Case Study on Standards: Infrastructure

As part of its 125th anniversary celebration, ASTM International invited case study submissions from committee members around the world, highlighting standards that have made a significant impact in society. Numerous exceptional submissions were received, making the work of ASTM’s panel of judges even more difficult in narrowing down the list to eight winners.

Standardization News will be publishing all eight winning entries throughout 2023, starting with the March/April issue. This entry highlights two infrastructural standards that are essential to the world’s built environment, both from the committee on soil and rock (D18).

Identify the need for the development of this standard. What problem is this standard trying to solve? Who initiated the development of the standard?: 

Placement of earthen material is an essential part of building the infrastructure that underpins society. Geotechnical engineering is a subdiscipline of civil engineering and is responsible for construction with earthen materials through a process called compaction. Proper compaction creates a material that meets specific design criteria and assures adequate performance. Compaction conditions can be selected to prevent excessive settlement of roadways, air strips, bridge abutments, or building foundations. They can also be used to control the permeability of earthen dams, pond structures, and landfill soil liners to prevent excessive fluid transport. 

These two standards:

  • Standard test methods for laboratory compaction characteristics of soil using standard effort (12,400 ft-lbf/ft3 (600 kN-m/m3)) (D698)
  • Standard test methods for laboratory compaction characteristics of soil using modified effort (56,000 ft-lbf/ft3 (2,700 kN-m/m3)) (D1557)

were originally developed for placement of earthen materials for dams and roadways in a manner that provided mechanical behavior adequate for long-term impoundment of water and reliable foundations of road surfaces. The standard compaction test was developed to measure the relationship between the amount of water mixed with the soil and the resulting mechanical characteristics (stiffness, strength, and permeability). The resulting compaction curve provides the relationship between the dry density versus the amount of water. It is used to set limits on the water content during field compaction to achieve the necessary material behavior. The technology was developed by O.J. Porter from the California Division of Highways in 1929. It was then adopted and advanced by Ralph Proctor of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power around 1933. The method then became D698 in 1942.

During WWII, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed methods to compact soils in the field to much higher densities. This was in response to the need to accommodate heavy equipment such as tanks and aircraft. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the 40,000-mile interstate highway system was constructed. In response to the needs of the military and to accommodate the loads from much heavier vehicles on the new highway system, a new soil-compaction method was developed and approved in 1958. D1557 applies 4.5 times more energy to the material and is believed to achieve the maximum possible dry density. The development of this new procedure has been credited to Dad Middlebrooks, Jim Porter, and Arthur Casagrande.

What interest groups participated in the development and/or revision of the standard?

The Federal Highway Association, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Bureau of Waterworks and Supplies, Los Angeles, California. 

How is this standard commonly used by industry?

These test methods are used to measure the relationship between the compacted dry density versus placement water content of site-specific material that will be used for construction of dams, foundations for buildings, roads, highways, railways, embankments, waste landfills, retaining structures, etc. Once the relationship has been established, the engineer sets limits on the water content to be used during placement and sets limits for the acceptable field dry density. The contractor uses this information, along with field tests, to adjust the water content of the material during placement. After placement, the field engineer measures the water content and dry density and verifies these against acceptance criteria that have been set based on the compaction test results. 

Since publication, how have these standards impacted health and safety?

These standards have been essential to efficient and safe construction with earthen materials around the world. The standards are routinely used to establish construction control limits for massive dams that retain lakes and reservoirs, foundations for town roads and high-speed highways, airport runways, and foundations for buildings. Virtually every large-scale structure that involves the placement of fill is engineered using these standards. They are essential to the integrity of dams, the flatness of traveled surfaces, and the stability of many large buildings. The success of these standards is one of the reasons we feel safe in a building, crossing a bridge, or living downstream from a dam.

How do consumers and the public benefit from these standards?

These standards are part of the fundamental underpinnings of a large part of the build infrastructure. They are essential tools for the geotechnical engineer. More importantly, they protect the public from a host of hazards associated with foundation failures. If earthen materials were placed at random water contents, there would be a risk of performance failures including uneven roads, limits on vehicle sizes, failures of water retainment structures, and more.

Can you provide data to support the safety, economic, or other impacts of the standard? If yes, please summarize the data and provide citations.

In the U.S. alone, annual new construction value is approximately $1.5 trillion USD. A significant portion of this construction involves building on compacted materials. These standards also have an impact on transportation efficiency, water storage and distribution, and building safety.

Are you aware of any regulatory adoption (domestic or international) or broad international use of the standard? If yes, please provide details.

These two standards appear in building codes, specifications, and construction manuals around the world, are referenced in many textbooks, and are incorporated into standards produced by other organizations.

In the U.S., we know the AASHTO Resource proficiency program had approximately 1360 laboratories participate in the last compaction proficiency test program. Of these 1360 participants, 125 were international, representing more than 20 countries. Currently, four countries have adopted D1557, ten consult the standard, seven provide a normative reference, four have referenced it in regulations, and six use it as the basis for the national standard. The two standards are referenced by the International Code Council and the National Institute of Building Sciences. They are also available in Russian and Spanish.

Do these standards address any of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?

These standards are essential to several of the U.N. SDGs in the sense that proper building of dams and foundations provides the underpinning of the built environment. Transportation of resources and goods is only possible at the world scale with proper roads, highways, runways, and bridges. This contributes to UN SDGs on: Hunger (2), Health (3), Industrial Development (9), and Life on Land (15). Dams and other water containment/conveyance systems will be contribute  in the future to U.N. SDG’s on: Hunger (2), Health (3), Clean Water (6), and Life on Land (15).  

Please provide any additional information not provided above.

These standards are important tools used in the civil engineering profession. Civil engineers are dedicated to the safe development of the infrastructure that provides structures and homes for society. The cornerstone of everything we build is a solid foundation. These standards provide a means for both the design of foundations as well as the specifications for quality control and evaluation of the placed material. ■

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