Personal Announcement: Going Back To School To Cut Some Clay

Learning early or later in life, studying is always a joy when you make it practical
Learning early or later in life, studying is always a joy when you make it practical

‘Never too old to learn’ is my motto. Everyday I look around me and I wonder how this beautiful world fits together. Whether it be the stars in the sky, the waves at sea or life as we know it, there is always something to be learned about it. At school, I was not a great pupil, but I was always curious to learn more. For my master thesis at the Delft University of Technology, I investigated the performance of a dredge and made recommendations to improve its operation1. As the project was more focussed on mixture forming (and turbidity) and the redesign of the auger head, there was no attention for the soil mechanics involved in the cutting process.

Fully covered cutter head in sticky clay

Now is the time to get that straight. In my daily business, I came across several projects where the clay cutting was a real problem. This was one of the triggers that sparked my interest in sticky clay and made me pursue a more detailed investigation into this nasty stuff. I am very grateful my management was willing to grant me time to go back to the university and start a PhD project with professor Cees van Rhee to learn more about clay.

Synthesis of clay and the relevant properties for dredging

Clay is a completely different material than sand or rock. Those are either plastic and non-cohesive or elastic and cohesive. Clay is the worst of both worlds: plastic and cohesive. It can be described with certain soil parameters as e.g. undrained shear strength and internal friction angle. The failure model is based on Mohr’s circle etc. But those are all continuum approaches2. When you zoom in to the particle level of clay, a whole new world opens up. I already wrote about the interesting particle interaction in a previous post3.

Boltzmann strain rate function in clay cutting
Boltzmann strain rate function in clay cutting

It appears, that the consistency, deformation and failure of clay is related to the tiny electric charges distributed over the platelet crystals. The movement along the charges needs energy. The model to describe dislocation energies along electric charges has been studied by Ludwig Boltzmann4,5. His model governs a wide range of applications, ranging from cosmology to particle physics. I really plunged into the deep end of science with just simple clay. It already took some time to get my head around the concepts involved. Slowly it dawns on my what possibilities there are to improve our understanding of the cutting of clay and possibly to improve our products eventually.

Gallery of my dredging professors (l) prof. de Koning, (m) prof. Vlasblom, (r) prof. van Rhee
Gallery of my dredging professors (l) prof. de Koning, (m) prof. Vlasblom, (r) prof. van Rhee

My ‘old professor’ de Koning was a proponent of ‘thinking with your hands’6. Professor Vlasbom encouraged me to graduate on a practical problem and also my current professor van Rhee suggested to do some preliminary experiments with sticky stuff to get some feeling about what I am going to study. Of course I took some clay home to play with it. But the best suggestion was by my colleagues, who thoughtfully gave me stroopwafels7. The ultimate representation of sticky non-Newtonian stuff between layers of latticed disks.

Fresh supply of stroopwafels for practice and celebration
Fresh supply of stroopwafels for practice and celebration


  1. Presenting Pump Power Peculiarities, Playing With Pumps And Pipes, Discover Dredging
  2. The Cutting of Sand, Clay and Rock – Soil Mechanics (6041), TU Delft
  3. The Origin of Clay, When Dredging Becomes Sticky, Discover Dredging
  4. New Developments Of Cutting Theories With Respect To Dredging The Cutting Of Clay, SA Miedema
  5. Ludwig Boltzmann, Wikipedia
  6. Experience the Dredging Experience
  7. Stroopwafel, 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

Graduation of Ben Sloof: Hopper Loading Model and Overflow Losses

Ben Sloof signing his Master of Science degree

Do you remember Ben Sloof? Our young bright graduation student presenting at the Young CEDA Pitch Talks? Last week he graduated (with honours!) on ‘Numerical modelling of overflow losses and flow in Trailing Suction Hopper Dredgers’. You may have noticed that hopper loading was already a topic for previous posts about Ben Sloof and Jordy Boone at the CEDA Dredging Days. It results from the great interest in this part of the dredging process. And it still is a very dynamic field of research indeed, as in a short time frame various new models are presented. Who would ever think that dredging technology is a boring business? We are already dredging for ages, so what innovation could ever contribute to the progress of dredging? Well, I’ll explain what this new kid on the block found out now.

Overview of a hopper loading process with OpenFOAM simulation

Due to time constraints on a graduation project, Ben was limited to work on only a part of the hopper loading process. He worked only on the internal interface between mixture and sediment. Moving free surfaces of a filling hopper or a lowering water table from a reduced overflow height were left out of the scope. Still, it quite accurately describes the observed phenomena in the hopper loading process. We see a negative buoyant jet, we see the jet scour pit, recirculation and mixing in the fluid body and a ‘clear’ top layer which carries away the fines as it is skimmed away through the overflow weir. Deviation from the measurements can be explained by the difference in single fraction particle size.

Introduction to the key components of the proposed new ‘Layer Model’ (1DV)

With the observations from the CFD, Ben Sloof made his new ‘Layer Model’ with specifically a single fraction of particles. Then, he made an effort to correct the ‘Layer Model’ for physics of multiple fractions, with not too much improvement. Later on, he introduced a ‘fiddle factor’, that magically happened to be spot on. Further research and development of the model is currently under way to build a better foundation for this. Who knows, even Einstein had to introduce the ‘Cosmological Constant’ to fit his Theory of General Relativity to reality. Years later he was proved to be right1.

Comparison of van Rhee, Boone and Sloof

The performance of the models by van Rhee and Boone were already discussed2. Now, the validation of the Sloof ‘Layer Model’ is also included. Only after adjustment for the multi fraction in the results, the model nears the performance of the van Rhee model. Difference here is calculation speed. Sloof manages to estimate the hopper performance in seconds. This is why he rightfully received his degree with honours. He improved the speed AND accuracy of the calculation in a method, that would normally take the better part of a PhD study. I am looking forward to his future achievements.

Although this graduation assignment really helps us in refining our design process and gave some insight in the loading and overflow process, it still is an academic exercise. And any scientific model is just as good as the assumptions that were made at the beginning. In reality, the circumstances might be very different from what the model assumed, resulting in quit some different performance.

Heavy weather dredging (Retrieved from YouTube 18/10/2012, unknown source)


  1. Cosmological Constant Confirmed
  2. IADC Young Author Award for 1DH Hopper Loading Model of Jordy Boone

See also

Overview of hopper loading models by Ben Sloof
Nice report with an overview of the various hopper loading models

Dredging Engineering (lectures)

Dredging Engineering (papers)

Damen Standard TSHD

Damen MAD