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Chapter 8 Types of Finite Elements___________________________________________

80

CHAPTER 8

TYPES OF FINITE ELEMENTS

This chapter deals with general aspects regarding the finite elements
properties, which are necessary to be fulfilled in order to achieve a
convergent approximate solution. Also, some examples of shape functions
definition will be presented.

8.1 SHAPE FUNCTIONS PROPERTIES

First of all, a trivial statement should be emphasized. The real domain which
makes the object of the F.E.A. (a structural component, a solid subjected to
heat transfer or a ground region experiencing seepage) is always a
continuum with an infinite number of points and a diversity of material
properties. Theoretically, in order to achieve the exact solution of a
continuum problem, a discrete model with an infinite number of point-size
elements, following the exact geometry, materials distribution and boundary
conditions, should be created. Because such a refined decomposition would
lead to the best solution, it is obvious that the element size reduction is the
most opportune procedure to improve the finite element model.
Unfortunately, the discrete models may have only a restricted number of
elements, due to the bounded computer memory and the limited available
computing time. Thus, two questions arise: how good the approximation is
and how can the discrete solution be improved to reach, as close as possible,
the exact solution? For the first question the answer is rather difficult or
impossible because the exact solution is usually unknown. Experimental
results or error estimations are necessary. Regarding the second one, the
answer is that the approximation process should be a convergent one.

As it was already shown, in the F.E. approach the unknown function u(x,y,z)
is expressed over an element in terms of its nodal values, due to a set of
shape functions N
i
, such as

______________________Basics of the Finite Element Method Applied in Civil Engineering

81

=
i i
u N z y x u ) , , ( (8.1)

with u
i
the nodal values or nodal parameters.

The total number of available parameters u
i
depends on the number of
elements in the mesh (m) and the number of nodal points per element (n). If,
for an increasing number of parameters (due to the augmentation of nodal
points n and elements number m), a better approximation of the true solution
is obtained, the approximation process is convergent (see fig. 8.1). Of
course, increasing the number of elements equals to elements size
reduction.

Fig. 8.1 Convergence to the exact solution by augmenting the parameters number

8.1.1 Classes of continuity

When performing a F.E.A., i.e. solving a field problem by a discrete
procedure, some continuity classes can by defined regarding the unknown
function u and its derivatives, over the elements domain and across the
boundaries between adjoined elements:

C
0
- the unknown function u is continuous across the boundaries
between elements; the first derivatives
|
|
.
|

\
|

x
u
are continuous
over the element but not across the boundary between elements; the
higher order derivatives, if they exist, do not necessarily have a finite
value;
exact solution
z) y, u(x,
(u) a
i

Chapter 8 Types of Finite Elements___________________________________________

82
C
1
- the unknown function u and its first derivatives
|
|
.
|

\
|

x
u
are
continuous across the boundaries between elements; the second
derivative is not continuous but it is finite;

C
n

- the unknown function u and its "n
th
" order derivatives
|
|
.
|

\
|

n
n
x
x
x
u
u ... , are continuous across the boundary between
elements.

The necessary class of continuity is related to the encountered derivative
order of the unknown function u within the general expression of the
variational principle

=
e e
d
x
u
u G dD
x
u
x
u
u F E
D
n
n
e
,...) , ( ) ,... , ( (8.2)

For a given order of derivatives n, the approximate solution converges to the
exact one by reducing the elements size, if the following conditions are
fulfilled:

- the compatibility condition meaning that at the common frontier
between two elements a C
n-1
class of continuity exists;
- the completeness condition meaning that inside the element, a C
n

class of continuity is available.

Stress and stain field problems of massive structures are usually C
0
class
problems (see figure 5.2). The nodal parameters are the values of the
unknown function (the displacement) in the nodal points of the element.
Structural problems related to shell or membrane structures are C
1
class
problems. This time, the nodal parameters are both the values of the
unknown function and its first derivatives in the nodal points of the element
(displacements and curvature).

For massive structures, the stress field in 2D plane stress is

E =

______________________Basics of the Finite Element Method Applied in Civil Engineering

83
with
T
y
u
x
u
(

= ... and
(
(
(
(

=
2
1
0 0
0 1
0 1
1
2

E
E

For plates or shells, the so called generalized stresses are

g g
xy
y
x
g
m
m
m
E =
(
(
(

= (8.3)

with the generalized strains

(
(
(
(
(
(
(

=
y x
w
y
w
x
w
g
2
2
2
2
2
(8.4)

and the elasticity matrix

(
(
(
(

=
2
1
0 0
0 1
0 1
) 1 ( 12
2
3

Et
g
E (*) (8.5)

Thus, for shell elements, the functional contains second order derivatives
and requires a C
1
continuity. In order to ensure the continuity of the first
order of derivatives the displacements (lateral deflection) w and the slopes
|
|
.
|

\
|

y
w
x
w
, are used as nodal values. The DOF per node are
y
w
x
w
w

, , .

* These last relationships will be developed later

Chapter 8 Types of Finite Elements___________________________________________

84

elements
elements
elements
elem.i elem.j
discontinuous but finite
not continuous
u
x
u

2
x
u

2

e
l
e
m
e
n
t

b
o
u
n
d
a
r
y

Fig. 8.2 Continuity provided by C
0
class finite elements across their boundaries

8.1.2 Shape functions requirements for convergence

Three other criteria for convergence attainment withdraw from the solid
mechanics are stated:

Criterion 1 - the shape function should not permit (or cause) element
straining when the nodal displacements correspond to a rigid body
movement.

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85
Criterion 2 - the shape functions should lead to a constant strain field over
the elements domain if the nodal loads or displacements are compatible with
constant strains.

Criterion 3 the shape functions should lead to finite strain values on
element boundaries.

These three criteria are usually satisfied by all the known finite elements and
have to be verified only for the new ones developed.

8.2 TYPES OF FINITE ELEMENTS*

As it was stated before, in a finite element approximation the unknown
function u can be a scalar (as temperature, hydraulic head) or a vector with
more components (as displacement). Consequently, the number of DOF per
node depends on the physical meaning of the problem. There are elements
with 1 DOF/node, 2 DOF/node, 3 DOF/node or 6 DOF/node.

The shape functions which define the distribution of the unknown over the
elements domain are usually polynomials. Regarding the polynomial order,
the elements can be linear, quadratic, cubic, etc. This designation has
nothing to do with the elements geometric shape but emphasizes the degree
of the polynomial which defines the shape function.

Linear finite elements are the simplest ones, using first degree polynomials
as shape functions. Also, the approximation depends on accepted dimension
of the problem. The shape functions have the following forms:

- for the one dimensional space (1D):

x a a x u
2 1
) ( + = (8.6)

- for the two dimensional space (2D):

xy a y a x a a y x u
4 3 2 1
) , ( + + + = (8.7)

- for the three dimensional space (3D):

* The paragraph is dealing only with elements for general modeling purpose.
Special elements will be exemplified later.

Chapter 8 Types of Finite Elements___________________________________________

86
xyz a zx a yz a xy a z a y a x a a z y x u
8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
) , , ( + + + + + + + = (8.8)

Concerning the geometric shape of linear elements, the 1D element is a
straight line between two nodes, the 2D element is a quadrilateral plane with
straight edges which can degenerate into a triangle by merging two nodes
and the 3D element is a hexahedron (a six plane-faced volume, also called
brick element) which can degenerate into a prism by merging two edges
or into a tetrahedron by merging four nodes (see figure 8.3).

Fig. 8.3 Types of linear C
0
class finite elements: a. 2D space; b. 3D space

In order to determine the polynomial coefficients a
i
, the u = u
i
condition for
the nodal points should be applied. Therefore, the number of nodes n should
equal the number of independent parameters a
i
, i.e. 2 nodes for the 1D (line)
linear element, 4 nodes for the 2D (plane) linear element and 8 nodes for the
3D (hexahedron) linear element. Note that for the 2D and 3D spaces, the
unknown function (if displacement) becomes a vector with components
along the Cartesian system coordinates.

Another type of C
0
class of element is the quadratic element. Its shape
functions are second order polynomials and the approximation of the
unknown function over the element (in 2D space) has the following form:

1
2
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3
4 5
8
1
6
7
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
a.
b.

______________________Basics of the Finite Element Method Applied in Civil Engineering

87
y x a xy a y a x a xy a y a x a a y x u
2
8
2
7
2
6
2
5 4 3 2 1
) , ( + + + + + + + = (8.9)

In the same way, polynomial shape functions for 1D and 3D elements can
be written. In order to determine the independent parameters, the quadratic
element should have a suitable number of nodes: 3 for 1D element, 8 for 2D
element and 20 for 3D elements (see figure 8.4). The presence of the mid-
side nodes enables the defining of a curved element shape, for edges in 2D
or faces in 3D.

Fig. 8.4 Types of quadratic C
0
class finite elements

Concluding, the finite elements can be classified by their class of continuity
and their shape functions polynomial order. The first aspect affects the
number of DOF per node while the second one the number of nodes per
element.
8.3 COMPLETENESS REQUIREMENTS

In order to get a monotonically convergence toward the exact solution by
increasing the DOF number, two additional conditions should be fulfilled:

1. The elements compatibility in the mesh meaning that elements
remain in contact at their boundaries (no overlapping or gaps should
be encountered); for thin plane or curved shells also the tangent to
the deformed surface of adjacent elements is common (C
1
class
continuity is required);
2. No preferential directions for the element behavior should be
defined*.
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
1
2
3
4
5
6
7 8
9
10
.
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
.

Chapter 8 Types of Finite Elements___________________________________________

88
The second condition is equivalent with the completeness criterion, stating
that the necessary condition for a monotonically convergent solution is the
use of complete polynomials as shape functions. No preferential directions
within the element means that under the same boundary conditions
(prescribed displacements, distributed loads, etc) the element has to have the
same stress and strain field, regardless the element orientation in a certain
coordinate system:

) ' , ' ( ) , ( y x A y x A A
= = (8.10)

as it is shown in figure 8.5.

Fig. 8.5 The completeness criterion

If a polynomial of order p is used to define the shape functions N, then it
must be a complete polynomial (the terms are defined by the Pascal
triangle). Thus, the complete polynomials are

xy a y a x a a y x d
4 3 2 1
) , ( + + + = for linear,
2
8
2
7
2
6
2
5 4 3 2 1
) , ( y a xy a y x a x a xy a y a x a a y x d + + + + + + + = for quadratic

and so on. Similar developments are available for 3D problems.

x
y
1
x
1
y
A (x,y)
(x
1
,y
1
)
p
* The heterogeneity of material properties is excluded.