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Control of Jack Thrust Wall Displacement

in Microtunnelling Method
Asskar Janalizadeh Choobbasti
Assistant Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Babol University of
Technology, Babol, Mazandaran, Iran

R. Nikfard & M.J. Vahdatirad, S. Hesami

Department of Civil Engineering, Babol University of Technology, Babol,
Mazandaran, Iran

Microtunnelling technology, which includes different techniques for installing, replacing and
rehabilitating buried pipes and cables, is among the new technologies appearing in world. The
current interest in the technology is the result of increased activities to create underground
installations such as the wastewater and surface water collection network, which in addition to
high water tables, face the problem of landslide and problematic soil conditions. The most
important and expensive parts of Microtunneling technology is concerned with pipe jack
excavation method, shaft construction and any ground support systems to be used. Shaft is a
point that cutting machine starts to excavate and imposed force on the back of pipes. The initial
alignment of the pipe jack and its adjustment and positioning during pipe jacking process plays a
major role. This paper is mainly concerned with the results of a case study conducted on a
project to create a main collector of sewage network in the west bank of the river in the town of
Ahwaz, southern part of Iran. Based on the specifications of the most critical borehole in the
route of project, a new method for designing of the thrust wall is presented.
KEYWORDS: Microtunnelling; jack thrust wall; numerical modeling.

Microtunnelling technology including different techniques for erection, displacing and
reconstruction of pipes and buried cables in the depth of earth is one of innovation methods in world
[1]. In this method and for starting cutting head and entering pipes to cutting tunnels, at first, the
location of drilling machine and related installations named launch-shaft is excavated and then drilling
machine is selected (considering type of the soil) and other installations are assembled and then
drilling is started. During excavation the drilling cuttings (Mud) are taken out from the shaft by the
appropriate systems according to underground water and soil condition [2]. The cutter location is
controlled by the operator in the control cabin. During the cutting, concrete pipes are entered from the
back of cutter by the jack pressure until coming to reception shaft [3].

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As mentioned above, the cutter and pipes movement is because of jack force. The adjustment of
the direction of this force in installing the pipe is very important, particularly in gravitational
networks. The direction of this force is dependent on the machine operation, jacks location and the
thrust wall [4]. Control of the first item comes back to the jack factory. The factory certainly with
revision and test of jacks decrease the effect of machine about imposed force. Moreover jack balance
dependents the place that the jack is installed there and can be controlled easily. So, when the shaft is
made with the necessary care and control concerning to the point of jack instillation about balancing
and enough stability. Then this case will have no effect on the direction of imposed force.
The most important point, related to fixing the direction of imposed force from the jack, is that the
jack after imposing the force is being balanced. This is a function of the thrust wall and the reaction of
imposed force on it [5]. It means that a little displacement in thrust wall causes the force direction
changes significantly leading to the incorrect installation of pipes. It is necessary to note that in
different projects, the meaning of 'small displacement' may have different meaning.
From the above explanation, it is clear that the reaction of jack force is beard by thrust wall. In
fact the shaft transfers it to the soil behind the shaft. Therefore, the thrust wall rotation, which is a
function of geometrical and structural characteristics of soil condition, plays an important role in
Microtunneling technology [6]. Next this aspect of Microtunnelling technology will be discussed


The geotechnical site exploration was initiated to complement the information and data obtained
and developed in the assessment phases. The objective of the site investigation was to determine to
the extent possible, the subsurface soil profile and establish the engineering characteristics of the
strata used in the subsequent analyses. Based on all the laboratory and field results obtained, the
required physical and mechanical properties of the bed soil in shaft analyses were considered
representative of the encountered conditions. They are summarized in the following table 1 [7].
Mainly the soil of region is clay, silty clay and silty sand. The water flow regimes at and around the
site affect the stability and performance of the thrust wall. According to geological, hydrological and
geotechnical assessment, the shallow ground water table, may leads to critical conditions, namely
cutting and installing the pipes in Microtunneling method are vulnerable and susceptible to
instabilities [8].
Table 1: Geotechnical parameters of finite element analyses.
Dept of layer





> 30




(undrain cohesion ratio)

(undrain friction angle)

(Poisson ratio)


> 26


> 230

The finite element analysis conducted were two-dimensional plane strain analyses, using PLAXIS
software. The soils were modeled as elasto-plastic materials. The adopted methodology incorporated
the soil behavior and soil-structure interaction, rather than performing separate analyses for each of
soil and thrust wall. Figure 1 shows a section of shaft used in PLAXIS analyses.

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Figure 1: Section of shaft used in PLAXIS analyses.

For modeling of the shield, considering that this element works as a bending element, the beam
element is used. For modeling the shield wall stabilizers, namely the Middle rail and Upright, because
the model is two dimensional and with vertical section, Middle rail is not considered. In fact
stabilizers are the Uprights that interconnected to the Middle rails. Considering that Uprights are
installed into Middle rails like hinge, this connection is facilitated by hinge type of element. This
means that the main parameter needs more attention in Upright resistance modeling is axial force. To
this end, for finite element simulation of the Uprights the anchor element is used. The above
explanations reveal that the Uprights and shield characteristics are modeled considering the relevant
prototype design. Next the considerations involved in the support modeling of the jack trustwall will
further be discussed.
Jack thrust wall with dimensions (0.3m2.5m2.5m) is susceptible to bending against jack force
reflection. So in finite element modeling this aspect should be simulated properly. In fact both jack
trust wall and its supporting section undergoes simultaneous bending. For this purpose that the
reinforced concrete of thrust wall including the reinforcement for bending element and concrete for
shearing and compression element is used. To this end soil with concrete specifications as a shearing
and compression element is used according to the following Table 2.

Table 2: Soil parameters with concrete specification.

Name in






(KN/m )

(KN/m )






E (KN/m )

for Interface





As shown in the following Figure 2 for ensuring the selected model, three models are examined,
namely Figures (2-a), (2-b) and (2-c).

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Figure (2-a)

Figure (2-b)

Figure (2-c)

Figure 2: Cases considered for selection of the final model.

After analyzing three mentioned models, the obtained results are presented as Figures 3, 4 and 5.

Ux x 10-3m



Uy x 10-3m



Figure 3: Displacement at 3 points of shield (model 2-a)

Ux x 10-3m




Uy x 10-3m


Figure 4: Displacement at 3 points of shield (model, 2-c)

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Ux x 10-3m




Uy x 10-3m


Figure 5: Displacement at 3 points of shield (model, 2-b).

As you can see, the shield displacement in proposed model is between the shield displacements in
high and low level models, so the assumed thrust wall behavior is modeled appropriately.
In the selected model, considering the limitation of PLAXIS software, the third dimension namely
the length of wall is not considered. This analysis leads to a displacement smaller than the real
displacement. In an effort to minimize the error due to simulation problem, two beams with similar
support condition and bending resistance similar to model and prototype are considered as Figure 6.

Figure 6: Two analyzed model for overcoming simulation problem.

We examined different model specification with trial and error to make equal displacement of two
models. After applying 4 trials and errors the final model is finalized with a specification of EA =
7106 kN/m, EI = 7104 kNm2/m and t = 25 cm. These parameters are considered as input data for
PLAXIS calculation.


Before analyzing the results obtained from finite element model, the maximum allowable jack
rotation in driving the pipe should be calculated. The allowable rotation is based on different
calculated slope for transmitting sewage line and the allowable deviation of machine. Considering
route specification and its relationship with diameter and slope of pipe, the minimum slope is 1/D [9],
leading to 0.83 in 1000. Therefore in this research, considering that the slope of sewage line of Ahvaz
is 1.5 in 1000 and the machine maximum deviation is about 0.125 in 1000, the maximum allowed
deviation for jack force is 0.42 in 1000. Next the most important point involved in the finite element
analysis is discussed in more details.
At first the primarily water level is defined before cutting stage is started. Initial stresses are
considered in two phases, namely the initial stresses causes by water and the total initial stresses. The

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final analysis, after introducing cutting stages, is performed based on the total initial stresses
introduced to the model.
Step by step cutting methodology which is unavoidable due to the high depth of shafts in
Microtunneling method must be performed in such a way that cutting stage to be consistent with
reality. In PLAXIS software there is an advantage to making phase cutting after introducing the model
and its complete specification. This is facilitated in initial part of each step by drawing geometrical
line using geometry line menu and subsequent application of staged construction in calculation menu.
In this way some part of soil in each step is excavated. Due to pumping of ground water during
excavation process, the level and slope of the ground water behind the wall change. This aspect needs
careful consideration. It should be representative in the best manner with real condition.
In reality at the initial stage of the cutting the shield is bruised firstly and cutting process continue
in step by step. Until the cutting levels have not come to stabilization, there is no clear way for finite
element modeling. During the construction, the shaft should be cut 1 meter lower than level base that
is determined by designer. This one meter can be substituted by materials like as boulder and gravel to
create a suitable surface for the pavement [10].
In modeling, this one meter will be removed and then one meter of material is assigned which
introduced as "zirasas" in PLAXIS methodology with boulder and gravel parameters. The last point in
cutting and shaft loading is real cutting process and jack loading that at first cutting, executing
stabilizer and displacement are done and during it the shield shape is deformed, then jack thrust wall
is made and jack load is imposed. The simulation of the above mentioned procedure in finite element
modeling is facilitated by starting the loading at the end of cutting and execution of stabilizers and
After having finalized the modeling process, according to support location, cutting is defined in
three steps up to the base of shaft level. In fourth step, sub base is defined for model and in fifth step
the load is imposed. The calculated thrust wall deformation thus obtained is shown in Figure 7.
Considering this result, the thrust wall rotation (0.00063) is bigger than the allowable rotation

Figure 7: Jack thrust wall deformation because of jack force.

To present a recommendation for decreasing the thrust wall rotation to a value smaller than the
allowable one, in the following the effect of number of cutting steps [11], increasing thickness of
thrust wall and grouting cement slurry will be discussed.
It should be noted that the increasing number of cutting steps, allow the soil to have an enough
time for consolidation. Therefore its effect is to decrease the displacement and rotation of thrust wall
[12]. So for further analyses of this effect, the thrust wall deformation for the cutting steps of 7 is
shown in Figure 8. As you can see in Figure 8 with increasing the cutting steps the soil displacement
has been decreased. This result is also reveal that if the depth of soil excavation is increased, then the

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effect of increasing cutting steps in soil resistance is decreased and soil will be heterogeneous. So,
finally the thrust wall rotation will be increased. Next the effect of thrust wall will be discussed.

Figure 8: Jack thrust wall deformation after increasing the number of cutting steps.
To this end first the thickness of jack thrust wall is assumed as 30 cm. In this case the rotation has
been more than allowed rotation. In next step, the thickness has been increased. This practice is
continued until the rotation is decreased to an allowable level. Table (3) shows this analysis.
According to this result when the thickness rose to 70 cm, rotation comes to allowed level. Figure 9
shows diagram of decreasing rotation (in percent) versus increasing thickness (in percent).

Table 3: Effect of increasing thickness of jack thrust wall on decreasing rotation (in percent).

Figure 9: Decreasing rotations versus increasing thickness.

Next solution for coming to allowable level of thrust wall rotation is further continued. Another
alternative is to improve the geo-mechanical properties of soil behind the thrust wall with grouting

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cement slurry [13]. In this method the soil thickness with grouting in it, is changed and the thrust wall
rotation is estimated. This process is continued until the optimum value for thickness of soil is
reached. Of course for this thickness the resulting rotation must be lower than the allowable rotation
[14]. In first analysis the thickness of fortified soil is assumed as 75 cm. Figure 10 shows the result
with grouting in soil. From this result it is definitely cleared that the thrust wall rotation is more than
allowable rotation. Therefore it is decided [15] that the thickness of fortified soil increase to 1.5 m
with an inclined plane of 45 degree, as shown in the following figure 11. In this case, rotation is
reduced to an allowable rotation.

Figure 10: Deformation of jack thrust wall after grouting cement slurry with 75cm grouting

Figure 11: Deformation of jack thrust wall after grouting cement slurry with 150cm grouting
Thus grouting with 150 cm in direction of 45 degree decreases the thrust wall rotation to allowed
rotation. Considering to normal inaccuracy at grouting cement slurry, for more ensuring, a model with
grouting thickness about 225 cm is examined for investigating further the effect of increasing
thickness over than 150 cm in direction of 45 degree. The obtained result is presented in Figure 12.
According to this result, with increasing grouting thickness in direction 45 degree and more than 150
cm, we will have corresponding increasing in the jack thrust wall rotation. So for decreasing the jack
thrust wall rotation should grout the cement slurry with thickness 150 cm indirection 45 degree.

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Figure 12: Deformation of jack thrust wall after grouting cement slurry with 225cm grouting

In this paper an engineering practical problem of the microtunelling technology including the
results of a case study conducted on a project to create the main collector of sewage network in the
west bank of the river in the town of Ahwaz, southern part of Iran are discussed. Thorough analyses
were conducted on a mode of shaft and jack thrust wall based on the geotechnical parameters obtained
from a comprehensive site and laboratory studies. To this end finite element software PLAXIS is
used. The results obtained here reveals that with improving geo-mechanical properties of soil behind
the jack thrust wall by grouting cement slurry, the thrust wall rotation decreases substantially. Suitable
thickness of the thrust wall to enforce the thrust wall rotation to an allowable range is found to be 70
cm. The investigation undertaken in this research shows the sensitivity of jacking tolerance to the
adjustment of the thrust wall and its ground supporting system, particularly in unstable ground

The authors wish to acknowledge the support and assistance provided by the Babol University of
Technology, Babol, Mazandaran, Iran.

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