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CEG 4012C GEOTECHNICAL ENGINEERING II FALL 2013 Spears

Soil Improvement Using Vibro-Replacement


Dustin S. Spears
soil stability. In relation to the course
(CEG 4012C), I have studied
foundations and the stability of slopes
and have noticed the need of vibroAbstract A major role of geotechnical engineering is replacement methods in areas with
finding ways to stabilize soils under various conditions. Onesoils that are not adequate for
way of improving soil conditions is through the use of vibro- construction of structures.

replacement stone columns. This method of improvement builds


load-bearing columns made from gravel or crushed stone in
cohesive soils and granular soils with high fines content. Four
methods of vibro-replacement; wet top feed, dry bottom feed,
dry bottom feed crane-hung, and offshore bottom feed, will be
discussed in the article. The soils in most need of vibroreplacement consist of soils at risk of liquefaction, in need of
densification, have problems with bearing capacity and stability,
and where excessive settlements may occur. These soils are all
treatable with vibro-replacement. Various structures have been
built on vibro-replacement columns including highways, bridge
abutments, airport runways, and many more. The article
presents several case studies which provide details of various
structures, site soil conditions, and method of improvement.
Index TermsVibro-Replacement, Soil Stability, Stone
Columns,

Ground Improvement

I. INTRODUCTION

IBRO-replacement is a technique that builds loadbearing columns made from gravel or crushed stone in
cohesive soils and granular soils with high fines content
(Sayar and Khalilpasha 2013). Vibro-replacement falls
into the category of deep vibratory compaction
techniques in which loose or soft soil is improved for
building purposes by means of special depth vibrators
(Priebe 1995). This method can be applied to many
different structures. Vibro-replacement has economic
advantages over traditional soil improvement as well
as benefits of increased bearing capacity, increased
shear strength, increased resistance to liquefaction, and
reduction of settlement in soils. This article discusses the
range of soils and conditions where vibro-replacement is
acceptable along with
the type of loading that is to be applied to the stone
columns.

II. VIBRO-REPLACEMENT METHODS


Vibro-replacement is a method to improve soil
characteristics through drilling, vibration, and the
construction of stone columns. Vibro-replacement utilizes a
large vibrating head that is attached to a machine. The
vibrations created are
Manuscript received December 11, 2013. This work was
submitted in partial fulfillment of CEG 4012C Geotechnical
Engineering II course at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Soil Improvement Using Vibro-Replacement relates to the field of
Geotechnical Engineering through the continued research in the area of

formed by an eccentric weight


and electric motor located in
the top of the vibratory head
(Sondermann
and
Wehr
2004). The vibrations are
transferred to the surrounding
soil
resulting
in
the
displacement and compaction
of that soil (Sondermann and
Wehr 2004). Once the vibrator
has reached the design depth,
stone is used to fill the void
either through the top or
bottom of the vibrator. The
vibrator is then raised in
increments of 0.5 to 1.0 meter
to allow for the replacement
stone to compact and settle
into place (Sondermann and
Wehr 2004). There are four
methods of vibro- replacement
that are discussed below.
Each
method
has
very
different techniques and each
is used in many different ways.

A. Wet Top Feed


Through the wet top feed
method, the most common
method, water is forced
through the head of a vibrator
bit that is mounted on the end
of a drilling rig to assist in the
penetration of soil and stone is
then fed from the top of the
vibrator (Krishna et. al. 2004).
Penetration to the required
depth occurs through the
combination of vibration and
high-pressure
water
jets.
Stones are fed through the top
once the vibrator reaches the
required depth. This method is
a partial replacement process
where some of the soil is
replaced and the rest is
laterally
displaced
and
compressed (Krishna et. al.
2004). Figure 1 represents the
wet top feed method of vibroreplacement. An issue that
arises with this method is

water supply and disposal. A large amount of water is


needed and is usually transported to the site. Water must
also be disposed of properly due to the amount of fines in
the water. This method is used to treat soils up to a depth of
30 meters.

Fig. 1. Wet Top Feed Method (Krishna et. al. 2004)

B. Dry Bottom Feed


In this method, a custom machine is used to support the
bottom feed vibrator assembly and penetration to the
required depth is assisted by the combination of vibrations
and the downward force of the machine (Krishna et. al.
2004). Unlike wet top feed method, no water jetting is used
and therefore dry bottom feed is better suited for congested
areas and areas with

CEG 4012C GEOTECHNICAL ENGINEERING II FALL 2013 Spears

limited access to water. Stones are fed through different soil types. Soils
a bin from the top of the machine down to the that are in need of vibrobottom of the vibrator head (Krishna et. al. replacement are ones that
2004). This method is used to treat soils up to are at risk of liquefaction, in
20 meters in depth. Figure 2 represents the dry need of densification, have
bottom feed method.
problems
with
bearing
capacity and stability, and

Fig. 2. Dry Bottom Feed Method


(Krishna et. al. 2004)

C. Dry Bottom Feed CraneHung

Fig. 3. Offshore

This method is essentially the Bottom Feed


same as the dry bottom feed Method (Krishna et.
method with a couple variations. A al. 2004)
custom machine is not needed;
I
instead, a crane is used to support
I
the bottom feed vibrator assembly
I
and penetration to the required
.
depth is assisted by the combination
G
of vibrations and the self-weight of
R
the vibrator (Krishna et. al. 2004).
O
U
The noted differences of the two
N
methods are no custom machine
D
and no downward force applied to
the vibrator head is employed in this
C
O
method.

D. Offshore Bottom Feed

N
D
I
T
I
O
N
S

In this method, a barge or


pontoon is used to support a
crane and vibro string assembly,
similar to the dry bottom feed
crane-hung method (Krishna et.
Vibroal.
2004).
Location
and
penetration to the required depthreplacement is a
versatile
below sea level is through a very
method
of
ground
combination
of
vibration,
compressed air, and globalimprovement.
positioning system (Krishna et.This method can
al. 2004). Figure 3 representsbe
utilized
to
the
offshore
bottom
feed
improve many
method.

2
where
excessive
settlements may occur. The
range of soils treatable by
vibro-replacement is shown
in Figure 4.

stabilization
of
high
earth
embankments too
become.
Ultra
soft
marine clays are
natural deposits
found in coastal
regions and have
common
problems
with
Fig. 4. Range of bearing capacity,
soils treatable by
stability, long-term
vibro-replacement
consolidation, and
(Sayar and
Khalilpasha 2013).creep settlements
due to low shear
Loose sandsstrength (typically
and silts are atbetween 6 and 12
risk
ofkPa),
low
liquefaction
permeability, and
high
plasticity
during
(Krishna et. al.
earthquakes,
meaning the soil2004). Due to the
acts as a liquidlow permeability,
during times ofthe consolidation
violent vibrationstime is very long
must
be
(Krishna et. al.and
into
2004).
Thesetaken
soils
can
beconsideration
densified usingbefore any vibroreplacement
is
vibroreplacement toperformed.
fills
reduce
the Garbage
can
also
benefit
chances
of
from
vibroliquefaction.
replacement
Ultra soft silts
are
man-madewhen there is a
deposits
fromshortage of land.
mining activitiesDue to the natural
and usually havecompressibility of
problems
withlandfills,
bearing capacityexcessive
and stability duesettlement would
to very low shearoccur if structures
strength, typicallywere built directly
top.
An
between 5 and 10on
kPa (Krishna et.example is in
al. 2004). TheseMalaysia where
soils
can
bevibro-replacement
treated with vibro-was used to a
of
14
replacement thatdepth
meters
for
will allow for the

construction of an
expressway with
embankments on
top of a landfill
(Krishna et. al.
2004).

Overall, vibroreplacement
is
suitable
for
granular
soils
with high fines
contents and in
soft,
cohesive
soils where the
soils could not
support
the
design loads.
IV.
ST
RU
CT
UR
ES

A variety of
structures can be
built on vibroreplacement
columns due to
the fact that they
are
essentially
improving many
of the properties
in the surrounding
soils.
Many
infrastructure
projects
have
been built on
these columns.
Earth
embankments must
be constructed with
stability
against
slope failure as a
primary
concern
and settlement as a
secondary concern
(Krishna
et.
al.
2004).
Vibro
replacement is often
chosen
as
an
economical
and

environmentally friendly

CEG 4012C GEOTECHNICAL ENGINEERING II FALL 2013 Spears


the
classical
bearing
capacity
of
traditional
alternative to excavation and replacement of the
soft soils to achieve the slope stability needed. driven piles. Also noticed in
Stone columns are used to improve shear strength this case study was the
and thus achieve an acceptable factor of safety ability to treat very soft
soils with the help of a
against slope failure.
Highways built on soft soils can also benefit sand platform that provided
from vibro-replacement. Time is often an important lateral support to the top of
constraint and the speed of construction limits the the columns which also
in
some
options for improving soils, as long rest periods for resulted
consolidation
under
its
own
consolidation are not available. In these cases,
weight
(Sondermann
and
vibro-replacement is preferred.
Wehr
2004).
Bridge approaches and abutments are often

3
from 5 MPa to 10-12 MPa
(Krishna et. al. 2004).

supported by reinforced earth walls on either side B. CAPCO PTA Project


and lie directly adjacent to the bridge piers, which (Taiwan)
are rigid structures on piles (Krishna et. al. 2004). A new chemical plant was
Slope stability and settlement become points of proposed to be built in a
concern mainly in the transition zone to the bridge reclaimed area close to the
deck (Krishna et. al. 2004). Vibro-replacement has harbor of Taichung with a
been used to alleviate some of these concerns.
subsoil consisting of sandy fill

High-speed railway lines must adhere to very with 10% to 25% fines up to 10
strict settlement tolerances. Railways can often meters in depth followed by
pass through swampy areas where soil sand to a depth of 20 meters
improvement is needed and vibro-replacement (Krishna et. al. 2004). Testing at
is frequently used.
the site revealed the sand
Airport runways and taxiways have utilized
deposits were highly susceptible
vibro-replacement when being constructed on
to liquefaction, as demonstrated
soft soils. Often dry bottom feed methods must
on site during the Chi Chi
be used since water jetting is usually not
Earthquake in 1999 (Krishna et.
allowed around existing runways (Krishna et. al.
al. 2004). Soil improvements
2004).
were

needed

to

prevent

in

diameter

Tank foundations are often built on vibroliquefaction and to reduce


replacement columns with typical requirements of
settlement. After many field
total settlement of no more than 300 mm and a
trials, vibro-replacement was
max differential settlement of 1 in 180 (both radial
selected with stone columns of
and circumferential) (Krishna et. al. 2004).
1-meter

and

Chemical plants and other buildings are often


founded on vibro-replacement columns whereconstructed in a triangular grid
of 2.5 meters using the cranelarge loads are founded on small footings.
Soil testing and experimenting are the only hung bottom feed method
ways to determine if a soil site is in need of (Krishna et. al. 2004). A cone
vibro-replacement columns. Some of the testspenetration test was conducted
conducted to determine this would be the cone before (red solid line) and after
penetration test and soil borings. With these (green dashed line) treatment
results a plan with depth and spacing of the and the results can be seen in
Figure 5. The sand layer up to
columns can be determined.
10 meters in depth improved

V. CASE STUDIES
This

section

describes t

specific cases where vibro- U


replacement columns have n
been utilized for airports, d

chemical plants, and other er


structures
throughout the world.

A. VibroReplacemen

located n

e
at
h
E

m
b
a
n
k
m
e
nt
s
(

Fig. 5. CPT Pre and Post


Treatment of the Soil (Krishna et. al. 2004).

top of soft silts


The
construction
ofand clays with
highway
embankmentsundrained
and bridge abutments ofshear strength
six projects at Putrajaya,values
Malaysia
required
thebetween 6 and
kPa
to
construction
of
earth20
embankments with heightsdepths of 8 and
between 16 and 20 meters12 meters that
(Raju
2002).
Theposed
construction took place onproblems with

Malaysia)

slope stability
and excessive
settlements
(Sondermann
and
Wehr
2004). Vibroreplacement
was
chosen
instead
of
removing the
soft soils for

environmental
and C. Vibroeconomical reasons. This Replacem
case study shows that vibro- ent to
replacement columns can Prevent
carry very high loads: each Liquefactio
individual column for this n (USA)
project had to carry a load of An
1600 kN (Sondermann andexpansion
of
Wehr 2004). These largethe facilities at
loads exceeded
the
Albany
Airport in New
York was to be
considered
(Soydemir et.
al. 1997). The

subsurface soil2004). The loose near-settlements


conditions
surface deposits were(Sondermann
consisted
ofevaluated
to
beand
Wehr
primarily
fineliquefaction-susceptible
2004).
An
sands
withand
the
projectarrangement of
varying
geotechnical
engineer0.9-meter
amounts of siltrecommended
grounddiameter
and
theimprovement. Because ofcolumns on a
groundwater the high silt content, vibro-3.6-m x 3.6-m
table was at areplacement columns weregrid
was
shallow depthutilized to provide animplemented
within the near-overall densification, to(Sondermann
surface
maintain the excess poreand
Wehr
deposits
pressure buildup at an2004).
This
(Sondermann acceptable level, and tocase
study
and
Wehrresist seismically inducedshowed
that

vibroreplacement
columns could
be constructed
in
loose,
saturated fine
sand with high
silt content to
provide
resistance
to
liquefaction
and

CEG 4012C GEOTECHNICAL ENGINEERING II FALL 2013 Spears


to control seismically induced settlements
(Sondermann and Wehr 2004).
D. Vibro-Replacement (Germany)
The worlds largest paper-processing plant (240-m
long and 60-m wide) was built on vibro-replacement
columns in Germany, including all the machine
foundations and the foundation slab (Sondermann and
Wehr 2004). The soil consisted of soft silt and clay in the
upper 3-meters, underlain by loose sand and gravel
(Sondermann and Wehr 2004). The vibro-replacement
columns were installed in the upper 5-meters through
the soft layer in a 3-11 m2 triangular grid to account for
the various loads between 40 and 250 kN/m2
(Sondermann and Wehr 2004). The small differential
settlement criterion of the high-bay warehouse was met,
despite the variable thickness of the soft, top layer
(Sondermann and Wehr 2004).

E. Hazira LNG Terminal (India)

Replacement
Ground
Improvement
for
Improving
Static
and
Seismic
Shallow
Foundation Performance.
GeoFlorida 1633-1640.

Fig. 6. Typical Cross Section


of RE Wall Founded on
Stone Columns (Krishna et.
al. 2004).

VI.
CON
CLUS
ION

Hazira LNG terminal is located near an estuary and


Soil
improvement
has two liquid tanks of 84-meter diameter and filling
through
vibro-replacement
level of 35-meters founded on vibro-replacement
columns. The subsoil at site was at a depth of 16-meters allows for many structures to
and consisted of loose silty sands (Krishna et. al. 2004) be built on soils that were not
before
Vibro-replacement was chosen to reduce the overallsuitable
settlement of the tanks and to reduce liquefaction enhancement. Utilizing the
potential in a possible seismic event (Krishna et. al. various methods of vibro2004). Stone columns of 1-meter in diameter and 16- replacement, soils of any
meters long were installed using the wet top feedtype and under many
circumstances
can
be
method (Krishna et. al. 2004).
F. Vibro-Replacement to Prevent Liquefaction (Philippines) improved. As new technology
and
research
become
A new gas field was to be linked to an existing gas plant
available, methods of soil
as an extension of an existing complex near Batangas,
improvement will expand

about 550-km from the coast of the Philippines. The soil


consisted of soft clay in the upper 3-meters and a
liquefiable loose sand layer 11-meters in depth, all
underlain by silts and clays to the base stratum at 25meters (Sondermann and Wehr 2004). To allow for bearing
2

R
EF
ER
EN
CE
S

pressures up to 150 kN/m with required settlements less


than 25 mm, vibro-replacement columns were installed
using the dry bottom feed method (Sondermann and Wehr Black, J.A., McCabe, B.A. and
2004). The columns not only improved the bearing
McNeill,
J.A.
(2007).
capacity, but also reduced the liquefaction potential of the
Ground
Improvement
sand. To verify the settlement criteria, two-zone load tests
using the Vibro-Stone
2

were executed with a load up to 150 kN/m , the measured


results showed settlements were less than 10 mm, which
confirmed the original calculations with a decent factor of
safety (Sondermann and Wehr 2004).

G.
Petronas Kedah Fertilizer Plant Line
(Malaysia)
The construction of the Petronas very soft clayey
Fertilizer Plant was accompanied by the silts to depths of 9which
construction of a special railway line atopmeters,
posed
problems
a reinforced earth wall (Krishna et. al.
2004). The height varied between 2-with wall stability
excessive
meters and 8-meters with the presence ofand

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Figure 6 shows
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Dustin S. Spears is studying civil engineering in U.A.
Whitaker College of Engineering at Florida Gulf Coast
University in Fort Myers, Florida. The author plans to
graduate in May 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in Civil
Engineering and pursue a career in the local area.