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Driven Pile Design Methods in Weak Rock

Article September 2017


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4 authors, including:

Victor Terente
Cathie Associates


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V Terente, I Torres, J Irvine and C Jaeck

Cathie Associates Ltd., Newcastle, UK


There is currently limited guidance regarding the design of driven piles in weak rock. Due to the absence of
design codes and the conservative design methods currently employed, the capacity of the pile sections embed-
ded into rock are often under predicted; the resistance to driving is also not well understood and usually over
predicted to ensure appropriate installation equipment is mobilised.

Significant driven pile penetrations are now possible in weak rock. Available pile test results often demonstrate
that the pile capacity is significantly higher than the current methods would anticipate. However, a general
explanation of the measured values has not been attempted to date.

The aim of this paper is to discuss the results of available pile testing data and to propose a new generalised
approach for estimating shaft capacity. A better understanding of the capacity of driven piles in weak rock has
the potential to allow significant optimization of pile lengths and to reduce installation risks and costs.

1. Introduction weathered mudstones) and has also proven to

There is no generally accepted pile design method for provide reasonable predictions in very weak
driven piles in weak rock, and no commonly accepted to weak calcareous sedimentary rock
design codes for the assessment of driven pile shaft (Thomas et al, 2011):
capacity in those materials. Shaft capacity is key to
piled foundations in weak rock where the critical load Qs su As (2)
case is in tension, as it is the case in many offshore
jacket structures. Irvine et al (2015) summarised the Where su = undrained shear strength (UCS/2);
two main current approaches for estimating shaft ca- = adhesion factor.
pacity in weak rock as follows:
Using the main text method of API RP2GEO
Effective stress method: (2014), the adhesion factor can be calculated
Qs K ' v tan As f l As (1) 0.5
0.5 ( )
= { 0.25

Where: Qs = Shaft capacity, K = coefficient of 0.5 ( )
lateral earth pressure; = effective overbur-
den stress; = friction angle between the rock Where: UCS = unconfined compressive
and pile wall; As = surface area of the pile strength of the rock mass, p0 = effective over-
shaft; fl = limiting skin friction. burden pressure.

Total stress method where a pile-rock adhe- Rock mineralogy, anisotropy, weathering state, rock
sion factor is calculated. This is generally ac- mass properties (particularly strength and stiffness)
cepted for mudstones (particularly completely and in situ stress are all factors affecting pile capacity.
In addition, both disturbance of the rock mass and the Thomas et al (2011) undertook an assessment of the
change of in situ stresses induced during driving will uplift capacity of tubular piles driven into variably ce-
also affect the short term and long term capacities. mented, very weak to weak sedimentary rock with
But the quantification of these effects is not well doc- varying calcium carbonate content. The rock strength
umented to date. generally ranged from 0.3MPa to 4MPa, with an av-
erage strength of ~0.8MPa; the uplift tests indicated a
While it is important to compare the current design total uplift capacity of 4,610kN with an average shaft
practices with known pile test data, it is very relevant capacity of 87kPa.
to propose design method(s) which allow(s) a more
accurate assessment of shaft capacity for driven piles. The unit shaft capacity derived from those tests and
The proposed methods should take into account not others has been plotted as a logarithmic scale against
only the rock material strength or frictional proper- UCS values and compared with the capacity curves
ties, but also rock mass properties, in situ stresses, and of grouted piles published in CIRIA report 181 - Piled
mechanisms associated with the driving process. Foundations in weak rock (2004).

2. Driven pile capacity in weak rock published Figure 1- Adhesion factor against rock material UCS
literature data and back analysis
Published pile loading test results are sparse and only
a few relevant pull out tests are reported in the last
few decades. Some relevant papers are summarised

Beake and Sutcliffe (1980) observed ultimate shaft

resistances of 170kPa and 300kPa from tension tests
on steel tubular piles driven into weak (3.2MPa to
4.7MPa UCS) carbonate siltstones and sandstones in
the Arabian Gulf.

Rodway and Rowe (1980) investigated the tension ca-

pacity of two steel H-piles driven into medium strong
sandstone in Sydney Harbour, Australia. The rock
strength was indicated to reach in excess of 20MPa.
The pile penetration depths were noted to be rela-
tively limited (only 1m to 1.5m). However, the piles
developed significant tension capacity which ex-
Figure 1 illustrates that the relationship between ad-
ceeded the measurement capacity of the extraction
hesion factor (shaft capacity/compressive strength of
equipment. The most conservative (low) estimation
rock) and rock material UCS from test data is not lin-
of the skin friction was ~230kPa but the average skin
ear and potentially follows a similar pattern (reverse
friction was probably much higher.
exponential) to the one displayed by grouted piles;
ARGEMA (1994) summarises several papers regard- hence at lower material UCS, a larger ratio of UCS
ing driven piles in carbonate rocks and details some can be expected (= adhesion factor). A regression
internal research, which is not publically available: analysis of lower bound test results shows the follow-
ing exponential relationship:
Settgast (1980) agrees with the findings of
Beake and Sutcliffe (1980). Qs UCS As 0.11 UCS 0.5 As (3)
Burt et al (1980) and Puech et al (1988) indi-
cate shaft friction in coarse cemented gravel The adhesion factor significantly decreases at higher
of 10% to 20% of rock UCS. UCS values and is similar, although more conserva-
Internal ARGEMA experiments (Montarges, tive, than the one used for pile design in hard clays
1988) with small diameter piles in limestone based on API RP2GEO (2014) and DNV 30.4 (1991).
(UCS 5MPa to 25MPa) which indicate shaft
friction values of 7% to 9% of UCS. Other factors, apart from UCS, could influence the
mobilised shaft capacity as there is no obvious rela-
tionship with UCS only. In situ radial stresses and set-
up effects after driving could be higher in weaker In many areas, rocks affected by the Hercinian of Al-
rocks due to the significant relaxation of the rock pine orogeny are at or near the surface. Values of K
mass and therefore potentially higher lateral stresses. in excess of 1.5 are therefore common in weak rocks
It is therefore important to assess the in situ stresses in the North Sea. There are other factors such as
of the rock mass in order to explain the potential in- weathering, stiffness of individual strata, faulting and
fluence of high lateral stresses. anisotropies associated with bedding (Amadei et al,
1988; Amadei, 1996) which will influence the final K
3. In situ stress distribution in rock masses values to be adopted for design.
The determination of the in situ horizontal rock mass The exact value of in situ stresses can be measured
stress is key for the assessment of shaft capacity using with pressuremeter testing to ensure that those effects
a frictional approach. Horizontal in situ stress in a are accounted for.
rock mass is defined as:
4. Recent experience with Pressuremeter tests in

= = (4) weak rock
Experience from several offshore wind farms across
Where: = in situ effective horizontal stress before the North Sea illustrates that K values below rock
piling, K = coefficient of earth pressure, = in situ head can range between 1 and 8 for both clastic and
effective overburden stress, ' = effective rock mass carbonaceous rocks. The figure below illustrates
density, z = relevant depth. measured values of K (conservatively obtained as lift-
off pressure versus estimated overburden pressure for
The K value for rock masses should be obtained from HPD tests) obtained in the North Sea and Irish Sea for
pressuremeter tests during the ground investigation mudstone, siltstones and chalk rock masses. The in-
stage. However, in the absence of test data empirical dividual K profile is likely to be specific to a wind-
formulas have been proposed to determine this pa- farm area and bounded by major regional structural
rameter, taking into account the in situ stresses of the geology and formation boundaries.
rock and the rock mass young modulus. Sheorey
(1994) proposes a formulation based on the average Figure 1. K values vs. Depth below seafloor.
deformation modulus of the rock mass, as follows:
= 0.25 + 7 (0.001 + ) (5)

Where: K = coefficient of earth pressure, Eh = Rock

mass Youngs Modulus, z = relevant depth.

As this equation is defined for the deeper Earth crust,

it should be used with caution for shallow depths (less
than 50m). Eh values for rock masses can be estimated
from the Hoek-Brown failure criterion (Hoek et al,
2002) in order to define preliminary K values of the
rock mass. However, in the opinion of the authors this
formulation may significantly overestimate K values
at the shallow depths relevant to piling for weak rock
masses. Gonzalez de Vallejo & Hijazo (2008) pro- 5. Steel-rock friction
posed K values (derived mainly from Western Euro- The friction generated at the rock and steel interface
pean data) generally ranging between <1 to 5 depend- is a key mechanism affecting the shaft resistance of
ing on the intensiveness of the tectonic history driven piles. Ziogos et al (2015a) studies and dis-
suffered by the rock mass (measured by the Tectonic cussed some parameters affecting the shear strength
Stress Index or TSI): of this interface, which include: UCS, state of weath-
ering of the rock mass and steel roughness. Ziogos
Table 1. Gonzalez de Vallejo and Hijazo (2008). Indicative K
value ranges for tectonised rock masses.
tested the shear interface between mortar blocks and
steel. Mortar strengths ranging between 15MPa to
Tectonic Stress level K value from database
>50MPa and normal stress levels up to 200kPa were
Low <1 tested. It was found that the UCS normalised shear
Medium 1 - 1.5
High 1.5 - 2 stress of the interface generally increases with de-
Very High 2 - >5 creasing compressive strength values and increasing
steel roughness; this behaviour was attributed to the the pile design and the back analysis of the capacities
localised shear failure of the interface at higher com- based on an alternative effective stress approach.
pressive strength values.
Ziogos et al (2015b) reported variations of steel Table 3. Geotechnical Parameters.
roughness and their influence on the residual interface Rock Design Parameters
friction angle. They concluded that values of the peak Interface
interface friction angle (p determined by the USBR Soil Type
UCS* GSI K Rock-Steel
[MPa] [-] [-] Friction
6258-09 test (USBR, 2009) are generally ranging be- [kN/m3]
Angle []
tween 0.6 and 0.8 of the basic rock friction angle MM** 21-24 1-2 25-45 2.5 25-35
(. Values of residual interface friction angle
(rwere reported between 41% to 73% of p for Old *Lower bound UCS obtained from UCS tests and point load data.
**MM Mercia Mudstone.
Red sandstone and Caithness sandstones and steel av-
erage roughness (Ra) ranging between 0.4-7.2m. Where: GSI = Geological strength Index.
The roughness of offshore piles is typically between
15-25m. Soil and rock layering depths are illustrated in the fig-
ure below. The rock cores were typically described as
6. Stress modifications during driving extremely weak to very weak dark reddish mudstone,
The process of pile driving into weak rock and asso- with variable weathering profiles.
ciated stress changes along the shaft immediately af-
ter driving and long term is not well understood. The
equivalent change of local radial stiffness based on Figure 2. Soil Profile.
cavity expansion theory was discussed by Jardine et
al (2005) for sands. More complex mechanisms asso-
ciated with radial stresses could be associated with
the level of fracturing of the rock mass, rock block
displacements, the crushability of the rock material,
the use of pile driving shoes and cyclic degradation
effects. However, there is currently no published in-
formation to assess those effects in detail.

8. Case Study
A case study of an offshore jacket structure, driven
into Mercia Mudstone can be used to illustrate the ef-
fective stress approach for weak rock pile design ver-
sus traditional methods based on an alternative to-
tal stress method contained in the API RP2GEO
(2011) and described in section 1. A series of piles
were installed in the Irish Sea through Holocene de-
posits, glacial till and into Triassic Mercia Mudstones
consisting of mudstones, siltstones and sandstone
units. Key pile characteristics are summarised below.

Table 2. Pile and Hammer Details.

Parameter Value
Pile Diameter 50" (1270mm)
Wall Thickness 45mm
Pile Steel Grade S335
Final Pile Penetration Variable
As it can be seen in the estimated shaft capacity plot
The pile driving process was monitored with PDM presented below, an effective stress approach pre-
techniques and back analysed with CAPWAP soft- sented a better explanation of the significant shaft ca-
ware to derive estimated shaft capacities. Back ana- pacity estimates reported by PDM. In the absence of
lysed capacities were well in excess of the initial pile pull out tests these results should be treated with cau-
design, based on a cohesive approach. The following tion, however, it is clear that increases in shaft capac-
lower bound geotechnical parameters were used for ity with depth cannot be explained with UCS test re-
sults alone.
approach or the application of the total
Figure 3. Comparison of estimated and in situ pile shaft fric- stress method as detailed in equation 2.
tion (in situ as back analysed from PDM data). 2. An intermediate approach based on UCS and
rock mass parameters obtained from individ-
ual boreholes to estimate the in situ lateral
stresses and the application of the effective
stress method as detailed in Section 3.
3. Use of in situ testing and HPD data applica-
ble to each formation and application of the
effective stress method.
This approach should also be complemented with on-
shore pile testing in the same formations if possible
or monitoring of piles installed at an early stage of
development (for instance met mast). An illustration
of this approach for wind farm projects is summarised
in the figure below.

Figure 4. Proposed staged design approach.

The under estimation of shaft friction may be due to

the available UCS and GSI description under-repre- 10. References
senting the rock mass characteristics. Amadei B., Swolfs H. and Savage W.Z. (1988).
Gravity-induced Stresses in Stratified Rock
9. Conclusions Masses. Rock Mechanics and Rock Engineering
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paper. The existing data suggest that weaker rock Estimating and Measuring In Situ Stresses in
masses are likely to generate a higher proportion of Rock. Int. J. Rock Mech. Min. Sci. & Geomech.
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