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Design of Laterally Loaded Piles for

Offshore Platforms
Don Murff, TAMU/OTRC

The design of piles for lateral loading is a standard aspect of the offshore platform
design process. Most environmental agents such as wind, waves, currents,
earthquakes, and ice impose lateral forces on an offshore structure. These forces,
along with the structure weights and operational loads, are ultimately transmitted to
the foundation as axial and lateral loads and moments on the pile heads.
Configuring the piles to have adequate strength and stiffness to efficiently carry
these loads into the soil is the objective of the pile design process.

• Overview of the design process
• Derivation of governing equations
• History of analysis/design methods
• Models for failure analysis
• A case history
• Summary
• References

Idealized Soil Resistance Profiles in Normally
Consolidated Clay

Axial Soil Resistance Lateral Soil Resistance

Normalized Axial Resistance Normalized Lateral Soil Resistance

0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1 -0.5 0 0.5 1
0 0

0.1 0.1

0.2 0.2

0.3 0.3
Normalized Depth

N o rm alized D ep th
0.4 0.4

0.5 0.5

0.6 0.6

0.7 0.7

0.8 0.8

0.9 0.9

1 1

Pile design has two rather distinct components:

The axial load is resisted by shear resistance along the pile shaft and end bearing at
the pile tip. As shown in the figure on the left, in normally consolidated profiles, near
surface soils play a relatively minor role in resisting axial load. In this case less than
10% of the capacity is developed in the top 30% of the pile. This aspect of design is
covered in a separate lecture.
The lateral load and moment are resisted by the lateral bearing resistance of the soil
and the bending stiffness of the pile. As shown on the right, the resistance to lateral
loads and moments is mobilized in the near surface soils. In this case
approximately 85% of the lateral resistance is developed in the top 30% of the pile.
The pile stiffness and strength must be adequate to effect this load transfer
efficiently. This aspect of design is the focus of this discussion.

Steel Pipes as Structural Members in Platform

From the beginning of offshore platform design in the mid-nineteen forties it has
been recognized that circular pipe piles are best suited for their foundation support.
In fact tubular members are preferred for most of the platform’s structural
components. There are a number of reasons for this including:
•The ability to resist omni-directional loads
•Facilitation of fabrication and installation
Steel pipe piles have thus been used almost exclusively for offshore fixed bottom

Vertical and Battered Platform Sides

Many of the earliest structures were vertically-sided truss-type templates with

relatively wide base dimensions relative to water depth and small diameter circular
piles driven through the structure legs into the seabed. As we will discuss, the
critical foundation failure modes for such structures is often dominated by the lateral
capacity of the piles. Such structures become less efficient in deeper water where
overturning failure becomes more critical and hence designs evolved to structures
with sloped or battered sides i.e. with piles driven at a small angle to vertical. This
configuration increases the foundation base width relative to the deck and, hence
increases overturning resistance. It also allows the foundation to react significant
lateral load at least partially from the pile’s axial capacity.

Forces on Vertical and Battered Piles

Fv Fv


As shown, the lateral load on a vertically sided structure is transmitted as a shear

force directly to the pile head. In a battered structure the vertical load creates a
shear force (perpendicular to the pile axis) at the pile head that opposes and partly
compensates for the shear force due to the lateral load. Since the platform imposes
a rotational restraint on the pile head the moment tends to bend the pile back into
the load almost irrespective of the pile batter.
This schematic is somewhat over simplified for the purposes of illustration. For a
complex structure the loads transferred to the piles will also depend on the stiffness
of the pile and the stiffness of the structure near the pile head.

Pile Design for Lateral Loading
Bending Moment, inch-kips
-150000 -100000 -50000 0 50000
Required W all Thickness, inches
0 0.00 1.00 2.00 3.00
Design Data
Diameter: 48 inches 30
80 Required
Length: 200 feet 40
Depth, ft
W all

Depth, ft.
Load: 400 kips 100 Thickness
Soil: Soft Clay 120 W all
60 Thickness
140 70

160 80

180 90

200 100

Moment Diagram Wall Thickness Top 100 Feet

NOTE Different depth scales are used in the above plots.

A typical bending moment diagram for a pile is shown on the left. We will discuss
how this moment profile is developed later but first we consider how it is used in
design. The large moment at the pile top is due to the rotational restraint imposed
by the platform. The moment is attenuated with depth as the lateral load is
transferred to the soil. In addition to the moment, an axial force due to platform
weight and overturning resistance also acts on the pile. The pile forces and
moments cause stresses to develop along the pile. The shear stresses across the
pile are usually of minor importance. The longitudinal stresses (tension and
compression parallel to the pile axis), due to both axial load and pile bending control
the design, that is, they determine the required wall thickness of the pile (the outer
diameter is constant for the entire pile). These stresses vary with depth, ultimately
attenuating so that the required wall thickness generally decreases with depth.
Here, for the purposes of illustration, we will consider only those stresses due to the
moments. The figure on the right shows the wall thicknesses that would be required
to maintain the bending stresses below allowables for the design parameters
assumed in this analysis. To economize on pile steel and especially the time
required for welding pile sections together, the design pile wall thickness will
gradually decrease. Each pile segment or “can” is a uniform thickness so the
changes in pile cross section occur in steps at the welds, i.e. they are not tapered.
An example of wall thickness selection is shown on the right. Note that the wall
thickness of the pile will affect the moment profile so some iteration is required in
the design. Further, a minimum wall thickness is required to prevent pile damage
during handling and driving.

Equation for Bending of a Beam

M= = EI 2 ρ
ρ dx
M = Bending moment at x
E = Young’s Modulus of the pile material
I = Moment of Inertia of the cross section at x Original Deformed
ρ = Radius of curvature
y = Lateral displacement of the pile at x x

x = Coordinate along pile axis

To carry out the design we need a mathematical model of the pile-soil system. The
pile can be treated as a linearly elastic, beam-column, a model which provides a
high degree of accuracy within the underlying assumptions. A robust theory of
elastic beam columns was developed by Navier almost 200 years ago. The theory is
based on the relatively simple idea that the moment at a point on a beam is
proportional to the curvature in the beam at that point. This is shown in the figure.
The theory has a number of simplifying assumptions including that of small
displacements, i.e. the geometry of the deformed shape does not vary significantly
from the original shape. In this figure displacement magnitude is exaggerated for
clarity. This model is a fundamental tool of structural engineers and provides a
basic building block for developing the model of a laterally loaded pile.
The equation for moment in terms of beam curvature can be used to connect the
relationship between the lateral displacement of the pile and the resistance along
the pile that is provided by the soil.

Shear and Lateral Load

∑ Moments = 0
dM d3y V
V= = EI 3
dx dx
∑ Forces = 0 V+dV
4 M+dM
dV d y
p ( x) = = EI 4
dx dx

The equations of equilibrium provide us with relationships between moment and

shear and subsequently between shear and lateral load as shown. Shear and lateral
load are then proportional to third and fourth derivatives of displacement.
The last relationship shown connecting the lateral load, p(x) and the displacement, y
is the fundamental beam equation that must be solved to determine the pile’s
displaced shape.

Geometric Relationships
Curvature, M/EI Slope Displacement

dy d2y M
dx ∫ dx 2 ∫ EI dx
= dx =

dy M
y= ∫ dx dx = ∫∫ EI dx

Purely geometric relationships provide us with expressions among beam curvature,

slope and displacement. The change in beam slope between any two points is the
integral of the curvature and the change in displacement is the integral of the slope.
The equilibrium and geometric conditions and the boundary conditions
(forces/displacements at the pile top and bottom) provide the relationships for
modeling and hence designing a pile.

Pile Soil Interaction Model
Hetenyi Solution
2 Fβ  sinh β L cosh β L − sin β L cos β L 
kD  sinh 2 β L − sin 2 β L 

 kD  4
β = 
 4 EI 
δ = Pile top lateral displacement
Pile diameter= D
Pile flexural stiffness= EI
Winkler spring stiffness=k (force per unit
area per unit displacement)

Pile-Soil Idealization

Soil stress-strain behavior is highly complex so that characterizing soil resistance is

certainly the biggest challenge in formulating the pile-soil model. It is intuitive that
the more displacement imposed by the pile at a point in the soil, the larger will be
the resistance. Therefore, one of the earliest attempts to model this behavior was to
idealize the soil as a bed of linear springs. In this model there is no coupling of soil
resistance from point to point along the pile, i.e. the soil resistance at any point on
the pile is simply proportional to the displacement of that point. This is referred to as
a Winkler foundation after its creator. Although this behavior is clearly
oversimplified, the model does seem to capture the basic physics of the system and
is surprisingly robust. It also has the significant advantage that, for certain
simplifying assumptions (linear springs of uniform stiffness), the governing equation
can be solved in closed form.
This solution was published by Hetenyi in 1946 and has been used extensively in
structural design of shallow foundations such as strip footings as well as for
laterally loaded piles. A number of investigators (Palmer and Thompson 1948,
Gleser 1954, and others) have carried out experiments to characterize the soil
springs (determine the appropriate spring constants) and correlate their behavior
with measurable soil properties such as soil type, soil stress history and strength

Early Field Tests of Laterally Loaded Piles

After McClelland and Focht (1956)

Many of the early land applications were in areas of relatively competent soil and
under modest loads the assumptions of linear, uniform, uncoupled behavior worked
reasonably well. In many if not most offshore applications however the soils are
very weak near the mudline and have significant strength and stiffness increases
with depth. Here, the simplified theory did not work so well.
A significant body of work has been undertaken to address the offshore problem
and to generalize the model to include nonlinear, nonhomogeneous behavior. One
of the first studies of this problem was carried out by McClelland and Focht (1956).
They analyzed a set of field experiments conducted in 1952 on a 24 inch diameter
pile embedded 75 feet in a soft clay off the Louisiana coast in 33 feet of water. The
test frame and configuration are shown in the schematic. The pile was attached to
an existing structure through the bracing system as shown. The test pile was
instrumented with strain gages along its length to determine bending moments. A
lateral load was applied in increments with corresponding moment measurements.

Experimentally Derived P-Y Curves

After McClelland and Focht (1956)

Given the moment profile and boundary conditions one can determine the soil
resistance vs. displacement relationship at any point on the pile (in principle) by
•Integrating the diagram of M/EI twice to get displacements
•Differentiating the diagram of M twice to get lateral load.
McClelland and Focht analyzed the test results in this manner and developed the
reaction vs displacement curves at various depths shown here. These curves
represent the load vs displacement characteristics of the ‘soil springs’ at each depth
shown. Several features of these curves are worth noting.
•The curves are decidedly nonlinear, i.e. the reactions are nonlinear with
•The stiffness and strength of the curves increases significantly with depth.
•The curves are only fully developed up to 5 ft. depth. Curves below that do not
develop their full capacity.
This work was a very significant step forward but of course left many unanswered
questions and begged for further generalization (deeper depth, varying strength
profile, sandy soils, etc.)

Effects of Small Errors in Numerical Derivatives
Let M = A + Bx + Cx 2 + Dx 3
d 2M
Then Soil Reaction = = 2C + 6 Dx
dx 2
i -1
Second Derivative of Moment
-600 -400 -200 0 200 400
i +1
Smooth Cubic

50 Cubic w/ 0.1 % random error

Cubic w/ 1.0% random error
d 2M M i −1 − 2 M i + M i +1


dx 2
(∆x )2


Finite Difference Approximation of

Second Derivative

Here it is worth mentioning some of the experimental and analytical difficulties in

carrying out such a study. Since McClelland and Focht’s data was in numerical form
these operations have to be done numerically rather than analytically. Numerical
integration is stable, straightforward and so slope and displacement can be
estimated with relatively small errors. Numerical differentiation using finite
difference methods, however, is inherently unstable and introduces large errors
which are much worse in the second derivative than in the first. It is not clear how
the authors carried out the latter operation but it probably required some trial and
error and considerable judgement.
To illustrate this difficulty a cubic spline was fit to a typical moment vs depth curve.
The straight line shown in the figure is the second derivative of the analytical curve
(the soil reaction) using finite differences and is clearly well behaved. The
oscillating lines are second derivatives of the analytical curves with a small random
error introduced. The random errors have a mean of zero and standard deviations
of 0.1% and 1.0% of the mean moment magnitude respectively. It would be
extraordinarily difficult to obtain this level of accuracy in an experiment. Clearly this
is a very sensitive operation.

Elastic Soil Springs
In the governing differential equation
4 1
d y y
EI + p ( x) = 0
dx 4 p ( x) = k ( x) y

the soil reaction p(x) can be represented

by the soil spring equation:

p(x) = k(x)y

K(x) can be any function of depth,

x, such as

k(x) = k0xn

The work carried out by McClelland and Focht initiated a comprehensive study of
the problem that was funded by the offshore oil industry and carried out by Profs.
Hudson Matlock and Lymon Reese and their co-workers at the University of Texas
over twenty to thirty years. These studies resulted in a wide ranging set of models
which form the basis of the current API design practice RP2A and are used
throughout the world by geotechnical engineers. Here, it is useful to highlight a few
of the significant contributions to this body of engineering.
As discussed earlier the governing equation for the laterally loaded pile problem is
repeated in this slide. In 1960 Matlock and Reese published an ASCE paper in
which they obtained solutions for a wide range of soil spring variations with depth
such as the power law form shown here. Although these solutions were limited to
linearly elastic springs, the authors argue that increasing the soil stiffness with depth
can account, to some degree for both increasing stiffness with depth and nonlinear
behavior since the soil stiffness will be most affected (reduced) near the soil
surface. The authors’ solutions included an approach to account for both shear and
moment loading at the pile top. In addition the paper describes in detail the
numerical solution technique using finite difference approximations to the equations
that has become the standard solution technique for beam columns of almost any
type e.g. pipelines, bridges, etc.

Development of Nonlinear Soil Springs or p-y Curves

Nondimensional p-y curve


resistance, p/pultimate





0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Nondimensional Displacement, y/yc

Jsu x
pult = 3su + γx + ≤ 9 su
yc = 2.5ε c D
Su=undrained strength; γ = effective unit weight;
X = depth below mudline; D= pile diameter;
J, εc =material constants

After Matlock, 1970

The next step was to develop specific soil spring characterizations for various soil
types which explicitly included the observed nonlinear behavior. This was done by
conducting “large scale” tests on laterally loaded piles in representative soils.
Matlock carried out tests on instrumented piles of 12.75 inches in diameter in soft
clay in two areas: near the mouth of the Sabine River in southeast Texas and at
Lake Austin (Matlock, 1970). The pile head loads and moments were increased
incrementally. To his considerable credit he was able to numerically double
differentiate the moment diagrams to determine sensible soil reactions as a function
of depth and numerically double integrate M/EI to determine the pile displacements.
Based on these results, he developed simple relationships between load (p) and
displacement (y) as shown here on the left for “static” or monotonic loading for
various depths. He further collapsed the p-y curves into a single nondimensional
curve as shown on the right. An equation for the maximum reaction, pultimate, at any
depth is shown here as a function of the undrained shear strength along with an
equation for the characteristic displacement, yc as a function of pile diameter. A
similar set of curves was developed to represent the post cyclic resistance of the
soil which shows significant degradation in resistance compared to static curves.
With this rather simple recipe, p-y curves could then be developed for any soft clay
strength profile. This procedure has stood the test of time having been incorporated
in the API Recommended Practice RP2A and being used internationally as well.

Iteration Scheme for Nonlinear p-y Curves

 yi − 2 − 4 yi −1 + 6 yi − 4 yi +1 + yi + 2 
EI   + k ( x, y i ) y i = 0

 ∆x 4  p
Example finite difference equation at each station i

i-1 y


i p
Closure Points

i+1 p

The nonlinear p-y curves are used in an analysis of laterally loaded piles in the
following manner:
1. Boundary conditions such as lateral load, moment, or displacement are specified
at the pile head.
2. A linear, finite difference solution of the governing equation is determined using
the initial stiffnesses of the p-y curves. This involves solving a set of simultaneous
algebraic equations. Because the equations have a very small band width, very
efficient solution methods are available.
3. The displacement is determined at each p-y curve location and a ‘secant’
modulus is determined for each curve as shown in the top call out.
4. A new linear solution is obtained.
5. Steps 3 and 4 are repeated until the changes in secant stiffnesses at selected
points are within a specified tolerance.
6. A new load increment is applied and the process is repeated.
7. Primary results include a pile head load vs. displacement curve and a series of
moment diagrams for the various load increments.

Laterally Loaded Pile Tests in Sand

After Reese, et al., 1974

Matlock’s work on piles in soft clay was followed up by work by Reese and his co-
workers on piles in sand (1974). This study was carried out on Mustang Island
along the central Texas coast using instrumented 24 inch diameter piles. Both static
and cyclic p-y curves were obtained. This study employed the idea of fitting smooth
‘spline’ functions to the moment data so that the curves could be differentiated
analytically. This process proved much less sensitive to small data errors than
numerical differentiation and has become a standard method for analyzing such
data. Using these results Reese, et al. developed generalized p-y curves for use
with piles in sands of varying density (strength). These results have also been
incorporated into RP2A (in a simplified form) and are used internationally as well.
Reese and his coworkers also carried out a similar study in stiff clays at a site just
east of Austin (Manor). The p-y curves from this work are specific to the
overconsolidated, jointed, slicken-sided clay soils at the site. They show a distinct
‘brittle’ behavior and are not necessarily applicable to stiff clays found offshore.

Response of a 48 Inch Diameter, Fixed-Head Pile
to Lateral Load


Lateral Load, Kips 1000


600 Consolidated
Medium Dense
400 Sand


0 5 10 15 20 25
Displacement, inches

To develop some insight into the behavior of piles under lateral load it is useful to
consider the effect of soil type on pile response. This figure is a plot of the
predicted pile head load vs pile head displacement for a 48 inch diameter, fixed
head (no rotation) pile using API p-y curves for both soft clay and medium dense
sand. There is a comparable difference in the moments and stresses developed in
the piles. Clearly the soil properties can have a profound effect on pile response.

Continuum Approaches to Analysis of Laterally
Loaded Piles

After Templeton, 2002

While the ‘p-y’ approach to analyzing and designing offshore pile foundations is
widely accepted, it should be mentioned that there are alternative methods
available. These generally fall into the category of continuum models, that is, the
soil is represented as a continuous medium so that coupling of the soil resistances
along the pile is included. Within this category the two most common solutions
involve (1) integral equation solutions and (2) finite element solutions.
The integral equation method has been popularized by Prof. Poulos at the
University of Sydney. In one rendition, the pile is idealized as a thin vertical strip
with constant bending stiffness and the soil is idealized as a uniform, linearly elastic
half space. Solutions are obtained using superposition of Mindlin’s solution to a
point load in an elastic half space. The appropriate ‘elastic’ properties are based on
backfitting experimental results so that, in this author’s opinion, the method is no
less empirical than the ‘p-y’ approach and offers no real advantages for offshore
The finite element approach (as illustrated here) is a well known and highly flexible
numerical method that can include complex geometries, load conditions, and
constitutive (stress-strain) behaviors. It can be used to great advantage for new
applications such as unusual soil conditions but it involves considerably more effort
than the simple ‘p-y’ approach. Therefore, it’s use on conventional designs is not
warranted (at this time). This method continues to be improved and user interfaces
are being simplified so it will probably find more widespread use in the future.

Group Pile Effects

There has been a wide range of studies, since those previously discussed, to further
generalize the p-y curves to include other aspects of behavior.
One important study was conducted by Stevens and Audibert (1979). They
investigated the validity of using the p-y curves for clay developed from the relatively
small 12.75 inch diameter piles used by Matlock for the analysis of larger piles more
common in deeper water structures which may have diameters of 84 inches or
more. They found that the conventional p-y curves significantly over predicted the
displacements for larger diameters and published a correction for normalizing the
standard curves.
Another area of interest is the so-called group pile effect. If the piles are closely
spaced, say two to three diameters edge to edge, they can strongly influence each
other. Such foundations tend to be common for very heavy platforms such as those
used in the Central North Sea, indicated here by the schematic of the Tern Platform
shown on the left. Notice the pile sleeves arranged around each leg of the platform
will result in closely spaced piles. A similar arrangement is shown on the platform
under tow on the right. A single pile will tend to displace the soil in its immediate
vicinity and thus ‘push’ on other piles in close proximity. This has the effect of
softening the overall group response to something less than that of the same
number of piles acting alone. A comprehensive discussion of this topic was
published by O’Neill (1983).

Foundation Collapse Mechanisms

Shear Overturning Reverse

Mechanism Mechanism Mechanism

To this point our discussion has focused on the design of piles using simplified p-y
curves and beam-column analyses. The design requires that the stresses in the pile
steel are maintained below specified allowable values for both operating and
extreme environments.
To complete our discussion of laterally loaded piles we turn our attention here to
methods of estimating the ultimate capacity of pile foundation systems. The ratio of
ultimate capacity to design load levels is sometimes referred to as the reserve
strength ratio or RSR. With the improvement of non-linear model techniques it has
become relatively common to estimate the RSR as an additional check after the
conventional design is completed.
The controlling failure mechanisms may be in the structure, in the foundation, or a
combination of the two. As a part of this analysis it is possible to analyze the
reserve strength of the foundation alone (assuming the structure remains elastic)
using a much simpler model than the fully nonlinear structural model. One solution
approach to this problem using plastic limit analysis has been documented by the
As shown above the typical failure mechanism for a platform foundation involves the
development of plastic hinges at the pile head and at some depth below the
mudline. The critical mechanism for the entire foundation may be a pure horizontal
translation (left) or a simple overturning (center). For battered piles with relatively
wide foundations the mechanism may actually involve reverse rotation of the
platform (right).

Ultimate Lateral Load Capacity
Pile head fixed
against rotation

Uniform Soil Linear Soil

Resistance Resistance
Mp R 0= R1=Gradient
Ultimate of ultimate
Lp resistance resistance
per unit per unit
length length

9M p2 R1
Fultimate = 2 R0 M p Fultimate = 3
Lp = 2 6M p
R0 Lp = 3

Plastic Sections
Mp= Plastic moment Capacity

This slide illustrates a method for estimating the lateral capacity of a single pile.
This model is an integral part of the pile foundation system model. It is assumed
that plastic moments develop in the pile at the pile head and at some (unknown)
depth below mudline. This is valid for long piles but other mechanisms are possible
for short piles. It is further assumed that the lateral soil resistance between the two
plastic moments is fully developed. One way to estimate this soil resistance is to
use the p-ultimate values from the p-y curves directly. More general methods have
also been proposed (Murff and Hamilton, 1993).
To find the pile’s ultimate lateral capacity we can apply the upper bound method of
plastic limit analysis. In short, we seek the depth of the second plastic hinge that
will minimize the pile head capacity using optimization methods. In this slide, exact
solutions are given for two idealized but useful models of soil resistance, a uniform
distribution (left) and a linearly increasing distribution (right). The depth Lp is the
value that minimizes the resistance. Note that the overall capacity of the pile is
dependent not only on soil resistance but on the plastic moment capacity of the pile.
The plastic moment capacity is, in turn, dependent on the yield stress of the steel,
the cross section of the pile, and the axial load at that cross section.

Strengthening of Bass Strait Platforms
An Example of p-y Curve Development

To complete this discussion of laterally loaded piles it may be of interest to consider

an example of p-y curve development for unusual situations. In the late 1960’s five
‘first generation’ platforms were installed in Bass Strait off the southeast coast of
Australia. It was subsequently discovered that the design criteria used were
unconservative and a decision was made to strengthen the platforms. Because of
the highly directional nature of the storms in that area an unusual strengthening
scheme was developed. This involved the placement of pile-founded struts on one
side of the platform for additional support against the design sea states. To design
an effective strut it was important to have a good estimate of the lateral stiffness of
the pile foundation. Since the soils in that area are calcareous sands, conventional
p-y curves could not be used reliably. It was therefore decided to carry out a test
program to develop an appropriate soil resistance model.
In the above figures from left to right at the top:
•A schematic of the strut and pile installation plan.
•The pile struts in the construction yard.
Left to right at the bottom:
•84 inch pipe piles used to found the strut.
•Struts in place on one of the platforms.

P-y Criteria Development- Centrifuge Tests

One experimental method used in this program was scale model testing using a
geotechnical centrifuge. This technique allows one to achieve similitude in scaling
from model to prototype. In a geometrically scaled model of 1:n the gravitational
field is simulated by imposing an n x g centifugal acceleration. Thus for a scale
model of say 1:100, a one foot thick soil layer simulates a prototype thickness of
100 feet. The tests were carried out in prepared sand beds using actual calcareous
sand obtained from Bass Strait sites. This slide illustrates some elements of the
From left to right at the top:
•A schematic of a centrifuge showing the soil container with a pile in place. Note
that the soil surface is in a vertical plane during the tests.
•The arm of the Cambridge centrifuge (5m radius) where the test was carried out.
•From left to right at the bottom:
•Model piles with strain gages along the axes. Note that different pile diameters
were used in the tests.
•Model piles installed in the soil container.
Tests were carried out on single piles and pile groups for a variety of pile
geometries and soil conditions.

Analysis of Centrifuge Results

After Wesselink, et al., 1988

This slide illustrates the analysis of the centrifuge results. Various lateral load levels
were imposed on the model piles and moment diagrams were measured for each
load level. In this interpretation an analytical form of a p-y curve was assumed
which is a power law function of depth and displacement. The coefficients and
exponents in the p-y curve equation were then determined by minimizing the error
between the analytical form assumed and the measurements. Using this approach
a generalized set of p-y curves was developed.

P-y Criteria Development – Field Tests

In addition to the centrifuge tests, a series of field tests was conducted on

instrumented piles in a prepared soil pit, again using actual Bass Strait soils. This
series of tests complemented the centrifuge tests and also served to help validate
the centrifuge scaling. The test pit was basically a cube 20 feet on a side. The soil
was placed in a controlled process to achieve void ratios similar to those found
offshore and to those used in the centrifuge tests. Aspects of the tests are
illustrated here.
Left to right at the top:
•A sample of calcareous soil. Large soil particles were sieved out of the test soils.
•The test pit with the two 14 inch diameter test pile heads exposed.
Left to right at the bottom:
•The test pile set up showing the yoke which was used to impose the lateral load to
the pile head.
•A comparison between pile head load vs displacement for the field test and for a
scaled up centrifuge test. The centrifuge tests included a model test of one of the
field tests which was intended to validate the centrifuge scaling. This was a true
class A prediction in that the centrifuge test was conducted first and a prediction
was made prior to the field tests being performed.
The generalized p-y curves were used to design the strut foundation which was
installed in the late 1980’s and has performed satisfactorily since then.

• Design of piles for lateral loading is a key
element of the foundation design process.
• Modeling lateral soil resistance with uncoupled,
non-linear springs (p-y curves) has proven to be
a very satisfactory model that is simple to use.
• Generalized p-y curves are available to model a
wide range of pile and soil conditions but
specialized tests may be required for unusual


American Petroleum Institute, 1993. Recommended Practice for Planning, Designing, and Constructing Fixed
Offshore Platforms- Working Stress Design, RP2A-WSD.
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