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Why the convergence confinement method is not much used in practice

Conference Paper · January 2010


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Leandro Alejano
University of Vigo


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Why the convergence confinement method is not much used in practice?
L.R. Alejano
Natural Resources and Environmental Engineering Department, University of Vigo, Spain

ABSTRACT: The convergence-confinement method is a tool that enables us to give an appreciation of the
nature of the interplay between the rock-mass and the support, and the effect of the variation in the properties
of the rock on the support load. From a theoretical scope, the approach to the tunnel behaviour is rigorous.
However, this technique is not much used in practice. We think this is due to some reasons, which are briefly
reviewed in this article. A significant issue for a reliable application of the approach is which behavior model
is selected, together with the inaccuracy of the longitudinal deformation profiles. This work intends to discuss
some of these topics.

1 INTRODUCTION calculations not as exact as desired (as in many rock

mechanics approaches, on the other hand), we think
1.1 Drawbacks of the CCM
that the second to fifth topics represent the core of
The convergence-confinement method (CCM) con- the reasons why the method is seldom utilized. This
sists of three basic components in the form of three is due to the lack of a standard technique with which
graphs: the longitudinal deformation profile (LDP), we would be able to identify different possible post-
which relates tunnel deformation to distance to the failure behaviour modes in rock masses. Further-
tunnel face; the support characteristic curve (SCC), more, once these behaviour modes are identified, we
which represents the stress–strain relationship in the would still have some difficulties in implementing
support system; and the ground reaction or response them in the methods that we use to rigorously obtain
curve (GRC). the GRCs. The topic number fifth is out of the scope
From a physical-mathematical scope, the general of this paper, but some comments are also given.
approach and solution of the tunnel behaviour and
ground reaction curve seems to be smart. However,
this approach has not been and is not widely used in 2 REVIEW OF WEAK POINTS
engineering practice. This is due to several reasons,
2.1 Stringent assumptions
among which the following can be highlighted:
1) The stringent initial assumptions needed to ob- A series of stringent assumptions are needed to ob-
tain analytically the GRC, tain analytical GRC: cylindrical excavation of radius
2) The difficulties to adequately define the be- R, radial symmetry, homogeneous and isotropic rock
haviour and characterize the rock mass, mass, tunnel submitted to an hydrostatic stress field,
3) The rigorousness of the calculation procedure, plane and small strain conditions, deep tunnels,
4) The lack of clear indications on when and how time-dependence, dynamic effects, conditions of
to use it. There are apparently different pro- work execution and stress path influence. These four
posed criteria for its field application, last topics are not considered in the CCM approach.
5) The difficulties associated to the correct con- While some of these assumptions make the calcu-
struction of the support and reinforcement lation procedure not applicable for particular cases
characteristic curve SCC and the LDP, (non-cylindrical tunnels, shallow tunnels or highly
6) The typical natural variability of rock mass non-isotropic stress-fields) and some others induce
parameters and errors usually not significant (plane-strain, execution
7) The current availability of numerical models conditions, long-term behavior), the influence of the
to analyse the problem. 3D-nature of stress and the stress-path (Eberhardt,
While the first and sixth given reasons have been 2000) may produce significant differences in the fi-
widely and old known and they make the general nal results. For very deep excavations, understand-
ing the 3D redistribution of stresses is essential. also have GRC for tunnels excavated in perfectly
However, in the case of elasto-plastic yielding, the brittle rock masses as the cases defined by Panet
influence is apparently not so significant. (1993) and Carranza-Torres (2004). On the other
hand, we have the so-called strain-softening GRC
calculations as proposed by Brown et al. (1983)
2.2 Rock mass behaviour models
(non-rigorous) or more rigorous models as proposed
Hoek and Brown (1997) were among the first au- by Alonso et al. (2003) or Guan et al. (2007).
thors that clearly put forward the fact that for rock If the guidelines of Hoek & Brown (1997) are
masses with average or high geotechnical quality followed, it turns out that according to the rock mass
(GSI > 30) the elastic-perfectly plastic assumption quality and, therefore, to the model selected, differ-
was not correct, that is to say, that once achieved the ent types of indicated approaches must be applied to
maximum strength, this assumption is not kept if the estimate the GRC and, finally, the support for a tun-
rock is to admit further strain (Figure 1). This means nel.
that elastic perfectly plastic solutions can only be
applied to low quality rock masses (GSI< 30). Then,
for average quality rock masses, the strain-softening 2.3 Rigorousness of the calculation procedure
behavior model is needed. It is also to note that for It is also important to remark how rigorousness has
high quality rock masses (GSI >70) a type of brittle not facilitated the utilization of this method of tunnel
behavior could be expected, that does not fit the calculation in the past. In what concerns the GRC,
Hoek-Brown failure criteria approach (Kaiser at al., and according to Guan et al. (2007), the methods can
2000). be divided into two categories. One is that regarding
simplified methods in terms of total plastic strain,
and it is represented by Brown et al. (1983) and oth-
ers. The other is the rigorous method in terms of in-
cremental plastic strain, and it is represented by Car-
ranza-Torres & Fairhurst (1999), Alonso et al.
(2003) and others. It could be concluded that, even if
the calculation of stresses is accurate in every case,
there is a discrepancy between rigorous and non-
rigorous methods in depicting the displacement dis-
tribution of the plastic region. The rigorous methods
reflect the nature of tunnel excavation more realisti-
cally, so they are convenient to reliably represent
tunnel behavior.
Figure 1. Different behaviour models and the corresponding
different Ground Reaction Curves for different rock mass GSI. 2.4 Different proposed criteria for its field of
However, the definition of the stress-strain curve
of a rock mass is not complete with these guidelines; The indications of different authors on when to ap-
the values of the peak and residual strength enve- ply the method are apparently controversial.
lopes, the elastic parameters, the dilatancy and the On the one hand, Brady & Brown (2004) recom-
drop deformational modulus are needed to com- mended its application for the cases when the
pletely define stress-strain behaviour. It should be stresses around the drift or tunnel are well over the
also pointed out that dilation and drop modulus have rock mass strength. These authors proposed to use
been reported to be confining stress-dependent on this method to design support and reinforcement. It
rock samples and apparently on rock masses, which seems therefore applicable for highly stressed tun-
makes rock behaviour more complex. nels on discontinuous rock masses (Fig. 2). This is
An effort has been recently made (Alejano et al., apparently coincident with the approach by Hoek et
2009) to suggest guidelines in order to obtain all the al. (1995), who recommended its application in tun-
parameters needed to characterize a strain-softening nels excavated in highly jointed rock masses submit-
average quality rock mass, in such a way that its ted to very high stress levels (Fig. 3).
GRC can be calculated. On the other hand, Hoek & Marinos (2000) first
In the last decades, different general types or proposed a plot of tunnel convergence against the ra-
families of curves were proposed and implemented tio of rock mass strength to in situ stress. That plot
in widely used programs, such as RocSupport (Roc- was made for unsupported tunnels and according to
science, 2003). On the one hand, we have the elas- the GRC calculation approaches, which regarded
tic-perfectly-plastic GRC as defined by Panet (1993) elastic-perfectly-plastic rock masses. On that plot
for Mohr-Coulomb materials or by Carranza-Torres they identified an estimated relationship between
& Fairhurst (1999) for Hoek-Brown materials. We strain and the degree of difficulty associated with
tunneling through squeezing rock. From this plot, to stabilize. In this case, the CCM may not be a suit-
they suggested that the convergence confinement able tool.
method could be used in tunnels with maximum In a similar way, Vlachoupoulos & Diederichs
strain in the range of 1 to 2.5 % to predict the forma- (2009) indicated that face problems may arise when
tion of a plastic zone in the rock mass surrounding a the ratio between the plastic radius and that of the
tunnel and the interaction between the progressive tunnel is over 2, accounting for the fact that, in this
development of this zone and different types of sup- case, the LDP changes in such a way that large pe-
port. They suggested the use of the method to select riphery deformations are expected in the tunnel face.
rock-bolts and shotcrete as a support to control mi- Either to apply the CCM or to perform numerical
nor squeezing problems. For lower expected strains, models is very important to use a set of significant
the application of recommendations based upon rock parameters representative of the actual behavior of
mass classification systems provided an adequate the rock. In this way, they do not recommend the use
basis for design. However, in the case of strains over of the CCM in this case, for reasons well different
2.5 %, they suggested the use of 3D-FEM. This ob- than the good quality rock masses, and this should
vious non-coincidence with the previous approach is be clearly stated. In fact, the CCM method can be
due to the fact that when rock masses attain great de- and is still used and useful in combination with an
formation, the role of stability in the face behavior is approach able to account for the tunnel face effect.
extremely important. Since the CCM do not dis-
tinctly account for this effect, it should be discarded
2.5 Difficulties associated to the correct
for very low quality rock masses and other methods
construction of the SCC
should be used, namely 3D numerical models.
There exist a series of texts where the classical con-
struction of the support characteristic curve SCC can
be obtained (Carranza-Torres & Fairhurst, 2000;
Hoek, 1999; Oreste 2004). These approaches present
a series of open issues, which include the role of
shotcrete curing or the role of reinforcement. These
difficulties also deal with how to estimate the maxi-
mum admissible strain of the different or combined
types of support or how to obtain a reliable safety
factor (stress or strain-SF).
It is also extremely important to know when the
support and reinforcement system starts to be
loaded, for which, regardless the actual distance to
the tunnel face when installing support, a reliably
Figure 2. When to apply the GRC support design method ac-
cording to the approach by Brady & Brown (2004). realistic LDP is needed. Elastic LDPs, as provided
by Panet (1993), have shown to be rare in practice,
so empirical proposals seem to be more realistic.
Recently, Vlachoupoulos & Diederichs (2009) have
provided a series of LDPs for different values of
rock-mass GSI, which seem to be a reasonable op-
tion to correctly introduce in the CCM the distance
to the face when installing the support. However,
this approach refers to elastic perfectly plastic be-
haviour, so one should be cautious.

2.6 Natural variability of parameters

Figure 3. Types of failure in underground excavations accord- Hoek (1998) put forward that the uncertainty associ-
ing to the stress state and rock mass quality (according to Hoek ated with estimating the properties of in situ rock
et al., 1995) and pictures by the authors. masses has a significant impact on the design of tun-
nels in rock, as he demonstrated in a simple GRC
In a different way, this was already pointed out example. This example showed that, even when us-
earlier, when Panet (1993) proposed to estimate the ing the ‘best’ estimates available, the range of calcu-
so-called parameter N (=2·σ0 / σc), and he indicated lated factors of safety were uncomfortably large.
how the value of this parameter affects the applica- These ranges become alarmingly large when poor
bility of the method. If N>5, the plastic zone in the investigation and lab procedures were used. Given
tunnel face and that around the tunnel join, produc- the inherent difficulty of assigning reliable numeri-
ing a continuous plastic zone difficult to control and cal values to rock mass characteristics, it is unlikely
that ‘accurate’ methods for estimating rock mass REFERENCES
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