Saturated fine-grained soils can experience large settlements over a long period of time. Estimation of the magnitude and time rate of settlement for soils under field loading conditions are essential for geotechnical engineering settlement design and analysis. Laboratory consolidation testing has traditionally been performed manually using dead weights to produce an instantaneous increase in load. This in turn causes an instantaneous increase in the excess pore water pressure within the soil sample, and the sample subsequently begins to consolidate. The empirical equations and calculations provided in current testing standards are based on the theory of instantaneous loading. The Rowe Cell is a laboratory testing device that allows for automated consolidation testing. However, because the load is applied hydraulically, the test equipment must ramp up to the desired load state for each test increment.
Research is currently underway to determine the effects of loading rate on the consolidation test results. This research has thus far determined that there are indeed differences in the test results for an automated Rowe Cell test performed on a homogenous, cohesive soil, when compared to the standard consolidation test method of instantaneously applied loads. Further research continues to explore the effects of initial deformation of the sample during the loading phase of an automated test to the empirically determined time rate of consolidation parameters.