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Rock support for tunnels and underground cavern design is a demanding and very complex task. In principle, the problem can be approached from two directions: The first way is to define the relationship between geo-mechanical properties of the rock mass and the support methods used. This is mostly based on the utilization of statistical and empirical data gathered in similar conditions. The second way is to estimate the deformation characteristics of the rock structure, and then the related effect on supporting structures. This method typically requires very good rock property and rock mass property data.

The most important factors affecting rock reinforcement method and design are:

  • Geological factors, such as rock mass structure.
  • Dimensions and geometry of excavated space.
  • Location and direction of caverns in the rock mass.
  • Excavation method.
  • Use and expected lifetime of space.

Common support methods in underground construction work are:

  • Bolting.
  • Sprayed Concrete.
  • Steel Arches.
  • Concrete Lining.
  • Grouting.


Rock bolting is one of the most common methods of rock reinforcement. The main principle of bolting is to reinforce loose rock or fractured in-situ rock to precent caving or spalling, and to assist the rock mass to form its own self-supporting structure. Bolts can be divided into three categories according to the way they behave in the rock, for example, grouted bolts, mechanically anchored bolts and friction bolts.

1.1 Cement-Grouted Bolts

Cement-grouted rebar is still the most inexpensive and widely used rock bolt, because it is simple and quick to install and can be used with or without mechanized equipment. Correctly installed, a cement-grouted bolt gives rock support for years.

The grout cement provides protection from corrosion. Special galvanized and/or epoxy coated bolts can be used in extremely severe conditions.

The major disadvantages of the cement-grouted bolt is its relatively long hardening period. The grout takes between 15-25 hours to harden, therefore it does not provide immediate support. When immediate support and/or pre-tensioning is needed, a grouted wedge-type or expansion-shell bolt can be used. Mixing additives in the grout can reduce the hardening time, but it also increases bolting cost.

The water/cement ratio considerably affects the quality of installed bolts. The best water/cement ratio is 0.3 (w/c). This grout density can be easily used and maintained when using mechanized bolting equipment.

1.2. Resin-Grouted Bolts

Resin-grouted bolts give the required support relatively quick due to a short hardening time. When correctly installed with full-length grouting, the resin-grouted bolt is considered to give permanent support with a life span of 20 to 30 years.

By using resins with two different hardening times, with faster one at the bottom of the hole and another that is slower at the stem, the bolts can be pre-tensioned. The same can be done for short-time support by only bottom-grouting the bolt.

1.3. Cable Bolts

Cable or steel strained bolts are used to bind and secure large volumes of rock around large caverns. Cable bolts can be used both before and after excavation, and also used for preventing rock slides in mountain slopes and quarries.

The anchor itself is a steel strand, typically two strands of 15.2 mm in diameter, with typical bolt length being between 10-25 meters.

Today, with mechanizes equipment, the installation and grouting of cable bolts of any length is fast and efficient, and the cable bolt’s bearing capacity clearly exceeds capacity of rebar steel bolts. Its lack of efficient protection against corrosion limits its extensive use in permanent rock support.

1.4. Mechanically-Anchored Bolts

Mechanically anchored bolts are usually wedge or expansion-shell bolts that are point-anchored at the bottom of the hole.

The bolt has an expanding anchor at its end. After insertion, the bolt is either rotated or pressed/hammered against the bottom of the hole. This expands the wedged end and anchors the bolt firmly to the end sides of the hole. To install anchored bolts successfully, the hole size must be accurate and the rock must be relatively solid.

Wedge or expansion-shell bolts are typically meant for temporary rock support. Together with cement grouting, it provides both immediate and long-term support.

1.5. Friction-Type Bolts

Typical examples of friction-type bolts are the split-set and Swellex bolts. Both are quick and easy to install and give instantaneous support. They can not, however, be used for long-term reinforcement.

The split-set bolts is hammered into the hole, which has a slightly smaller diameter than bolt. Using the correct hole size for a specific bolt diameter is essential for successful installation. Split set bolts are very suitable for layered formations. The Split-set bolts provide immediate support but only for fairly short period of time. A disadvantage is that the split-set cannot be effectively protected against corrosion. The life span can somewhat be extended by using cement grouting. The Swellex bolt has a longer life span than the Split-set. It is installed by applying high-pressure water to bolt after inserting it to the hole. The high pressure expands the bolt to its final dimensions in the hole, therefore enabling it to utilize the roughness and fractures in the bolt hole surface. As with the Split-set bolt, poor corrosion protection limits this bolt.

1.6. Equipment for Bolt Installation

Development of mechanized equipment began as early as the 1970s. Today there is a wide selection of fully mechanized equipment, and a wide variety of different methods for bolt installation. The main factors affecting the choice of method are usually tunnel size, amount of bolts to be installed and work cycle arrangement at this site.

Manual operation, the hand-held drilling and installation of bolts, is typically used in small drifts and tunnels where drilling is also performed by hand-held equipment, and there is a limited amount of bolting work.

Semi-mechanized installation is still typical at tunneling work sites. The drilling jumbo is used for drilling bolt holes, and bolt installation is performed from the jumbo’s basket boom or from a separate utility carrier or truck.

With today’s full mechanized equipment, one operator can handle the entire bolting process from drilling to grouting and bolt installation. The operator is positioned away from the unbolted area under a safety canopy that protects him from failing rock.

Although safety is a major reason for the development of mechanized bolting equipment, the superior installation technique of mechanized bolting rigs also produces consistently higher bolting quality. Thanks to powerful cement mixers, pumps and effective grouting methods, the bolts are securely fixed and grouted to their full length, providing a sound reinforcement structure, even with long bolts.


Screening, which is the installation of wire mesh, is most typically used in underground mining, but also construction sites together with bolting and/or sprayed concrete. Screening is primarily performed manually by applying the wire mesh together with bolting of the tunnel. It can also be done by mechanized equipment, such as by having a screen manipulator on the bolting or shotcreting unit, or on a dedicated screening machine.


Sprayed concrete, otherwise called shotcreting, is widely used support method in construction. It is used for temporary or long-term support, lining and backfilling. Usually shotcrete is used together with bolting to obtain the best support or reinforcement. Shotcrete can be reinforced by adding steel fiber to the concrete.

The most common forms of shotcreting are dry-mix and wet-mix methods. In the dry-mix method the aggregate, cement and accelerators are mixed together and propelled by compressed air. Water is added last through a control valve on spray nozzle. The dry method is suitable for manual shotcreting because the required equipment is usually inexpensive and small. On the other hand, dry method can pose a health hazards as it creates considerably more dust and rebound than the wet method. The quality also depends heavily on the shotcreting crew, and may vary widely.

In the wet mix method, aggregate, cement, additives and water are measured and mixed before transport. Today, wet mix is more widely used because it is easy to mechanize and the capacity can easily out-do the dry method. Rebound rate is low and the quality procedure is even.

Critical factors in shotcreting are:

  • Water/cement ratio.
  • Grain size distribution of aggregate.
  • Rebound ratio.
  • Grain size distribution.
  • Mix design.
  • Nozzle design.
  • Nozzle distance and angle.
  • Layer thickness.

Manual shotcreting has been largely replaced by mechanized shotcreting machines. With mechanized equipment, multiple capacities per hour can be reached, together with consistent and even quality of the concrete layer. Safety, ergonomic and environmental conditions are other important aspects of shotcreting. These factor are efficiently improved with mechanized shotcreting units.


Steel arches are common permanent support method for weak rock formations. These are usually installed in the tunnel immediately after each round, at the same time as rock bolting. Steel arches are also commonly installed during shotcreting to give temporary support before final concrete lining of e.g. traffic tunnels.


Grouting is the method in which a solidifying liquid is pressure-injected into the rock mass. The main purpose of grouting is to prevent ground water leakage into the tunnel, and to increase overall rock mass strength.

In grouting, a chemical agent or cement mass is pressure-pumped into the drill-hole to penetrate fractured and fill cavities.

In drill and blast tunneling, grouting is typically performed before (pre-grouting) or after (post-grouting) excavation.

5.1 Pre-Grouting

Pre-grouting means that rock mass is grouted before excavation begins. Usually, pre-grouting is done from the tunnel, but in situations with low overburden it is also possible to do it from the surface.

Probe holes are drilled to map possible fractures and register water flow. This helps to analyze the need for grouting. Later, grout holes are drilled in conical-fan shape in front of the tunnel face. Typical grouting fan length is 15-25 meters.

After drilling, the grouting agent is pumped into the hole until leakage has reached an acceptable level. Tunnel excavation can begin once the grouting mass has settled.

Grouting fans overlap each other so that in 15-meter long grout holes, grouting is performed every second or every third round depending on the round length.

5.2 Grouting after Excavation (Post-Grouting)

When grouting is done after excavation, grouting holes are drilled from the tunnel in a radial form. In good rock conditions with small water leakage, post-grouting is often adequate. Post-grouting enables better rock mass structure evaluation. On the other hand, water leakage blockage is more difficult because the water flow tends to flush away the grouting agent before it hardens.

5.3. Grouting Agents

The grouting agents can be divided into two categories: Suspension and Chemical.

Cement water or bentonite water suspension is the most typical in rock grouting because both are cost-effective and environmentally safe. The drawback is, however, a relatively large maximum grain size, which leads to poor penetration in small cracks. Penetration characteristics can, however, be improved by adding additives. Silicate-based chemicals are also used to speed up the hardening time.

Chemical agents are silicate-based, resin polymers, polyurethane-based or lignin-based chemicals that typically penetrate very s cracks and have adjustable hardening times.

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