Comparing the factors of safety from finite element and limit equilibrium analyses in lateral support design

03 Feb 2021

Soil-nails and anchors as means of lateral support in surface excavations require stability analyses as part of design. Generally, the acceptance criterion is some arbitrary ‘factor of safety’ which can be routinely computed using well-established principles of limit equilibrium analyses. These methods have been tested over many years and have been shown to be adequate for design. There is an increasing trend towards the use of the finite element strength reduction methods to determine factors of safety in lateral support design. Differences are often reported between factors of safety calculated using these methods. There is also a danger that engineers might use finite element modelling without full appreciation of the impact of choices and assumptions made in using the software. This paper compares the results of limit equilibrium and finite element calculations to assess factors of safety. Under certain conditions the factor of safety from the finite element strength reduction technique is comparable with limit equilibrium methods, provided that the same failure mechanism is evaluated. In addition, in the case of anchors, the same capacity must be specified in both analyses. In defining in-situ stress states, the friction angle and Poisson’s ratio should be specified so as to not violate the yield criterion. Modelling parameters (mesh grading and boundary distances) were found to have relatively minor influences on the factor of safety for the strength reduction technique.