Monday, 21 April 2014

Installation vs Capacity: The balancing act of screw pile design

Ryan Fleming - Site Engineer

Piles are used where the ground in the near surface is poor and will not support the weight of a structure. On many sites an intermediate dense stratum must be penetrated by the piles in order to reach a more consistent founding layer. Screw piles are typically more sensitive to this than other types of piles; the screw pile designer must walk a tight rope between installation and bearing capacity, whilst providing a cost effective, low risk solution.

When designing a screw pile, we need to consider the amount of torque required to achieve the design load with a specific helix size as well as the torque needed to install the helix to the correct founding depth. As screw piles are self-tapping, when the density of the ground increases, so does the amount of torque required to install the pile. Even though the torque required to achieve the design load in the founding layer may be low, the section size of the shaft may need to be increased to provide enough torque capacity to penetrate through a dense intermediate layer.

As a screw pile designer it is critical to understand the relationship between the permanent performance requirements and the installation process. However, these are not the only inputs into defining the shaft and helix ratio. Others include:

Composite moment capacity
Lateral loading / spread

These various aspects should all be considered to develop a robust piling solution; the probability of success is improved with good geotechnical information and specific experience – get it wrong and the piles will fail to penetrate during installation, causing significant delays to the project.

Walking the tight rope of screw pile design is a real balancing act – remember, it’s a long way down……


  1. I had no idea how much calculation went into screw piling. Matching the torque to the ground density is very crucial. These services are very important though to provide foundation for our structures. I am glad we have professionals able to make the right calculations to provide the much used services.

    1. Thanks for your comment James. Yes, there's a lot more that goes into quality screw piles than may be apparent from seeing them installed. An experienced, specialist Engineer and a robust database of load testing is key to a smooth delivery on site and piles that deliver in the long term.