Field Plate Load Tests - Foundations.

The plate load test is a semi-direct method to estimate the allowable bearing pressure of soil to induce a given amount of settlement. Plates, round or square, varying in size, from 30 to 60 cm and thickness of about 2.5 cm are employed for the test.

The load on the plate is applied by making use of a hydraulic jack. The reaction of the jack load is taken by a cross beam or a steel truss anchored suitably at both the ends. The settlement of the plate is measured by a set of three dial gauges of sensitivity 0.02 mm placed 120° apart. The dial gauges are fixed to independent supports which remain undisturbed during the test. Figure 13.2a shows the arrangement for a plate load test. The method of performing the test is essentially as follows:

1. Excavate a pit of size not less than 4 to 5 times the size of the plate. The bottom of the pit should coincide with the level of the foundation.
2. If the water table is above the level of the foundation, pump out the water carefully and keep it at the level of the foundation.
3. A suitable size of plate is selected for the test. Normally a plate of size 30 cm is used in sandy soils and a larger size in clay soils. The ground should be levelled and the plate should be seated over the ground.

4. A seating load of about 70 gm/cm2 is first applied and released after some time. A higher load is next placed on the plate and settlements are recorded by means of the dial gauges.

Observations on every load increment shall be taken until the rate of settlement is less than 0.25 mm per hour. Load increments shall be approximately one-fifth of the estimated safe bearing capacity of the soil. The average of the settlements recorded by 2 or 3 dial gauges shall be taken as the settlement of the plate for each of the load increments.

5. The test should continue until a total settlement of 2.5 cm or the settlement at which the soil
fails, whichever is earlier, is obtained. After the load is released, the elastic rebound of the
soil should be recorded.

Figure 13.2a Plate load test arrangement

From the test results, a load-settlement curve should be plotted as shown in Fig. 13.2b. The allowable pressure on a prototype foundation for an assumed settlement may be found by making use of the following equations suggested by Terzaghi and Peck (1948) for square footings in granular soils.

in which Sf, and Sp are expressed in inches and B in feet.

The permissible settlement Sf, for a prototype foundation should be known. Normally a
settlement of 2.5 cm is recommended. In Eqs ( or (13.2) the values of Sf, and bp are known.

The unknowns are Sp and B. The value of Sp for any assumed size B may be found from the equation. Using the plate load settlement curve Fig. 13.3 the value of the bearing pressure corresponding to the computed value of Sp is found. This bearing pressure is the safe bearing pressure for a given permissible settlement Sf.

The principal shortcoming of this approach is the unreliability of the extrapolation of Eqs (13. la) or (13.2).

Since a load test is of short duration, consolidation settlements cannot be predicted. The test gives the value of immediate settlement only. If the underlying soil is sandy in nature immediate settlement may be taken as the total settlement. If the soil is a clayey type, the immediate settlement is only a fraction of the total settlement. Load tests, therefore, do not have much significance in clayey soils to determine allowable pressure on the basis of a settlement criterion.

Plate load tests should be used with caution and the present practice is not to rely too much on this test. If the soil is not homogeneous to a great depth, plate load tests give very misleading results.

Assume, as shown in Fig. 13.2c, two layers of soil. The top layer is stiff clay whereas the bottom layer is soft clay. The load test conducted near the surface of the ground measures the characteristics of the stiff clay but does not indicate the nature of the soft clay soil which is below.

The actual foundation of a building however has a bulb of pressure which extends to a great depth into the poor soil which is highly compressible. Here the soil tested by the plate load test gives results which are highly on the unsafe side.

A plate load test is not recommended in soils which are not homogeneous at least to a depth equal to 1 1/2  to 2 times the width of the prototype foundation.

Plate load tests should not be relied on to determine the ultimate bearing capacity of sandy soils as the scale effect gives very misleading results. However, when the tests are carried on clay soils, the ultimate bearing capacity as determined by the test may be taken as equal to that of the foundation since the bearing capacity of clay is essentially independent of the footing size.

Figure 13.2c Plate load test on non-homogeneous soil

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