Across the world, infrastructure projects wrestle with complex geotechnical challenges that quietly wait to trip up even the best planned road, tunnel, embankment, and foundation (plus many more), and it’s not getting any easier for those in charge of these essential infrastructure projects.
Ground conditions can be unforgiving, deadlines unyielding, budgets restricting. Yet with any infrastructure project, geotechnical engineers are still expected to deliver an almost clairvoyant ability to predict how the ground will behave under certain conditions, and what that might mean for the asset during construction and throughout its life.
Engineers must assess ground behaviour and grasp the risks of settlement and impacts on neighbouring infrastructure, while facing the pressure of increasingly tough time and cost constraints.
They have to feel confident they’ve got it right – now and in the days to come – and deliver a geotechnical analysis model able to support current and long-term decision making. That means having tools they can trust to effectively see the future of the ground beneath their feet, and the asset built upon it.
Gaining the ‘superpower’
In September PLAXIS celebrated 30 years of actively supporting the world’s geotechnical engineers, and giving them that ‘superpower’ (well, at least making it a lot easier).
In that time the software has developed from its core purpose as a user-friendly, finite element package, to become a resourceful, all-round companion for geotechnical engineers making critical, day-to-day decisions on the analysis of soil, rock and associated structures.
For example, in Australia, civil engineering consultancy WSP were faced with sand-capped, highly compressible peat swamp during the construction of a $165 million road extension project in Perth. WSP Australia’s Principal Geotechnical Engineer, Shan Tom Wong, said, “If the approach embankments and bridge ramps were built without ground improvement, the peat would continue to settle significantly.”
However, the solution of driving concrete pillars through the peat to the stratum below called for 160 different design combinations to be analysed – an enormous task. By automating the PLAXIS analyses, all 160 could be powered through easily, swiftly and efficiently, rather than doing them one-by-one, inviting errors and delays.
In a very different situation, the Laohutai mine in China faced the challenge of heavily laden mine trains inducing strong vibrations as they passed mine slopes and underground shafts. Product Manager, Geotechnical Analysis, Sequent, Miquel Lahoz, said, “Safety was paramount with the possibility of slope or tunnel failure.”
Using PLAXIS 3D the Laohutai research team created a complex numerical model to simulate interactions between the rail track, slope, tunnels and underlying geology, and were reassured the mine could continue safely.
“Their predictions were validated with measurements taken on site and found to be stable with a safety factor of 1.2, well above the Chinese mining standard threshold,” Mr Lahoz said. Unsurprisingly, the team said they valued PLAXIS for “its solid theoretical base, user-friendly interface, and strong logic for analysis in almost any geotechnical engineering field.”
Over the years, increasingly advanced iterations of PLAXIS have added creep or flow-deformation coupling through consolidation, simulating complex hydrological conditions, and determining how earthquakes or traffic flows can impact ground stability.
In addition to extensive geotechnical modelling capabilities, PLAXIS’ command-driven API has also been key in connecting it to other software, easily exchanging data, and automating model creation and the processing of results.
PLAXIS’ vision for the next 30 years revolves around several key pillars, including advancements in constitutive modelling and automated parameter determination, rock engineering, offshore geotechnical engineering, seamless integration with geological models, data-driven design and cloud computing.
In short, it is and will keep constantly growing and evolving. Now, three decades on from its original development at Delft University of Technology, PLAXIS fits seamlessly within Seequent’s broader range of products to boost interoperability and enhance communication within the industries it supports.
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