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Deep mixing columns with a spreadable tool

Jean-Franois Mosser1 and Jos Luis Arcos2


Soletanche Bachy,

Grupo Rodio Kronsa,

ABSTRACT: In the last ten years, soil mixing applications have shown a rapid
development in Europe: they present an alternative when it is possible to use the soil
as a building material.
The process presented here is a new wet deep mixing technology that allows the
installation of soil mix columns larger than the initial drilling diameter.
The mixing tool has two positions: initially it is kept lodged inside a casing and
once pulled outside, it spreads out under the action of springs.
This technique is suitable to small drilling machines and allows the possibility to
work in low headroom conditions, such as basements, inside buildings or under
catenary systems.
The variable diameter of the tool makes it possible to install columns through
existing structures with minimal impact: small diameter boreholes through
foundations or casings installed between railroad ties.
In this paper, the tool and practical uses are explained, based on a series of case
Deep mixing applications have known a fast growth within the last years, adding
value to in-situ soil as a building material and thus reducing the consumption of
resources and the production of wastes on site (excavated soils). Nowadays it is used
for a wide range of applications: soil treatment for bearing capacity improvement,
groundwater control, retaining walls, contaminant isolation, and liquefaction control,
to state a few.
Deep mixing techniques are very diverse (single or multi-axis systems, cutter
wheel or trench mix systems) but have one important limitation: the mixing tool has
a set geometry. The technique is thereby limited to sites where ground-level or
buried structures do not interfere with the soil mix columns. A solution to these
constraints is to use variable geometry tools, permitting the installation of soil mix
columns larger than the initial drilling diameter.
The technique presented here is a new wet deep mixing process that uses a spring
mounted expandable tool. It allows the installation of soil mix columns with
minimum impact to existing structures located above the treated zone.

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FIG 1. 3D view of mixing


This method is used to build individual

mechanically mixed soil-cement columns.
The mixing tool is designed to disaggregate the
soil with a fishtail (2) and a pair of blades (1).
Unlike conventional single axis deep mixing
methods, it uses a spreadable tool: blades pass
from retracted position (1a) to spread position (1b)
by the action of specific springs.
Typical tool sizes are :
- Retracted : 150 mm diameter
- Spread : 400 mm diameter
Mixing is performed by wet method: the grout is
added as slurry into the soil through lateral outlets
(3) and through the fishtail hole (2).

The process was conceived to be easily implemented on small rotary machines

using single rod systems with standard threaded rods.
The opening of the tool is caused by the relaxation of the springs. There is no need
to have special commands such as double rod mechanisms or hydraulic controls.
Typical working parameters are showed in Table 1:
TABLE 1. Typical working parameters
Column diameter
W/C Ratio (slurry)
Flow rate
Rotation speed
Drilling speed

400 mm
0.67 to 2
20 to 80 L/m
50 to 100 rpm
10 to 30 m/h

Construction sequence
The construction sequence is shown schematically in Figure 2:
1- A casing is placed between the working platform and the head of the future
soil-cement column. It is used to keep the tool retracted above the zone to be
treated and can be replaced by a cored hole in concrete structures such as
slabs or existing foundations.
2- The mixing tool is introduced in its retracted position inside the casing and
advanced through the end of the casing.

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3- Once outside the casing, the tool spreads outwards in the soil. Drilling and
mixing at the enlarged diameter is carried to the bottom of column.
4- When the column installation is completed, the tool is pulled up while
rotating to homogenize the soil and grout mixture. It is then retracted upwards
through the casing.

FIG 2. Construction sequence.

Advantages and uses
This technique was initially developed for the reinforcement of railway subgrade,
satisfying some specific requirements and conditions including:
- low headroom conditions (such as catenary systems),
- between railroad ties,
- protection of ballast, particularly against contamination with cement,
- maintaining traffic interruptions as short as possible.
This process provides many advantages, compared with traditional solutions such as
jet grouting, mainly due to its simplicity:
- technique suitable to a large range of small drilling rigs. It requires small
plants to ensure flow rates and pressures,
- low related risks: reduced flow rates and injection pressures avoid risks such
as hydraulic fracturing of the soil ; settlement risk are also reduced because
fresh columns dont contain liquid slurry but thick soil mix,
- spoil management eased: the use of casings over the non-treated zone allows
spoil collection and avoids ballast contamination with cement,
- diameter control: as columns are mechanically mixed, their diameter is the
same as the tool ; specific device can be implemented to control the right
opening of the tool in order to guarantee the diameter of columns.
This technique can be used for several applications: reinforcement of railway
subgrade, soil improvement under existing structures, mass treatment of soils behind
existing retaining walls (tunnelling break-in or break-out), and all the other
applications of single axis deep mixing.

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In-situ tests
Prior to its use on real jobsites, some in-situ trial tests were carried out in order to
validate the process and prove its feasibility.

FIG 3. Cross section under


We describe below a test performed under

railway tracks, in the north of France, where 14
soil-cement columns were installed under and in
proximity to the tracks.
This test had two main goals: to validate the
opening of the tool and the feasibility of the
process in railway conditions, including work
under catenary systems and avoiding ballast
contamination with cement.
Figure 3 shows the average cross section under
the railway, and table 2 recaps soil parameters (by
Menard pressuremeter) of the site.
Columns were installed up to 7.00m below the
ground level, using different sets of parameters
(see table 3).

FIG 4. Works on the railway

The work was closely controlled during column installation. These controls
- the recording and analysis of operating parameters during the process,
- laboratory measurements on samples extracted from columns,
- diameter control of some excavated columns (see figure 5).
Measured UCS in extracted columns ranges from 5 to 10 MPa at 90 days.

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TABLE 2. Soil parameters

Sandy Silts

PMT Limit
Pressure (MPa)
0.3 1.0
0.8 1.3
1.0 3.0

Modulus (MPa)
4 10
10 15
> 60

TABLE 3. Tested parameters

FIG 5. Exhumed


Flow rate

speed (rpm)

speed (m/h)

This first test proved the feasibility of columns with the spreadable tool. Since, the
tool has evolved and has been reinforced to its present version. It is undergoing
additional trials in Europe and Asia, in different situations and soil conditions.
Soil improvement under an existing building
Site description
The following application was performed in Spain, inside an existing factory,
where the slab had begun to settle during the occupation of the building.
The soil treatment consisted of improving the bearing capacity of fill beneath the
slab: work was carried out in low headroom conditions in some locations the roof
height was 4.00m and the working platform was the existing slab; therefore it was
necessary to work with light equipment.
Treated fill consisted of red clay with gravel coming from natural ground in the
site. It was loose, with N20 values below 10. Natural ground had N20 values over 40
(see figure 6).
Prior to deep mixing work, contact grouting, between the slab and the gravel fill,
was done in order to fill the gaps caused by settlement. Once the preliminary
grouting was finished, soil-cement columns were installed through holes cored in the
existing slab. 2300 columns were drilled reaching a competent layer at an average
depth of 6.00 m below the working platform.
Construction sequence was the following:
- coring the slab for contact grouting
- contact grouting between the soil and the slab
- coring the slab for deep mixing treatment
- installation of soil-cement columns with the spreadable tool
- backfilling the holes in the slab with mortar

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through slab
~ 0.00


~ 0.60



Red clays with gravels
(from lower level)

~ 6.00
30 cm
Red clays with gravels

FIG 6. Cross section of jobsite

Contact grouting
The existing slab was cored following a square pattern and split spaced with
respect to the column pattern. Cement slurry grouting was then performed through
the 62mm holes, from bottom to top, in order to fill the gaps between the slab and
fill, caused by the settlement of the ground. Once this stage was achieved, the slab
was able to support rig circulation without risk of instantaneous settlements.
Soil-cement columns
Prior to the column installation, the slab was cored with 182mm hydraulic diamond
core barrel tools. The holes penetrated the concrete of the slab and the grouted gravel
fill to reach the underlying fill.

FIG 7. Work in low headroom conditions

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Soil-cement columns were then installed between the bottom of grouted gravel fills
and the competent ground:
- The column pattern was designed to limit the allowable load in improved
material to 14 tons/column, varying from 1.50mx1.50m to 2.00mx2.00m
according to loading areas.
- Minimal embedment in competent ground was 0.30m to guarantee the
bearing capacity of columns.
Throughout column installation, spoil was pumped from the drilling rig into tanks
to maintain a clean site.
Preliminary trial
A first trial was performed to validate the working procedure and to check the
contact between the columns and the grouted layers above. Contact grouting and 4
columns were installed and then excavated for visual control. Figure 8 shows the top
of the treatment at one column.

Concrete Slab
Grouted gap
Grouted gravel fill
Soil-cement column
FIG 8. Excavation of a column head
Quality Control
During the soil and binder mixing stage, working parameters were continuously
measured, displayed and recorded, allowing real-time control by the rig operator.
Parameters included: depth (m), drilling speed (m/h), torque pressure (bar), rotation
speed (rpm), flow rate (L/min), grouted volume (L/m) and total grouted volume (L).
Individual reports with recorded parameters can be reviewed afterwards for control.
The flow rate of cement based slurry was automatically adjusted to the drilling
speed. The incorporated cement quantity was kept constant over all columns height.
Wet samples were taken in spoil and cement slurry and control cores were
collected in hardened columns. An average strength of about 4 MPa for soil mix
material at 28 days was obtained, complying with required specifications
(UCS = 3.5 MPa at 28 days).

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Backfilling the holes in the slab and site delivery

After each column was completed, a stirrup was inserted on the column head, to
ensure the continuity and the contact between the columns, the gravel fill and the
slab (see figure 9). Finally the remainder of the hole through the slab was backfilled
with cement based mortar.

FIG 9. Backfilling of the

holes in the slab

FIG 10. Site after work and after resin


At the end of works, the rooms were cleaned and a layer of resin was applied over
the slab, as shown in figure 10.
The process described in this paper is an alternative solution for deep soil mixing
jobs, where soil improvement is required under or even behind existing structures.
In-situ tests and jobsite experience prove that the spreadable tool is able to install
soil-cement columns larger than the initial drilling diameter, without the drawbacks
of other techniques such as jet grouting where settlement or ground heave, spoil
management and uncertain column diameter may occur.
This technique is subject to new developments, on the basis of trials and sites
observations. They aim to improve the tool and widen its range of applications, in
order to make it suitable to as many soil conditions as possible.
Soletanche Bachy. (2010) Technical Guide. Vol 1 : 29-36.
Rocher-Lacoste et al (2010), Subgrade Improvement Method for Existing Railway
Lines an Experimental and Numerical Study. EJGE Vol. 1.

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