Experiencing The Cutting Edge Of Dredging Technology

Exhibit on cutting forces at the Damen Dredging Experience
Exhibit on cutting forces at the Damen Dredging Experience

Ever tried to eat peas with a knife? Didn’t fare well, right? Sorry, this post will not help you. It is just more entertaining doing so. And you might remember this week’s lesson.

After all the other posts, I would like to continue our tour along the exhibits of the Damen Dredging Experience. We’ve seen at “the Bank” that by gravity and hydraulic action the sand can start moving towards the suction mouth. Another well-known mechanism for collecting the sand is by cutting. This mechanism is primarily used in the cutter heads of CSD’s of course, but also in the trailing drag heads of TSHD’s.

Be aware, that the gravel sample in the exhibit is an artificial sediment, specifically designed to be porous and demonstrate the “rolling peas effect”. Naturally occurring gravel sediments have a wide range Particle Size Distribution and will have virtually no gaps between the grains. The smaller grains will lock the bigger grains in place and it will be more difficult to move them.

In this exhibit you will see two different types of sediment. Wet fine grained sand and very coarse gravel in a jar with a handle. When you rotate the blade in the gravel, you will notice a rather high cutting force, that remains relatively constant. The water can easily move through the pores. Rotating the blade in the jar with sand, is very hard at first. But as soon, as there is a chunk of sand dislodged, the cutting force is decreased dramatically. The decrease can be explained by the fact, that once water has entered the shear plane, it cannot dissipate back in the pores and will lubricate the chunk moving over the bed. This is a phenomenon, sometimes encountered with ploughs.

Under pressure in densely packed sediments
Under pressure in densely packed sediments

The theory of cutting sand is largely explored by dr. S.A. Miedema1. He wrote an extensive book2 on this subject and anyone interested in the details is encouraged to read it. Again, the basis for cutting sand is the dilatancy of sand, just like in the previous exhibit. The grains are moved and the water has to be forced in the pores. As the blade moves at a certain speed, the sand exerts a horizontal cutting force on the blade. Force, times speed is power. At this speed and cutting height you have a certain production. Power divided by production yields a Specific Cutting Energy3, which is a parameter for how much effort it costs to cut 1m³. The SCE is largely governed by the undrained shear strength and the angle of internal friction and is different for every type of sediment. They are measured with a Cone Penetration Test4,5. In order to estimate the production of the dredge, we really need to know these parameters. If they are not available, maybe you can receive the results from a Standard Penetration Test6,7.

Basic explanation of the theory of sand cutting
Basic explanation of the theory of sand cutting

From the equations, you can derive that for a hard material, the SCE can be quite high. Consequently, with a known installed cutter power, the production Q will result quite low. From this perspective, there is no upper limit in the hardness of the soil, anything can be cut. It is just, that the resulting production might be too low for a viable business case. In this respect, it is always difficult to say the maximum hardness of the soil the CSD can cut. Usually, the increased vibrations and unsteady process will limit the productivity in such circumstances.

Example of a cutter production for a CSD
Example of a cutter production for a CSD

This provokes a nice practical experiment for you at home or when you have you have to entertain guests at dinner: have a nice recipe with big peas and fine grained rice8. Serve the peas and rice separately and notice the variation of effort to stir the ingredients separately. Then, mix a portion together and notice the increase in cutting force. For enhanced realism, add some sauce. Exclaim your amazement to your perplexed table partners and explain that you are not playing with your food, but are on a study assignment for your work. Bon Appetit!

Ingredients for a pea and rice recipe
Ingredients for a pea and rice recipe


  1. dr. S.A. Miedema, TU Delft
  2. The Delft Sand, Clay & Rock Cutting Model, Dredging Engineering
  3. CEDA Webinar Specific Cutting Energy, CEDA
  4. Cone penetration test, Wikipedia
  5. Painted Hills, how to unveil the sediment layers below the surface, Discover Dredging
  6. Standard penetration test, Wikipedia
  7. Lessons in Camping: Basic Soil Investigation, Discover Dredging
  8. Nice rice-a-pea, Albert Heijn

See also

Historical Origins Exhibition at the WODCON: the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal

Last section of the Grand Canal in Beijing.

Another impressive dredging accomplishment in ancient China is the well-known Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. Of course this was also featured in the Historical Origins of Dredging in China exhibition at the latest instalment of the WODCON in Shanghai. During our visits to Shanghai1 and Beijing2, we’ve seen the canal at both ends, although they are an impressive 1797km apart.

Grand Canal exhibit in the Historical Origins exhibition at the WODCON.

Triggered by the sign board at the exhibition, I wanted to know more about this immense project. 2500 Years ago, the designation of Beijing as capital of China, was followed by an increase of the population. Any further expansion of the city was limited to the resources available nearby for supporting all these new citizens. The great rulers of ancient China, wanted to access the supplies of the south, where food and crops were abundant. It was decided to dig a canal, all the way from Hangzhou to Beijing3. The importance of the canal for the ancient Chinese civilisation is equivalent to what nowadays the Intracoastal Waterway means for the New York area. Although the ICW is an even longer waterway, it consists mostly of natural water bodies. This makes the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal the longest dredged canal in the world.

Map of the various sections of the Grand Canal (Credit: Wikipedia).

The sign falsely boasts, that the Grand Canal is the oldest canal in the world. Sorry, that honour belongs to our ancient Egyptian engineers4. But the Chinese can be proud their canal is still in use today, whereas the Canal of the Pharaohs is now only used for irrigation. The Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal in China is therefore actively maintained. Partly even the traditional way: by hand.

Maintenance of the Grand Canal in the last section in Beijing.

After establishing the age and the length of the Grand Canal, there is another property that might be interesting: the width. I’ve seen sections varying between 10 and 50 meters. Probably the range is even more. Initially the width was depending on the local circumstances, requirements for navigation and possibly the limitations of manual labour.

Explanation on parameters for channel width determination.

Today, the width of a canal can be carefully engineered and a customer may require that the contractor delivers the width exactly. Therefore, it is necessary to know exactly what the capabilities of your cutter suction dredge are. Both at the lowest depth and at shallower depths for the slope of the sides. Knowing the geometry and the dimensions of the cutter suction dredge, one can calculate the reach with complicated trigonometry. Or one can build a model in the 3D environment of the design of the project and see what is possible5. There is also another clever solution to this problem. For every cutter suction dredge we designed, we developed a geometric scale model. It takes into account ladder depth, spud carriage length and swing angle. The result is the canal width that is possible for that cutter suction dredge. A further simple multiplication of canal width, cut height and channel length reveals the production volume. Either onboard or at the office, it provides a nice little instrument for production estimation.

Geometric scale model of a CSD650 for canal width calculation.


  1. WODCON, Damen
  2. Historical Origins Exhibition at the WODCON: Yu the Great, Discover Dredging
  3. Grand Canal (China), Wikipedia
  4. The Ancient History of the Cutter Suction Dredge ‘10th of Ramadan’, Discover Dredging
  5. Positioning and Survey System, Damen

See also



HYDRO 2018 Gdansk: Selecting A Dredge For Your Reservoir Maintenance

Barrage du Ksob, M’Sila, Algeria with a DOP dredge 350

This week, I am here in Gdansk for a presentation on the HYDRO 2018 Conference1 and assist at the Damen booth at the corresponding exhibition. The paper and the presentation are already prepared and I am very excited to do the presentation, but I can’t wait till tomorrow and I like to share the story now, already. So, you, as my favourite audience, will have my personal spoiler after so many teasers have been floating around2,3,4.

General modes of siltation at the usual location in a reservoir

The thing is, dam maintenance and reservoir restoration is something already long on my attention list. Back already in 2008, I wrote a paper on this subject for the CEDA Dredging Days5. Over and over we’ve conveyed the message on various platforms, that dredging might be a viable solution for sedimentation problems in reservoirs. Usually, the solution by dam owners and operators is to flush, sluice or store the sediment. This looks horrible from a dredging perspective, but it is also to the environment. You either smother or starve the downstream river with sediment. As a right minded dredge enthusiast, you see many possibilities to dredge such a project. Immediately we can identify what dredge to use on which location for which purpose.

Selection of applicable dredges for reservoir dredging

If you are very close to the dam and the length of the discharge line allows it, you might even not need a dredge pump. (No wear parts!) It is a so called siphon dredge. But as soon as there is some further transport involved, either distance or uphill, you need a dredge like a cutter suction dredge or a DOP dredge. For even further discharge, you might employ a booster for increased discharge pressure. If the distance becomes very far, you might have to resort to grabs and barges.

Water injection dredging principle and example (this example would be too big for a common reservoir)

As an intermediate solution you might even consider using a water injection dredge. Usually the reservoir is in the mountains and a bottom gradient will be present, enabling the required gravity flow. The actual dredge should have created a silt trap where it can collect the inflowing material from the water injection dredge. Than it can handle the material as usual.

Alternative uses for the dredged sediment a) silt farming as fertile additive b) gravel extraction for concrete

Off course, the dredged sediment belongs to the river and the best thing would be to gradually release the sediment after the dam. But there might be conditions, where it is beneficial to extract the valuable fraction of the sediment and use it for agriculture or as aggregate in the construction industry.

Dredge selection diagram for reservoirs

We noticed, that it is often difficult to convey to dam owners and operators which dredge to select for which job. Sediment is seen as a liability and not as an asset and they rather neglect issues associated with the sediment. So, I made an attempt to have a plain and simple selection diagram. That is the core of my manuscript. But my objective is, that we will see many beautiful dredges contributing to a sustainable and viable operation of hydropower dams and reservoirs.

New DOP dredge family


  1. HYDRO 2018: Progress through partnerships, Hydropower and Dams
  2. LinkedIn Teaser, Saskia den Herder
  3. Damen: Spotlight on Hydro Power Dam Maintenance
  4. LinkedIn Teaser, Olivier Marcus
  5. Multi Functional Small Dredging Solution For Maintenance Of Deep Irrigation Reservoirs And Hydro Power Dams, CEDA

See also