2017 – An Innovative Approach to Determine Particle Size Distribution for Rockfill Material

Zerui Lu, Behrooz Ghahreman-Nejad, Mahdi M. Disfani

Particle characterisation like size distribution and shape can greatly affect the mechanical behaviour of granular materials, and is closely related to the economics for engineering projects. For rockfill material in embankment dam construction, the particle size distribution (PSD) is fundamental to the design, quality control and numerical modelling. Traditionally, particle size distribution for engineering materials is obtained through physical sieving. However, with rockfill material, the size varies significantly and can range from gravels (+2mm) to cobbles (+60mm) and boulders (+200mm) with the maximum size usually limited to 1m, which makes the conventional sieving process considerably difficult to conduct as well as being time-consuming. Meanwhile, the advanced technology in computer image processing has created many possibilities in characterising particles within digital photographs, and therefore can be utilised as an effective alternative to the conventional sieve analysis. This method has been in use mainly in the mining industry over the past two decades to assist with rock fragmentation and process monitoring and control. Notwithstanding, the use of this technique in the dam industry for quality control of rockfill material has been rare. Thus, an innovative approach is proposed in this paper to estimate the PSD curves for rockfill material using image analysis along with the latest developments in aerial photography. The results of PSD analysis using the image processing software Split Desktop are presented and compared with the results from sieve analyses for verification. Recommendations are made to improve the process and increase the accuracy of the outcome. It is demonstrated that the proposed method has a reasonable accuracy and is a viable option for quality control in construction of rockfill structures such as rockfill embankment dams.

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