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Soil Mechanics Laboratory

Shear Box and Triaxial Testing

Introduction to Offshore Geotechnics
Stephen Gabriel McCann

November 10, 2017

Date Performed: October 27, 2017

Partners: Ali Mahboob Hamedany
Kuen-wei Wu
Instructor: Associate Professor Ross McAdam

1 Objective
First Objective
Perform unconsolidated, un-drained triaxial test at two confining pressures and water content mea-
surement. (as defined in 1.1)

Second Objective
Shear box testing of loose and densely packed sand and effect of soil density.

1.1 Definitions
Consolidation a decrease of water content of a saturated soil without replacement of the water by air is
called a process of consolidation. Terzaghi (1943)

Deviator Stress The difference between principal stresses (1 3 ) due to the axial load in excess of
applied confining pressure.

Critical State Shearing takes place at constant volume at the ultimate (or critical) state and is a funda-
mental property of soil.

2 Experimental Data
2.1 Shear Box Test
Leighton Buzzard sand dry, loose and dense states.

Shear box test unit used #2
Vertical hanger load 30 kg (test weight)
4.268 kg (hanger)
1.603 kg (swan neck yoke)
0.464 kg (load plate)

2.2 Triaxial Test

Kaolin clay unconsolidated and saturated.

Triaxial test unit used #1 @100 kPa

#3 @200 kPa
Cell pressure (test 1) 100 kPa
Cell pressure (test 2) 200 kPa
Plastic Limit (wP L ) 34%
Liquid Limit (wLL ) 65%

3 Formulas
Angle of Dilation: max = tan1 ( )max (1)

Axial Effective Stress: 1 = 3 + q (2)

Bolton Predicted Friction: peak = cs + 0.8max (3)

Corrected Deviator Stress: q= (1 ) (4)

Corrected Height: H = B (t1 + 2t2 + x) (5)

Failure Shear Stress: f.cs = n tancs (6)

w wP L
Liquidity Index: IL = (7)
wLL wP L

m 2 m3
Moisture Content: w= (8)
m 3 m1

Peak Friction Angle: peak = tan1 ( ) (9)

Peak Predicted Friction: peak = cs + max (10)

Peak Shear Strength: f = c + n tan (11)

Undrained Shear Strength: Su = (1 3 ) (12)

Undrained Shear Strength: Su = 2 100(1IL ) (13)

4 Results
4.1 Shear Box Testing
Both the loose and dense tests were completed on machine #2. Figure 2 on page 5 displays both the shear
(max ) over horizontal displacement (H) and vertical (V ) over horizontal displacement (H) results graph-
ically. The two graphs have the same horizontal scaling and align for ease of interpretation. Both of the tests
came with force data which had variation (scatter) which was cleaned up using a regression in MATLAB to
facilitate better graphs, using the polyfit and polyval functions to show their similar failure modes as shown
in Figure 2 on page 5.

Figure 1: Schematic of shear box test apparatus.

The upper graph indicates the horizontal displacement for peak shear stress (max ) on both specimens, indi-
cated by vertical lines in magenta and cyan. This is translated to the lower graph to indicate the point where
the maximum distillation (max ) was calculated for each of the two specimens; indicated by the tangential
(slope) lines at each intersection point.

The upper graph indicates where peak friction angle (peak ) was for each of the two specimens. Also shown

in the upper graph is where the critical state friction angle (cs ) point lay at minimum point of the two
shear curves after peak shear. Ideally these should converge but there will be some inconsistencies in the
experiment as the quality of results are very much determined by the skill level of the testing apparatus

Sample Loose Dense
Critical State Friction Angle6 ( ) 34.7
Normal Force (N) 356.4
Normal Stress (kN/m2 ) 99.0
Density ()(g/cm3 ) 1.669 1.858
Max Shear Stress (max ) (kN/m2 ) 74.196 107.321
Horiz. Disp @ max (mm) 2.075 1.962
Vert. Disp @ max (mm) 0.013 0.317
Peak Friction 6 ( ) 36.8 47.3
Max Dilation 0.132 0.362
Max Dilation 6 ( ) 7.5 19.9
Predicted Peak Friction 6 ( ) 41.1 54.7
Bolton Peak Friction 6 ( ) 34.4 47.7
Mass of sand (g) 211.8 228.4
Corrected height (mm) 33.35 34.05
Volume of sand (cm3 ) 126.9 122.9

Table 1: Results of shear box tests and calculations.

The bulk density was calculated by weighing the loose and dense samples after shear testing using the volume
calculated during the two tests. All other values were calculated using MATLAB with the tabulated results
shown in Table 1, on page 4. Note that the applied normal stress for this test (99 kPa) is in excess of the
recommended (7 kPa) normal stress per ASTM D3080.

y2 y 1
Slope: m= (14)
x2 x1

Peak friction angle was calculated by examining the data and determining the maximum shear, followed
by calculating the associated angle using equation (9). Rate of dilation () was calculated by finding the
associated vertical displacement at peak stress and using equation (14). In MATLAB this was accomplished
by indexing the preceding and current or next number to use as data for the slope equation.

4.1.1 Critical State

The critical state friction angle (cs ) was calculated using equation (6) with a result that within the 30 -
37 range for sand, as calculated Bolton for sands.

4.1.2 Sawtooth Model & Bolton Modification

Results from the tests and the solutions shown in Table 1 show that these approaches to estimating friction
angles using equations 3 and 10 are valid. The results of the dense test with Boltons modified friction
formula are very close in particular. The loose test result has a greater variation, but as noted previously,
this test result is very much influenced on the quality of the testing process itself.

Figure 2: Results for dense and loose tests.

4.1.3 Effect of Vertical Load

Normal effective stress from the vertical load will decrease the peak stress ratio as there is an inverse
relationship between the void ratio and effective stress. This increased normal effective stress has an impact
on the dilation of the soil and changes, as its initial void ratio will be higher than its critical state void ratio.
Essentially, a dense sample can have results more akin to that of loose sample with this increase in normal
effective stress.

4.2 Triaxial Testing

The first (100 kPa) test was completed on machine #1 with the second (200 kPa) on machine #2. The
change of machine was due to a failure in a compression fitting for the cell. The data for the second test
was taken from another groups machine and distributed to all the teams, with data on the sample for the
100 kPa test used in both sets of calculations. Both of the tests were completed as quick-undrained triaxial
which facilitates easier calculation as 3 (= c ). The test results are presented without consideration for
piston friction or rubber membrane corrections.

4.2.1 Results

The volumetric, dimensional and water content data for both tests are referred to the first specimen for the
100 kPa testing as the second specimen data was not available. Hence, an assumption is made that both
specimen have the same properties as they came from the same block of Kaolin clay in the laboratory.

Sample 100 kPa 200 kPa
Liquidity Index 0.642*
Shear Stress (13) (Su ) 10.4*
Bulk Density (wet) (g/cm3 ) 1.625*
Specimen Diameter (mm) 38*
Specimen Length (mm) 76*
Specimen Volume (cm3 ) 86.2*
Mass of Specimen and Fixings (g) 269.3*
Mass of Mass of Fixings (g) 126.9*
Mass of Sample and Tin (wet) (g) 31.3*
Mass of Sample and Tin (dry) (g) 23.7*
Mass of Tin (g) 9.6*
Deviator Stress @f (q)(kN/m2 ) 30.9 32.6
Principal Stress @f (1 ) (kN/m2 ) 130.9 232.6
Principal Stress @f (3 ) (kN/m2 ) 100.00 200.00
Shear Stress @f (Su ) (12) (kN/m2 ) 15.4 16.3
* specimen data for 100 kPa experiment used for both tests.

Table 2: Results of triaxial tests and calculations.

Figure 4 on page 8 displays the deviator stress over the strain. Both sets of data were adjusted over the test
range using Equation4 to account for any swelling of the specimen during testing. Figure 6 on page 9 shows
the failure plane for the 100 kPa cell pressure test. This plane reflects that of maximum shear stress which
looks to be very near a 45 angle, accounting for the skewed, off axis angle that the photo was taken and
also for deformation in the clay after failure was reached. This conforms to the principles of stress analysis
that the maximum shear stress plane is 45 with respect to the planes of principal stresses 1 and 3 .

4.2.2 Comments on Cell Pressures for Tests

ASTM D 2850 states that for 100% saturated samples, consolidation cannot occur as there is no drainage.
Specimens of similar water content and void ratio will have similar un-drained shear strength. The un-
drained test will create an excess of pore pressure in clays and with a consolidated sample the void ratio
will remain constant. The skeleton of the soil (clay) cannot contract or dilate and the pressure will tend to
accumulate in the sample centre.

Hence the cell pressure will not impact the effective stress as the Kaolin clay is fully saturated and changes
to cell pressure will result in a similar increase to pore pressure. This can be interpreted on a Mohr circle
with a clay having similar properties, as the normal stress (n ) will move to the right but critical shear stress
(f.cs ) will remain constant.

4.2.3 Shear Strength and Liquidity Index

Shear strength (Su ) results for the two specimens are shown in Table 2. The calculated value using the
liquidity index method (Wood 1990) in equation 13 does have some variation from that when using the
principle stresses method in equation 12. It could be argued that these results are within an acceptable
margin of error as there could also be variation in the actual water content, liquid and plastic limits given.
It is fair to state that these two methods serve as a tool for validation of one to the other. The outcome will
certainly depend on the accuracy of the raw data, particularly in the water content, liquid and plastic indices.

Figure 3: Schematic of triaxial test apparatus.

5 Discussion
The shearbox was originally developed to determine angles of shear resistance for re-compacted sands with
respect to voids ratio, and determines the critical voids ratio of dry sand. It is used extensively to test for
residual shear strength in over-consolidated clay. Other tests are those for friction resistance of various soils,
rocks and gravels to include combinations of these. Its great advantage is the simplicity of testing and ease
of setting good quality samples. Drawbacks include constraining a sample to fail on one particular plane and
that the stresses within the confines of the sample box are not evenly distributed. Preparation of a loosely
packed specimen takes patience on the part of the machine operator and requires a gentle touch to maintain
the loose state from preparation to testing.

There is a great deal of skill and extra equipment involved in triaxial testing. From the sampling tube/cutting
ring, extruder, split former, installation of end caps, membrane and o-rings it is rather complicated and
lengthy process in comparison. These devices can handle various sizes of specimens up to 150 mm in di-
ameter and can support cell pressures up to 1700 kPa, with larger machines available with steel cylinders
capable of handling pressures in the MPa. A number of testing modes are also available to include drained
and un-drained. The machine is complex and relies on high quality seals, a significant amount of calibrated
support equipment, and a very skilled operator. The triaxial testing apparatus is one that would generally
be used for a site survey, as extracted samples from sampling tubes would be readily set.

Figure 4: Results of triaxial testing.

The quality of output is indeed in the hands of the operator. During the both experiments the author and
partners found difficulty in preparation of the samples. Setting the membrane on the triaxial specimen was
especially tricky and it was only with the skilled hands of the laboratory assistant that the sample was
prepared properly. Other problems came from following steps out of sequence to include missing a weighing
of the shear box sample after a loose packed test; however, there was enough time in the lab session to
complete the shearbox testing correctly with all steps completed.

6 Conclusion
To the novice these tests would at first appear to be complex for what appears to be simple materials,
essentially a piece of clay and some sand. As a non-civil engineer the world of soil mechanics generally one of
mystery where the concepts rarely transfer to the world of mechanical or electrical engineering. What is per-
haps most impressive after completing this lab and working through the problems and literature review is the
amount of information obtained from what are in principle, very simple tests. Over the length of the training
module preceding the lab there were discussions including quick clay which was the source of a land slide in
Rissa, Norway, and on the properties of stiff sands with respect to cyclic loading of ocean mono-piles; which
is of particular interest to the Cranfield REMS students. This introductory session has given the author a
deeper appreciation of the world of soil mechanics and the requirement and reasoning for these types of tests.

These labs have introduced through practical methods the concepts of effective stress, critical state, and the
analytical tools developed to describe and predict the properties of civil engineering materials. Both sets of
tests were performed in the simplest cases which required only a minimum amount of skill and time from
the students. There are a multitude of other tests and variations of testing that can be performed, including
the addition of many adjustment factors to account for variation in stresses and strains in samples during
testing. Prior to the lab the REMS students were granted a full tour of the laboratory facilities of Fugro in
Wallingford. A vast array of testing equipment and techniques were introduced and a significant work force
of engineers, technicians, and machine operators were employed to perform testing and classification as part
of Fugros business model.

Figure 5: Comparison of results.

Figure 6: Shearing plane for 100 kPa sample at failure.

Figure 7: Photographs of testing equipment.

Figure 8: The Koalin clay and Leighton Buzzard specimens.