We’re often asked by engineers and contractors how to bid helical pile foundations. This often happens when the geotechnical report for the project does not provide specific recommendations for the helical piles, i.e., pile type and length, helix configuration, and capacity. One of the best tools available to design helical piles based off a geotechnical report is HeliCAP® v3.0 Helical Capacity Design Software. The soil boring information can be taken directly from the geotechnical report and input into HeliCAP. Within minutes, the software will provide everything necessary to competitively bid the project.
A recognized challenge for geotechnical engineers designing deep foundations is utilizing information on subsurface soils from a finite number of subsurface explorations (e.g., test borings with Standard Penetration Test sampling). If the geotechnical engineering consultant that was hired to coordinate and report on the explorations performs their work within the standard of care, the number of explorations performed at the site is appropriate and useful for characterization of a site’s soil profile. From a well-coordinated subsurface exploration program, a geotechnical engineer is able to develop a representative understanding of the composition and strength of subsurface soils (including rock and obstructions where present) at a site. It’s no mystery that SPT boring logs per ASTM D-1586 are routinely used in the design of deep foundations, especially considering the many empirical correlations between SPT blow count and engineering properties of soils that have been established since the test method was standardized in the mid-1950s.
All Engineers can relate to an experience we’ve had where what we designed was not how it turned out in “the real world”. Rarely does a project end up being exactly as what we put down on paper. Soil testing for foundation supports is no exception and unfortunately these differences almost never end on the positive side of a cost estimate.
On many construction projects, soil borings are not completed due to the property owner wanting to reduce costs or, quite simply, being unaware of the need to obtain soil strength data for foundation design. During the installation of CHANCE® Helical piles, monitoring torque can provide real time data defining underlying soil strength and its load capacity. As a helical pile is installed (screwed) into increasingly denser/harder soil, the resistance to installation (called installation energy or torque) will increase. The higher the torque, the higher the axial capacity. In most projects, the installation torque increases with depth, and the capacity of CHANCE helical piles can be determined at the time of installation. Regardless of whether the pile is being installed in clay or sand soil, the torque to correlation factor (Kt) for each shaft size, is multiplied by the effective installation torque (T), resulting in the ultimate capacity for each pile. The standard equation for ultimate capacity is Kt * T. The torque correlation factors for CHANCE helical piles can be found in the CHANCE Technical Design Manual-4th Edition. The effective torque is the average torque taken over the last 3 feet of installed depth, measured in 1 foot increments.
The load capacity of helical piles can be determined 3 ways. The method(s) used are dictated by the information available. The capacity of a helical pile must equal or exceed the factored load that the pile is required to support.
Today, it is generally accepted that installation torque can be used to verify the axial capacity of helical piles. The International Building Code (IBC) 2012, 2015 & 2018 Section 1810.3.3.1.9 states there are three ways to determine axial capacity. Method 2 states the ultimate capacity can be determined from well documented correlations with installation torque. The installation torque-to-capacity relationship is an empirical method originally developed by the A. B. Chance Company in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. For over 60 years, Hubbell Power Systems, Inc. has promoted the concept that the torsion energy required to install a helical anchor/pile can be related to its ultimate capacity. Precise definition of the relationship for all possible variables is the subject of on-going research. However, simple empirical relationships, originally derived for tension applications but also valid for compression capacity; continue to be used as part of project specifications to verify capacity. The principle is that as a helical anchor/pile is installed (screwed) into increasingly denser/harder soil, the resistance to installation (called installation energy or torque) will increase. Likewise, the higher the installation torque, the higher the axial capacity of the installed pile/anchor. The CHANCE® torque correlation equation is:
In response to a demand for predictable high capacity foundation solutions, a fully grouted screw displacement pile was developed by CHANCE® engineers. Comprised of a centralized steel shaft and a patented displacement assemblies, the pile, known as the Drivecast™ screw displacement pile, is designed to create a cylindrical annulus around the central shaft that is continuously filled with grout from a gravity-fed reservoir at the surface.
There is no equivalent for measuring torque directly in the tooling string. Using differential pressure (or pressure drop across the motor) can work if it is properly set up and calibrated, but keep in mind that pressure is being measured, not torque.
Capacity-to-torque relationships for helical piles are used frequently to determine termination criteria for helical piles. Empirical relationships between installation torque and capacity have been established for several helical pile shaft sizes, including square shaft and pipe shaft piles.