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A STUDY O F T H E TRAP-DOOR PROBLEM I N A

GRANULAR MASS1

B. LADANYI and B. HOYAUX Department of Mining Engineering, Ecole Polytechnique,


Universite' de Montre'al

By using Schneebeli's rod material for


simulating an ideal granular mass in
plane strain, a series of model trap-door
tests has been performed with the main
objective of checking the validity of the
classic bin theory when applied to this
class of problems. In the tests, the pressure on the trap-door was measured, and
the rod displacement trajectories were
photographically recorded. A con~parison
of measured and calculated pressures acting on the trap-door both during its
downward and upward movement, shows
that the ressures can reasonably well be
.'
predictec by' assuming
the existence of
two limiting vertical failure planes as in
the classical bin theory, provided proper
considerations are made concerning the
ratio and the value of normal stresses
acting along these planes.

E n utilisant, d'aprks Schneebeli, un enlpilage de


roulcaux metalliques pour simuler un matCriau
pulvCrulent en dCformation plane, on a effecti16 une serie d'essais avec une trappe entenhe,
le bat principal Ctant de verifier l'applicabilitk,
B ce type de problkmes, de la thkorie classique
des silos. Les essais ont permis d'effectuer la
mesure d e la pression du massif sur la trappe,
et d e photographier les trajectoires de deplacements du masif lors d u mouvelnent descendant
et ascendant de la trappe. E n comparant les
pressions mesurCes et calculCes, on arrive ?I la
conclusion que ces pressions peuvent bien &re
prkdites en supposant, comme dans la theorie
classique des silos, l'existence de deux surfaces
de glissement verticales s'etendant jusqu'i. la
surface libre d u massif, i. condition que, le
long de ces surfaces, le rapport et les valeurs
des contraintes normales soient correctement
clCtermin6es.

INTRODUCTION
The problem of ground pressure against buried structures has a great practical importance in both civil and mining engineering. In the former, the main
interest in the problem has arisen in connection with the constmction of rigid
and flexible conduits, tunnels, and underground shelters. In the latter, the
interest was mainly directed towards the determination of ground pressure on
temporary supports and mine pillars, as related to their yielding and relative
rigidity.
From the engineering mechanics point of view, an underground structure
can be considered to represent a foreign inclusion inside a mass having definite
rheological properties, and subjected to gravity forces. If the rheological properties of the inclusion are different from those of the surrounding mass, a perturbation in the original stress field will occur around the inclusion, disappearing
IPresented a t the 21st Canadian Soil Mechanics Conference, Winnipeg, Manitoba, September 12-13, 1968.
Canadian Geotechnical Journal, 6, 1 ( 1969).

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rapidly with distance according to the St-Venant's principle. The contact forces
between the ground and the inclusion, which are of main interest in the design
of underground structures, can therefore, in principle, be determined by the
methods of continuum mechanics, if the rheological properties of both the
inclusion and the ground are known, or if the displacements of the former are
prescribed.
There seems to be no doubt actually that rigorous general solutions of the
problem can be obtained for certain simplified conditions (e.g. Gnirk and
Johnson 1964). On the other hand, modern numerical methods of continuum
mechanics, such as the finite elemcnt method, enable practically any particular
problem to be solved by simulating closely actual material behavior and loading conditions (e.g., Brown 1967). However, although for important projects
the latter type of solutions may be economically justified, it can nevertheless be
expected that in current engineering practice simple design methods will still
remain in use for a while.
In the problem of underground structures, such engineering design methods
have originally been developed by Marston, Spangler, and associates at Iowa
State University during the period 1908-1952, on the one hand, and by Terzaghi (1936, 1943) on the other. On the basis of their extensive experimental
investigations, the authors arrived at the conclusion that, for the structures
buried in soil, there was a definite similarity between the behavior of the soil
above the structure, and that of a granular mass above a yielding bottom of a
silo. Since the phenomenon of arching seemed to be present in both phenomena, they considered that both problems could be treated in a similar way
and proposed to use as a basis for design of underground structures the silo
theory developed originally by Janssen ( 1895).
This type of approach has been found essentially sound in practice and has
remained in use up to the present time. However, although the bin theory has
been accepted as a rational basis for design, there has been a considerable difference in views among various investigators as to how the theory should be
applied in a particular case, and how the parameters it contains should be
determined. The answers to these questions obviously cannot be obtained without performing careful experimental investigations under controlled conditions.
However, in contrast with the extensive theoretical studies and field observations reported on in the literature, it seems that comparatively little has been
done up to now on checking the silo theory against measurements on underround structures performed under simple and clear conditions, e.g., such as
t ose used in Terzaghi's tests in 1936.
With this in view, it was decided in the present study: ( 1 ) to perform a series
of tests similar to those reported by Terzaghi in 1936, but by using a mechanical analog model of the granular mass; ( 2 ) to study the mechanism of how
the mass is displaced due to the movements of the structure; and ( 3 ) to obtain
evidence on the validity of the relevant theoretical work.

EXPERIMENTAL INVESTIGATION

Method and Scope


As stated above, the main purpose of the experimental investigation was to
check the validity of the theory by performing experiments under controlled
conditions. In the past, a great number of model studies on soil-structure inter-

LADANYI A N D HOYAUX: THE TRAP-DOOR PROBLEM

action have used sand for simulating the granular medium. However, the
experience shows that, owing to the complex stress-strain and strength characteristics of the material, the evaluation of test results is mostly difficult and
requires a very careful interpretation (e.g. Pariseau and Pfleider 1968). On the
contrary, certain artificial granular materials, such as Schneebeli's (1957) rod
material, while retaining most important characteristics of a particulate mass,
exhibit a much simpler mechanical behavior than natural sands. Such materials
are, therefore, particularly suited for checking the validity of a theoretical
approach.
The particular type of model material was used in this study for investigating
the behavior of a granular mass near a rigid underground structure. The study
was limited to the plane strain problem, as offered by the model material, and
to a rigid horizontal trap-door moving either downwards or upwards within a
stationary granular mass. During the tests, the pressure on the trap-door was
measured, and the rod displacement trajectories were photographically recorded. The parameters that have been varied in the tests were the depth of
burial and the amount and direction of the movement of the structure with
respect to the mass. In the buried conduits terminology, the conditions realized
in the tests were similar to those associated with a rigid conduit of rectangular
cross section, located in a very large ditch or under a fill, and subjected to the
conditions ranging from a "complete ditch condition" to a "complete projection
condition."

Model Material and Apparattis


In the model the granular mass was represented by a stack, 40 in. high and
80 in. wide, of aluminum rods supported by a U-shaped rigid steel frame. The
rods were 2.5 in. long and of circular cross section, with two different diameters,
viz. 4 in. and & in., mixed in equal proportions. After being cut to the required
length, the aluminum rods were sanded in a sand drum in order to increase
their roughness. Once placed, they gave a mass of a surface porosity of about
17.6%, corresponding to a unit weight 7 of about 0.079 Ib/cu.in. Ordinary
placing conditions resulted generally in a mass of sensibly constant density.
The behavior in shear of the rod material was investigated in an ordinary
triaxial cell. The specimen was obtained by forming inside a rubber membrane
a rectangular stack of rods, 2.5 in. wide and 5 in. high. The samples were subjected to three different confining pressures and sheared under an increasing
axial load between two 2.5 in. square platens. In Fig. 1, both the peak and the
residual failure envelo~esobtained in the tests are shown. The envelo~esare
slightly curved at lowkressures, so that only secant or tangent shear 2rength
angles 4 can be given. If the angles 4 are defined as the slope of a secant
passing through the origin, it is found that, in the region of low pressures,
u
3 psi, 4 varies from about 30" at the peak, to a residual value of 28". At
higher pressures, such as e.g. u = 30 psi, the secant + at the peak is about 26",
and the residual about 25". However, for the tests performed, only the low
messure interval was of interest.
L
As can be seen in Firr. 2.' in the model the buried structure was remesented
by a rectangular rigid metallic box, which could have been displaced as a piston
up and down inside another larger box. Its movement was controlled by a
spindle connected to a similar construction outside the mass on which a camera
has been fixed in certain tests. The moving model structure was 3.0 in. wide

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CANADIAN GEOTECHNICAL JOURNAL

FIG.1. Mohr envelopes for the rod material.

FIG.2. View of the apparatus and the photographic recording setup.

and 2.5 in. long, having the same length as the rods. For pressure measurement,
the central 2.6 in. wide part of the structure (Fig. 3 ) , was freely supported by
a strain-gauged 0.005 in. thick beam, made of a beryllium-copper alloy. The
measuring system was calibrated against a known dead loading up to the loads
of about 25 lb.

LADANYI A N D HOYAUX: THE TRAP-DOOR PROBLEhI

. .

STRAIN GAUGED
BEAM

FIG.

I I

II

I I

3. Detail of the pressure measuring system.

Test Results
As mentioned before, two groups of tests were performed. In the first group,
from the original fixed position within the mass, the moclel structure was moved
downwards, while in the second group, it was moved upwards. In both groups
of tests the load on the structure was measured, and the movement of the mass
photographically recorded. The photographic recording was made in two different manners: either with a camera stationary with respect to the structure,
or with a camera fixed to the outside piston (Fig. 2 ) , and moving simultaneously with the structure. As a result, while in the former system the moving
part of the mass appeared as line trajectories and the stationary part as distinct
points, in the latter, only the structure and the rods moving together with the
structure could be seen distinctlv. The latter svsteln was intended for studvinz
the existence of eventual wedpes
of apranular mass that are usuallv assumed to
a
form at the contact with a translating rigid structure.
Figures 4a and b show typical photographs taken with a stationary camera
during the lowering (Fig. 4n), and the raising (Fig. 4 b ) , of the model structure from about the same oripinal
nosition. The movinpa mass is seen to have a
a
similar shape in both cases, but is a little wider in the raising case.
Figures 5a and b were taken with the camera moving simultaneously with
the structure. I t will be seen that the fixed \veclge is formed in both types of
movements. but annears
more nointed
in the casg of a lowerinp
structu~&
I
I
a
Figure 6 shows the shape of a 6 in. mesh square grid, painted on the rods,
obtained after the structure was lowered by 3.6 in. It will be seen that the
deformation of the grid is well limited to a narrow band overlying the structure.
Also. some lateral movement of the mass towards the centerline can be seen
near the structure, the mass tending to fill the space created by the lowering of
the structure.
Figure 7 shows the results of four tests obtained by lowering the structure, in
which the vertical pressure on the roof of the structure, a,, was contiiluously
recorded. In the tests, the original depths of burial, D, were 6, 8.5, 13, and
16 in., respectively, and the maximum settlement attained was 4 in. As expected,
since the packing of rods has been relatively dense, there was initially a rapid
J

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FIG.4. View of the displacement trajectories for ( a ) downward, and ( b ) upward movement of the structure.

decrease of pressure, from its original gravity value, u , . / ~ D= 1, to a minimum,


which was attained after a yield of about 8 to 10%of the width of the structure.
At further lowering, there was a gradual increase of pressure up to a sensibly
constant ultimate value, attained at a yield of about 50%.In Fig. 8, the dashed
D
the burial
lines show, from the same tests, the values of the ratio U , . / ~ versus
ratio D/B, for three different settlement ratios S/B = 0.08, 0.50, and 1.00,
respectively. The pressure reduction ratio ( 1 - U , . / ~ Dis) , seen in the figure to
increase with the depth from about 50 to 80%.

LADANYI AND HOYAUX: THE TRAP-DOOR PROBLEXi

F I G . 5. Wedge formation at the contact with the structure ( a ) during a downward movement, and ( b ) during an upward movement of the structure.

CANADIAN GEOTECHh'ICAL JOURNAL

FIG.6. Dcformed square grid aftcr a large downward movemcnt of the structure.

-0

0.5

SETTLEMENT

1.0

RATIO

8/8

FIG.7. Pressure-yield curves obtained for a yielding structure at four different depths of
burial.

In Fig. 9, the three points connected by a clashed line show the results of
three tests in which the structure was raised until the failure in the mass
occurred. No distinct peak of pressure was observed in these tests, but a constant maximum pressure was attained aftcr an upward movement of about
0.50 B. The pressure increase ratio, D , / ~ Dis, seen to increase in thc tcsts from
about 1.5 to 3.0, when the depth of burial ratio varies from 1.67 to 4.67.

LADANYI AND HOYAUX: THE T I U P - D O O R P R O B L E M

/ /

MEASURED

e---4

0.8

0.6

I
0.4

I
0.2

I
0

PRESSURE REDUCTION R A T I O ( ~ - G ~ D )

FIG.8. Comparison of measured and calculatecl vertical pressures for a yielding structure
at different depths of burial.

THEORETICAL CONSIDERATIONS
Among a number of different methocls proposecl for determining the pressure
variation on buried structures it is norn~allyconsiclerecl that the ones based on
the classical bin theory come very close to describing the real pllenomenon and
to correctly predict the observed pressures. In the following, the theory, with
certain modifications, will be used for predicting the pressures observed in the
present model tests.

D o w n w a d Mouenlent of the Stsuctwe


Assuming that ( 1 ) a granular mass of the width B flows downcvarcls between
two vertical walls of a bin, on which the coefficient friction can attain the
value of /i = tan 4, 4 being the angle of shearing strength of the mass, and that
( 2 ) the vertical normal stress, (7,. remains practically constant in any horizontal
cross section of the mass, Janssen (1895) obtained the following expression for
the vertical pressure n,., acting on the yielding bottom of the bin, locatecl at the
clepth D below the free surface of the flowing mass:
[-II
in which

PI
and

(3I

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FIG.9. Comparison of measured and calculated vertical pressures for an upward moving
structure at different depths of burial.
a, and a],denoting respectively the vertical and the horizontal stress acting
along the walls of the bin.
While Eqn. [I.] seems to be generally accepted in design, there is nevertheless a wide difference in views as to the value of the ratio K to be substituted in
the formula. Various authors propose for K the values varying from the active
earth pressure coefficient, K,, over the at-rest coefficient, KO, to the empirical
values greater than unity, in accordance with Terzaghi's (1936) measurements.
However, assuming that along the vertical walls of the bin the friction can be
fully mobilized, it can easily be shown from the geometry of the Mohr's circle
(e.g. Jakobson 1958; Coates 1965), that the two corresponding normal stresses
at the wall, c],and a,.,which are not the principal stresses, should make the ratio

1
c0s2 4
1 sin"
1 ~,LL~
This view was expressed already by Buisman ( 1 9 4 0 ) , and has been accepted
e.g. by Geniev ( 1958), Christensen ( 1967), and others.
With Eqn. [ 4 ] ,Eqn. [2] becomes

= uh/uv = ----- --

E.g., for 4 = 30, Eqn. [ 4 ]and [ 5 ]give K = 0.60 and iil = 2KuD/B = 0.693D/B.
In design, however, in cases where the friction along the vertical failure
planes may not be fully mobilized, for safety reasons lower K,u values are frequently recommended (Spangler 1947). There does not seem, though, to be any

LADANYI AND HOYAUX: THE TRAP-DOOR PROBLEM

11

justification in taking for K,u empirical values, independent of the shear strength
of the mass.

Upward ~Movenmztof the Structure


It is obviously possible to develop an expression analogous to Janssen's bin
formula, Eqn. [I], also for an upward movement of the mass between two
rough vertical walls. From similar considerations it is obtained that the average
pressure on the raising bottom of the bin could then increase to the value
( Spangler l947),
in which M is again given by Eqn. [2]. According to Spangler, for a complete
projection case, a recommended empirical value of 2Ku in Eqn. [2] is 0.38.
However, as before, it can b e shown that a correct theoretical value of M is
that given by Eqn. [5].
It is important to note that Eqn. [6] can only be applied to a case in which
the granular mass is moving between rigid, unmovable rough walls, such as the
walls of a bin, or of a ditch evacuated in rock or hard clay. If, on the contrary,
there are no walls but only two nearly vertical failure planes passing through
the granular mass, as in the considered model tests, it is evident that Eqn. [6]
is invalid, since it does not take into account the fact that the resultant stress
acting at any point of the vertical failure planes cannot exceed an upper limit,
which is given by the passive earth pressure of the mass located outside the
vertical planes.
The passive earth pressure coefficient for a vertical walI acted upon by an
upward oriented stress that makes an angle + with the normal to the wall, can
be obtained either by using the Kotter's equation (Brinch Hansen and Lundgren 1958), or simply by means of a wedge formula (Terzaghi 1943, p. 107).
The value is

[71
The values of

a,,and uv at

K, = C O S ~4
any depth s are then given by

uv = uh tan q5 = (yz/2) sin 2 9


[9I
The consideration of a free-body diagram for a slice d s of the moving mass, as
in the Janssen's theory, but with downward oriented lateral vertical stresses
given by Eqn. [9], leads to the differential equation:

y sin 2 4
&--Z-y=O
dz

which, when integrated between s = 0 (where cr, = 0 ) and s = D, gives:

Eqn. [ll.] furnishes an upper limit to the increase of U, over the original overburden pressure, yD, for a horizontal trap-door moving upwards within a
granular mass of unlimited lateral extent.

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FIG.

10. Schema for estimating the effect of large settlements on pressure variation.

Comparison with Experimental Results


For the evaluation of experimental results it was considered that, owing to
the low compressibility of the model material and large displacements involved
in the tests, the mobilization of shear strength along the assumed vertical failure
planes was nearly complete. As the value of the angle + is concerned, since the
pressures in the tests were in general mostly below 3 psi, 4 was taken equal to
30" at the peak, and 28" after large displacements.
The full line marked by 6 / B = 0 in Fig. 8 w a s obtained by using Eqn. [ l ]
with M according to Eqn. [5], and B equal to thc width of the structure, B =
3 in. It will be seen that, for small displacements, the theory agrecs reasonably
well with the test results. For large displacemcnts, however, thc observed
increase in pressure could not have been csplained only by the decrease of the
angle 4 from the pcak to the residual. A.better estimate of this pressure increase
can be obtained if the enlargement of the effective width of the vertical flowing
mass above the trap-door, due to its large yielding, is taken into account. One
possible way of doing it is to assume, as Terzaghi (1943) proposed for the
yielding tunnel supports, that the effective width of the flowing mass, B1, is
equal to the sum of the width B of the yielding tunnel roof plus twice the
enlargement due to the lateral inflow of the inass tonwds the yielding lateral
supports. In the considered case there were no yielding lateral supports, but
the lateral inflow of the mass existed, ne~~ertheless,
tending to fill the space left
by the vertical settlement, 6, of the yielding structure. The corresponding effective width B1 is then approximately (Fig. l o ) ,
B1 = B
[l21
which can be written as

+ 26 tan(4s0 - 4/2)

(26/~)dK,
[I41
f(6/B, 9) = 1
The pressure calculation remains the same with the only difference that, in
Eqn. [ l ] to [5], B should everywhere be replaced by B1 according to Eqn. [13].

L M A N Y I A N D HOYAUX: THE TRAP-DOOR PRODLEhf

PRESSURE

@ =3526'

'250

RATIO,

G/;V
D

and 47O

DOWNWARD
MOVEMENT

UPWARD

F I G . 11. Upper and lower limits of pressure of a granular mass on a moving horizontal
trap-door u n c h plain strain conditions.

In Fig. 8, the full line marked by 6 / B = 0.50 was calculated by this procedure
using 4 = 28" and 6 / B = 0.50. It is seen to give a correct trend, but a slightly
higher percentage of prcssure increase, nhen compared with the test results.
In Fig. 9, the pressures measured during an upward movei-nent of the strucIt will be seen that a
ture have been com~~arecl
with theoretical nreclictions.
I
reasonable agreement is obtained when using Eqn. [ I l l , which assumes the
existence of two vcrtical failurc planes passing t h o u g h a granular mass of an
unlimited latcral estent. On the contrary, Eqn. [GI, based on the assumption
that the two failure Inlanes are rigid
much
" walls. is seen to furnish. as esi~ectecl.
I
too high values for the pressure increase ratio, ~ J , . / ~ D .
From the results of the comparison it can be concluded that, for the set of
conditions realized in the tests, the clescri1)ecl method (Ecln. [ l ] to [5] and
[ l l ] , is able to give reasonable predictions of the lower and upper limits of
pressure acting on the trap-door, when it is displaced either downwards or
upwards with respect to the surrounding graiuilar mass.
Figure 11 shows how the limiting pressures are ini'iuencecl by a variation in
the angle 4. It is interesting to note that, for the yielding trap-door case, the
ratio u J y D according to the theory, varics only vcry little for a large variation
in angle 4 (25" + 47", Fig. 1 1 ) . It can be shonm that the minimum values
of CT,./YDare obtained for 4 = 35.X4", for which A 1 = 0.707 D / B (Christensei~
1967 ) .
It is evident that thc use, in actual design, of the pressure variation curves
shown in Fig. 11 should be limited to the cases in which the material properties
and the displacement conditions are similnr to thosc assumcd in tlw theory. In
practice, however, as shown by h4i~stolland Anderson (1913) and Spangler
(1947), owing to the complesity of mechanical hcl~aviorof natural soils, it is
mostly necessary, in the design of buried structures, to make a number of

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CANADIAN GEOTECHNICAL JOURNAL

additional considerations, covering in particular the problems of soil compressibility and its time dependence.
CONCLUSIONS
The experimental investigation described herein, which was carried out under
nearly ideal plane strain conditions by using a mechanical analog material for
simulating the behavior of a granular mass, shows that, within the depth interval investigated, the variation of pressure acting on a vertically translating rigid
horizontal trap-door, can reasonably well be predicted by assuming the existence of two limiting vertical failure planes extending from the edges of the
trap-door to the free surface. A correct pressure prediction is, however, only
possible if proper considerations are made concerning the ratio and the value
of normal stresses acting along the assunled vertical failure planes.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This work was supported by the National Research Council of Canada grant
No. A-1801. The experimental part of the work was carried out by the junior
author (B.H.) at Lava1 University, Quebec, as a part of his M.Sc. thesis
research program.
REFERENCES
BRINCHHANSEN,J. ancl LUNDGREN,
H. 1958. Geoteknik. Danish Technical Press, Copenhagen, Denmark.
BROWN,C. B. 1967. Forces on rigid culverts under high fills. Proc. Amer. Soc. Civil
Engrs., 93, No. ST5, pp. 195-215.
BUISMAN,K. A. S. 1940. Gronclmechanika. Waltman, Delft, The Netherlands.
CHRISTENSEN,N. H. 1967. Rigid pipes in symmetrical and unsymmetrical trenches.
Danish Geotech. Inst. Bull. No. 24.
COATES,D. F. 1965. Rock mechanics principles. Can. Dept. Mines Tech. Snrv., Mines
Br. Mono. 874, p. 5/10.
GENIEV,G. A. 1958. Voprosi clinamiki siputchei sredi (Problems of the dynamics of
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GNIRK,P. F . and JOHNSON,R. E. 1964. The deforrnational behavior of a circular mine
shaft situated in a viscoelastic medium under hydrostatic stress. Proc. 6th Symp.
Rock Mechanics, Rolla, Missouri, pp. 231-259.
JAKOBSON,
B. 1958. On pressure in silos. Proc. Conf. Earth Pressure, Brussels 1958, 1,
pp. 49-54.
JANSSEN,H. A. 1895. Versuche iiber Getreidedruck in Silozellen. Z. Ver. Deut. Ing., 39,
pp. 1045-1049.
MARSTON,A. and ANDERSON,
A. 0. 1913. The theory of loads on pipes in ditches and
tests of cement and clay drain tile ancl sewer pipe. Iowa Eng. Exp. Sta., Ames, Iowa.
Bull. No. 31.
PARISEAU,
W . G. and PFLEIDER,E. P. 1968. Soil plasticity and the movement of material
in ore passes. Trans. Ainer. Inst. Mining, Met. Petrol. Engrs., 24, pp. 42-56.
SCHNEEBELI,
G. 1957. Une analogie ~nQcaniquepour 1'6tucle de la stabilitk des ouvrages
en terre A deux dimensions. Proc. 4th Intern. Conf. Soil Mech. Found. Eng., London,
11, pp. 228-232.
SPANGLER; k. G.
1947. Underground conduits-An appraisal of modern research. Trans.
Amer. Soc. Civil Engrs., 113, 1948, pp. 31-45.
TERZAGHI,K. 1936. Stress distribution in dry and in saturated sand above a yielding
trap-door. Proc. 1st Intern. Conf. Soil Mech. Found. Engr., Cambridge, Mass., 1,
pp. 307-311.
T E ~ A G HK.
I , 1943. Theoretical soil mechanics. J. Wiley & Sons, New York.
Manuscript received October 15, 1968