Types of Pile Load Test | Complete guide

What is a Pile Foundation ?

Pile foundations play a vital role in structures, by transferring the structural load to the solid ground below the surface. Elongated and slender elements, piles transmit the load to deeper, high-bearing capacity soil or rock layers, bypassing weaker, shallow soil. Typically, construction materials for piles include wood, steel, or concrete.

Construction involves inserting them into the ground using methods like driving, drilling, or jacking, followed by connecting them to pile caps. Piles are classified according to criteria like soil type, pile material, and load transmission characteristics.

Pile Foundation
Pile Foundation (Source: Shutterstock)

Function of Pile Foundation

Pile foundations play a crucial role in maintaining the stability and structural integrity of various constructions. These foundations address challenges posed by soil conditions and loads. In this context, the roles and uses of pile foundations are as follows:

  1. Load Transmission: Pile foundations transfer structure weight to stable ground. They distribute loads and prevent settlement problems.
  2. Enhancing Bearing Capacity: When the soil beneath the structure cannot cannot adequately support the load pile foundations are used. Therefore, by penetrating deeper layers, piles establish a solid base for construction.
  3. Settlement Prevention: Site investigations might reveal weak or unstable shallow soil. In such cases, pile foundations become a viable solution to prevent excessive settlement and maintain structural stability.
  4. Economic Feasibility: Depending on project and site variables, pile foundations can offer cost advantages over other ground improvement methods.
  5. Essential for Large Structures: Pile foundations play a vital role in large constructions where the load-bearing capacity of surface soil is insufficient.
  6. Withstanding Horizontal Loads: Piles can provide enhanced stability to structures, even in standard soil conditions, by effectively resisting lateral forces.
  7. Used in Waterfront Structures: Pile foundations play a crucial role in supporting structures located above water bodies, like jetties and bridge piers, ensuring enduring stability and safety.

Pile Load Testing

The construction of pile foundations depends on factors like subsurface soil stiffness and groundwater conditions, utilizing various construction techniques including in-situ casting and pre-augering. These methods shape the foundation’s construction. However, the substantial influence it exerts on the subsurface layers often leads to greater uncertainty about the actual load-bearing capacity of a pile foundation compared to a shallow footing. These tests involve applying a load that is capable of displacing the foundation and determining its capacity based on the response of the foundation to the load.

Pile load testing stands as the most conclusive approach to ascertain a pile’s load-bearing capacity. Pile testing is used to:

  • Confirm Design Suitability
  • Verify Quality Control
  • Explore Potential Enhancements in Foundation Design
  • Foster Research and Development

Importance of Pile Testing

Pile testing stands as an integral element within construction projects that involve piled foundations. It is imperative to ensure that the chosen testing methods align with the specific piling technique, structural requirements, and prevailing site conditions.

Different pile testing techniques, comprising direct and indirect methods, are available. The importance of pile testing arises from the following factors:

  1. Evaluating the Ground: The main objective is to assess the soil conditions rather than concentrating solely on the structural aspect. Given the variations in ground conditions, the performance of piles naturally varies.
  2. Design Validation: Pile testing serves the crucial role of validating the accuracy of the design, confirming the characteristics of the soil, and functioning as a tool for maintaining quality control.
  3. Cost-Efficiency in Large Projects: In extensive projects, pile testing can yield cost savings. By refining and optimizing pile designs through testing, projects can become more efficient, leading to improved cost-effectiveness.

Types of Pile Load Test

  1. Static Pile Load Test
  2. Rapid Pile Load Test
  3. Dynamic Pile Load Test
  4. Pile Integrity Test

Static Pile Load Test

The static pile load test extensively evaluates pile capacity and experts widely regard it as the most effective method for assessing the foundation’s ability to withstand anticipated design loads. This method of testing pile capacity yields accurate results. The capacity is based on real structural or geotechnical data rather than theoretical estimates. If the pile performs better than anticipated, the design factor of safety can be reduced as a result.

The two commonly used forms of static load testing are

  1. Maintained Load Test (MLT)
  2. Constant Rate of Penetration Test (CRP).
Static Pile Load Test
Static Pile Load Test (Source: FSG Geotechnics)

Maintained Load (MLT) Test:

The MLT method involves applying load to the pile in increments and then observing the resulting settlement of the pile. This testing approach employs a reaction system to sustain the load application. The ground conditions typically influence the selection of the reaction application method which are of three types:

Reaction PilesReaction piles are generally preferred due to ground conditions, pile type, and site constraints. Multiple reaction (anchor) piles surround the test pile, providing required tensile capacity and counteracting compression forces.
Beams, bars, and couplers transfer forces, secured to high-strength threaded bars within anchor piles.
Deflection of the pile is measured using dial gauges or electronic transducers placed around the pile.
Load train placed above the test pile includes a jack, packer plates, and load measurement device (pressure gauge, proving ring, or digital load cell).
KentledgeKentledge, an alternative when reaction piles are unsuitable due to ground or site limitations, involves assembling a frame over the test pile.
Weight (110-120% of max test load) is safely stacked on the frame, often concrete blocks or steel ingots.
This method is the most expensive and disruptive way to provide reaction.
Measurement approach similar to reaction piles.
Bi-directional MethodApplicable mainly to conventional auger bored piles. Load cells are placed in the pile bore, either at base or partway up during concreting.
Hydraulically expanded cell causes upper pile part to react against the lower.
The shaft resistance above the load cell must be enough to supply the necessary reaction force to prevent the pile from being pushed out of the ground.
Load quantified by measuring hydraulic pressure of jack within pile. Extensometers within reinforcement cage measure movement.
Reaction application methods

The additional load increments are introduced only after a minimum specified time period has passed and when induced settlement rates remain within the specified criteria. Typically, this test spans 24 to 48 hours, excluding the time required for setting up and dismantling the test equipment.

Constant Rate of Penetration (CRP) Test

The CRP test monitors the load needed to penetrate a pile into the ground at a constant rate. The test applies the load until either reaching the maximum specified test load or experiencing “failure” of the pile. The time required for the completion of the test is less than 24 hours. This time does not include the time required for equipment setup and dismantling. The test plots the pile’s penetration depth against the applied load, helping in evaluating the ultimate bearing capacity of the pile. The evaluation gains significance for cohesive soils, as a substantial portion of the capacity is derived from shaft friction. However, due to the rapid loading rate, the recorded maximum soil resistance might lead to an overestimation of the ultimate capacity.

Rapid Load Test

This method involves assembling a relatively compact counterweight above the test pile, followed by igniting a controlled fast-burning charge in the mechanism. Once the combustion process concludes, a hydraulic or mechanical catching mechanism securely stops the counterweight. Alternatively, other methods uses springs and large hydraulic hammers to apply prolonged force. This method enables rapid testing of a considerable number of piles. The magnitude of test load determines the required workspace.

Smaller tests can use a crawler-mounted system, while larger-scale tests necessitate a larger area and a working space.

In measurement, the charge regulates the force applied to the pile, and a load cell integrated into the apparatus measures this force. Deflections are recorded using laser reference sources and photovoltaic cells, or indirectly through accelerometers.

Dynamic Load Test

The dynamic testing of piles involves the quantitative evaluation of the hammer-pile-soil system by the recording of force and velocity during hammer impacts. Electronic gauges attached to the pile measure the strain within the pile just below the head and indirectly determine the pile’s acceleration based on knowledge of its properties.

Dynamic load testing provides the benefit of evaluating multiple piles within a single day. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that this method doesn’t consider time-related phenomena like consolidation, relaxation, or creep due to the rapid loading rate. Therefore, when scrutinizing test data from soils that might exhibit these properties, it’s crucial to exercise caution. To alleviate this constraint, specialists can calibrate dynamic testing within a designated geological profile, facilitating more comprehensive and cost-effective testing in comparison to static methods.

Dynamic Pile Load Test
Dynamic Pile Load Test (Source: GRL Engineers)

On average, the process of conducting a dynamic test on a precast concrete pile using a piling rig hammer takes approximately 15 minutes. For a bored cast-in-place pile requiring a separate drop weight, the dynamic test usually takes around 30 minutes.

Stress wave analysis test results typically present observed force and velocity traces versus time graphically, alongside a simulated load deflection curve for both pile head and pile toe. The results also include graphical and tabular representations of mobilized soil resistance, pile stresses, and impact energy.

Pile Integrity Testing

Low Strain Pile Integrity Testing is a speedy and cost-efficient approach for evaluating the soundness of the shaft in concrete piles. This test is applicable to various types of foundation piles, including auger cast-in-place (CFA) piles, drilled shafts, driven concrete piles, concrete-filled pipes, and timber piles. The PIT method proves invaluable when assessing the quality of piles.

Pile Integrity Test
Pile Integrity Test (Source: GRL Engineers)

This test is important when there are problems during pile installation, deviations from the required quality standards, suspected shortcomings, or uncertainties about an existing pile foundation. The testing procedure provides valuable information about various factors:

  1. Pile Toe Depth
  2. Shaft Consistency
  3. Cracks
  4. Changes in cross sectional area
  5. Patches of Weak Concrete

The pile load test stands out as one of the most dependable methods for determining the load-carrying capacity of a pile. This test can be carried out either on a working pile that forms the foundation of a structure or on a dedicated test pile.

By employing these testing techniques, engineers and construction professionals can ensure the stability and safety of structures while making informed decisions about the most suitable foundation solutions. Whether assessing working piles in real-world conditions or evaluating the performance of test piles, the pile load test remains an important tool for the construction industry.