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A Machine for Static and Dynamic Triaxial Testing

A v e r s a t i l e m a c h i n e has b e e n d e v e l o p e d t o t e s t g e o l o g i c a l s p e c i m e n s
l a r g e e n o u g h ( 0 . 3 - m d i a m e t e r ) to a l l o w m o d e l i n g of j o i n t s y s t e m s a n d of
tunnels with instrumented tunnel-reinforcement models

by P.E. Senseny, H.E. Lindberg and T.C. Kennedy

ABSTRACT--A machine has been developed for studying the

static and dynamic triaxial constitutive behavior of large
specimens of geologic and construction materials. Test specimens can also contain a cylindrical tunnel cavity to permit
study of tunnel-reinforcement structures and rock-structure
interaction. The specimens are 0.3 m in diameter and 0.3 to
0.45 m high; the model tunnels can be up to 50 mm in diameter. Static and dynamic triaxial loads can be applied with
maximum pressures of 200 MPa in static tests and 100 MPa
in dynamic tests. Dynamic loading can also be superimposed
on a static preload as large as 20 MPa. To facilitate study of
tunnel reinforcement, the tunnel is maintained at ambient
pressure, with access at both ends for instrumentation and
photography. Example results show the influence on tunnel
deformation of loading rate as well as the presence of joints
and their orientation. For a given allowable tunnel closure,
substantially greater pressures can be sustained under
dynamic loading than under static loading, and substantially
greater pressures can be sustained by an intact specimen
than by a jointed specimen.

Several laboratory investigations have been performed
to study the influence of rock strength and the presence
of joints and bedding planes on the deformation of model
deep-buried structures. ,-4 These studies were restricted to
static loading and small deformations of the model
structure because of limitations on testing-machine
capability. For a more complete understanding of the
influence of the surrounding rock on the deformation of
deep-buried structures, dynamic loading and large structure
deformations must be studied. This requires development

P.E. Senseny and [I.E. Lindberg are Research Engineer and Staff
Scientist, respectively, Poulter Laboratory, SRI International, Menlo Park,
CA 94025. T.C. Kennedy is Assistant Professor, Department o f Mechanical
Engineering, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331.
Original manuscript submitted: June 7, "1978. Revised version received:
November 2, 1978.

of a testing machine having greater load capability, as

well as a dynamic-loading mode.
The triaxial-testing machine shown in Fig. 1 was
designed and fabricated to test 0.3-m-diam cylindrical
specimens that contain scale-model tunnels and tunnelreinforcing structures up to 50 mm in diameter.' Standard
cylindrical triaxial specimens can also be tested. The
machine can impose a general triaxial loading on a specimen either statically or dynamically (the difference in
loading rates is more than five orders of magnitude). It
can also superimpose a dynamic loading on a static preload. Vertical pressures can be applied up to 200 MPa
statically and up to 100 MPa dynamically. Lateral confining pressures up to 150 MPa can be applied either
statically or dynamically, and static preload pressures
can be as large as 20 MPa. Figure 2 shows schematically
several standard load paths that can be applied statically
or dynamically. These load paths include isotropic
compression, uniaxial compression, uniaxial strain, and
triaxial load paths for determining the influence of
pressure on the strength geological materials.
The testing machine consists of a series of stacked rings
and plates held together by 12 studs spanning the height
of the machine. Use of a number of rings and plates,
rather than a single chamber, gives the machine maximum
versatility; addition or removal of a few parts can transform the machine into several static and dynamic configurations within the same basic frame. The interfaces
between the plates and rings are sealed with face-seal Orings. Hydraulic nuts at the bottom of each stud apply
tensions of 1.25 MN so that the total force holding the
machine together is 15 MN. This force reacts the force
generated by the vertical and lateral loading pressures.
Static loading pressures are supplied by hydraulic pumps
outside the machine; dynamic pressures are supplied by
explosive gas sources within the machine.
This large testing machine is patterned after a smaller
prototype 6,7 used to test 0.1-m-diam rock specimens geometrically similar to the 0.3-m-diam specimens. The small

Experimental Mechanics

9 63

Fig. 3--Cross section of the testing machine in the

dynamic triaxial configuration

Fig. 1--Large-scale testing machine located at the SRI

Corral Hollow Experimental Site, Tracy, CA

machine was developed to test scale-model tunnels and

simple tunnel-reinforcing structures in the laboratory.

However, realistic modeling in more complex scale-model

tests required larger specimens. Testing at the larger, 0.3m-diam size allows more detailed modeling of joints in the
rock specimen and reduces the effects of grain size compared with joint spacing and tunnel diameter. The tunnelreinforcing structures can be modeled in more detail, with
more comprehensive instrumentation for tunnel closure
and reinforcing-structure strain and deformation.
The remainder of this paper discusses the operation of
the machine in its dynamic and static configurations and
then concludes with test results that show how tunnel
deformation is influenced by loading rate as well as by the
presence of joints and their orientation.

Dynamic Testing


i ~






Fig. 2--Schematic showing several standard load


64 9 February 1979

For dynamic testing, the machine can be stacked in

either of two ways. In the dynamic triaxial configuration,
the lateral and vertical pressures are applied separately. A
cross section of the testing machine in this configuration
is shown in Fig. 3. Two explosive charge chambers provide
the loading pressures, a vertical loading chamber at the
top of the machine and a lateral loading chamber at the
bottom. The specimen is located approximately midway
between the two charge chambers. The explosive gases
from the top charge chamber load the top of the specimen
directly to provide the vertical loading. The reaction load
under the specimen is supported by a plate with a thin oil
chamber above it that allows monitoring of the reaction
pressure. The explosive gases from the bottom charge
chamber pressurize a second oil chamber that surrounds
the specimen to provide lateral loading. The interface
between the explosive gas and the oil chamber is a Bellofram located under the vertical reaction plate.

~_ 60
5 0 ~ -


~ 3o
~ 20

3012 o ~


15 2
T I M E - - ms









I 4o~

w 30

~c 301


w 10


10 15 20
T I M E - - ms



15 20
T I M E - - ms




q 40
~: 3O
10 I





~: 30

10 15 20
T I M E - - ms





15 20
T I M E - - ms





Fig. 5 - - P r e s s u r e d a t a f r o m a uniaxial strain test

The pressure in the oil surrounding the specimen is

measured at three axial locations by pressure gages at
stations 3, 4 and 5. The pressure in the gas above the
specimen is measured at two opposing locations by
pressure gages at stations 1 and 2. The reaction pressure
in the oil under the specimen is measured by the gage at
station 6. In dynamic testing, it is crucial to measure the
vertical reaction pressure under the specimen to ensure
that small misalignments have not introduced impact and
The second dynamic configuration, for isotropic loading,
is shown in Fig. 4. In this configuration, only the charge
chamber at the top of the machine is used and the specimen is completely surrounded by oil. Again, the oil is
pressurized by explosive gases acting across the Bellofram,
but with the Bellofram now located above the specimen.
Figure 5 shows typical pressure pulses from a uniaxialstrain-loading test. Records of the vertical pressure in the
gas above the specimen (stations 1 and 2) and in the oil
under the specimen (station 6) are shown in Fig. 5(a), (b)
and (c). With the exception of a small blip at the beginning
of the pressure pulse in the oil under the specimen, the
two vertical pressure records are identical. This indicates
that the loading on the specimen is uniform, i.e., there is
no evidence of wave-propagation effects along the axis of
the specimen caused by specimen misalignment or a
pressure-risetime too short compared with the wave-transit
time down the specimen. Figures 5(d), (e) and (f) show
the records of the pressure pulse in the lateral chamber at



Fig. 4 - - C r o s s s e c t i o n of the t e s t i n g m a c h i n e in t h e
dynamic isotropic configuration




15 20
T I M E - - ms



stations 3, 4 and 5. These pressure records are also

identical, indicating that the lateral pressure loading is
uniform, with no wave propagation effects in the oil
surrounding the specimen.
The risetime of the pressure pulses (about 13 ms for the
pulses shown in Fig. 5) is controlled by adjusting the open
area of the holes through the orifice and baffle plates.
Opening the holes reduces the risetime and closing the
holes increases it. Minimum risetime is approximately 0.3
ms, but it is usually increased to reduce axial-stress waves
and, hence, produce uniform equilibrium loading throughout the length of the specimen. The pressure pulse decay
is controlled by increasing or decreasing the area of the
holes in the vent rings that allow the explosive gases to
escape from the charge chambers. Increasing the area of
the holes shortens the decay time and reducing the area
lengthens it. The magnitude of the pressure pulse is controlled mainly by the size of the explosive charge. Peak
pressure increases linearly with the mass of explosive. A
2-kg charge gives a peak pressure of about 70 MPa.
The explosive used is a low-density mixture of PETN
and microspheres in the ratio 9 : 1 by weight. Microspheres
are tiny inert plastic spheres that slow the detonation rate
in the PETN and therefore reduce the detonation pressure
from over 20 GPa to about 0.7 GPa. The PETN/microsphere mixture is loaded into cylindrical paper canisters
whose aspect ratio is roughly unity. Both the vertical and
lateral charges have 0.91-m-long Primacord leads connected

Experimental Mechanics 9 65

to a common detonator that ensures simultaneous

For a test in which the loading on the specimen is
specified solely in terms of known tractions, the proper
load path can be followed by suitably adjusting the risetime, peak pressure and decay time of both the vertical
and lateral pressure pulses. Such tests include isotropic
compression, uniaxial compression, and triaxial compression. However, for a test in which the load path is
determined by specimen response, such as a uniaxialstrain-loading test, it is necessary to guess the proper load
path and the appropriate pressure-pulse characteristics.*
A good first guess is the corresponding load path from a
similar static test in which the kinematic constraint, e.g.,
uniaxial strain, is satisfied exactly. (How this is done is
described in the next section.) The pressure pulses are
then adjusted to produce the static-load path. The specimen response, e.g., lateral strain, is measured during the
test so that a second guess can be obtained and the
procedure is repeated. Usually, the second guess gives an
adequate approximation to the desired load path.
The maximum vertical pressure that can be applied in a
dynamic test is about 100 MPa. This value is based on an
estimated low-cycle fatigue limit for the 12 studs that
hold the testing machine together, using measured
dynamic strains and assuming a desired machine life of
about 500 tests. The 150-MPa upper bound on the lateral
confining pressure is calculated to be the pressure needed
to overcome the 15-MN force provided by the studs that
hold the machine together. The measured transient strains
in the studs during several tests indicate that the size of
the lateral confining pressure explosive charge does not
significantly affect the fatigue life of the machine.

For a uniaxial-strain-loading test, the desired constraint

is no radial motion of the lateral surface (equivalent to
zero circumferential strain). The outputs of two circumferential strain gages on the specimen are fed into the
microprocessor in digital form at 0.3-s intervals. The
microprocessor averages these two strain values and
compares the average with specified deviations from zero,
typically + 10-5. If, for example, the lower limit, - 1 0 -5,
is exceeded, then the pump that supplies the lateral
confining pressure is stopped until the specimen expands
enough under the increasing vertical pressure that the
average lateral strain is between _+10-s. The microprocessor
then allows the lateral pump to operate again.
The limits on pressure capability in the static mode are
based on the pressures that overcome the 15-MN force
holding the machine stack together. The calculated vertical
and lateral confining pressure limits are 200 MPa and
150 MPa, respectively.

Example Test Results

Tests were performed to study the influence on tunnel
deformation of loading rate, as well as of the presence of
joints and their orientation. The loading in .these tests was
uniaxial-strain loading, which is imposed in the field by a
plane P-wave.
To study the influence of loading rate, we performed
tests in which the loading rates were 6 10-5 MPa s-' and
5 103 MPa s-', a difference of five orders of magnitude.
The specimens were made from a rock simulant, SRI

Static Testing
Figure 6 shows the testing machine in its static configuration. Only one additional plate is needed to convert
to this configuration from the dynamic triaxial configuration. The new plate is located immediately above
the specimen and contains the vertical loading port.
Loading on the specimen in the static configuration is
provided by two hydraulic pumps outside the testing
machine. One pump supplies the vertical pressure and the
other supplies the lateral confining pressure. For isotropic compression, either or both of the pumps can be
used to provide a single pressure source analogous to the
single explosive charge in the dynamic isotropic configuration. The pumps have a maximum pressure capability
of 210 MPa. Typically, loading takes about 20 rain (more
than five orders of magnitude slower than in the dynamic
tests), although the loading time could be reduced to
about 5 min if the pumps were permitted to operate at
their rated capability.
For tests in which loading on the specimen is specified
solely in terms of known tractions, the hydraulic pumps
are controlled manually to produce the desired load path.
However, for a test in which the load path is determined
by specimen response, the loading pressures are controlled
automatically by a microprocessor. The uniaxial-strainloading test is used as a specific example to present the
details of automatic load control.

* Achieving uniaxiaLstrain loading by passive

steel container was rejected because it would
because, in many rocks o f interest, the rock
that o f steel, so the lateral constraint would be

66 9

February 1979

constraint in a close-fitting
introduce wall friction and
modulus is comparable to

Fig. 6--Cross section of the testing machine in the static

triaxial configuration

RMG 2C2, representative of tuff found at the Nevade Test

Site and characterized by the following parameters :8.9
Young's Modulus, E
= 7.9 G P a
Poisson's ratio, u
= 0.23
Compressive strength, ~, = 25.4 M P a
Friction angle, q~
= 0.04 tad
The specimens contained 50-mm-diam tunnels reinforced
with simple 6061-T0 aluminum tubes having a meanradius-to-wall-thickness ratio of 11.5.
In sequence, the static-loading capability was developed
after the dynamic capability. Hence, instrumentation of






_ _ _ _






PV " -



_ _


Fig. 7--l-unnel closure vs. vertical pressure for

static and dynamic uniaxial-strain loading of
saturated SRI RMG 2C2


tunnel closure and reinforcing-structure deformation is

more sophisticated in the static test than in the dynamic
test. Figure 7 shows both crown-invert (vertical) and
springline (lateral) tunnel closures as functions of vertical
pressure. The static data, plotted with the solid lines,
show that the crown-invert dimension closes with increasing vertical pressure at an increasing rate; the curve
becomes steeper as the vertical pressure increases. The
springline dimension, on the other hand, o p e n s with
increasing vertical pressure (plotted as negative closure)
but at a decreasing rate and levels off at about 35 MPa.
Tests on similar specimens in the smaller testing machine ~
show that, as the pressure increases above 35 M P a , the
springline motion eventually results in positive closure.
Dynamic-test results, shown as solid circles, are simply
posttest tunnel closures as a function of peak vertical
pressure. (Results obtained previously with the small
specimens loaded statically" show that posttest tunnel
closures are virtually the same as the maximum closure
measured at peak load; springback is less than A D / D =
0.2 percent.)
Results in Fig. 7 show that, for a given vertical tunnel
closure, substantially higher pressure can be sustained in a
dynamic test than in a static test. More extensive tests on
both dry and fully saturated 0.1-m-diam SRI R M G 2C2
specimens show that the increased vertical pressure
required in dynamic tests is due to both the greater strain
rate in the rock skeleton and the greater induced porewater pressure."
To study the influence on tunnel deformation of the
presence of joints and their orientation, we performed
static-loading tests (/iv --- 6 x 10-2 M P a s ~) on an intact
and two jointed specimens of a hard-rock simulant whose
intact constitutive parameters are :9
Young's modulus, E

= 21.2 G P a

Fig. 8 - - P o s t t e s t cross section of jointed

rock and d e f o r m e d tunnel after static
uniaxial-strain loading to Pv = 80 MPa

Experimental Mechanics

9 67

5 --


0.5 percent. In the 0 = r / 4 specimen, however, the

springline motion is large. Closure decreases at an
increasing rate as the vertical pressure increases, and at
the end of the test the springline diameter increased 2.75
percent while the crown-invert diameter decreased nearly
6 percent.
These test results show that loading rate and joints are
important parameters in the design of deep-buried


8 = rr/4


:~ 2 _


,z o


e = /r/4 ~




Fig. 9 - - T u n n e l closure vs. vertical

pressure for static uniaxial-strain
loading of jointed and intact hard-rock

Poisson's ratio, ~
= 0.23
Compressive strength, a, = 25.8 MPa
Friction angle, 4)
= 0.51 rad
The tunnel-diameter-to-joint-spacing ratio was six; so,
the joint spacing was small compared to the 50-mm-diam
tunnel, but large compared to grain size. In one jointed
specimen, the joint normal was vertical (in the direction
of loading, 0 = 0) and in the other specimen the joint
normal was ~r/4 rad from the loading direction (0 = 7r/4).
Figure 8 shows the posttest cross section of the 0 = ~r/4
specimen. N o block motion occurred in either jointed
specimen; so, tunnel deformation is the result of plastic
deformation and fracture of the intact material between
the joints plus localized slipping along the joints.
In both jointed and intact specimens, the circular tunnel
ovals with the minor axis at the crown-invert diameter (in
the loading direction). Figure 9 plots tunnel closure at the
crown-invert and springline diameters as a function of
vertical pressure. Crown-invert closure increases with
increasing vertical pressure in all three specimens.
The presence of joints reduces the load a specimen can
sustain at a specific crown-invert closure, and joint
orientation strongly influences the reduction in load
capacity. Load capacity decreases as the angle 0 between
the joint normal and the loading direction increases. For
example, at a crown-invert closure of 5 percent, the load
carried by the intact specimen is about 100 MPa. The load
carried by the jointed specimen for which 0 = 0 is 90
MPa, a reduction of ten percent. However the load carried
by the 0 = 7r/4 specimen is reduced by 45 percent, to
55 MPa.
Joints also influence springline closure. In the intact
specimen, the springline diameter first increased (negative
closure), then it started to decrease and the closure actually
became positive. This trend is the same as that found in
the intact SRI RMG 2C2 specimens. Springline closure in
the 0 = 0 specimen is always positive, but small, roughly
0.25 percent until late in the test when it approaches

68 9 February 1979

A large triaxial machine for static and dynamic testing

has been designed, constructed and developed into a
working laboratory tool. The machine tests specimens 0.3
m in diameter and can be used to study rock-cavity reinforcement as well as rock constitutive behavior. The
machine has been used to study rock-cavity reinforcement
in intact and jointed rock. Results of dynamic and static
uniaxial-strain-loading tests on specimens of tuff simulant
that contain reinforced 50-mm-diam tunnels show that, at
a specified crown-invert tunnel closure, a substantially
greater pressure can be sustained in dynamic tests than in
static tests. Results from previous tests on similar 0.1m-diam specimens indicate that both greater strain rate in
the rock skeleton and greater induced porewater pressure
contribute to greater specimen strength in dynamic tests.
Results of tests on jointed and intact specimens show that
joints can significantly weaken a reinforced rock cavity.

Machine design, fabrication, and development was
sponsored by the Defense Nuclear Agency under Contract
DNA0001-75-C-0245. The authors are indebted to Eugene
Sevin, Kent Goering, and LTC Danny N. Burgess of
DNA for their technical support and encouragement. At
SRI, George R0 Abrahamson, Carl Blahnik, John Busma,
George Cartwright, William Wilkinson, Dex Witherly and
James Zaccor made essential contributions to the machine
design and development, which are gratefully acknowledged.

1. Daniel, 1.M., Rowlands, R.E. and Singh, M.M., "'Experimental
Investigation of Small-Scale Lined and Unlined Cylindrical Cavities in
Rock," AFWL-TR-70-55, Illinois Institute of Technology Research
Institute, Chicago, 1L (Nov. 1970).
2. Hendron, A.J. and Engeling, P., "'Model Tests of Lined Tunnels in
a Jointed Rock Mass," M-41, Construction Engineering Research
Laboratory, Champagne, IL (May 1973).
4. Hendron, A.J., Engeling, P. and Aiyer, A.K., "Tests on Lined
Openings in Jointed and Intact Rock, "' DACA 39-67-0009, Department
of Civil Engineering, University of Illinois, Urbana, 1L (Jun. 1972).
4. Heuer, R.E. and Hendron, A.J., "'Tests on Unlined Openings in
lntact Rock," DACA 39-67-C-0009, Department o f Civil Engineering,
University of lllinois, Urbana, IL (Feb. 1971),
5. Senseny, P.E. and Lindberg, H.E., "'Theoretical and Laboratory
Study of Deep-Based Structures, Volume 1." Triaxial Machine for Static
and Dynamic Testing of 12-inch-Diameter Rocks, '" DNA 4425F-1, SRI
International Final Report, Project 4121, Menlo Park, CA (Jul. 1977).
6. Kennedy, T.C, and Lindberg, H.E., "Laboratory Investigation of
Rock Cavity Reinforcement, '" DNA 4023F, SRI International Final
Report, Project 3743, Menlo Park, CA (Apr. 1976).
7. Kennedy, T.C. and Lindberg, H.E., "'Model Tests for Plastic
Response of Lined Tunnels, "" J. of the Eng. Mech. Div., ASCE, 104,
339-420 (Apr. 1978).
8. Senseny, P.E. and Lindberg, H.E,, "'Theoretical and Laboratory
Study of Deep-Based Structures, Volume H: Model Tests and Analysis of
Mighty Epic Structures, "' DNA 4425F-2, SR1 International Final Report,
Project 4121, Menlo Park, CA (Dec. 1977).
9. Senseny, P.E. and Lindberg, H.E,, "Laboratory Study of DeepBased Structures in Support of Diablo Hawk, "" DNA O000Z, SR1 International lnterim Report, Project 5762, Menlo Park, CA (Feb. 1978).