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IS 6

A simple guide to in-situ ground testing

Part 6: Large-diameter plate
loading tests
The main advantages of in-situ testing over the more shear strength and stiffness in soils and soft rock. The
traditional ways of sampling and laboratory testing are large-diameter plate loading test is the largest in-situ test
speed, quantity and quality. These are explained in detail (excluding pilot scale tests) and so offers the opportunity
in Part 1. to assess the strength and deformation behaviour of much
larger volumes of the ground than any other in-situ test.
A table in Cone penetration testing in geotechnical This is particularly important in ground that has a large
practice lists some of the major in-situ tests and their scale structure that controls its behaviour, such as fissured
perceived applicability for use in different ground clays and soft rocks. The large-diameter plate loading test
conditions. (The table is also given in Part 1 of these can be particularly useful in ground that is difficult to
guides and is discussed in more detail there.) The table sample, such as granular soils or soils with complex
gives the applicability for plate loading tests irrespective of layering. However, it only tests ground within two plate
plate size. diameters of the centre of the plate, it generally can only
test above the water table (including artificially lowered
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This guide considers tests with plate diameters greater water table), it needs reaction to applied load, and it can
than 500 mm. Such tests of this size are applicable for be expensive.

Plate loading test: How to specify and procure a test

what is it?
The general specification for plate loading tests given in
This is a vertical test that replicates a scaled down pad BS 1377:1990 Part 9 clause 4.1 will suffice for most
foundation. It can be carried out at the ground surface, in applications but does not include the installation of sub-
an excavation or, where the test depth below the ground plate instrumentation for measuring ground strains and
level is deeper than about 4 m, in shafts. The plate pore pressures.
consists of a circular or square rigid steel or reinforced
concrete pad or plate. The load is applied by a reaction
system to the plate and is measured by a load cell; the
plate settlement is measured by mechanical or electrical

Figure 1 shows a schematic diagram of plate testing

equipment for testing in deep shafts and Figure 2 shows
testing in the base of a pit. It is essential to appreciate the
size and weight of the equipment required to carry out a
large-diameter plate loading test and its impact on the
logistics of getting the tests completed satisfactorily.

Role of the plate loading test

The test determines large-scale strength and deformation
properties of the ground. It is used to accurately assess,
for example, the end bearing capacity of piles, properties
of ground that are difficult to sample, ground where scaling
of behaviour is not possible owing to other characteristics
of the deposit, or to assess accurately the effect of ground
treatment. Additional instrumentation, to measure
movements and pore water pressures beneath the plate,
can give valuable data on the small strain behaviour and
pore pressure response to vertical loading that is
unobtainable by any other in-situ test. Figure 1 Plate loading arrangements for tests in deep

In-situ ground testing: a simple guide

holes are made through the predrilled

holes to the locations for the sub plate
Load cell instrumentation. Deformations can be
Reference beam Settlement gauge measured by specialist
instrumentation consisting of a
concentric tube plate and the
extensometer points in the ground
Tension pile
Loading beneath the plate. Pore pressures
column generated by the loading of the plate
can be measured by specialist pore
pressure transducers incorporated
with packers to maintain the porous
stone contact with the ground.
Vertical reaction can be achieved
Loading plate using either kentledge or tension piles.

Figure 2 Plate loading arrangements for tests in the base of a pit Typical data
Typical plate pressure versus
It is essential that a method statement Equipment settlement data is shown in Figure 3
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is provided by the contractor to allow Plates are usually circular, to be for a 1.4 m-diameter plate test in the
checking of procedures. An example loaded at the centre and are base of an excavation. The maintained
method statement for installing a plate constructed so that the loading load periods can be easily identified
is given at the end of this guide. In surface in contact with the ground is and the average plate settlement in
particular, the measurement of plate very stiff compared to the ground. this case is the mean of four readings
settlement and the reference system The load must be measured by a from settlement transducers set in
to ensure that plate settlements are calibrated load cell with appropriate two pairs, each pair set diametrically
not influenced by the loading and resolution for the increments to be opposite and close to the plate outer
reaction system should be clearly applied. edge.
identified. An important part of the Plate settlement can be measured
plate test is the preparation of the test by mechanical or electric transducers Figures 4 and 5 show examples of
area and installation of the that are referenced to a stable datum sub-plate movements and pore
instrumentation; this must be outside the influence of the plate and pressures respectively. The effects of
completed using operations within the the reaction system. the load increments are clear, with a
safety recommendations of Sub plate instrumentation can be more compressible layer shown
BS 8008:1996 when working in pits installed through pre-drilled holes in between 0.3 and 0.8 m below the
and deep shafts. the loading plate. Small diameter bore plate.
The pore pressure responses in
Figure 5 show clearly the effects of
each load increment, the response
being greater at 0.7 m below the
plate. The significant dissipation of
pore pressures is evident before the
addition of the next load increment.

Figure 3 Typical data: plate pressure against settlement graph

Large-diameter plate loading tests
50 kNload
onplate 200 kN load
50 onplate
150 kNload
0 100 kN load on plate
40 100 kN load
on plate
1 150 kN load

Por epressur e( kPa)

onplate 50 kN load
on plate
200 kN load 30
2 onplate
Movement towar ds plate (mm)



5 0
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
Elapsed time (hrs)
Pore pressure at 0.7m below the base of the pl ate
U/P 0 - 1.5m below plate
Pore pressure at 1.4m below the base of the pl ate
U/P 1 - 1.1m below plate
7 U/P 2 - 0.8m below plate
U/P 3 - 0.3m below plate

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Elapsed time (Hrs)

Figure 4 Sub-plate movements with Figure 5 Sub-plate pore pressure

time response with time
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Derivation of ground
properties Figure 6 Shear strength from plate
Undrained shear strength Elastic modulus loading tests and triaxial samples
The undrained shear strength (cu ) the The elastic modulus (E) of the ground
ground is calculated from plate is calculated from test data using:
loading test data using : where:
= settlement due to plate
cu = (qu - vo ) / Nc pressure q;
B = plate diameter;
qu = (load on the base of the plate E= B (1 - 2) f (z)
at a settlement equal to 15% of 4
the plate diameter)/(base area of
the plate); = Poissons ratio
vo = total vertical in situ stress; (0.5 for an undrained test);
Nc = bearing capacity factor (= 9 for f (z) = depth factor (settlement at the
most cases in stiff clays) loaded plate depth, Z)/
(settlement of a loaded plate
Figure 6 shows shear strength data at the surface).
from both laboratory and in situ plate Figure 7 shows elastic modulus data
tests for a site on London clay. The from the first loading curves from
plot clearly shows the scatter of data laboratory and in-situ plate loading
from the laboratory tests and the tests on London clay. The plate data
repeatable data from the plate loading have less scatter and give significantly
tests that give a lower average value higher elastic modulus values that are
with increasing depth. In this case, the more representative of the mass
difference is due to the fissure behaviour than the values from the Figure 7 Elastic moduli determined
spacing in the London clay precluding much smaller laboratory samples. from the first loading curves of plate
the laboratory tests from giving loading tests and laboratory triaxial
representative mass properties. tests

In-situ ground testing: a simple guide

Appendix 1: Method of working for plate installation

1. Excavate to within 100 mm of test
level using a machine with toothless
2. Inspect plate test area and obtain
approval from engineer to proceed.
3. Hand clean plate test area to level
and remove disturbed material.
4. Set in loading plate (bed on quick-
setting gypsum plaster or as
5. Install underplate instrumentation 1, 2. Excavate the area of the plate
and begin monitoring. test to about 100 mm above the test
6. Construct plate settlement level, and mark the test location.
reference system and begin
7. Construct reaction frame including
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loading system. 5. Install underplate instrumentation

by drilling through guide holes in the
More information loading plate; using placing tools,
Cone penetration testing in locate the instrumentation at the
geotechnical practice. Lunne T, required depth.
Robertson PK, and Powell JJM.
SponPress, London, 1997.

British Standards Institution 3. Hand-excavate the test area to the

BS 1377-9: 1990 Methods of test for test level to remove loose and
Soils for civil engineering purposes remoulded material; ensure the test
Part 9: In situ tests. surface is level.
BS 8008: 1996 Guide to safety
precautions and procedures for the
6. The instrumentation in the central
construction and descent of machine
well of the plate is for the underplate
bored shafts for piling and other
deformations; piezometers are in the
outer well.
BS 5930: 1999 Code of practice for
site investigations

Your comments
We would welcome any comments that you
may have on this set of guides;
for example, how useful do you find them?
Please email your comments to:
4. Bed the loading plate on to a layer 7. The underplate instrumentation
of quick-setting plaster to ensure installed, including the deformation
good surface contact between the transducer assembly.
loading plate and the ground.

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