Graduation Omar Karam: Rock Cutting The Egyptian Way

Graduation presentation of Omar Karam
Graduation presentation of Omar Karam

Egypt is a great nation when it comes to ancient engineering. No other country has such a concentration of impressive monuments and such an interesting history as over there. If you are not convinced that modern Egyptians are not capable of great engineering feats you are wrong. Last Monday, Omar Karam graduated at our R&D department of Damen Dredging Equipment1 on his thesis about ‘CSD Rock Cutting.’

Cutting processes have been extensively described by Sape Miedema in ‘The Delft Sand, Clay & Rock Cutting Model’2. Omar has been using the frame work of Miedema to make some useful tools for the estimation of the production of our dredging equipment in rock. In due time, you will find the results of his thesis in the online dredge selection tool ‘Sandy’. Omar’s curiosity and ingenuity does not end here. He will continue studying at a university, but I do hope to meet him again, as he would be a valuable asset for our dredging community. Keep an eye out for him.

Program structure diagram of cutting force calculations
Program structure diagram of cutting force calculations

His graduation brings me back to my first lessons in dredging technology at the Delft University of Technology by the illustrious professor de Koning. In a sense he was an old school engineer, who hammered it in to us that thinking is done by doing it with your hands3. Back than the Polytechnic School was just rebranded to University and he was mocking that as a university, we had to set the topics in a broader perspective. So, he started his introduction on cutting technology with some slides of the unfinished obelisk at Aswan4 as every aspect of the cutting process could be illustrated.

Phases of chip forming in rock cutting
Phases of chip forming in rock cutting

The story according to de Koning is: ‘Around the quarry of the obelisk, they have found diorites5. These are some sort of volcanic balls of rock. In combination with the marks and scratches all around the obelisk, archaeologists believe these stones have been used to pound the granite. The impact compresses the bedrock and the resulting stresses fracture the contact surface(1). For every hit a whiff of dust is created. Eventually the dust is collected and scooped away for the next layer. Next, trees would be planted in the trench on one side of the obelisk. The growing root system displaces volume and create shear stress underneath the obelisk that would sever the obelisk from the bed rock(2). At last the trees are removed and dry wooden dowels would have been inserted in the shear cracks. Saturating the wooden dowels will make them grow. The last strands of rock will now be broken due to tensile stresses(3). Repeated insertion of new dry dowels and saturating them will lift the whole obelisk enough to pull some ropes under and carry the obelisk away to the building site.’

Although the diorites and the scratch marks are a smoking gun, current archaeologists argue about the feasibility of this process as experiments yield a very low production and it is doubted that the obelisk could be finished in the lifetime of the client6. Even if disputed, de Koning told a story that conveys the message; I vividly remember it and makes me understand the rock cutting process.

These mysterious monolithic ornamental spires have been an inspiration for many legends and stories. When we have solved the riddle of the rock cutting with diorite balls, it may inspire the development of new rock cutting technology for the dredging community and we can put the story of the obelisks to an end.7

End of the story on the cutting of obelisks (Credit: Uderzo)
End of the story on the cutting of obelisks (Credit: Uderzo)


  1. Innovation, Damen
  2. The Delft Sand, Clay & Rock Cutting Model, TU Delft
  3. De Koning (1978), Denken met de handen’, TU Delft
  4. Unfinished obelisk, Wikipedia
  5. Diorite, Wikipedia
  6. The Unfinished Obelisk, NOVA
  7. Asterix and Cleopatra, Goscinny-Uderzo

See also

Graduation Of Carsten Markus: Designing And Casting Of Impellers

Impeller under operating load.
Impeller under operating load.

Last week, Carsten Markus graduated on his assignment with our research department Damen Dredging Equipment. He investigated the alloys that are used to cast our impellers and the responses of the materials under operating conditions. We are always improving our dredge pumps and Carsten’s work has been a great contribution for our development.

For every dredging application, the material for the dredge pump parts can be carefully selected according the specific requirements on the sediment handled. Off course, one would like to have the hardest, most erosion resistant material available. Less erosion is less wear and a longer lifetime1.

Wear part material hardness in relation to wear index

However, there is a downside to choosing very hard material: it will be very brittle also2. Basically, the ultimate tensile stress coincides with the yield stress. There is no reserve for the load. When the stress surpasses the yield strength, it just snaps. Conversely, a tough material has a lot of reserve. After deformation beyond the yield stress, the load can still increase without a catastrophic failure. Usually, the stresses would not be that high, the thickness of the wear parts is dimensioned for erosion reserves and thick parts have low stresses. The high stresses can come from concentrations. Either when the wear reserves are eroded, or when a heavy load is concentrated on a very small area. Usually stones. Stones are a very common problem in a dredging project. So, next to the hardness of an alloy, also the toughness will be a very important characteristic. And toughness is related to the yield elongation after failure.

For the various materials you would like to know how the base load relates to the tensile stress. This would be an indication whether there is reserve in the elastic region to accommodate the impact of an occasional stone. This base load depends on many factors in the pumping process. Mainly the pressure generation in the mixture over the blades. Most known literature is about the force distribution in the volute of the pump, as this is directly related to the radial forces and consequently the bearing and shaft calculations. The CFD simulations in this graduation project revealed the skewed load on the volute and consequently the load variations on the impeller.

Transient CFD simulation of a dredge pump. The rotation appears wrong , but is correct (Wagon-wheel effect).

As emphasised before, it is very beneficial to operate your dredge system around the Best Efficiency Point (BEP). Not only the shaft and bearings suffer less, also the impact of the stresses and their variations in the impeller are less. If the operating point differs from the required capacity, the BEP can be moved by changing the dredge pump speed. As long as head requirements permit the adjustment.

Radial load as a function of pump characteristics.
Radial load as a function of pump characteristics.

As a result of Carsten’s research, we were able to improve our operating load models for the whole dredge pump and gained insight into the material responses to these. Thank you Carsten.

Due to the measures taken for the containment of the Corona virus, the graduation itself and the party to celebrate it, where done remotely over internet. Let’s enjoy the real beer later, after all this commotion is over. Stay home, stay safe.

Carsten’s graduation defence session under Covid-19 measures.
Carsten’s graduation defence session under Covid-19 measures.


  1. Do You Have Wear Parts For Spare?, Discover Dredging
  2. Brittleness, Wikipedia

See also

Graduation Gijs Ter Meulen: Drag Analysis And Model For Forces And Production

Gijs proudly presenting his MSc. certificate.

We have another bright new MSc. engineer in dredging technology1: Gijs ter Meulen. Tuesday, he presented and defended his thesis on the forces and production of a trailing suction head. For this thesis project he was working at our research and development department at Damen Dredging Equipment2.

Trailing suction hopper dredges have become the tool of the trade for modern dredging contractors. They are versatile, flexible and able to transport sand over great distances. They load their cargo in their holds, by sucking up the sediment from the sea bottom with a big trailing suction head. This head looks like an out of size vacuum cleaner head.

Typical drag head on a railing suction hopper dredge.

Usually, it is very difficult to comprehend what is going on in and around the drag head. There is some laboratory research done, but not all results are freely available. Other knowledge is solely based on the experience of well-seasoned dredge masters. I do have respect for the experience of dredge masters, but their stories are hardly usable for an academic model description. So, Gijs took on the challenge to piece together a model, that satisfies our curiosity and fits with the experiences.

Concise development of the drag head model by Gijs ter Meulen.

For this project, he identified several steps, which we briefly touch upon here:

  1. The processes and forces around the drag head3 were all investigated on their cause and effect.
  2. A model was set up, where each process and their interaction with the others were identified.
  3. One main process in the drag head is the jetting production. A powerful jet of water is injected into the soil and this erodes part of the sediment under the drag head4.
  4. Another main process is the cutting production5. What is not eroded away by the jets, is removed by the teeth at the back of the visor.
  5. As the contribution of the processes to the forces and the production is known, the total performance can be calculated.

Along the way, this gave us very useful insight in the capabilities of the drag head and the trailing system, all the way to the requirements for the propulsion. Now, we will be able to continue to improve our drag heads even further. Any other students who would like to participate in that project are welcome to contact us5.

Gijs takes a new step in his career path. He is going to work for a well esteemed customer of us, so we will see him around in the dredging industry. Thanks Gijs, bon voyage!

Gijs, good luck with your future career in dredging.


  1. MSc Offshore & Dredging Engineering, TU Delft
  2. Innovation, Damen Dredging Equipment
  3. Designing Dredging Equipment [OE4671], Vlasblom
  4. Sand erosion with a traversing circular jet, Robert Weegenaar
  5. The Cutting of Sand, Dredging Engineering
  6. Internships, Damen Dredging Equipment

See also