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Cutterhead Dredges

The hydraulic pipeline cutterhead suction dredge is the most commonly used dredging vessel and is generally the most efficient and versatile. It performs the major portion of the dredging workload in the United States. Because it is equipped with a rotating cutter apparatus surrounding the intake end of the suction pipe, it can efficiently dig and pump all types of alluvial materials and compacted deposits, such as clay and hardpan. This dredge has the capability of pumping dredged material long distances to upland disposal areas. Slurries of 10 to 20 percent solids (by dry weight) are typical, depending upon the material being dredged, dredging depth, horsepower of dredge pumps, and pumping distance to disposal area. If no other data are available, a pipeline discharge concentration of 13 percent by dry weight (145 ppt) should be used for design purposes. Pipeline discharge velocity, under routine working conditions, ranges from 15-20 ft/sec.

Production rate is defined as the number of cubic yards of in situ sediments dredged during a given period and is usually expressed in cu yd/hr. Production rates of dredges vary according to the factors listed above and other operational factors that are not necessarily consistent between dredges of the same size and type. For example, a 16-in. dredge should pro-duce between 240 and 875 cu yd of dredged material per hour, and a 24-in. dredge should produce between 515 and 1615 cu yd per hour.

The cutterhead dredge is generally equipped with two stern spuds used to hold the dredge in working position and to advance the dredge into the cut or excavating area. During opera-tion, the cutterhead dredge swings from side to side alternately using the port and starboard spuds as a pivot. Cables attached to anchors on each side of the dredge control lateral movement. Forward movement is achieved by lowering the starboard spud after the port swing is made and then raising the port spud. The dredge is then swung back to the starboard side of the cut centerline. The port spud is lowered and the starboard spud lifted to advance the dredge. The excavated material may be disposed of in open water or in confined disposal areas located upland or in the water. In the case of open-water disposal, only a floating discharge pipeline, made up of sections of pipe mounted on pontoons and held in place by anchors, is required. Additional sections of shore pipe-line are required when upland disposal is used. In addition, the excavated materials may be placed in hopper barges for disposal in open water or in confined areas that are remote from the dredging area. In cutterhead dredging, the pipeline transport distances usually range up to about 3 miles. For commercial land reclamation or fill operations, transport distances are generally longer, with pipeline lengths reaching as far as 15 miles, for which the use of multiple booster pumps is necessary.

Although the cutterhead dredge was developed to loosen up densely packed deposits and eventually cut through soft rock, it can excavate a wide range of materials including clay, silt, sand, and gravel. The cutterhead, however, is not needed in maintenance dredging of most materials consisting of clay, silt, and fine sand because in these materials, rotation of the cutterhead produces a turbidity cloud and increases the potential for adverse environmental impacts. Common practice is to use the cutterhead whether it is needed or not. When the cutterhead is removed, cutterhead dredges become in effect plain suction dredges. The cutterhead dredge is suitable for maintaining harbors, canals, and outlet channels where wave heights are not excessive. A cutterhead dredge designed to operate in calm water will not operate offshore in waves over 2-3 ft in height; the cutterhead will be forced into the sediment by wave action creating excessive shock loads on the ladder. However, a cutterhead dredge designed to operate offshore can operate in waves up to about 6 ft.

The cutterhead dredge is the most widely used dredge in the United States because of the following advantages. Cutterhead dredges are used on new work and maintenance projects and are capable of excavating most types of material and pumping it through pipelines for long distances to upland disposal sites. The cutterhead operates on an almost continuous dredging cycle, resulting in maximum economy and efficiency. The larger and more powerful machines are able to dredge rocklike formations such as coral and the softer types of basalt and limestone with-out blasting.

The limitations on cutterhead dredges are as follows. The cutterhead dredges available in the United States have limited capability for working in open-water areas without endangering personnel and equipment. The dredging ladder on which the cutterhead and suction pipe are mounted is rigidly attached to the dredge; this causes operational problems in areas with high waves. The conventional cutterhead dredges are not self-propelled. They require the mobilization of large towboats in order to move between dredging locations. The cutterhead dredge has problems removing medium and coarse sand in maintaining open channels in rivers with rapid currents. It is difficult to hold the dredge in position when working upstream against the river currents since the working spud often slips due to scouring effects. When the dredge works downstream, the material that is loosened by the cutterhead is not pulled into the suction intake of the cutterhead. This causes a sandroll, or berm, of sandy material to form ahead of the dredge. The pipeline from the cutterhead dredge can cause navigation problems in small, busy waterways and harbors.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:45:47 ZULU