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**DOI 10.1007/s11044-007-9066-2
**

Applications of the discrete element method

in mechanical engineering

Florian Fleissner · Timo Gaugele · Peter Eberhard

Received: 28 February 2007 / Accepted: 9 May 2007 /

Published online: 1 June 2007

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Abstract Compared to other ﬁelds of engineering, in mechanical engineering, the Discrete

Element Method (DEM) is not yet a well known method. Nevertheless, there is a variety

of simulation problems where the method has obvious advantages due to its meshless na-

ture. For problems where several free bodies can collide and break after having been largely

deformed, the DEM is the method of choice. Neighborhood search and collision detection

between bodies as well as the separation of large solids into smaller particles are naturally

incorporated in the method. The main DEM algorithm consists of a relatively simple loop

that basically contains the three substeps contact detection, force computation and integra-

tion. However, there exists a large variety of different algorithms to choose the substeps to

compose the optimal method for a given problem. In this contribution, we describe the dy-

namics of particle systems together with appropriate numerical integration schemes and give

an overview over different types of particle interactions that can be composed to adapt the

method to ﬁt to a given simulation problem. Surface triangulations are used to model com-

plicated, non-convex bodies in contact with particle systems. The capabilities of the method

are ﬁnally demonstrated by means of application examples.

Keywords Discrete element method · Numerical integration · Quaternions · Surface

triangulation · Multibody system coupling

Commemorative Contribution.

F. Fleissner () · T. Gaugele · P. Eberhard

Institute of Engineering and Computational Mechanics, University of Stuttgart, Pfaffenwaldring 9,

70569 Stuttgart, Germany

e-mail: ﬂeissner@itm.uni-stuttgart.de

T. Gaugele

e-mail: gaugele@itm.uni-stuttgart.de

P. Eberhard

e-mail: eberhard@itm.uni-stuttgart.de

82 F. Fleissner et al.

1 Introduction

The Discrete Element Method (DEM) is a well established tool for physicists and engineers

in geophysics and in mining, civil and chemical engineering, where it is used to simulate

particle ﬂows of granules and powders and to investigate shear effects and the nature of

granular packings. In contrast to most other methods from the growing group of meshless

methods, which are mainly designed to simulate continuum effects described by partial dif-

ferential equations, the DEM accounts for the simulation of inter-particle contacts. However,

a hybrid application for the simulation of continua in contact seems to be quite promising.

In mechanical engineering the method is hardly known as many typical engineering prob-

lems can be solved with the Finite Element Method (FEM). Even though the FEM may be

superior for most problems where small elastic deformations are in the focus or for the in-

vestigation of mode shapes of structural oscillations, it is worth to have a look at the DEM’s

power and ﬂexibility when it comes to breakage, rupture and large deformations, together

with contacts of multiple bodies. In engines and gears, abrasion yields small particles, some-

times mixed with cooling- or lubrication-liquid that can cause clamping of mechanisms or

plugging in pipes and cavities and can thus have a signiﬁcant impact on the performance

of mechanical systems in terms of reliability and durability. In production engineering, e.g.,

in the simulation of cutting processes, the DEM is used to observe the effects of process

parameters on the plastic deformation and fragmentation of material to optimize the process

outcome. Rapidly deformed membrane structures which are permanently subject to self-

contacts can also be efﬁciently simulated with the DEM, especially when ruptures are part

of the systems functionality. All of these examples yield the same dynamic equations of

motion (see Sect. 2), and can thus be simulated using the same numerical integration ap-

proaches which we present in Sect. 3. For modeling the different large scale behavior that is

necessary to adapt the method to a variety of simulation problems, several particle interac-

tions, transient or persistent, can be applied. Some important aspects are described in Sect. 4.

Finally, in Sect. 5, we present some recent DEM simulation examples. This paper presents a

digest of our work in progress and it is meant to give an overview about the potential of the

DEM in mechanical engineering. The determination of physical parameters, e.g., by means

of standard material tests is still an ongoing work.

2 Dynamics of particle systems

Particle systems consist of a set of free, not necessarily rigid bodies which interact mostly in

terms of unilateral forces due to contacts. The Discrete Element Method [1, 2] usually em-

ploys a description of the dynamics on a force-acceleration-level, which enables, in contrast

to an impulse-velocity based modeling, a mixture of various different contact—or, more

general, interaction-force laws.

The state of a particle i can be described by its position r

i

, its velocity v

i

, its rotation

unit quaternion q

i

=[q

i

0

q

i

1

q

i

2

q

i

3

]

T

, q

i

=1 (Euler–Rodriguez parameters) and its angular

velocity ω

i

. Changes of the state variables are induced by the forces f

i

and the torques l

i

acting on the particle. The particle’s dynamics is described by the Newton and the Euler

equations [3]

m

i

˙ v

i

= f

i

, (1)

I

i

· ˙ ω

i

+ω

i

×I

i

· ω

i

= l

i

. (2)

Applications of the discrete element method in mechanical engineering 83

In a body ﬁxed principal frame, the inertia tensor I

i

simpliﬁes to the constant diagonal tensor

I

i

=

⎡

⎢

⎣

I

i

x

0 0

0 I

i

y

0

0 0 I

i

z

⎤

⎥

⎦

. (3)

Written in the principal frame, (2) are called the Dynamic Euler Equations which can be

solved with little effort for the angular acceleration

˙ ω

i

=

⎡

⎢

⎢

⎢

⎢

⎣

l

i

x

I

i

x

+ω

i

y

ω

i

z

I

i

y

−I

i

z

I

i

x

l

i

y

I

i

y

+ω

i

x

ω

i

z

I

i

z

−I

i

x

I

i

y

l

i

z

I

i

z

+ω

i

x

ω

i

y

I

i

x

−I

i

y

I

i

x

⎤

⎥

⎥

⎥

⎥

⎦

, (4)

as the constant diagonal inertia tensor is simple to invert. The time derivative of the orienta-

tion quaternion can be expressed using the angular velocity, expanded to a pure quaternion

i

=[0 ω

i

], and the orthogonal quaternion matrix [4]

Q(q) =

⎡

⎢

⎢

⎣

q

0

−q

1

−q

2

−q

3

q

1

q

0

−q

3

q

2

q

2

q

3

q

0

−q

1

q

3

−q

2

q

1

q

0

⎤

⎥

⎥

⎦

, (5)

which is used to express the quaternion product in matrix-vector notation, as

˙ q

i

=

1

2

Q

q

i

·

i

. (6)

In the same manner, the second derivative of the orientation quaternion can be written as

¨ q

i

=

1

2

Q

˙ q

i

·

i

+Q

q

i

·

˙

i

. (7)

Using the quaternion approach, rotations can be expressed without the need to care for sin-

gularities of Jacobian matrices as they occur if Euler or Cardan angles are used [5]. Based on

a set of initial conditions, this set of equations can be solved by different kinds of integration

schemes.

3 Numerical integration for particle dynamics

In contrast to celestial mechanics or potential based molecular dynamics, particle systems

are usually characterized as dissipative and non-smooth, mainly due to viscous damping

forces which may induce jumps in the forces acting between colliding particles. Therefore,

particle systems require specialized numerical algorithms.

The non-smoothness of the contact forces prohibits the use of higher order integration

schemes, such as Radau formulae [6, 7] or Backward Differencing Formulae (BDF) [8],

as they are too sensitive to jumps of the right-hand sides. Moreover, there is another reason

why large time step sizes are undesired anyway. As it is important to ensure that all collisions

between particles are resolved, particles must not move further than a certain distance within

a timestep, which is limited by the particles’ extension and velocity. This imposes a state

dependent upper limit to the time step size.

84 F. Fleissner et al.

3.1 Verlet integrator and its derivates

The well established Verlet integrator [9] and its derivates are widely used in the context

of DEM simulations. However, one of its characteristic features, the reversibility, vanishes

if it is applied to dissipative dynamical systems. If reversibility is not required anyway,

the Verlet scheme is less useful for particle dynamics than other integration schemes with

better stability properties. That it is used anyway for the simulation of particle systems may

be due to its simplicity and the fact that DEM evolved from potential driven molecular

dynamics, where the method is well suited. For a quick start or the simulation of small

systems, however, the method proves to be a good choice. The basic Verlet scheme is directly

based on the second order equations of motion. It is mainly applied for the integration of

translational motion. A particle position at the end of a time step is calculated from the

position at the end of the previous two time steps and the force induced acceleration at the

end of the last time step as

r(t +t ) =2r(t ) −r(t −t ) +t

2

a(t ). (8)

The velocity is then evaluated from the central ﬁnite difference

v(t ) =

r(t +t ) −r(t −t )

2t

. (9)

There are different derivates of the Verlet scheme, namely the velocity Verlet and the leap-

frog algorithm [10] which differ in the points in time where positions and velocities are

evaluated. Unfortunately, all Verlet derivates are only conditionally stable which makes the

choice of appropriate time step sizes a difﬁcult and tedious task.

3.2 Newmark-β method

A group of integration schemes we found to be much better suited than the Verlet integrator

for application in dissipative DEM simulations is the group of schemes of the Newmark-β

method [11]. The bandwidth of the integrator equations

r(t +t ) = r(t ) +t v(t ) +

1

2

−β

t

2

a(t ) +t

2

βa(t +t ), (10)

v(t +t ) = v(t ) +(1 −γ )t a(t ) +γ t a(t +t ), (11)

reaches from fully explicit (β =γ =0) to fully implicit schemes (β =1/2, γ =1), depend-

ing on the choice of the two parameters β and γ . The choice of parameters also inﬂuences

the amount of numerical damping as well as the approximation error which can be of second

or third order. The parameters β =1/4 and γ =1/2 yield an unconditionally stable implicit

scheme with third order accuracy and negligible numerical damping.

3.3 Integration of rotational dynamics

The two integration schemes we presented in (8), (9) or (10), (11) can both be modiﬁed to

integrate rotational dynamics with quaternions. Omelyan [4] proposed an explicit velocity

Verlet-like scheme that requires, even though it is fully explicit, an iteration to calculate

a consistent set of angular velocities and angular accelerations from the non-linear Euler

Applications of the discrete element method in mechanical engineering 85

equations. Moreover, to fulﬁll the unit-quaternion constraint, in every integration step a pro-

jection on the constraint manifold is necessary. We modiﬁed Omelyan’s integration scheme

to be used with the Newmark-β scheme, yielding the integrator equations

q(t +t ) = q(t ) +t ˙ q(t ) +

1

2

−β

t

2

¨ q(t ) +t

2

β ¨ q(t +t ) +

∂c

∂q

λ, (12)

c(q) = q · q −1 (13)

where c(q) is the unity constraint that is imposed via the Lagrangian parameter λ which

is calculated explicitly. For the preferable choice of β = 1/4 and γ = 1/2, these equations

become implicit, thus requiring an iterative solution which we obtain via a simple ﬁxed

point iteration in an outer loop together with (4), (6) and (7), which are solved also via

ﬁxed point iteration in an inner loop, to yield consistent values of ω and ˙ ω. After conver-

gence of both iterations is reached, the newly calculated quaternion satisﬁes the constraint

c(q(t +t )) =0. Different evaluation points of the constraint gradient in terms of energy

conservation are compared in [4], namely ∂c(q(t + t ))/∂q and ∂c(q(t ))/∂q. As we are

dealing with dissipative systems, we found the former, a simple scaling of the quaternion, to

be sufﬁcient as the general existence of a solution for the latter is not guaranteed.

3.4 Step size control

Up to now, we treated the integration time step size as constant. However, to speed up

simulations it is desirable to have a robust step size control. In [12] a step size control

algorithm is proposed for use with an implicit second order scheme. Unfortunately, the inte-

gration scheme features strong numerical damping. As it is very similar to the Newmark-β

scheme, we successfully applied the step size control part with our Newmark-integrators for

translation and rotation. This simple and robust step size control algorithm uses the rate of

convergence of the ﬁxed point iteration as controller input. If for a given tolerance a large

number of iteration cycles is needed to reach convergence, the time step size is reduced and

otherwise increased if convergence is reached quickly.

4 Particle interactions

4.1 Normal contact

The interactions between particles in a DEM simulation are treated with a unilateral penalty

force approach. Contacting particles are temporarily connected with spring-damper systems

to exert forces that prevent the particles from further penetrations. For spherical particles,

such as granules or pebbles, the Hertz contact law

K

ij

=

4

3π(h

i

+h

j

)

¸

R

i

R

j

R

i

+R

j

¸1

2

, (14)

h

l

=

1 −ν

2

l

πE

l

, l =i, j, (15)

F

ij

= K

ij

δ

3

2

ij

+D

˙

δ

ij

(16)

86 F. Fleissner et al.

Fig. 1 Schematic representation of contact situations in sphere-surface contact

with the radii R

l

, Young’s moduli E

l

and Poisson ratios ν

l

of the spheres i and j and the

damping parameter D is used as a physically motivated non-linear penalty force law that

yields the contact force F

ij

based on the penetration depth δ

ij

[13]. For more complex

geometries, such as polyhedra, there exist no analytical force laws. For still being able to

prevent particle penetrations, stiff linear springs are used to model quasi-rigid behavior [14,

15].

4.2 Triangulated surfaces

In our simulations, we focus on spherical particles. More complex bodies can be composed

of elastically bonded spheres if rigidity is not required. As particles usually interact with

some sort of bounding geometry or other more complex large scale bodies, a force law is

required for the contact between these spherical particles and planar surfaces. According to

the Hertz law, a contact between a sphere and a rigid wall is equivalent to the constellation

where two identical spheres collide. As both spheres are identical, (14) reduces to

K

ij

=

E

√

2R

3(1 −ν

2

)

. (17)

A simple, yet ﬂexible way to resolve complex bounding geometries is the approximation

with triangular surface meshes. For implementation reasons, it is desirable to treat surface

triangles as individual particles in terms of collision detection and data storage. Especially, in

parallel implementations where the particles are distributed to processors, it is advantageous

to divide the triangle mesh up into independent triangle-particles. The emerging contact sit-

uations become, therefore, slightly more complicated as the contact region may be anything

from non-convex over planar to convex where multiple triangles can be in contact with the

same sphere, see Fig. 1.

For the calculation of the individual contact forces, we take again Hertz’s law to model

the contact between the sphere and the triangle plane. However, in order to obtain a consis-

tent model, it is important, at least for the planar contact case, that the sum of the contact

forces of the individual contacts matches the contact force that would emerge from a con-

tact between a sphere and a single triangle. To ensure this, the contact force of the individual

contacts is multiplied with the ratio between the surface of the intersection circle A

c

between

sphere and plane and the surface of the overlap between the intersection circle and the trian-

gle A

o

, see Fig. 2. Compared to the evaluation of a simple sphere-sphere Hertz-contact, the

Applications of the discrete element method in mechanical engineering 87

Fig. 2 Overlap regions of the triangle-sphere contact

calculation of the overlap regions between the triangles and the intersection circle of sphere

and plane is not trivial, as there are in total eight possible overlap cases.

We calculate the contact force for an overlap between a sphere and the triangles of a

overlapping set of triangles T from the individual contact forces as

F

i

=

¸

j∈T

A

o

ij

A

c

ij

Kδ

3

2

ij

+D

˙

δ

ij

n

j

, (18)

with the normals n

i

of the triangles. If all triangles in T are coplanar, i.e.

A

c

i

=

¸

j∈T

A

o

ij

, A

c

ij

=A

c

ik

=A

c

i

, n

j

=n

k

, ∀j, k ∈ T (19)

it is obvious that the total contact force is equal to the force from a contact with a single

triangle that is fully overlapped, i.e., with a circular intersection region between sphere and

triangle.

4.3 Friction

In most particle systems, friction plays an important role as it can, e.g., lead to plugging in

pipe ﬂows even for almost ideally spherical particles. The appropriate friction model must

be chosen with respect to the application. In highly dynamic systems, slipping friction is

dominant and it is often legitimate to neglect sticking friction. In quasi-static or static cases,

e.g., the simulation of particle piles, sticking friction is usually not negligible.

Pure slipping friction like

F

slip

=−μF

n

v

v

, (20)

see [16], with normal force F

n

, relative velocity v and friction coefﬁcient μ is, however,

hard to simulate. This is due to the jump at zero velocity which can cause numerical insta-

bility as an inﬁnitesimal relative velocity v leads to large forces. Therefore, the modiﬁed

slipping friction force

F

slip

=−μF

n

v

v

tanh

kv

(21)

88 F. Fleissner et al.

is used that smoothes the jump at zero velocity. The parameter k is a shape parameter that

serves to tune the slope of the slip friction force close to zero velocity. It is important to

mention, that for explicit integrators such as the Verlet integrator there exists a stability limit

that depends on k.

Modeling sticking friction is more complicated. For a force-acceleration based modeling,

Cundall and Strack [2] proposed a penalty sticking friction model that inserts a tangential

spring-damper system between the contacting bodies at the initial contact point. Drilling

friction can be modeled accordingly.

For modeling friction between spheres and triangles, we expand our approach for the

normal contact in (18) by an additional friction term F

f

ij

to

F

i

=

¸

j∈T

A

o

ij

A

c

ij

¸

Kδ

3

2

+D

˙

δ

n

j

+F

f

ij

¸

. (22)

4.4 Macro particles

For particles being coupled with a multibody simulation it is of great interest to allow the

simulation boundaries to move and have their own dynamics. Therefore, we deﬁne rigid

macro particles that are represented by a triangulated surface geometry. All contact forces

and torques between spherical particles and the macro particle’s triangles are accumulated

with respect to the macro particle’s center of gravity. Within the particle simulator, the macro

particle’s motion is then integrated by means of (2) to (7) but it is also possible to couple the

particle simulator with any other multibody simulation software. This corresponds to using

the particle simulation as a very special force element in the MBS program.

4.5 Granular solid

Various different phenomena like, e.g., stress wave propagation, elastic-plastic deforma-

tion or breaking can be observed when loading mechanical structures. Traditionally used

methods to analyze these scenarios like FEM or BEM solve partial differential equations of

continuum mechanics. If fracture and fragmentation are to be incorporated in the scenario it

is difﬁcult to deal with the resulting discontinuities while using these classical methods. A

different approach to model damage and failure is based on the DEM. In recent years, this

approach was adopted in geomechanics and civil engineering to model fracture in elastic-

brittle materials, e.g., [17, 18]. Using this approach, the material is considered as being

fully discontinuous and made up by assembling and bonding adjacent discrete elements.

The particle bonds are represented by force laws and can sustain only a speciﬁed stress until

failure. Different types of force laws can be used depending on the considered problem to be

modeled as well as the type of particles used [17, 19]. In this paper, we focus on spherical

particles bonded by rods.

As a rod can only bear tensile loads and the rods are ﬁxed in the center of mass of each

particle there is no need to introduce rotational degrees of freedom for the spheres. The

force laws representing the rods contain an elastic-plastic part as well as a viscous part. As

the DEM model is also used to model solids of ductile metal, plastic deformation has to

be considered. The basic stress-strain relationship of a ductile specimen which is uniaxially

loaded behaves qualitatively as schematically depicted in Fig. 3(a). If the specimen is loaded

beyond the yield point σ

0.2

plastic ﬂow occurs. A subsequent loading in opposite direction

causes plastic ﬂow for σ < σ

y2

where |σ

0.2

| >|σ

y2

|. This is called Bauschinger effect.

Applications of the discrete element method in mechanical engineering 89

Fig. 3 Stress strain curves for plasticity laws: (a) hysteresis, (b) bilinear hardening [20], (c) bilinear harden-

ing with shifted yield function

The elastic-plastic part of the force lawwhich is used in our model is based on a piecewise

linear hardening model, [20], schematically depicted in Fig. 3(b). Characteristic parameters

of this model are the initial yield limit

0.2

, Young’s modulus E and the slope 0 < k < E of

the yield function beyond the initial yield point.

If a specimen is loaded within the elastic limit σ

0.2

the resulting stress is governed by

Young’s modulus, i.e., σ = E. Further loading to σ

1

beyond the yield point σ

0.2

causes

plastic ﬂow and stress is governed by

σ

1

=E

0.2

+k(

1

−

0.2

). (23)

A subsequent loading in opposite direction causes plastic ﬂow if σ ≤−σ

1

and so on.

Using this model, it is not possible to reproduce the Bauschinger effect which one can

observe in experiments. Starting from this model we introduce some changes to include

the Bauschinger effect, see Fig. 3(c). For a material without previous plastic deformation

it is assumed that the stress-strain relationship is governed by a piecewise linear function

σ =F() which is symmetrical about the origin, i.e.

σ() =−σ(−). (24)

If the considered specimen is loaded to σ

y

beyond the elastic limit σ

0.2

the material

ﬂows plastically and the stress-strain relationship is given according to (23). A subsequent

unloading follows the straight line g() which is given by

g() =( −

y

)E +σ

y

. (25)

Furthermore the plastic deformation shifts the yield function in the σ − -plane along

the line through the origin given by h() = k. The shift parameters σ

0

and

0

can then be

calculated by setting g() =h(). This yields

0

=

E

y

−σ

y

E −k

(26)

90 F. Fleissner et al.

and

σ

0

=k

0

. (27)

As a result the yield function (24) is transformed to

ˆ

F =σ() =σ

0

+F( −

0

). (28)

The stress then can be readily calculated as

σ =σ

0

+E( −

0

). (29)

The forces f

i

acting on the connected particles are calculated by

|f

i

| =σA (30)

where A is the cross sectional area of the rod.

As known from experience a loaded specimen does not ﬂow inﬁnitely but fails once

stress reaches tensile strength. In order to reproduce realistic behavior, the tensile strength

σ

max

is introduced in the model. Consequently, if

σ > σ

max

(31)

the rod connecting two considered particles is removed. Currently an interspherical bond

can be removed only if the overall strain is positive, i.e., in case of tensile loading. A failure

of a bond in case of compression demands a modiﬁcation of the used algorithm to prevent

an overlap of particles when removing the bond. Otherwise, a jump of the system energy

might occur by a jump of the forces when switching from rod forces to contact forces.

5 Application examples

We have applied the DEMto simulate a variety of different problems, fromhighly dynamical

systems, such as granular ﬂows, to systems with slow dynamics, such as loaded continua.

As an example for a granular ﬂow with dynamically moving boundaries, we present the

simulation of a particle driven water wheel. By introducing rod elements as lasting bilateral

interactions between particles, that break for a certain load, it is possible to model a con-

tinuum. This approach is demonstrated by means of a simulation of an orthogonal cutting

process where the DEM has obvious advantages compared to the FEM as particle separa-

tion that enables chips is naturally included in the model. The same elastic rods are also used

to model elastic membranes which we present as a ﬁnal example. Video sequences show-

ing these and other applications can be found at www.itm.uni-stuttgart.de. The

simulation examples we present in this paper were mostly carried out to demonstrate the be-

havior and applicability of the method. Therefore, we used just roughly estimated material

parameters.

5.1 Particle driven dynamics

To demonstrate the capability to couple a particle simulation with a multibody system

(MBS), we chose an ancient water wheel as a simulation example. In the particle simulation

Applications of the discrete element method in mechanical engineering 91

Fig. 4 Snapshots of a simulation of a particle driven water wheel with the wheel body modeled as a rigid

macro particle. The particle velocities are color coded

the MBS bodies are represented as rigid macro particles that consist of a set of triangular

surface elements which are in turn handled as individual particles in the particle simulation,

as described in Sect. 4.2. The water wheel body with center of mass on the rotation axis

is ﬁxed in a static frame. The driving torque that is applied is negative proportional to the

angular velocity of the wheel. Thus, after a short transient phase, the angular velocity of the

wheel reaches a steady state. To be able to feed the wheel with a constant stream of particles,

we use a particle inﬂow and an outﬂow. Thus, particles are created and removed during the

simulation to save memory and CPU expense. In Fig. 4 several snapshots from simulations

of the water wheel are depicted. The motion of the water wheel is computed by integrating

the equations of motion of the MBS with the particles considered as force elements.

5.2 Orthogonal cutting processes

To show the applicability of the DEM model to simulate cutting processes we considered the

case of orthogonal cutting. This is a relatively simple case of cutting with a two-dimensional

state of stress. As a pre-processing step, the solid representing the workpiece is generated

as a bulk of identical spheres arranged in a regular face-centered cubic lattice. All adja-

cent spheres are then connected with visco-elastic-plastic rods represented by force laws

as described in Sect. 4.5. Thereby one generates a three-dimensional model of a break-

able and granular solid which is made up by bonding rigid, unbreakable spherical particles.

The workpiece is machined using a tool represented by triangles and moved according to

a function of time. If the tensile strength of the material is reached, the rods representing

the cohesive forces of the material are removed and are never again restored. As an implicit

integration scheme is used, rods are only plastically deformed or removed if convergence

has been reached. Some snapshots of intermediate states are shown in Fig. 5.

92 F. Fleissner et al.

Fig. 5 Snapshots of a simulation of orthogonal cutting of elastic-plastic material. The fraction of broken

rods is color coded

5.3 Elastic membranes

By bonding particles with viscoelastic elements, membranes can be simulated whose dis-

tributed mass is represented by spherical particles. Between bonded particles only the spring

damper forces act, whereas between unbonded particles any other contact law such as

Hertz’s law or a friction model can be applied. In our simulation example, we used arbitrary

but complicated and non-convex 3D-models as input for the surface geometry of obstacles

that interact with the membrane. An example of a membrane consisting of 8,300 particles

that interacts with a rigid bust is shown in Fig. 6. The membrane falls under the inﬂuence of

gravity on the bust and deforms elastically contouring the shape of the bust’s face.

If membranes are clamped one can observe wave phenomena, see Fig. 7. In this kind of

simulations it is important to account for the Courant–Friedrichs–Lewy condition [21] by

restricting the time step size to enforce the numerical sound speed to be greater than the

physical sound speed to be able to resolve the wave phenomena correctly.

6 Conclusion

In this work, we presented an overview about some applications of the Discrete Element

Method in mechanical engineering. The equations of motion for particles with six degrees

of freedom were presented, where the rotation coordinates where represented by quater-

nions. By means of this, the Newton and Euler equations form a system of seven differential

equations with the single scalar unit-quaternion invariant. Several numerical methods were

presented that can be used to solve the equations of motion, with focus on the solution of the

rotational part. A simple, yet robust step size controller was developed for the Newmark-β

scheme that is based on the rate of convergence of the integrator’s ﬁxed-point iteration. We

Applications of the discrete element method in mechanical engineering 93

Fig. 6 Snapshots of a simulation of an elastic membrane falling on a rigid bust with color coded particle

velocity

Fig. 7 Snapshots of a simulation of a pig doll falling on a clamped elastic membrane with color coded

particle velocity

presented a penalty contact model for contacts between spherical particles and triangulated

surface meshes where the triangles are treated as individual particles. Rigid dynamic macro

particles accumulate contact forces and torques acting on their surface triangles. Thus, the

particle simulations can be coupled to a MBS program as very powerful force elements.

94 F. Fleissner et al.

To demonstrate the bandwidth of different ﬁelds of applications, we presented three sim-

ulation examples. The ﬁrst one, a simulation of a water wheel, showed how a particle sim-

ulation can be coupled with a multibody simulation. The great advantages of the method,

the absence of a discretization mesh that naturally allows for a separation of a continuum

was shown by means of an orthogonal cutting process. Finally, we presented simulations of

elastic membranes that feature large deformations and traveling waves.

Acknowledgements Some of the 3D-surface models for the simulations presented in this paper were taken

from the wonderful web page of the gamma project, http://www-c.inria.fr/gamma/gamma.php. The work on

cutting processes modeled by DEM is funded by the DFG in the framework of the SPP 1180. This support is

highly appreciated.

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