5 Integrity Problems of Concrete Piles

Deficiency of concrete materials is a common problem in Bored Pile construction. This is mainly because integrity problems of concrete piles can affect the load bearing capacity and load distribution properties. Piles and deep foundations transmit top structure loads to strong substrate through friction and/or standing on bed rock. This load transmission is performed effectively when no major issue is accompanied by substructure such as important cracks, voids, soil intrusion, etc. The consequences of such deficiencies might be challenging when the top structure stands on weak substructure (pile and/or foundation). This might vary from partial settlement to significant damage or collapse of the top structure. Integrity Problems of Concrete Piles can become a huge challenge in large diameter piles.

Integrity Problems of Concrete Piles

The inspection and evaluation of integrity problems of concrete piles are often challenging, mainly because these elements are not easily accessible for visual inspection. The process of quality control for this group of elements is very much through indirect measurement of other parameters, i.e. resistance of pile to driving or drilling, or other non-destructive testing techniques (NDT). NDT methods can shed light on this hidden part of concrete piles.


Integrity Problems of Concrete Piles

A knowledge about possible sources of deficiencies increase pile testing resolution. Like other non-destructive testing methods, the resolution of pile testing results significantly increase when site observations (e.g. soil profile, design length of pile, concrete quality) are available. The following briefly presents some major issues that should be considered during pile testing and signal analysis.

1- Major Cracks

Pile Deficiencies

Major cracks can affect the quality and reliability of piles. Cracks might be a results of poor construction (precast piles), or can be a results of damages during transportation, and installation. Pile integrity can provide valuable information about the presence of such cracks in the pile. Acoustic waves are fully reflected off major cracks boundaries. This is because of high acoustic impedance between concrete and empty space. Therefore, acoustic waves provide no information regarding lower levels.

2- Major Voids

Similar to cracks, voids can affect the consistency and quality of pile materials. Voids can affect the load bearing capacity of concrete piles, as they reduce the effective cross-sectional dimension. pile integrity testing does not provide any useful information about the portion of the pile that locates underneath the major voids or cracks.

3- Soil Inclusion

According to HON-FUNG CYRIL CHAN (1987 ) Inclusion of foreign material, soil lumps, slurry, etc. within the body of the pile can negatively impact the integrity of piles and deep foundations. This could happen as a result of borehole wall slide into the hole which can potentially create gaps over length of pile. Soil inclusion can impact the load bearing capacity of the pile. Evaluating soil inclusion through acoustic waves can be quite challenging since the acoustic impedance between the two regions of hardened concrete and soil might not be significant. Methods such as pile integrity test (sonic-echo) can be used to evaluate the integrity issues.

4- Necking

Necking in concrete piles can happen during casting of pile shaft in soft clay. This rapid change of cross section (as a results of necking) can be a source of integrity problem. Necking can affect the load bearing capacity of concrete piles. According to Zhaoyin Zhou, "Poor performance and large water loss of mud causes water swelling of plastic layer or form lax honeycomb thick mud cake; improper distance between neighboring pile constructions, the stresses in the layers of soil has not been diffused, soft clay creeps in new holes, or the bit size wears excessively are the main causes."

5- Bulging

El-Wakil and Kassim cite that bulging is defined as a kind of pile shape imperfection; bulging increases the pile cross-section in certain areas along the pile length. While bulging may increase the pile ultimate load capacity, it is still considered as a pile defect and should be investigated. Pile integrity testing can effectively help identify bulging and necking in concrete piles.

How To Evaluate Integrity Problems?

Quality Control of Foundations and Piles

According to the ASTM D5882, pile integrity refers to qualitative evaluation of the physical dimensions, continuity of a pile, and consistency of the pile material. ASTM D5882 introduces a standard method for integrity testing of piles and deep foundations using low strain impact. This method includes generating acoustic waves using a hammer impulse and transmission of acoustic probe waves through the test area (i.e. piles or deep foundations). The transmitted waves are reflected off boundaries (e.g. pile toe) and internal anomalies, recorded by a transducer (e.g. accelerometer, geophone) on the tip of pile. The recorded signal is further analyzed using different signal analysis features (e.g. FFT, Low-Pass Filter and High-Pass Filter, etc.) to find out possible anomalies, and pile toe for pile length testing.

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