Multibody Syst Dyn (2007) 18: 81–94

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

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

i
y
ω
i
z
I
i
y
−I
i
z
I
i
x
l
i
y
I
i
y

i
x
ω
i
z
I
i
z
−I
i
x
I
i
y
l
i
z
I
i
z

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


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
¸

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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