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Science in China Series E: Technological Sciences



Theory and practice of construction

simulation for high rockfill dam
ZHONG DengHua†, ZHANG Ping & WU KangXin
Department of Hydraulic and Hydroelectric Engineering, School of Civil Engineering, Tianjin University,
Tianjin 300072, China

Construction simulation for high rockfill dam (CSHRD) is the technology that takes
advantage of computer simulation to observe and analyze a complex construction
process, which is useful for construction design and management. In this paper,
the domestic and oversea research status of CSHRD is reviewed firstly, along with
introduction of their present achievements and deficiencies, and the CSHRD theory
is also described. Then, considering the influence of many stochastic factors, in-
tegrated simulation for high rockfill dam construction (HRDC) is presented with
technologies of cycle operation network (CYCLONE) and computer simulation. It
rationally combines two subsystems in HRDC, namely haulage and placement of
rockfill subsystem, which reflects the actual construction objectively. Important
parameters, such as the haulage intensity and traffic density, are obtained, and the
process of CSHRD is represented intuitively in dynamic visualization. All of these
help engineers to make rapid decisions in HRDC scientifically.

high rockfill dam, construction simulation, cycle operation network, visualization

High rockfill dam, with the characteristics of economy, strong adaptability and seismic resistance,
has become the fast-developing dam type in the world by making the most of local materials and
realizing rapid construction with the usage of giant construction machines. Since the 1990s more
than 30 high rockfill dams above 100 m have been completed or are under construction.
Magnitude in quantity and high in intensity, construction of high rockfill dam is always con-
ducted on the complex site and includes numerous procedures and machines. Moreover, it is
largely influenced by natural factors like rainfall and constrained by construction diversion. All of
these may lead to the delay of the schedule and block in the delivery especially when the trans-
portation system is not arranged appropriately in the stage of construction design. In previous
studies on construction scheme, equipments were selected according to the haulage intensity that
is calculated based on the schedule, and then some important indexes gained from calculation,

Received July 30, 2007; accepted September 30, 2007

doi: 10.1007/s11431-007-6006-6

Corresponding author (email:
Supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China for Distinguished Young Scholars (Grant No. 50525927) and the National
Basic Research Program of China (973 Program) (Grant No. 2007CB714101) Sci China Ser E-Tech Sci | Oct. 2007 | vol. 50 | Supp. I | 51-61
such as average vehicle flow, equipment efficiency, etc., were analyzed to verify the feasibility of
the scheme. However, random factors were considered inadequately, also the constraints and
restrictive relations between dam blocks were neglected in this traditional method, which caused
the distortion of the result. Further more, the construction process is a dynamic system with
time-space concept, so it cannot be described accurately by ordinary mathematic model. Along
with the development of simulation technology, research on CSHRD becomes an alternative to
solve these problems.
As the rockfill dams increase it is recognized much more that the construction of rockfill dam
cannot be conducted only by experience. Quoting from Leonard[1] in the 11th International Dam
Conference in 1973, the reduction of project schedule and budget should rely on the increase of
equipment efficiency, not only the machines, and he suggested adopting different machinery
matching schemes in different periods and analyzing the dam zones quantificationally, which
gave rise to the research on CSHRD.
In 1987, Zhu Guangxi and Sun Xiheng in Tianjin University conducted the research on simu-
lation for a face rockfill dam construction by applying system simulation, which was a great step
forward in the study on CSHRD in China. In the research, some engineering indexes, such as
haulage intensity and traffic density, etc. were gained, and then based on the analysis of these
indexes, the optimal machinery matching scheme with maximum utilization of machines, being
in accord with the construction period, was found out by comparing efficiencies and construction
conditions of different schemes. In these years, simulation technology was widely used in many
major projects like Nuozhadu, Sanbanxi and Changheba to aid construction design and organiza-
tion. It is proved that simulation technology for HRDC has played an important role in guiding
construction. Meanwhile new technologies, GIS, three-dimensional dynamic visualization simu-
lation technology and object-oriented technology for instance, are used to supplement CSHRD by
scholars in Tianjin University[2 4]. Subsequently other universities, like Wuhan University, lucu-

brate on it also, and make certain achievements.

Taking a general look at researches on CSHRD at both here and abroad, there are still some
deficiencies: 1) Due to the complexity and particularity of large hydropower projects, the flexi-
bility of simulation model for HRDC is inferior and it is hard to develop a general purpose simu-
lation system (GPSS). 2) Simulation result is mere data information, invisible, so it is hard to be
fully understood. 3) The lack of experiences in the selection of simulation parameters and in the
analysis of simulation results reduces the efficiency of simulation experiment and the credibility
of forecast ability. 4) Deficiency in regular study on coordination of working procedures and on
interaction between outer factors (e.g. natural factors) and inner factors (e.g. rise of dam block) in
construction still exists.

1 Content and significance of CSHRD

1.1 Significance
Modern studies on simulation make full use of computer and system simulation technologies,
which makes it possible to carry out the simulation test for HRDC on computer and provides a
favorable platform for organizing the construction with complex boundaries and large quantities
of data appropriately. Moreover, it helps engineers get rid of repetitive modeling and calculation
work, and thus the time for scheme making is shortened and the precision of construction pa-

52 ZHONG DengHua et al. Sci China Ser E-Tech Sci | Oct. 2007 | vol. 50 | Supp. I | 51-61
rameters is improved. Overall, CSHRD is effective guidance to scheme design and optimization.
Emphasizing the characteristics of complexity, uncertainty and semi-structure of HRDC, re-
search on theory and application of CSHRD focused on the key problems in construction process.
Based on the timely collection of data from construction site, dynamic information feedback in-
cluding data, images and visualization expressions are provided using the software for CSHRD.
Some engineering problems in the phase of construction design and management are solved, so
the direction of management is confirmed and the condition is ameliorated. Besides, by applying
construction simulation, the resources are saved and the efficiency is improved, which bring re-
markable social and economic benefits and is of great theoretical and realistic significance to the
hydropower construction in our country.
1.2 Principles
1.2.1 Description of HRDC system. HRDC system can be divided into two intimately linked
subsystems: haulage and placement of rockfill subsystem. Haulage of rockfill subsystem refers to
the exploitation and transportation of rockfill, which is a closed cyclic process consisting a series
of specific links. And the main construction machines are large loaders and dump trucks. In the
system the truck is loaded in the excavation working face first, passing several intersections and
joining trucks from other working faces, and then reaches its own unloading field to unload the
material, and finally returns to the previous working face waiting for reloading. This process re-
peats until construction completes. Truck is regarded as floating entity, and the waiting time when
the trucks pass transportation links as random variable obeying certain distribution, and the
transportation link as service institution for floating entity. So the complex transportation system
is abstracted to a finite-server queuing system with multistage random service. This service sys-
tem follows the rule of first-in-first-out and the service time of each server is independent. In the
system, loading, unloading points and intersections are service institutions with servers while the
transportation part is service institution without servers. It is appropriate to adopt the CYCLONE
technology[5,6] to describe it in a discrete event dynamic system network model[7]. The nodes
present the activities of trucks, and the vector lines present the moving directions of the trucks
and the orders of the activities also[8]. There are four types of nodes: loading, unloading node,
waiting node, road node and transfer node. Data messages exist in both nodes and vector lines.
After the models are completed they are imported into database to transform to integrated loop
data by applying program developed. An example of the model is shown in Figure 4 in section
Placement of rockfill subsystem is conducted by zone, by section, by layer and consists of
paving, spreading, sprinkling, compacting, quality inspection and other procedures. Construction
begins only when it satisfies elevation difference and lifting constraints. In view of favoring con-
struction design, every dam block and its loading, unloading system are combined into a separate
loop. Rolling layer is basic unit of construction, while layer construction duration is basic unit of
total construction duration and its accumulation shows the construction duration to certain eleva-
tion or between two elevations. Layer construction duration is determined by machinery produc-
tivity, haulage intensity and the operation modes which contain sequential operation and identical
parallel flow shop scheduling operation. Identical parallel flow shop scheduling operation should
be adopted when the workface on the dam is relatively larger. In this condition, layer construction
duration is related to haulage intensity directly, and does not contain the time for spreading and
sprinkling. Furthermore, the inconsistency between productivity of rolling equipments and haul-

ZHONG DengHua et al. Sci China Ser E-Tech Sci | Oct. 2007 | vol. 50 | Supp. I | 51-61 53
age intensity should be taken into consideration. By contrary, sequential operation should be
adopted when the workface is relatively smaller. It is generally considered that the spreading and
sprinkling work is done while the paving of rockfill is being carried on, and then the layer con-
struction duration is mainly the time for placement and compaction of rockfill. However, the co-
ordination of working procedures must be considered in both operation modes.
Haulage and placement of rockfill subsystems are relatively independent, but influenced and
restrained by each other, and the amount of rockfill is the link between them. Figure 1 describes
the process of HRDC, and it shows that the finish of unloading in haulage subsystem is the be-
ginning of paving in placement subsystem. If haulage subsystem cannot afford the amount of
rockfill that placement subsystem needs, the placement will be delayed; in reverse, if placement
subsystem cannot endure the haulage intensity it will ask haulage subsystem to reduce it.

Figure 1 Schematic diagram of HRDC.

1.2.2 Mathematic logical model of CSHRD. Generally considering the complex restrictions
such as construction diversion, operation modes, machinery configuration and lifting principles,
etc., a mathematic logical model for HRDC process is established. The structure of the model is
listed as follows:
State transfer equation: H (i, t ) = H (i, t − 1) + ΔH (t ) , t = 1, 2,..., T , zone number i = 1, 2,..., N .
Objective function: Opt(T, E), T is project period, E is equipment efficiency.
Restriction for construction: S (i, j,t,c) = 0, machine j = 1, 2,… , M , c is capacity of haul road,
⎧ΔH (t ) = F [ D(i, j ), P(i, j )],
⎪ m
⎪ P(i, j ) = p (k ),
⎪ ∪ p(k ) is productivity of machine k ;
⎪ k =1
⎨ n q (l ) is the duration of procedure l , considering
⎪ D(i, j ) = ∪ q (l ),
⎪ l =1 the logic to working procedures;

⎪⎩q (l ) = ∫ pl (Φ )dΦ, pl (Φ ) is the probability density function.

1.2.3 Flow of simulation for HRDC. Time stepping method is adopted in the simulation on
the system simulation theory[9,10]. Two entities are set to push the simulation clock: the truck is
regarded as dominant entity in the overall process and the rolling layer as subdominant entity.
After the dominant entity (dump truck) reaches the dam, the current dump area gets the mastery
and becomes the subdominant entity. The state of the dominant entity changing or not must be
observed, and if yes, the start and end time is noted. Next, the mastery is recalled and the next

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working truck is selected, and namely the new dominant entity is selected. The procedure repeats
until the construction finishes. Meanwhile, various parameters are obtained by simulation, such
as start and end time of every rolling layer, placement intensity, etc.
When the program begins, the initial boundary conditions are set: the earliest working roads
are selected from all the roads, and their start time is appointed to the simulation clock. Mean-
while, the lowest working elevations of dam block belonging to the earliest working roads are
chosen, so the start elevations of all dam zones are confirmed. Then the program gets access to
the main part. As simulation progresses, the unworking roads are scanned continually. If the road
satisfies the start conditions of both time and elevation, the starting sign is put and the road par-
ticipates in the calculation; if not, the delay sign is put on the constructing object belonging to
this road and construction does not begin until it meets the begin conditions. When the placement
elevation exceeds the working elevation interval of the road, the machinery parameters belonging
to next working elevation interval are read out from database automatically, and hence,
calculation program is updated. Finally, the simulation ends when the overall filling of dam is
done. The flow chart of simulation program is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2 Flow chart of simulation program for high rockfill dam.

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1.3 Design and implement of HRDC simulation system
1.3.1 General structure of the system. The simulation system for HRDC is designed based on
VC++, and combines with database technology and visualization technology[11,12]. The system is
composed of four modules called data collecting, model creating, simulation and result output
modules, and is supported by three databases called property, machinery and production database.
Property database preserves the internal properties of construction, such as elevations of rolling
layers. Machinery database preserves the parameters of machines and their matching relations.
Production database preserves the simulation results, such as data, figures and dynamic demon-
strations. The general structure of the system is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3 General structure of simulation system for high rockfill dam.

1.3.2 Design and implement of system functions. Adopting object-oriented technology[13], the
system realizes modularization based on the database. Function of each module is listed as fol-
(i) Data collecting module. All kinds of calculating parameters are collected and stored in
data collecting module. They are input into the database in two ways:
(1) Input through dialog box in the program, such as machinery parameters, equipment con-
figuration, etc.
(2) Import through external database. Data like the properties of dam zones and rolling layers,
and CYCLONE models, must be transacted by external program before being used by simulation
system. Namely, these kinds of data can be imported from external database.
According to the characteristics, there are five sorts of parameters needed:
(1) General parameters: the starting date, the stages of construction, etc.
(2) Machinery parameters: the types and performance parameters of machines.
(3) Time parameters: the effective working days of every month, the shift number of every day,

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(4) Dam block parameters: the elevations, thicknesses and volume of rolling layers of each
dam blocks, the types of placement machines, elevation difference and lifting constraints, etc.
(5) Loop parameters: the amount and types of the dump trucks and loaders used in the loop,
the start time of the loop, etc.
(ii) Model generating module. Before simulation begins, the data must be transacted, and the
simulation model, containing dam block objects and road objects, must be created. The placement
is carried out by layer, so the rolling layer is taken as the basic unit of dam construction, and the
property of it includes number, start and finish elevation, volume, area, etc. The properties of all
rolling layers are stored in the database to make it convenient to manage and operate. Before cal-
culation, according to the start and finish elevations of the current dam zone, the parameters of
the rolling layers in the corresponding elevation interval are read out from the database to create a
dam block object. The road object shows the procedures from load point to unloading point, and
it includes not only the closed CYCLONE model, but also the parameters such as the machines,
start time and volume to be conveyed belonging to the road.
(iii) Simulation module. Simulation includes whole process simulation and real-time simula-
(1) The whole process simulation is simulation of the overall process from the start till the end
of dam filling, and during calculation the boundaries remain same. The simulation result reflects
the operation status of construction in the whole period, and it is often applied in construction
plan and the verification of feasibility of construction scheme.
(2) Based on the current schedule, construction followed can be simulated by real-time simula-
tion, so it is a great guidance to construction at jobsite. By analyzing the simulation result, the
changes on schedule can be forecasted, so the deviation can be found out. Then the counter
measures can be taken to make the practical construction consistent to the plan.
(iv) Result output module. This module is in charge of the statistics analysis of simulation
results, and charts and images are generated automatically in this part. The outputs of simulation
results include intensity columnar section of rockfill dam, query of machinery configuration and
efficiency, report forms like one-way traffic density chart, and 3D dynamic demonstration of the
placement process[15].

2 Case study
This is a rockfill dam with gravel core at the height of 240.00 m. The length of dam crest is
497.94 m, and the width is 16.0 m. The upstream and downstream slope is 1:2, and the volume
amount reaches 3437.46 × 104 m3. The project is simulated applying simulation software for
HRDC developed independently, and the simulation result is analyzed.
2.1 CYCLONE modeling
The CYCLONE model is built and displayed with the example of the third stage of the project,
and part of the model is shown in Figure 4. In the model, every node has its own property infor-
mation: name, the loop belonged to, transportation distance, etc. In this way, the network model
of each stage and loop is formed, and is imported into database subsequently.
2.2 Volume calculation
Using the 3D geological modeling system developed, the 3D solid model of the dam divided by

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stages and zones, is cut by planes at intervals of 0.1 m. Thus the volume at any elevation is
gained and can be queried easily as shown in Figure 5. Besides, the volume curve of each stage
and each zone is created, shown in Figure 6.

Figure 4 CYCLONE model of stage III.

Figure 5 Volume query. Figure 6 Volume curve of rockfill dam.

2.3 Period and intensity of construction

Through simulation the placement duration of each stage is calculated, and by gathering them,
the total project duration can be gained. In this project, the construction period from simulation is
56 months, basically consistent with the schedule recommended. The haulage intensity of any
moment is recorded by the software during simulation, and after being transacted automatically, it
can be shown and queried by stages and zones. The engineers are facilitated to get the construc-
tion parameters concerned, such as, maximum and average intensity, unbalanced coefficient of
construction, etc. By analyzing the data, a lot of probable problems in construction can be moni-
tored in advance, such as the excess of construction intensity, the serious unbalanced construction
phenomena and the irrational proportioning of resources, and thus the adjustments can be adopted
in time to make construction run smoothly within the project duration.
From Figure 7, the peak placement intensity, 92.08 × 104 m3 /month, appears in the 9th month
of the third stage, namely September of the 6th year. Considering the simulation result, the con-
struction schedule and the division of dam zones is reasonable. Though the peak construction
intensity is at advanced level compared with similar projects, it is allowed if aborative manage-
ment at jobsite is implemented.

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2.4 Traffic density
The dump truck is the dominant entity to propel the simulation clock, so information of it at any
moment is recorded during simulation. Actually, the method of setting counters is used to calcu-
late the traffic density of certain period, and the queue length, waiting time at the intersection is
obtained also. The mastery of the information helps the engineers observe the construction traffic
condition and make improvement measures timely, for instance, the distribution at certain road
section or intersection. According to the simulation result, the maximum traffic density is 61
veh/h as in Figure 8, and takes place at the section from upstream processing factory to No. 1
bridge in the third stage. In this project, the roads are designed at second-class, with the maxi-
mum allowed traffic density of 85veh/h, so they are able to serve the construction

Figure 7 Intensity query. Figure 8 Result of traffic density.

2.5 Machinery configuration

Two aspects of machinery configuration should be considered: the selection of matching ma-
chines and the confirmation of quantity. Generally, the types of the machines and their matching
equipments are confirmed in a certain construction plan, and what need to do is choosing the
proper amount of machines, including loaders, dump trucks and rolling equipments, to ensure the
maximum equipment efficiency. With the initial amount of machines confirmed by referring to
the empirical value of similar projects, the amount is added or subtracted by comparing the con-
struction schedule recorded in the process of simulation, to reach the maximum efficiency. The
optimal scheme of machinery configuration can be chosen through sensitivity analysis. Table 1
presents several loops in the third stage, and the machinery configuration of loop 6 is taken as an
Table 1 Machinery configuration scheme of stage III
Dump trucks Loaders
Loop Loading point Unloading point type efficiency type efficiency Roller tion (d)
amount amount 3
(t) (%) (m ) (%)
1 Upstream processing factory upstream filter 2 25 42.54 1 4 8.2 1 295
2 Upstream processing factory downstream filter 3 25 61.24 1 4 12.62 1 287
3 Downstream borrow II upstream transition 2 45 49.18 1 6 15.19 1 295
4 Downstream borrow II downstream transition 3 45 66.89 1 6 14.71 1 288
5 Transfer source downstream bedding 20 45 75.93 2 6 79.46 2 76
6 Upstream borrow II upstream rockfill 13 45 78.2 2 6 75.74 1 290
7 Downstream borrow I downstream rockfill 29 45 91.03 4 6 60.32 2 305
8 Upstream earth borrow II core 56 32 84.34 3 6 36.77 2 285

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Depending on the simulation experiment, it is considered impossible to station one loader,
because the efficiency is persistently 100%, not practical in real situation. Thus the configura-
tion mode of one loader is excluded at the beginning of the analysis. From Figure 9, comparing
the condition of two loaders with three loaders, the two configuration modes are almost the
same in project period and truck efficiency, and difference only exists in the loader efficiency.
It keeps steadily over 70% when using two loaders and evidently lower at 50% when using
three loaders. So it is no need to add more loaders and the configuration of two loaders is the
best. From the figure, the project period keeps steadily below 300 days (the expecting con-
struction duration of the third stage is 304 days) after the truck amount is added to twelve. Be-
sides, the efficiency of loader and truck respectively increases and decreases with the increase
of the amount of truck, and reaches equilibrium when choosing thirteen trucks. Hence the op-
timal machinery configuration scheme is two loaders with thirteen dump trucks. The selection
of rolling equipments can follow the principle of not delaying the project schedule. In addition,
it needs to be explained that common loaders are suggested in filter zone and transition zone
considering the low efficiency of loaders in these two zones.

Figure 9 Relationship curve between equipment amount and construction duration & equipment efficiency.

2.6 3D demonstration of simulation process

The 3D digital model of HRDC system is built on original construction data such as terrain,
size of structures, etc. With 3D visualization technology, the display of image information is
demonstrated under the instruction of the data information from simulation result, and the fea-
ture of dam construction at any moment can be queried. The demonstration window is shown in
Figure 10.

3 Conclusion
With the widespread constructions of high rockfill dam, the application of construction simula-
tion technology has been an inevitable trend to assist construction organization design. This
paper introduces the theory of CSHRD, and discusses the implement of its function in detail.
Moreover, effective simulation software is developed and applied in a real project. Construc-
tion process is simulated realistically, and many important construction indexes are obtained.

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Figure 10 3D dynamic demonstration for HRDC.

Depending on the simulation result, the feasibility of construction is verified. It is of great im-
portance to the construction guidance. As the research on theory of CSHRD progresses thor-
oughly, study on CSHRD, combining with the continual development of simulation methods,
has a bright future and it will play more significant role in hydropower constructions.

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