastic potential is assumed to be
given by
gðrÞ ¼ Gðr ÀXÞ
with
GðrÞ ¼
ffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
1
2
s : s
_
þb tr r
Within this framework, one obtains a model with a single devi-
atoric plastic mechanism that includes a basic representation of
the accumulation of plastic strain during a cyclic load. The lowest
possible number of parameters seems to be seven: the Young’s
modulus E and Poisson’s ratio for the isotropic elastic linear law,
a and k for the Drucker–Prager yield surface, C and D for the
non-linear hardening mechanism, and b for the flow rule. The for-
mulation of the hardening law makes the model relatively easy to
implement in a finite element code. On the other hand, it appears
that the parameters C and D control both the behaviour under a
monotonic loading and the behaviour under cycling loadings.
2.3. Integration of the constitutive equations for a monotonic loading
The simplicity of the model formulation makes is possible to de-
rive the solution of the constitutive equations for a monotonic tri-
axial compression test analytically (in the case where both a and b
are positive and smaller than 1=
ffiffiffi
3
p
). Assume, for instance, that a
sample is initially in an isotropic stress state r ¼ Àr
3
1 and sub-
jected to a monotonically increasing vertical stress while the con-
fining pressure r
3
remains constant. The vertical compressive
stress r
1
is such that r1 < r
3
< 0. In what follows, we adopt the fol-
lowing notations:
r ¼ r
1
e
1
e
1
þr
3
ðe
2
e
2
þe
3
e
3
Þ; q ¼ r
3
Àr
1
X ¼ X
1
e
1
e
1
þX
3
ðe
2
e
2
þe
3
e
3
Þ; X
3
¼ X
1
þx
The lateral stress is constant r
3
= Àr°. The value of the yield
function is given by
f ðr ÀXÞ ¼
jq Àxj
ffiffiffi
3
p það3ðr
3
ÀX
3
Þ Àðq ÀxÞÞ Àk
and the flow rule is
_
e
p
1
¼
_
k À
q Àx
ffiffiffi
3
p
jq Àxj
þb
_ _
_
e
p
1
¼
_
k
q Àx
2
ffiffiffi
3
p
jq Àxj
þb
_ _
where
_
k denotes the plastic multiplier. Initially, X
1
= X
3
= 0 and
q = 0. Assuming that q–x is positive, one finds
_
e
p
1
¼
_
kðb À1=
ffiffiffi
3
p
Þ ;
_
e
p
1
¼
_
kðb þ1=2
ffiffiffi
3
p
Þ
_
n ¼
ffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
2
3
_
e
p
:
_
e
p
_
¼
_
k
ffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
2b
2
þ1=3
_
which leads to
_
X
1
¼
2
3
C
_
e
p
1
ÀDX
1
_
n ¼
_
k
2
3
Cðb À1=
ffiffiffi
3
p
Þ ÀDX
1
ffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
2b
2
þ1=3
_ _ _
X
1
¼
2Cðb À1=
ffiffiffi
3
p
Þ
3D
ffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
2b
2
þ1=3
_ 1 Àexp ÀD
ffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
2b
2
þ1=3
_
k
_ _ _ _
and similarly
X
3
¼
2Cðb þ1=2
ffiffiffi
3
p
Þ
3D
ffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
2b
2
þ1=3
_ ½1 ÀexpðÀD
ffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
2b
2
þ1=3
_
kފ
which shows that there is a simple relationship between X
1
and X
3
:
X
1
b À1=
ffiffiffi
3
p ¼
X
3
b þ1=2
ffiffiffi
3
p
It is then easy to state that
e
p
1
¼ kðb À1=
ffiffiffi
3
p
Þ !X
1
¼
2Cðb À1=
ffiffiffi
3
p
Þ
3D
ffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
2b
2
þ1=3
_ 1 Àexp D
ffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
2b
2
þ1=3
_
1=
ffiffiffi
3
p
Àb
e
p
1
_
_
_
_
_
_
_
_
and the consistency condition makes it possible (after some calcu-
lation) to derive the expression of the deviatoric stress as a function
of the axial plastic strain:
q ¼ q
el
þðq
max
Àq
el
Þ½1 Àexpðce
p
1
ފ
with
q
el
¼
k À3ar
3
1=
ffiffiffi
3
p
Àa
ð1Þ
q
max
Àq
el
¼
C
D
1 þ6ab
ffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
3ð1 þ6b
2
Þ
_
1
1=
ffiffiffi
3
p
Àa
ð2Þ
c ¼
D
ffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
2b
2
þ1=3
_
1=
ffiffiffi
3
p
Àb
In addition, the volumetric plastic strain is related to the axial
plastic strain by
e
p
v
¼ e
p
1
þ2e
p
3
¼ 3
_
kb ¼
3b
b À1=
ffiffiffi
3
p e
p
1
Thus, one can establish the relationship between the axial and
volumetric strains and the deviatoric stress
e
1
¼ e
e
1
þe
p
1
¼ À
q
E
À
1
c
ln
q
max
Àq
el
q
max
Àq
_ _
e
v
¼ e
e
v
þe
p
v
¼ À
1 À2v
E
q þ
3b
cð1=
ffiffiffi
3
p
ÀbÞ
ln
q
max
Àq
el
q
max
Àq
_ _
which shows that the rate of the total volumetric strain changes
sign for q = q
cr
, with
q
cr
¼ q
max
À
3bE
cð1=
ffiffiffi
3
p
ÀbÞð1 À2vÞ
¼ q
max
À
3bE
ð1 À2vÞD
ffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
2b
2
þ1=3
_ ð3Þ
The analytical solution makes it possible to draw the q À e
1
and
e
v
Àe
1
curves. Typical curves and characteristic values are shown
in Fig. 1. The analytical solution shows that the ultimate value of
E. Bourgeois et al. / Computers and Geotechnics 37 (2010) 999–1007 1001
the deviatoric stress is the sum of the value q
el
of the deviatoric
stress at the end of the elastic regime and of a term depending only
on C/D, a and b. Because q
el
is linear with respect to the confining
pressure r
3
, q
max
varies also linearly with r
3
. However, the differ-
ence between the ultimate deviatoric stress q
max
and the elastic
limit q
el
does not depend on r
3
.
The analytical integration of the model equations for non-
monotonic load paths is more difficult because the increase in plas-
tic strain over a cycle depends on the maximum and minimum val-
ues of the axial stress. Given that the cyclic behaviour of the sand is
our main concern and that we were able to derive the analytical
solution of the triaxial compression only in the monotonic case,
the choice of the parameters used in the subsequent simulations
was not based on the analytical expressions obtained above;
parameters were chosen by searching sets of parameters, making
it possible to reproduce the results of monotonic and cyclic triaxial
tests reasonably well (see Section 3.2).
3. Modelling of the behaviour of a centrifuged model pile under
lateral cyclic loading
The model presented above was implemented in the finite ele-
ment software package CESAR-LCPC [31] (‘‘research” version). To
confirm the ability of the model to reproduce the cyclic behaviour
of a pile subjected to a cyclic lateral load, a numerical simulation of
the behaviour of an experimental model pile subjected to a lateral
cyclic loading was performed. The experiments were carried out
with the geotechnical centrifuge of LCPC (French Public Works Lab-
oratory) in Nantes, France. The centrifuge basket platform offset
from the axis is equal to 5.5 m, and the maximum mass of the
model is 2000 kg. The maximum acceleration is equal to 200 g
[32]. Details on the measurement techniques used can be found
in [33]. The centrifuge was used previously to model the behaviour
of piles submitted to cyclic loading (see for instance [34–36]).
The experimental setup is presented in [3,37,38] and shown in
Fig. 2. The bending moments in the pile were calculated using the
strains measured from the strain gauges along the pile shaft. Dis-
placements of the pile head were also monitored by means of
the transducers D37 and D76 shown in Fig. 2. The analysis of the
results is focused on the comparison between the measured and
computed values of the bending moments and the displacement
of the pile head. The displacement referred to as the ‘‘displacement
of the pile head” is the displacement of the point where the load is
applied, 40 mm above the sand sample surface; it is obtained as
the average of the measurements of both transducers.
3.1. Presentation of centrifuge tests
Tests were carried out with dry, clean, siliceous sand (Fontaine-
bleau sand NE34). A sand sample was prepared by pluviation in a
rectangular steel container. Its dimensions were 1200 mmÂ
800 mm for a depth of D = 360 mm. With this procedure, the sand
density is homogeneous in the central part of the container. The
sand sample was then subjected to several cycles of acceleration
in the centrifuge up to 40 g. The sand had a density index of 48%,
corresponding to a volume weight c = 15.5 kN/m
3
. Cyclic load tests
were performed under an acceleration of 40 g. The model pile used
in the centrifuge tests was made of aluminium AU4G with the fol-
lowing dimensions and properties.
Depth of the pile toe d = 300 mm; outer diameter B = 18 mm;
inner diameter b = 15 mm; Young’s modulus E = 74 GPa;
moment of inertia of the section I = 2.67 10
À9
m
4
; bending stiff-
ness EI = 197.6 N m
2
.
A variable horizontal force was applied on the pile 40 mm above
the sand surface. In the first stage of the test, the applied force in-
creased from 0 to 450 N. Then a large number of cycles was per-
formed, during which the force was reduced to 150 N, then
increased again up to 450 N. A specific experimental device was
used to ensure that no bending moment was applied at the pile
head.
3.2. Parameter determination on the basis of triaxial tests
In this section, we present the simulation of triaxial tests on the
dry sand used in the centrifuge experiments discussed below. Gi-
ven the depth D of the sand sample and the centrifuge acceleration
(40 g), it was roughly estimated that the mean stress in the centri-
fuged sand sample would vary between 0 and 40 c d = 220 kPa.
(Note, however, that simulations give higher values at the pile
toe because the contrast between the moduli of the pile and the
sand leads to stress concentrations.) To account for the influence
of the confining pressure, three monotonic triaxial compression
tests were carried out for confining pressures of 50, 100 and
200 kPa, with a density D
R
= 48%.
0
ε
v
ε
1
0
0
121
q
q
max
q
el
q
cr
ε
1
0
Fig. 1. Representation of the analytical solution of the model for a monotonous
triaxial compression test. Values of qmax, q
el
, and q
cr
are given by Eqs. (1)–(3).

40 mm
20 mm

Fig. 2. Picture of the centrifuged pile head with the loading device (left) and the
displacement transducers (right).
1002 E. Bourgeois et al. / Computers and Geotechnics 37 (2010) 999–1007
In the analytical solution derived above, the deviatoric stress in-
creases monotonically as the axial strain increases. In contrast,
during the experiments, the deviatoric stress was not continuously
increasing but reached a peak value before decreasing. Model
parameters were chosen in such a way that the maximum devia-
toric stress of the model was close to the ultimate stress (not the
peak stress) of the tests.
A fourth triaxial compression test with a cyclic load was per-
formed on the same sand for a confining pressure of 100 kPa. The
axial stress was first increased up to 200 kPa, then decreased down
to 50 kPa (thus putting the sample in extension), and the axial
strain increased with the number of cycles. Trying to achieve a
good fit between the analytical expressions and the test results
led to the following set of parameters:
Young’s modulus E = 110 MPa; Poisson’s ratio v = 0.2.
Parameters of the yield function a = 0.127; k = 1.8 kPa.
Parameter of the plastic potential b = 4.05 Â 10
À2
.
Parameter of the hardening law C = 22 MPa; D = 1200.
For these values, the comparison between simulations and
experimental tests is shown in Figs. 3 and 4 (for the monotonic
tests) and 5 (for the cyclic test). On the whole, a reasonable agree-
ment was obtained for all tests, but the volumetric strain during
monotonic loadings was not very well reproduced. For the cyclic
test (Fig. 5), the axial strain increased with the number of cycles,
but the loops obtained by the simulation were relatively narrower
than in the experimental curves.
3.3. Presentation of the numerical model
Around a pile subjected to a lateral load, the stress and strain
fields are clearly three-dimensional. The pile behaviour cannot be
represented in a realistic way by means of a bi-dimensional analy-
sis without making a number of assumptions that are not easy to
justify, which was why a fully three-dimension finite element sim-
ulation was undertaken.
As mentioned before, simulations were carried out with the fi-
nite element software CESAR-LCPC [31]. The hardware used was a
Sun Ultra 40 M2 Workstation powered by a 2.8-GHz AMD Opteron
CPU, running under a 64-bit Ubuntu Linux 9. The mesh (shown in
Fig. 6) was relatively coarse. The buried part of the pile is divided in
only seven quadratic elements in the vertical direction. In the hor-
izontal directions, the element size gradually increased from 1 mm
close to the pile to approximately 10 mm close to the mesh bound-
aries. On the whole, the mesh was made of 1200 elements, 20-node
hexahedra outside the pile and 15-node pentahedra for the pile it-
self and the sand beneath the pile toe. Interpolation was quadratic
0
100
200
300
400
500
600
0 0.05 0.1 0.15
q

(
k
P
a
)
ε
1
200 kPa
100 kPa
50 kPa
Fig. 3. Simulations of three monotonic compression triaxial tests on Fontainebleau
sand: deviatoric stress q vs. axial strain e1 (solid lines: experimental results, dotted
lines: simulations).
-0.0025
0
0.0025
0.005
0 0.005 0.01 0.015
ε
v
ε
1
200 kPa
100 kPa
50 kPa
Fig. 4. Simulations of three monotonic compression triaxial tests on Fontainebleau
sand: volumetric stress ev vs. axial strain e1 (solid lines: experimental results,
dotted lines: simulations).
-50
-25
0
25
50
75
100
0 0.0005 0.001 0.0015
q

(
k
P
a
)
ε
1
experiment
simulation
monotonous
loading +cycle 1
simulation
cycle 4
Fig. 5. Cyclic triaxial test on Fontainebleau sand: deviatoric stress q vs. axial strain
e1. Comparison of simulation with experiment.
Fig. 6. View of the three-dimensional mesh used for the simulations (CESAR-LCPC).
E. Bourgeois et al. / Computers and Geotechnics 37 (2010) 999–1007 1003
for all elements, which led to a total number of degrees of freedom
of approximately 16,000. The number of unknowns was therefore
relatively small, and it would be easy to refine the mesh if needed.
It can be noticed, however, that the non-linear kinematic harden-
ing law leads to heavy non-linearities and large computation times
(typically around 4 h for 30 cycles of loading, each cycle being di-
vided into six computation steps).
Given the existence of a vertical plane of symmetry of the pile
and the load, only one half of the structure was included in the
mesh. A simple preliminary sensitivity analysis was carried out
to reduce the dimensions of the mesh, in order to reduce computa-
tion times. This analysis showed that the horizontal displacements
along the model pile were very close for a mesh with the same ex-
tent as the actual sand sample (1200 Â 800 Â 360 mm) and for a
mesh with reduced dimensions of 520 Â 400 Â 360 mm. Because
measurements were made on the centrifuge model, it was decided
to conduct the computations at the model scale and not at the pro-
totype scale. However, the simulation results were in perfect
agreement with the theoretical scaling laws.
Regarding the sand/pile interaction, no special contact elements
were used. Using contact elements leads to introducing additional
parameters, for which the choice of appropriate values on the basis
of simple tests is difficult; using contact elements with assumed
parameters, especially when complex cyclic loadings are taken into
account, can lead to errors that are not easy to quantify. Instead,
following the approach of Kooijman [8] or Wakai et al. [14], two
layers of standard elements were placed around the pile shaft, each
layer having a thickness of 1 mm.
The pile was represented in the mesh by a full cylinder with the
same diameter as the hollow aluminium tube used in the centri-
fuge experiments. Because of the difference between the moments
of inertia of the full and hollow sections, a fictitious value of the
Young’s modulus was adopted for the pile in the simulations
E
f
= 3.83 Â 10
4
MPa. This value was chosen in such a way that the
bending stiffness was the same in the simulation as in the centri-
fuge experiments.
Initially the stresses were set to zero in the sand and in the pile.
The numerical procedure consisted of three phases:
– In the first phase, the volume weight was increased progres-
sively in ten equal substeps to reproduce the centrifuge acceler-
ation phase.
– The second phase corresponded to a monotonic horizontal load-
ing; a horizontal force was applied on the pile, 40 mm above the
sand surface. The monotonic loading included nine substeps.
– Once the maximum value of the applied load was reached, the
simulation of the cyclic behaviour started; the applied load var-
ied between its maximum and minimum values. As mentioned
previously, each cycle was performed in six substeps.
4. Results
A numerical simulation of the behaviour of the centrifuged
model pile under cyclic lateral loading was performed with the
set of parameters obtained on the basis of the triaxial tests, given
in Section 3.2 above. The displacement of the pile head for the first
two cycles is plotted against the applied horizontal force in Fig. 7.
The response of the pile to the initial monotonic loading is qualita-
tively well reproduced in terms of displacements of the pile head.
The model then predicts a progressive accumulation of strain,
which shows that the model makes it possible to reproduce a cyclic
behaviour. However, it seems that the predicted increase in the
head displacement for the first two cycles is smaller than the mea-
surements, which is discussed in detail below.
At the end of the monotonic loading, the extent of the zone in
which plastic strains were significant was relatively small com-
pared with the size of the mesh. Fig. 8 shows the extent of the area
in which the equivalent plastic strain was greater than 0.5% at the
end of the initial loading and after 10, 25 and 100 cycles. The plas-
tic zone around the pile tended to spread in the horizontal direc-
tion, especially behind the pile (in the area that was not
subjected to compression when the applied force increased), but
its rate of extension decreased with the number of cycles. It can
also be noted that the plastic zone did not reach the mesh
boundaries.
Results are discussed below in more detail, while the discussion
is focused on the pile head displacement and on the bending mo-
ments in the pile. In each case, we discuss the results obtained at
the end of the initial monotonic loading and the evolution of the
results when the number of cycles increased.
4.1. Head displacement
Fig. 7 shows that there is a good agreement between the
numerical simulations and experimental results for the initial
monotonic lateral loading of the single pile in terms of displace-
ment of the pile head. Note, however, that the apparent stiffness
of the pile is larger in the simulation than in the experiments, lead-
0
100
200
300
400
500
0 1 2 3 4
simulation
centrifuge test
F(N)
∆ (mm)
Fig. 7. Displacement of the centrifuged pile head for the first two cycles (simulation
vs. experiment).
Fig. 8. Extent of the zone where the equivalent plastic strain is greater than 0.5% at
the end of the monotonic loading and after 10, 25 and 100 cycles.
1004 E. Bourgeois et al. / Computers and Geotechnics 37 (2010) 999–1007
ing to a somewhat smaller head displacement at the end of the
monotonic loading. The computed value is equal to 3.21 mm, and
the measured value is equal to 3.74 mm; the relative difference
is less than 15%. To explain this difference, one can make the
assumption that the sand density obtained after the centrifuge
acceleration reaches its final value of 40 g is smaller in the vicinity
of the pile. The sand located at the interface with the pile could be
less compacted and therefore less stiff. Besides, the phase during
which the pile is driven in the sand was not taken into account
in the numerical simulations.
Fig. 9 shows the pile head displacement D at the end of each cy-
cle for an increasing number of cycles (cycle 0 indicates the end of
the initial monotonic loading). Experimental results show that the
accumulation of strain tends to decrease with the number of cy-
cles. Numerical simulations reproduce this trend, but the predicted
strain accumulation seems to be smaller for the first cycles in the
simulation than in the experiment. Again, it is likely that the initial
density of the sand near the pile is not as large as that of the sand
far from the pile and that the initial density is also smaller than the
density of the samples used for the triaxial tests.
However, after 20 cycles, the displacement accumulation per
cycle (shown in Fig. 10) is in very good agreement with the mea-
sured evolution; the accumulated displacement between the
20th and the 100th cycles is equal to 0.49 mm in the simulation
and 0.55 mm in the experiment, which corresponds to a relative
error of 11%.
4.2. Bending moments
There is a good agreement between numerical simulations and
experimental results for the initial monotonic lateral loading of the
single pile in terms of bending moments in the pile (Fig. 11),
although the value of the maximum bending moment is slightly
underestimated and the depth of the point where it is located is
slightly overestimated.
Fig. 12 shows the bending moments in the model pile after 10
and 100 cycles. Experimental results show that:
– Near the surface, bending moments in the pile are almost con-
stant during the first 100 cycles.
– At larger depths, the curve drifts downwards as the number of
cycles increases.
Both of these results are reproduced by the numerical simula-
tions. However, the measures show an increase in the maximum
value of the bending moments, which is not captured by the
numerical model. It must be recalled that the mesh is relatively
coarse in the vertical direction, and better results could probably
be obtained by increasing the number of nodes in the mesh.
It can be noted that the depth of the measured and computed
maximum bending moment is in good agreement with classical
estimates. According to Broms [39], for instance, for a load F and
a pile diameter B, the depth of the maximum bending moment f
is given by
f ¼ 0:82
ffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
F
cBK
p
¸
ð4Þ
2
3
4
5
0 20 40 60 80 100
Number of cycles
D
i
s
p
l
a
c
e
m
e
n
t

o
f

p
i
l
e

h
e
a
d

(
m
m
)



Fig. 9. Displacement of the pile head vs. the number of cycles (bold solid line:
centrifuge test, dotted line: simulation).
0
0.01
0.02
0.03
0.04
0.05
0 20 40 60 80 100
Number of cycles
D
i
s
p
l
a
c
e
m
e
n
t

a
c
c
u
m
u
l
a
t
i
o
n










p
e
r

c
y
c
l
e

(
m
m
)


Fig. 10. Evolution of the increase in pile head displacement for one cycle (bold solid
line: centrifuge test, dotted line: simulation).
0
0.05
0.1
0.15
0.2
0.25
0.3
0 10 20 30 40 50
simulation
centrifuge test
depth (m)
bending moment (kN.m)
Fig. 11. Bending moment in the pile at the end of the monotonic loading:
simulation vs. experiment.
0
0.05
0.1
0.15
0.2
0.25
0.3
0 10 20 30 40 50
depth (m)
simulation
N=10
simulation
N=100
experiment
N=100
experiment
N=10
bending moment (kN.m)
Fig. 12. Bending moments after 10 and 100 cycles: comparison of simulations with
experiments.
E. Bourgeois et al. / Computers and Geotechnics 37 (2010) 999–1007 1005
where c is the volume weight of the ground, and K
p
= (1 + sin u)/
(1 À sin u), where u is the friction angle. For the centrifuged model
pile, the results of the triaxial compression tests gave the friction
angle a value of 34°, which leads to f = 88 mm. This value is slightly
larger than the measured and computed depths of the maximum
bending moment at the end of the monotonic loading (75 and
80 mm, respectively). As the number of cycles increases, the depth
of the maximum increases in the experiments and becomes larger
than the analytical value given by Eq. (4).
The aim of this study was to provide a way of investigating the
behaviour of a pile under cyclic loading without having to ‘‘adapt”
empirically monotonic p–y curves to account for the effect of load
cycles. However, an attempt was made to derive the earth pressure
distribution along the pile from the results of the finite element
simulations by evaluating the second derivative of the bending
moment. The results were not satisfactory (compared with the val-
ues of p obtained from the experimentally obtained bending mo-
ments) because the mesh used was too coarse to allow for a
precise evaluation of the second derivative of the bending mo-
ment; there were only 17 nodes in the vertical direction between
the ground surface and the pile toe. To investigate numerically
the evolution of the p–y curves, it would be necessary to use a
much finer mesh.
5. Discussion and conclusions
The design of structures subjected to variable, pseudo-periodi-
cal loads is an important issue in many areas of civil engineering
(e.g. for the foundations of offshore windmills). The questions un-
der discussion are on the one hand, the strain accumulation during
cycles, and on the other hand, the evolution of the bending mo-
ments in the piles during the normal service life of the foundations.
In this study, the choice was made to perform three-dimensional
finite element computations using a relatively simple constitutive
model, which combines a linear isotropic elastic law with only one
single deviatoric plastic mechanism (with a yield function that
does not depend on the Lode angle); the formulation of the hard-
ening law was also very simple. In spite of these theoretical short-
comings, the model presents the great advantage of a very small
number of parameters that could be relatively easily obtained from
the results of three monotonic and one cyclic triaxial tests, which
makes it possible to use the model to simulate the behaviour of
real geotechnical structures and to discuss practical applications.
The model was used to simulate centrifuge tests on a pile sub-
jected to a cyclic lateral loading. The results showed that the model
was able to reproduce the behaviour of the pile during the initial
monotonic loading phase and to reproduce the strain accumulation
as the number of cycles increased. The evolution of the bending
moments in the pile was also consistent with the experimental re-
sults. However, it was not possible to derive the evolution of the p–
y curves induced by the repeated loading from the numerical re-
sults; such an analysis would require a finer mesh than the one
used for this study.
Further research could be undertaken to widen the applicability
of the model (for instance, by simulating other structures subjected
to periodical loadings, especially groups of piles) or to improve its
numerical efficiency if a very large number of cycles are to be taken
into account. In addition, other enhancements could be brought to
the model, such as a more complex yield surface, a non-linear elas-
tic law, or a hardening law coupling the elastic moduli and the
hardening parameter.
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