Soil Test Rig

SmartDrive investigates the future with latest XYZR motion control system

Have you ever wondered how engineers’ develop and test the vast foundation structures used to underpin large buildings?

Geotechnical Engineering is the study of rock and soil mechanics. Advances in ‘foundation engineering’ have contributed significantly towards infrastructure developments that underpin modern society.

SmartDrive Soil Test Rig image 1Cambridgeshire-based SmartDrive is providing expertise behind groundbreaking research into the behaviour and likely performance of construction, which is vital to ensure safe economic construction.

Supporting the University of Sheffield, SmartDrive have been working in conjunction with Dr. Jonathan Black to develop a pioneering approach to modeling phenomena of vibrated stone column foundations.

The Geotechnical Engineering Group at the University of Sheffield is one of the UK’s leading research groups in the area of physical geotechnical modeling. Maintaining state-of-the-art test facilities is an important aspect in delivering new advances in knowledge.

Speaking recently, Dr. Jonathan Black explains why this project is so critical:

“Vibrated stone columns are a ground improvement technique used to enhance the mechanical properties of soft cohesive soils and mixed fills. Their primary function is to improve bearing capacity and reduce total/differential settlements of weak soil layers.

“In recent years the vibrated stone column technique has witnessed widening participation by the construction industry as it is considered a flexible, cost effective technique.

“However there is a lack of understanding about their interaction behaviour.

“This research project uses the novel method of transparent soil modeling, an artificial synthetic soil material that has similar properties to naturally occurring soil. Laser-aided imaging is used to track the displacement of the soil during foundation loading which provides increased understanding of the deformation and failure behaviour.”

The new test system recently developed is a bespoke four-degree of freedom X,Y,Z_R motion control load actuator which provides advanced capabilities to simulate complex multi-directional load conditions.

The system, developed by Dr. Jonathan Black in conjunction with SmartDrive, is part of the research project  funded by the UK research council Engineering Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Specific details of the required system were to provide multidirectional loading of model tests in 4-dimensional co-ordinate axes. Applied loads varied up to 5kN with stroke lengths up to 600mm.

The SmartDrive Control system provides required feedback from stress and strain gauge loading conditions, which are captured in conjunction with laser and image values, providing valuable data for advanced research techniques into transparent ‘see through’ soil.

SmartDrive Soil Test Rig image 1In addition to providing all motion controllers, drives, motors and gears and carefully calculated support structure, SmartDrive designed a bespoke graphical PC userinterface to allow a variety of users easy access to the machines capability. By uploading pre-prepared co-ordinate files, users can create complex motion sequences in minutes. On-Screen controls allow the user easily adjust parameters such as speeds, accelerations and rotation, meaning operators can quickly gather the required data without specialist knowledge of the complex mechatronics behind the experiment.

Dr. Black recognised the importance of SmartDrive’s contribution to the project success:

“The development of the X,Y,Z_R system was central to the success of this project.”

Located in the Cambridgeshire technology belt, SmartDrive has grown to be one of the UK’s leading design specialists within the field of motion control.

SmartDrive Managing Director, Dennis Murphy, comments:

“We have a strong heritage in designing motion control products at component level, so over the past twenty-four years, we have built a very knowledgeable R&D team. Whilst we sell a wide range of our own motion products as well as some leading brands, it is our systems integration and systems ability that has really become our speciality.”

“Our business has extended from standalone components such as stepper motors, servo drives, encoders, HMI’s, control panels and motion controllers, through to multi-axis systems incorporating linear slides, vision systems and plc control.”

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