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An Introductory SIGMA/W Example


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Introduction

This is a fairly simple introductory example. The primary purpose is to demonstrate to new SIGMA/W
users how to get started, to introduce the usual type of data required to do a SIGMA/W analysis, and to
illustrate what can be done with SIGMA/W.
The problem is quite simple, so that it can be analyzed with the GeoStudio Student Edition.
This problem is about computing the stress changes in the ground beneath a round tank filled with a fluid.

Problem configuration and description

When studying a problem that is symmetric about a vertical axis, the three-dimensional effects can be
analyzed with a two-dimensional finite element mesh, as illustrated by the following sketch. A special
axisymmetric formulation in SIGMA/W for this case considers the stresses in the X-Y plane as well as
the circumferential stresses. This view is selected with the Set Units and Scale command.

Figure 1shows the corresponding SIGMA/W problem setup. The diameter of the tank is 5 m and the
applied pressure is 40 kPa. The soil region is 38 m wide and 25 m high. The upper 5 m of soil has
different properties than the underlying 20 m.

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Tank

Round tank - 40 kPa pressure

26
24

Upper soil

22
20
18

Elevation (m)

16
14

Lower soil

12
10
8

Symmetric axis

6
4
2
0
-2

-2

10

12

14

16

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30

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36

38

Distance (m)

Figure 1 Problem configuration

Geometry regions

The intention is to have a finer mesh right under the tank where the stress changes will be the highest.
Also, different regions are required to accommodate the two soil types. It is for this reason that we use
four mesh regions, as shown in Figure 2.
Also, the weight of the tank must be applied as boundary condition and specified boundary pressures
must be applied on region edges. Consequently, Edge 4-1 of Region 1 needs to subdivided into Edge 4-3
and 3-1. This is done by adding a Point at the location of the outer edge of the tank (Point 3).
2

26

24

22

20

18

Elevation (m)

16
14
12

10

8
6
4
2

10

0
-2

-2

9
2

10

7
12

14

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38

Distance (m)

Figure 2 Geometry regions and points

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Boundary conditions

Along the left symmetric axis we want to allow vertical movement (settlement) but no lateral (horizontal)
movement. Along the bottom and right vertical side, it is considered that these boundaries are far enough
away from the applied surface pressure that they can be fixed in both the X and Y directions. SIGMA/W
has default boundary conditions you can use for this.
You must also create a boundary condition representing the tank pressure. In this case, we can use a
stress-type boundary. It is specified as a Y-stress boundary with a magnitude (action) of -40 kPa. The
negative value means it is pointing downward. Figure 3 shows the boundary conditions. Now it is evident
why it was necessary to subdivide the region edge so that the tank pressure is applied only under the tank.
26
24
22
20
18

Elevation (m)

16
14
12
10
8
6
4
2
0
-2

-2

10

12

14

16

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20

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38

Distance (m)

Figure 3 Boundary conditions

Material properties

The soil will be treated as being linear elastic with the following properties:

Upper soil: E = 3000 kPa and Poissons ratio = 0.45

Lower soil: E = 4000 kPa and Poissons ratio = 0.45

No pore-pressures are considered, so we can treat these properties as Total Stress Parameters.
The soil colors can be selected and changed as you wish.

Finite element mesh

Now that the geometry, boundary conditions and material properties are specified and applied, we should
look at the mesh and make modifications is necessary. This is done using the Draw Properties command.
A global element size of 2 m is about right for this analysis, except right under the footing. Earlier it was
noted that a finer mesh is desirable under the footing. This can be achieved by selecting Region 1 and
specifying that the element size in this region should be 0.5 (half) of the global dimension.
In addition, a decision was made to use 8-noded higher order elements in the two regions on the left side
of the problem. Further away to the right, the stress change will be less, and therefore 4-node quadrilateral
elements are consider adequate in the right two regions.
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The results mesh is shown in the next diagram (Figure 4).

Figure 4 The finite element mesh

Worth noting is that you can set up and define the entire problem before you need to think about the
mesh.

Verifying

With the Tools command you can Verify the problem. This means that SIGMA/W checks that
sufficient data has been supplied to compute a solution. It does not mean it will be the correct solution
but it will be a solution. For example, Verify can alert you to the fact that no boundary conditions have
been specified or no material properties have been applied.
It is up to you to judge whether the solution is or is not correct. For example, are the solution trends
correct and are the material properties appropriate?

Solve

The next step is to click on the SOLVE button and compute the solution to the finite element equations.

Vertical stresses

Earlier it was noted that the object here is to compute the stress changes in the ground due to the weight
of the fluid in the tank. The best way to look at this is to create a contour plot of the Y-stresses, as in
Figure 5. The contour labels are in units of kPa. The contours from a pressure bulb, such as are typically
shown in most introductory Soil Mechanics textbooks, suggest that the analysis has been correctly set up.

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Note that the 40 kPa contour right under the footing is somewhat irregular and squiggly. This is primarily
due to numerical noise and nothing to worry about. Ideally, the 40 kPa contour is right at the contact, but
in a numerical approximation such as a finite element analysis it is not possible to achieve this ideal
condition.
Tank

Round tank - 40 kPa pressure

26
24
35

22
20

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18

15
10

14
12
10

Elevation (m)

16

Symmetric axis

6
4
Figure 5

Vertical stress change contours

2
0

10

Vertical settlement

-2

Figure 6 shows the vertical settlements as a deformed mesh at a 20X exaggeration. The maximum
settlement is about 0.076 m (76 mm) under the center of the tank.

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Tank

Round tank - 40 kPa pressure

26
24

Upper soil

22
20
18

Elevation (m)

16
14

Lower soil

12
10
8

Symmetric axis

6
4
2
0
-2

-2

10

12

14

16

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Distance (m)
Figure 6 Settlement as a deformed mesh at 20X exaggeration

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Graphing

In addition to looking at the results as contour plots or deformed mesh plots as above, there are multiple
ways of looking at the results with the Graph command in SIGMA/W. Figure 7 shows just one typical
example. This figure gives the lateral (x) displacement along a vertical profile at the outer edge of the
tank.
Lateral displacemnt
25

Y (m)

20

15

10

0
-0.004 -0.002 0.000 0.002 0.004 0.006 0.008 0.010

0.012 0.014

X-Displacement (m)

Figure 7 Lateral displacement profile

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Demonstration movie

A movie that goes through all the steps in the example is also available as an aide to learning how to use
SIGMA/W. Watching the movie is an excellent way to get started.

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Concluding remarks

This simple introductory example has all the components of a finite element analysis, which are primarily
geometry, boundary conditions and material properties.
The example also illustrates how this type of problem can be easily and conveniently analyzed with
SIGMA/W.
Moreover, it clearly demonstrates how the results can be visualized with colorful contour plots and
graphs.
If you take the time to duplicate this analysis by going through all the steps, you will have a very good
concept of what is required to do a SIGMA/W analysis, and what can be achieved with this powerful
software product.

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