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Stiffness matching of model reinforced concrete for centrifuge modelling

of soil-structure interaction
A.H. Al-Defae
Ph.D Student, University of Dundee, Dundee, UK and Wasit University, Iraq.
J.A. Knappett
Senior Lecturer, Division of Civil Engineering, University of Dundee, Dundee, UK

ABSTRACT: In this paper, three dynamic centrifuge tests were conducted on a pile-reinforced cohesionless
slope at 1:50 scale to demonstrate that a recently developed model reinforced concrete (RC) pile can model pro-
totype soil-structure interaction (SSI) correctly. Two different pile models were used, namely: (i) model RC
piles, representative of B = 500 mm square precast piles and (ii) ‘elastic’ piles, fabricated from aluminium-alloy
to match the elastic bending stiffness, EI, of the model RC piles. Two of the models used RC piles and the third
used ‘elastic’ instrumented piles. In each model, the piles were installed in a row, midway between the toe and
crest, at a spacing ratio s/B = 3.5. From the induced bending moments measured in the elastic piles and the
measured slope settlements it is shown that elastic soil-pile interaction is replicated accurately by the model RC
piles, so long as the induced bending moments are below the moment capacity of the model RC section. It is
therefore verified that the elastic behaviour of the model concrete translates to prototype scale.

1 INTRODUCTION Discretely-spaced piles have been used to stabi-

lise slopes and highway embankments under static
Many soil-structure interaction problems in geotech- loadings and they may also be useful for stabilising
nical engineering involve structural elements made slopes subjected to strong seismic ground motions.
from reinforced concrete (RC). There are significant Expensive steel tubular piles (in some cases filled
difficulties associated with reduced-scale modelling with concrete) have been traditionally been used in
of such material, as would be required within a cen- slope stabilisation, but significant cost savings could
trifuge model. These complexities arise from scale be made if RC piles could be used. The soil-pile in-
and size effects on material strength when a large teraction in such a system represents a soil-structure
scaling factor is used (Knappett et al., 2011). Many interaction problem in which the structural elements
previous studies by structural engineers working at are relatively simple and would be a good ‘test-case’
scales of between 1:4 – 1:15 have investigated such for examining the performance of the model con-
size effects on shear and torsional failure of beams crete developed by Knappett et al. (2011) within a
and punching shear failure of slabs (e.g. Bazant et full centrifuge model under enhanced gravity (previ-
al., 1985; Bazant et al., 1986 and Bazant et al., ous studies of behavior were confined to 1-g testing
1987). of basic model-scale properties).
The capacity and the bending stiffness of rein- This paper will therefore demonstrate that the
forced concrete beams are affected by scaling the new model reinforced concrete can correctly repli-
quasi-brittle fracturing process which affects the ten- cate elastic (dynamic) soil-structure interaction, for
sile strength of the concrete components (Litle and the case of a piled slope in which the behavior of the
Paparoni, 1966). In order to avoid these effects, piles is governed by beam bending.
model materials are required that have representative
tensile and compressive strength of concrete at mod-
el scale, to give the same elastic bending stiffness 2 RC MODEL PILES
(EI) and shear/moment capacity at prototype scale.
Knappett et al. (2011) developed new cementitious Square cross section model piles were cast using an
mortars based on casting and surgical plasters and aluminium-alloy formwork 10 × 10 mm in section
fine sand as a model aggregate to create a micro- and 200 mm length. These dimensions represent a
concrete mix which replicates the properties of con- 0.5 × 0.5 m square cross section, 10 m in length at
ventional concrete at very small scales (e.g. 1:50). prototype scale (at a scale of 1:50). ‘Mix 1’ materi-
als, developed by Knappett et al. (2011) were used to
simulate a reinforced concrete mix which would typ- 275mm at prototype scale. The reinforcement layout
ically be used in the construction of piles. This mi- for the model RC piles is shown in Figure 1(a).
cro-concrete mix consists of a surgical plaster (as a Following casting, all model RC piles were left to
binder instead of cement), HST95 Congleton silica cure in air for 28 days before testing. Some piles
sand (representing the grain size distribution of typi- were testing in four-point bending to determine the
cal coarse aggregate at prototype scale) and water. bending properties of the model RC section. A typi-
These materials were mixed together at the same cal moment-curvature relationship is shown in Fig-
percentage (1:1:1) by mass following the procedure ure 2. The initial gradient of the moment-curvature
of Higgins (2007). To check the compressive relationship gave the bending stiffness (EI). The val-
strength of the model concrete, three sets of 100 × ue of EI expected for a full-scale pile can be estimat-
100 mm cubes were cast, along with a set of 150 × ed using the transformed cracked section:
300 mm cylinders in the geotechnical laboratory at
University of Dundee. Some of these were left for 7  b.( kd )3 
days and others for 28 days of air curing (laboratory EI  Ec   . As .( d  kd ) 2  (1)
temperature between 20 – 30 ºC). These results  3 
showed that the compressive strength reached 25 where Ec is the concrete Young’s modulus; Es is the
MPa at 28 days whereas it was approximately 19 Young’s Modulus of steel; b is the width of section
MPa at 7 days. Small differences were observed be- (0.5 m); is the modulus ratio =Es/Ec; d is the effec-
tween the values obtained from the cubes and cylin- tive depth of section and is the un-cracked depth
ders, but the two sets of tests were generally in good (size of the compressive zone above the neutral ax-
agreement. is). Tests were also conducted on unreinforced
The pile model contained two lengths of longitu- beams to determine the Young’s Modulus and mod-
dinal reinforcement on the downslope side of the ulus of rupture (tensile strength in bending) of the
pile, and three along the upslope side (tension is ex- model concrete.
pected in the upslope face of the pile due to bending The procedure of Pam et al. (2001) was followed
induced by downslope soil movement). This longi- to determine the ductility of the beam model from
tudinal reinforcement was represented using 0.6 mm the load-deflection curve in the four-point tests. The
steel wires diameter, representing 30 mm diameter properties of the model RC piles are given in Table
steel bar at prototype scale. Shear reinforcement was 1.
incorporated using 0.25mm steel wire in a continu-
ous spiral around the longitudinal wires, representing Table 1: Properties of RC and elastic piles, measured
12.5 mm diameter steel at prototype scale. The ulti- from laboratory tests.
mate tensile stress and yield stress of the wires were Value Value
determined by tensile testing on representative spec- Parameter Symbol
(model scale) (prot. scale)
imens using an Instron 1196 loading frame. Defining
the yield strength at 0.2% permanent strain, the aver- Pile size (square) B 10 mm 0.5 m
age yield strength was 461 MPa for the model longi- Longitudinal bar
Db 0.6 mm 30 mm
tudinal reinforcement and 341 MPa for the model diameter
shear reinforcement. Because of the small size of the Reinforcement
As/Ac 0.93 % 0.93 %
wires, it was not possible to rib them to directly sim- ratio
ulate real reinforceing bars, so a rapid-setting epoxy Steel yield
resin was used to coat the wires with HST95 silica strength (0.2% fy 341 MPa 341 MPa
proof strain)
sand to give a rough surface and achieve a good
Steel Young’s
bond with the model concrete (Knappett et al., Modulus
Es 179 GPa 179 GPa
2011). Concrete com-
The purpose of the two longitudinal reinforce- fcu 24.95 MPa 24.95 MPa
pressive strength
ment wires on the downslope face is to hold the Concrete modu-
shear reinforcement wire and form the reinfoorce- fr 2.34 MPa 2.35 MPa
lus of rupture
ment cage, rather than provide any particular rien- Concrete Elastic
Ec 9.4 GPa 9.4 GPa
forcing effect within the compressive zone of the Modulus
model RC section. As a result, these wires were not Pile bending
EI 7.8 Nm2 49 MNm2
coated with the epoxy resin-sand mixture so that the stiffness
piles approximate a singly-reinforced section. The Displacement
Δ 4.43 4.43
reinforcement ratio was (As/Ac=0.85%) where As ductility
and Ac are the cross sectional for the steel (on the Pile moment ca-
Mult 1.86 Nm 233 kNm
upslope face) and concrete respectively. The shear pacity
reinforcement was distributed along the piles at a Shear load at
Vult 30.5 N 76.25 kN
pitch of 5.5mm, representing a shear spacing of

Elastic piles were designed and fabricated from

6063-T6 Aluminium-alloy to have the same EI, exte-
rior dimensions and interface properties as the model
RC piles. These elastic piles therefore had E = 68
GPa, and cross-sectional dimensions of 5.1 mm
depth in the plane of bending and 10 mm perpendic-
ular to this. The aluminum model pile was tested in
cantilever bending to verify the bending stiffness and
determine the yield and ultimate bending moment
(3.75 MNm at prototype scale). As the section was
much stronger than the model RC piles (c.f. Table
1), strain gauges could be attached to these piles,
without fear of them being damaged. The strain
gauges were fixed along the long direction of the
pile section, coated with an ‘N-1’ thin neoprene Figure 2. Moment curvature for model RC and elastic pile
coating material and a flexible silicone-based sealant models.
was then added to build-up the overall dimensions of
the pile to 10 × 10 mm without altering the bending The model RC piles have a rough surface (δ ≈ φ),
stiffness (which was purely derived from the central so to simulate this in the instrumented piles they
aluminium-alloy core). Six pairs of strain gauges, were covered by a thin aluminium adhesive tape
wired to measure bending strain (and calibrated to sleeve and then with HST95 sand using epoxy resin.
give bending moment) were attached. These were Only two of the ‘elastic’ piles were instrumented; to
distributed over the pile length so that the first is at provide enough of this type of pile for fully stabilis-
10 mm below the top of the pile, and the remainder ing the model slopes, additional ‘dumb’ elastic piles
are evenly spaced over the pile embedded length at were produced of the same construction as shown in
36 mm separation (centre-to-centre). Figure 1(b) Figure 1(b), but without the strain gauges attached.
shows the instrumented elastic pile model schemati- Figure 2 shows the moment-curvature relationships
cally. for both the model RC and ‘elastic’ pile models from
laboratory tests.



The model configuration and instrumentation layout

for the pile-reinforced slope tests is shown in Figure
3. In all models, the slope profiles were identical,
except for slight variations in relative density (which
was between 55-60%) related to the accuracy with
which the models could be pluviated. Note that all
measurements, time, lengths and other results are
presented hereafter in prototype engineering units
unless otherwise noted. HST95 Congleton silica
sand was used in the centrifuge tests. This sand is
very fine and uniformly rounded, and has been used
by other researchers to study dynamic response of
cohesionless slopes (Al-Defae et al., 2013) and
structural settlement due to liquefaction phenomena
(e.g. Bertalot et al., 2012). Lauder (2011) determined
the minimum and maximum void ratio of this sand
in accordance with (BS1377 Part4, 1990). These
minimum and maximum void ratio values were
0.769 and 0.467 respectively, resulting in minimum
Figure 1. Model RC and ‘elastic’ pile sections.
and maximum dry unit weights of 14.59 and 17.58
kN/m3. For the nominal relative density of 55% con-
sidered in the tests presented herein, e = 0.6 and g =
16.1 kN/m3. The shear strength parameters, (namely
angle of internal friction φ) were determined using a
60 × 60 mm direct shear apparatus according to the
procedure proposed by (ASTM3080-72 Standard,
The dynamic centrifuge tests were performed on
the beam centrifuge at University of Dundee which
has recently been equipped with a 1-D servo-
hydraulic earthquake simulator, both of which were
designed and constructed by Actidyn Systèmes SA,
France. The earthquake simulator can carry a 400kg
model (including container). A flexible equivalent
shear beam (ESB) container with internal dimen-
sions of 669 mm (length), 279 mm (width) and 338
Figure 4. Input motion at base of container, in time and fre-
mm (height) was used in this work. The design of quency domains.
this container is described by (Bertalot, 2012).
Accelerometers were located within the soil mass In each case, the model piles were installed in a
along the centerline of the ESB to measure the dy- row, midway between the toe and crest, at a spacing
namic soil response as shown in Figure 3. Two line- ratio s/B = 3.5 and were pushed as a row slowly into
ar variable differential transformers (LVDTs) were the slope at 1-g, prior to flying the model. The first
installed at the slope crest (the first one at the crest model tested (AA07) was stabilised by model RC
of the slope along the centerline of the ESB, with the piles and a single earthquake only was applied to this
second located at the middle distance between the model. The second model (AA11) was also stabi-
crest and the container wall). A third LVDT was po- lised by model RC piles, but four successive (identi-
sitioned near the container wall to investigate cal) earthquake motions were applied in this case. In
boundary effects, but this instrument is not discussed the final test reported here (AA15) elastic piles, two
further in this paper. of which instrumented as described in the previous
Three dynamic centrifuge tests (AA07, AA11 and section, were used and four earthquake motions were
AA15) were carried out, in each case having a slope also applied to this model.
angle = 28º. Real ground motion from M7.6 Chi Chi
earthquake in 1999 was used as the input motion in
all three tests, having a peak acceleration of 0.41g. 5 CENTRIFUGE TEST RESULTS
The time history and Fast Fourier Transform (FFT)
of the demand motion are shown in Figure 4. The
motion file was downloaded from the TCU072 Sta- The dynamic results presented here consist of the
tion from the PEER NGA Database via the web ap- seismic vertical displacement at the crest of the slope
plication at A calibration and the measured bending moments within the in-
was conducted, using the learning capabilities of the strumented piles. All data results were low pass fil-
motion controller in the earthquake simulator until tered with a cut-off frequency of 400 Hz (represent-
an accurate and repeatable replication of the demand ing the highest model-scale frequencies in the input
motion was achieved. This is discussed in further motion) and are plotted at prototype scale.
detail by Bertalot et al. (2012)
5.1 Seismic crest settlements
As shown in Figure 5, the crest settlement for test
AA07 under single quake was 0.31 m which is ex-
tremely close to the measured values after the first
earthquake in tests AA11 and AA15. Comparing the
settlements after four earthquakes in tests AA11 and
AA15 there are slight differences between the model
RC (AA11) and elastic (AA15) cases, with 0.6 m of
settlement occurring in the former and 0.55 m in the
latter. It can be seen that the measured settlements at
the crest of the slope indicate almost identical global
slope behaviour between the model RC and elastic
tests suggesting that the SSI is the same in each case.
This is partially as a result of matching the bending
stiffness between the two models so that the relative
Figure 3. Centrifuge test layout and instrumentation. soil-pile flexibility is the same. This suggests that
the similarity in EI measured in 1-g bending tests
translates well to the full boundary value problem The ultimate bending moment capacity measured
tested at enhanced gravity in the centrifuge. in the four-point bending tests is also shown in Fig-
ure 6 (236 kNm). Following the centrifuge tests,
5.2 Pile performance during earthquakes some of the model RC piles in tests AA07 and
The maximum measured bending moment generated AA11 were exhumed and tested in four-point bend-
along the instrumented piles in model AA15 due to ing to measure the residual moment capacity of the
soil movement during the dynamic loading is shown section, as fatigue theory would suggest that this
in Figure 6. Negligible initial bending moment was would be reduced from the pre-earthquake value due
observed prior to the first earthquake following spin- to cyclic loading. As shown in Figure 6, the ultimate
up of the centrifuge. In Figure 6, positive bending bending capacity following a single earthquake (test
moment means that the upslope (reinforced) face of AA07) under single earthquake was reduced to
the pile is in tension. The maximum bending mo- 211.8 kNm; after more cycles of loading (test AA11)
ment (3.6 m below the slope surface, close to the the residual capacity is reduced further to 182.8
level of the slope toe), in the first earthquake reaches kNm. As the residual moment capacities are always
half of its final value soon after the shaking begins larger than the measured maximum bending mo-
(when the input motion reaches its first peak ampli- ments in the elastic piles of test AA15, it suggests
tude), then remains roughly stable for approximately that the model RC piles behaved elastically through-
6 s, before reaching its final value. This behaviour out the earthquakes. This was confirmed by post-test
correlates strongly with the accumulation of perma- observations which showed no cracking or plastic
nent crest settlement with time in Figure 5, suggest- hinging within the model RC piles.
ing that the induced bending moments are principal-
5.3 Acceleration response spectra at slope crest
ly caused by the permanent downslope soil
movements. Figure 7 shows the normalised acceleration response
spectra (ARS) plotted using the motion recorded at
accelerometer number 5 in Figure 3, for a hypothet-
ical structure situated at the crest with 5% damping.
It can be seen that the ARS are generally very simi-
lar, though the accelerations are slightly larger in the
case of the model RC piles in earthquake 1. In earth-
quake 4, the two lines are almost identical. As the
ARS are normalized, it is likely that the differences
in the first earthquake arise due to slight differences
in density between models AA11 and AA15. By
earthquake 4, sufficient densification has occurred
during to the previous events to equalize the density
of the soil in the slope. As in Section 5.1, these re-
sults suggest that the model RC piles replicate the
elastic SSI well.

Figure 5. (a) Measured crest settlement during earthquakes; (b)

input motion at accelerometer 8. 6 CONCLUSIONS

In this paper the seismic behavior of a pile rein-

forced cohesionless slope has been investigated us-
ing centrifuge modeling, as an example SSI problem
(involving structural bending) for validation of a
new technique modeling reinforced concrete (RC) at
reduced scale. It has been shown that realistic bend-
ing properties can be achieved in the model RC piles
and that the SSI within the boundary value problem
considered is largely indistinguishable from one us-
ing purely elastic elements. This suggests that the
model RC will be particularly useful in studying
(dynamic) soil structure interaction problems, repli-
cating correct pre-failure behaviour, but also being
able to sustain damage at realistic loads (bending
Figure 6. (a) Maximum measured bending moment during moment capacity) and show representative post-
earthquakes; (b) input motion at accelerometer 8. failure behaviour (ductility).
Pam, H. J., Kwan, A. K. H. & Islam, M. S. 2001 Flexural
Strength and Ductility of Reinforced Normal - and High
Strength Concrete Beam. Conference Proceeding of the In-
stitution of Civil Engineering Structural and Building, ICE,
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ASTM, D3080-72 Standard 2000. Test Methods for Direct
Shear Test of Soil. American Society of Testing and Mate-
rial, ASTM.
BS1377, Part-4. 1990. Maximum and Minimum Dry Density
for Granular Soil. British Standard Institutions, UK.

Figure 7. Acceleration response spectra in (a) Earthquake 1; (b)

Earthquake 4.


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