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Spall velocity of blast loaded concrete specimen

Martin Knzel*, Ondej Nmec*, and Jiri Pachman*

*Institute of Energetic Materials, Faculty of Chemical Technology,
University of Pardubice, Pardubice, CZ
The paper is focused on measurement of spall velocity of blast loaded concrete samples.
The tests were performed using small scale plain concrete tiles (300 300 34 mm).
Small charges of Semtex 1A industrial plastic explosive (10 to 92 g) were used as shock
wave generators, being placed in contact with the samples. The spall velocity was measured on the soffit using simple photonic Doppler velocimetry setup while the whole process
of blast induced spall formation was recorded by high speed framing camera. The results
and instrumental methods tested during these experiments will be useful for future measurements on real scale concrete slabs.
Keywords: concrete; spall; photonic Doppler velocimetry; plastic explosive; framing camera


Stability of engineering structures such as bridges, buildings or road constructions under

unforeseen terrorist attack using large explosive charges started to be a question for structural
engineers, architects and even public authorities. Some preliminary tests with large scale concrete slabs uncovered that the response of concrete to adjacent blast loading is more complex
than had been expected and a deeper examination is needed [1]. Behavior of a shock loaded
concrete on a small scale has become a research subject for the Institute of Energetic Materials
during recent year.
Photonic Doppler velocimetry (PDV) system and high speed framing camera were employed for measurements on concrete samples. The paper shows some results of the very first
experiments which were conducted in order to test the instrumentation and also to confirm
some basic assumptions on shock loading of concrete.


The spall velocity was measured on commercial grade plain concrete tiles (300 300
34 mm) which were subjected to blast loading using explosive charges placed directly to the
surface. Industrial plastic explosive Semtex 1A (S1A) based on pentaerythritol tetranitrate was
used for testing in order to ensure the best contact with the specimen. The shape of charges was
Measurements of spall velocities were performed using a single channel basic PDV with
a reference signal taken from the probe back reflection [2-4]. The measurement setup consisted
of a laser emitter, a circulator, a detector and a fast oscilloscope (4 GHz, 25 GS.s-1). The laser
module was operating at 1550 nm and it was limited in its power output to 40 mW. The real
power output used for testing was 36 mW at the laser which corresponded to 22 mW at the
probe tip. Loses were caused by attenuation in cables, connections and in the circulator. Bare
fiber probes were fixed to a steel holder about 10 mm from the soffit of the test specimen in a
position perpendicular to the specimen surface.

The whole process of spall formation was captured using high speed photography. The experiments were observed from the side using IVV UHSi 12/24 ultra-high speed framing camera equipped with Sigma 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 lens. The lens aperture was fully opened to f/5.6
at 300 mm focal length while the camera gain was set to 64 %. The shutter speed was 2 s (except 0.5 s for the test 1) at the frame rate of 100 000 frames per second. A mirror was placed
in front of the camera in order to allow indirect observation without the risk of camera damage
by fragments.
The UHSi camera recording was triggered using an ionization pin inserted in the explosive
charge in contact with the specimen surface. Twelve frames were captured in each test. Back
illumination of the test setup was ensured by light from the explosive charge reflected from
a sheet of white paper behind the specimen. The measurement setup is shown in figure 1.
In the test 1, the paper sheet was excluded and an electronic flash lamp was projected to
the background using another mirror as can be seen from figure 2. Moreover, a piece of aluminium tape was placed on the soffit in order to improve the PDV signal.

Figure 1: Scheme of the test setup

Results and discussion

The process of blast loading of concrete is described by following sequence of steps. The
detonation wave of the main charge generates a strong shock wave in the concrete specimen.
The shock wave partially reflects back from the specimen surface. The compressive stress at
the top surface of the specimen cause local crushing of concrete. The shock wave passes
through the specimen to the bottom side, where it partially reflects again, interfering with the
release part of itself. At this time, cracks develop on the soffit and the spall begins to form. The
shockwave again passes through the interface, creating a shock wave in air under the specimen.
The shock wave in the air is later followed by flying spall debris. Although the detonation
wave pressure in the explosive material is roughly the same regardless of the mass of the explosive, the overall impulse sent to the specimen is different as well as losses caused by crushing and heating the specimen.
The spall velocity data from the PDV probe were treated using short-time Fourier transform (STFT) to obtain velocity vs. time curves. It can be seen that the spall is accelerated with
short rise time and then it holds the velocity until it reaches the probe (figure 2).

Figure 2: Example of PDV velocity record (test 1)

Figure 3: Examples of UHSi frames (1 shock wave in air, 2 spall)


y = 0.0102x2 + 4.4766x + 12.188

R = 0.9982

Time (s)

y = 2.35x + 12.772
R = 0.9997


Spall debris


Air shock wave







Distance to the soffit (mm)

Figure 4: Example of camera record evaluation (test 1)

The UHSi camera records (figure 3) were spatially evaluated. Time-distance data were extrapolated using least square fitting, giving initial time from the y-intercept (figure 4). Derivation of distance-time data in the x-intercept gave the initial spall velocity.

Test 1 was performed using bright back light source which led to visualization of both
shock waves in air and spall marked in figure 3 as 1 and 2 respectively. It can be seen from
figure 4, that spalling begins just on the shock wave arrival to the concrete-air boundary. Assuming spall inception to take place immediately on the shock wave arrival to the soffit, the
average shock wave velocity in the specimen can be calculated.
The summary of the experiments and results is contained in table 1 where m is weight of
the explosive, v is the spall velocity, t is the shock wave transition time through the specimen
and U is the estimated shock wave velocity. For the test 4, the UHSi spall velocity is underestimated due to its fast attenuation in the air and no data availability for the very beginning of
spall formation. The consequent shock wave velocity is then overestimated evidently. The
comparison of spall velocity measurement using PDV system and the camera is also shown in
figure 5.
Table 1: Summary of experiments and measured velocities

Test no.


v (PDV)

v (UHSi)



Spall debris velocity (mm.s-1)









S1A charge weight (g)

Figure 5: Spall velocity dependence on the explosive charge weight


The spall velocity of blast loaded concrete samples was measured on the soffit using simple photonic Doppler velocimetry while the whole process of blast induced spall formation was
recorded by high speed framing camera. The results clearly show an agreement between PDV
measured velocities and those obtained from the spatial displacement on high speed photographs. Aluminium tape placed on the soffit proved to be useful for intensifying the PDV signal.
The times of the beginning of spall formation and corresponding shock wave velocities
were also estimated from the camera records.

This paper was supported by the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic Grant Project No.

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