Understanding the Behavior of Piles in Soil through Mathematical Modeling

Ozan Bilal

Hatched by Ozan Bilal

Jan 18, 2024

4 min read


Understanding the Behavior of Piles in Soil through Mathematical Modeling


Pile structural elements play a crucial role in various construction projects, providing stability and support to structures built on soft or unstable soil. To accurately analyze the behavior of piles in different soil conditions, engineers rely on mathematical models that incorporate the principles of mechanics and kinematics. In this article, we will explore the formulation of a 3D explicit finite volume model and delve into the concept of pile/soil interaction. By understanding these concepts, engineers can design and optimize pile foundations to ensure the long-term stability of structures.

Formulation of a 3D Explicit Finite Volume Model:

The formulation of a 3D explicit finite volume model involves the development of a mathematical expression consisting of partial differential equations. These equations establish the relationship between mechanical variables, such as stress, and kinematic variables, including strain rate and velocity. By solving these equations, engineers can obtain valuable insights into the behavior of piles in specific geometries and under various boundary and initial conditions. The 3D explicit finite volume model serves as a powerful tool for analyzing pile foundations and predicting their response to different loading scenarios.

Pile/Soil Interaction:

The behavior of piles in soil is greatly influenced by the interaction between the pile and the surrounding soil. This interaction can be expressed in terms of shear response or normal response, depending on the direction of loading and the type of pile. For instance, friction piles experience shear resistance along the length of the pile shaft due to axial loading, while end-bearing piles derive most of their support from the soil near the tip of the pile. The choice of exposed perimeter and coupling springs properties is crucial in accurately representing the pile/medium interface behavior.

Driven Piles vs. Cast-in-Place Piles:

The interaction between pile and soil depends on whether the pile is driven or cast-in-place. Driven friction piles rely on friction or adhesion from the soil along the pile shaft to provide support. On the other hand, cast-in-place end-bearing piles derive majority of their support from the soil near the pile tip. Engineers must consider these differences while designing pile foundations to ensure their stability and load-bearing capacity.

Failure Modes and Coupling Parameters:

The failure associated with the pile/soil response can be assumed to occur either in the soil or at the pile/soil interface. When failure is assumed to occur in the soil, the lower limits for coupling-friction-shear and coupling-cohesion-shear can be related to the angle of internal friction of the soil and the soil cohesion multiplied by the perimeter of the pile, respectively. However, if failure is assumed to occur at the pile/soil interface, the values for coupling-friction-shear and coupling-cohesion-shear may be adjusted to account for the smoothness of the pile surface. These considerations are crucial in accurately predicting the behavior and performance of pile foundations.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Conduct thorough soil investigations: Before designing pile foundations, it is essential to perform comprehensive soil investigations to understand the soil properties, including cohesion, angle of internal friction, and shear strength. This information will help in determining the appropriate coupling parameters for accurate modeling.
  • 2. Consider the construction method: The choice between driven piles and cast-in-place piles has a significant impact on the pile/soil interaction. Engineers should carefully evaluate the site conditions, project requirements, and soil characteristics to select the most suitable construction method for optimal pile performance.
  • 3. Validate the model with field data: To ensure the accuracy of the 3D explicit finite volume model, it is crucial to validate the model predictions with field data. Comparing the model results with actual performance data from similar projects will help in refining the model and improving its reliability in predicting pile behavior.


Understanding the behavior of piles in soil requires the formulation of a 3D explicit finite volume model and consideration of pile/soil interaction. By accurately representing these factors, engineers can design pile foundations that are capable of withstanding various loading scenarios and ensuring the long-term stability of structures. Thorough soil investigations, careful consideration of construction methods, and validation of the model with field data are crucial steps in achieving accurate and reliable predictions. By following these actionable advice, engineers can optimize pile designs and contribute to the safety and success of construction projects.

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