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INTERNAT~ONAL 26, 71 7-730 (1 988)



Royal Aircraft Estahlishment, Farnborough, Hanrs., U . K .

A finite element of arbitrary quadrilateral shape is presented for plane elasticity analysis. The element is
derived from triangular fields of compatible quadratic displacements with vertex connectors which
include rotations. All rigid body movements and constant strain states are recovered exactly. Results from
several test problems demonstrate that very good numerical accuracy is obtained for both displacements and
stresses, even for quite coarse finite element meshes.

In an earlier paper' a triangular finite element for plane elasticity analysis was derived from
compatible quadratic displacements with vertex connectors which include rotations. Numerical
results showed that quite acceptable accuracy is available for practical applications, but the
element exhibits an unusual type of zero energy mode in addition to the rigid body movements.
Although this mode is very easily suppressed by prescribing an arbitrary value for any one of the
vertex rotations in a finite element mesh, such a non-standard feature is undesirable.
To overcome this problem, four fields of compatible quadratic displacements of the earlier
triangular element are combined in a special formulation which automatically suppresses the
extra, unwanted, zero energy mode. The result is a compatible finite element of arbitrary
quadrilateral shape which has two components of displacement and a rotation as connectors at
each of its vertices. All rigid body movements and constant states of strain or shear can be
represented exactly. A previous rectangular finite element2 with vertex connectors which also
include rotations was found to give only marginally better results than the standard bilinear
rectangle. But results calculated with the present quadrilateral element for several test problems
demonstrate very good numerical accuracy for both displacements and stresses, even for quite
coarse finite element meshes.

The quadrilateral finite element shown in Figure 1 is considered to be divided into four triangular
regions by joining each of its vertices PI, P,, P,, P, to the centroid Po by a straight line. If the
vertices have co-ordinates (xl,yl), (xz,y2),(x3,y3),(x4,y4) respectively then the co-ordinates of the

0Copyright Controller HMSO, London 1987 Received 18 November 1986

Revised 7 July 1987
718 D. J. ALLMAN

Figure 1. Quadrilateral finite element

+(Y 3 -Y J X ~ Y2 -X ~ Y J I J
where the area A of the quadrilateral is given by
'4 = m 3 -XA(Y4-Yz)-(Y, --Y,)(xz - x4)I (2)
Compatible quadratic displacement fields u(x,y), u(x, y) are now defined over each triangular
region in terms of the vertex and centroid displacements and rotations ui,ui,wi (i = 0, 1,2,3,4) in
the manner of Reference 1. For example, the displacement fields over the region PoPIP, are

where yij is the angle between the outer normal n to the triangle side lij and the x-axis, and the
triangular co-grdinates to,t l , over region PoP,P2 are given by

The area of the triangular region PoP,P2 is

Similar expressions to equations (3), (4) and (5) apply to regions P oP2P3, PoP3P4,PoP4Pl.It is to
be noted, however, that the rotations miin equations (3) are not true rotations in the context of
plane elasticity analysis; an expression for the true vertex rotations is given later in Section 5.
The (9 x 9) stiffness matrices for each of the four triangular regions can be calculated as in
Reference 1, and these are used to assemble a (15 x 15) stiffness matrix for the quadrilateral. As
explained in Reference 1, however, the (9 x 9) stiffness matrices of the triangular regions contain an
extra zero energy mode in addition to the three rigid body movements; the (15 x 15)stiffness matrix
of the quadrilateral is therefore of rank 11. While it is very easy to suppress this zero energy mode
by prescribing any one of the rotations wi,this is an undesirable feature of the element. A successful
strategy which is employed in the present paper to overcome this problem is to constrain the
centroid rotation wo to be the weighted average rotation of each of the triangular regions. For
computational efficiency, the centroid displacements uo, uo are also eliminated so that the
quadrilateral element has connectors at the vertices only. The resulting (12 x 12) stiffness matrix of
the quadrilateral thus has rank 9 with three zero energy modes corresponding to the rigid body
To suppress the extra zero energy mode of the (15 x 15) stiffness matrix of the quadrilateral, the
centroid rotation wo is constrained to be the weighted average

where the area A of the quadrilateral and the areas AOl2,etc. of a triangular region are given by
equations (2) and (5)respectively. The true average rotation Ro12of the triangular region PoP,P2is
given, from Reference 1, by,

Substituting similar expressions for Q023,R034,Q041 into equation (6) gives, after some algebra,

+(Yz -Y4)(u I - 03) + b 3 -Y i - u4)l (8)

The procedure for applying this constraint to ooand eliminating the displacements uo, uo to form
the (12 x 12) element stiffness matrix is described in the next section.


The extra zero energy mode of the (15 x 15) element stiffness matrix K of the quadrilateral,
assembled from four triangles, is readily suppressed by means of a Lagrange multiplier technique.
The stiffness relationship between the vector P of element loads and the vector U of element

displacements and rotations is written in an expanded form to include the constraint of equation
(8), viz:

where A is the Lagrange multiplier which enforces the constraint, now rewritten
yTU=O (10)
where the superscript T denotes the transpose of a quantity. Here, the vector U is considered to
have a partitioned form
LI = ( U , I U,IT (1 1)
where the vectors U , and U , are
Ue=(ul, 01, 0 1 , u2, u2, 02, u3, u3, 0 3 , u4, u4, o4IT (1 2 4
u, =(uo, 00, ooIT (12b)
Similarly, the vector g is partitioned as
Y = (ye I qdT (13)
where the vectors g, and go are

Yo=(O,O, -1IT J
The element load vector P for a quadrilateral element of thickness t ( x , y) is calculated from the
potential energy of the applied loads

V= -
lj ( X * U + Y*o)tdxdy-
I, (a,*U,+T,*,Uy)tdS (15)

where X*, Y * are components of body force and at, ztt are normal and shear stresses applied to
parts 8AT of the element sides. The normal and tangential components of displacement u, and u,
along a typical side PIP, of length 112 are’

where the co-ordinate s is measured along the side and where, for example,

u,, = u1cos y 1 2 + u I sin y , ,

u,, = -ul siny,,+u, cosy,,

Substituting into equation (15) for u, v from equation (3) and for u,, u, from equations (16), and

performing the integrations then enables the components of the vector P to be identified from the
potential energy form
v=-PTU (18)
The partitioned form of P corresponding to equation (1 1) for U is
P = ( P e I polT
and so equation (1) can be partitioned into

which is rewritten, with an obvious new notation, as

where the vectors U, and p i are

PA =(Po I 0
uA=(uo' )
' 1
Eliminating the vector U , from equations (21) now produces a quadrilateral element P,P,P3P4

with displacements and rotations ui, vi, wi (i= 1,2,3,4) at its vertices only. If desired, the centroid
values and the Lagrange multiplier can be recovered, after a numerical solution is found for U,,
from the equation
u,=kY>(pA-kLUe) (23)
The (12 x 12) element stiffness matrix K, for the quadrilateral is given by
K , = k,, - k,, ky: k:A (24)
and the consistent load vector P , is
Pe=pe-keAkY. P A (25)
Eigenvalue analysis shows that the element stiffness matrix K, is positive semi-definite and of rank
nine; the three zero eigenvalues correspond to the rigid body movements.


The components of strain E,, E ~ yxy
, in the quadrilateral element may be obtained directly from the
displacements u, u of equations (3) by using the kinematic relations
Ex =-
EY =-
722 D. J. ALLMAN

The stresses then follow from the appropriate material constitutive equations. This procedure
leads, however, to an anomaly, discussed below, which can be avoided by adopting an alternative
approach to calculating the stress and strain fields.
To facilitate the discussion, consider the unit square element P,P,P,P, shown in Figure 2 whose
origin of co-ordinate axes is at the centroid Po and whose vertex connectors take prescribed values
ui= ui = 0, m i= 1 (i = 1,2,3,4). It follows from equation (8) that the centroid rotation wo = 0, and
from symmetry conditions that uo = uo = 0. The displacement fields u, u in the four triangular
regions calculated from equations (23), etc. are thus
PoP,P,: u=iy(l-2x), u = -9x(1-2x)
PoP,P,: u=fy(l-2y), u = -3x(1-2y)
PoP3P,: u=9y(l+2x), u = - f x ( l + 2 x )
PoP,P,: u=ly(l+2y), u = -9x(1+2y)
The components of strain calculated from these displacements by equations (26) are given by

P,P,P,: Ex= -y, Ey=O, yxy=x
PoP,P,: Ex=O, Ey=X, y x y = -y
PoP,P,: Ex=y, Ey=O, yxy= - x
P,P,P,: Ex=O, Ey= -x, yxy=y
The displacement fields u, u of equation (27) evidently take zero values on the perimeter of the
unit square element but, by equations (28), the interior of the element is in a strained state. It is
precisely this elastic response, caused by constraining the centroid rotation w,,, which suppresses
the extra zero energy mode experienced by the triangular element of Reference 1. But the anomaly
that a particular combination of the vertex rotations which gives zero perimeter displacements can
produce interior strains in any quadrilateral element (not just the unit square element) renders
equations (26) generally unsuitable for calculating strains, and thence stresses.

\ /
\ /
\ /
\ /






I \
/ \
/ \
/ \
/ \

Figure 2. Unit square element


An alternative approach, advocated here, is to calculate interior stresses by mini-

mizing the complementary energy of an equilibrium stress field defined over the quadrilateral
element with (known) perimeter displacements; zero perimeter displacements thus give zero
interior stresses. If the components of strain are also required, they follow from the material
constitutive equations. This kind of procedure is, of course, standard for the highly successful
hybrid stress finite element m e t h ~ d . ~
Equilibrium components of stress ox, oy,s, are obtained from an Airy stress function 4 by the

my J
and since the displacements u, u of equations (3) are quadratic polynomials, which give linear
strains according to equations (26), it is appropriate to assume that the stresses are also linear. A
cubic Airy stress function,
d=8lx2+PZxY+83y2 +p4x3+ 8 S x 2 ~ + p 6 X y 2 + ~ 7 y 3
with stress coefficients Piis therefore used to derive from equations (29) a linear equilibrium stress

o y

=2f13 + 2 B 6 x + 6 f 1 7 Y

= 2Pl+ 684x + 2P5Y

= 8 2 + 285x + 2P6Y I
The normal and shear stress resultants N, and N,, at the edge of an element are calculated from
equation (30) using

oxcos2y +oysin2y + zXysin 27

The values of the stress resultants at each end of the typical side P,P2 of length I , , are denoted N i 2 ,
N i l and N,!;, Ni: respectively; they are regarded as generalized forces defining a linear boundary
distribution of stress resultants

Defining the vector Q of sixteen generalized forces for a quadrilateral as

Q = ( N : 2 , N : 1 , N t ; , N i : , . . .)T (33)
724 D. J. ALLMAN

it follows from equations (30) to (33) that

Q = GTp (34)
where G is a (7 x 16) matrix and the vector of stress coefficients /3 is

The sixteen generalized displacements, corresponding to the vector of generalized forces of

equation (33), are defined as the components of a vector q, given by

where for the typical side PIP,of length I , , the components are

Substituting for u,, u, from equations (16), performing the integrations and noting equations (12a)
and (36) enables the generalized displacements to be written in the form
q=TU, (38)
where T is a (16 x 12) matrix.
The linear equilibrium stress field which provides a ‘best’ satisfaction of the strain compatibility
condition is determined by minimizing the total complementary energy of an element thus:
by, r x y )- QTq}= O (39)
where the vectors Q and q are given by equations (34) and (38) respectively and where @ is the
complementary strain energy function. is a positive definite quadratic form of the stress
coefficients, viz:
(€J=@ T H p (40)
where H is the (7 x 7) flexibility matrix. Using equations (39) and (40), the vector of stress
coefficients p is found to be
P = H - ‘ ( G T )V: (41)
where the superscript * implies that the vector U,is known. The stress components follow from
equations (30).
For a quadrilateral finite element of thickness t and area A modelling an isotropic material of
Young’s modulus E and Poisson’s ratio v, the flexibility matrix H is calculated by substituting
equations (30) for the stress components into the complementary strain energy function

and identifying with equation (40).



In the classical theory of elasticity for small displacementsthe true rotation Q(x, y) about a normal
to the ( x , y ) plane is calculated from derivatives of the displacements u,u by

For an elastic solid, R is continuous throughout the material medium. But it is worthwhile
emphasizing here that continuity of R across element boundaries is not necessary for a correct
finite element application of the principle of minimum potential energy. The so-called ‘vertex
rotations’ employed as finite element connectors in the present work are not true rotations. At the
vertices, P, and P,, for example, of a quadrilateral element, o,and 0,are defined,in Reference 1, as

where s goes from P, at s = O to P, at s = l l 2 . The difference ( w 2 - 0 1 ) therefore measures the

relative rate of change of the normal displacement unwith respect to s between the element vertices
P , and P,.
The true rotation at a point can be obtained directly by substituting equations (3) for u and u into
equation (43). If the values of true rotations are required at the vertices only, however, it is
convenient to make use of some of the identities established previously.’ In the triangular region
PoP1P2,the true rotation R, at the vertex P, is given by
Q,-Qo12=i(o1 -w012) (45)
where the average rotation no,,is given in equation (7) and the average of the triangle vertex
rotations oOl2is
(3012 = 3 b o + w1+ a,) (46)
The true rotation Q, at vertex P, in the triangular region PoP4P,is different to that of equation
(45); it is given by
- = - w041) (47)
where 0041 is obtained by cyclic permutation of the indices in equation (7) and 0041 is
w041 = $ ( O O + O4 + O1) (48)
The average of the true rotations at vertex P,, denoted a,, can therefore be obtained from
equations (45) and (47), noting equations (46) and (48), in the form
n1 =$(Q012 +%4,)++1-4(02 +200 +04) (49)
similar expressions can be found for the average rotations 6,, a,, 6, at vertices P,, P,, P,.

The quadrilateral element is able to recover all rigid body movements and constant strain states
exactly, so convergence to an exact solution with consistent mesh refinement is assured. Further
investigation of the performance of the element involves the same three examples which were used
to test the triangular element of Reference 1. The examples of pure bending, parabolic edge tension
and cantilever beam action are shown again in Figures 3 to 5 and the results are shown in Tables I, I1
726 D. J. ALLMAN

Figure 3. Pure bending of a square plate


Figure 4. Square plate with a parabolic edge tension

and 111. The stresses are obtained from equation (30)with average values quoted if more than one
element meets at a mesh point; the same procedure applies to true rotations obtained from
equation (49). Young’s modulus and Poisson’s ratio are denoted by E and v respectively, strain
energy is denoted by U.Reference may be made to the earlier work if greater detail of the problems
is required.
Another problem, proposed by Cook4 as a test for the accuracy of quadrilateral elements, is the
swept and tapered panel under shear load, shown in Figure 6. The results for Cook’s problem are

E 30000 ksi
V = 0.25

( 4 x 1 ) mesh

( 8 x 2 ) mesh


(16x4) mesh

Figure 5. Cantilever beam under a tip load

Table I. Pure bending of a square plate

1x1 0.4738 - 0.3070 - 0'9702 0.9784 1.6021

2x2 0.49 10 - 0.3191 - 0.9808 0.99 12 1.6497
4x4 0.4971 -0.3231 -0'9890 0.9956 1.6624
8x8 0.4991 - 0.3244 - 0.9942 0.9978 1.6657
0.5000 -0.3250 - l~oooo 1 .OoOo 1.6667

* 1/4 plate
t U is strain energy for full plate
728 D. J. ALLMAN

Table 11. Square plate under parabolic edge tension

Mesh IOEU, 102E14, 1OEUc IOEV, lOEUt 0;

- -
size* (1-v2)uo~(1-v2)aoL (1-v2)ooL (1-v2)uoL (1-v2)tuiLL uo uo uo uo

1x1 -1.5042 01455 1.8657 4.7522 2'6943 -0.144 0.903 0.376 0.149
2x2 -1.5297 1.2679 1.4803 4.9874 2'7715 -0.132 0.887 0.375 0'329
4x4 -1'5229 1.5974 1.3419 5.0529 2.7881 -0.138 0.866 0.399 0.392
8 ~8 -1.5205 1.7148 1'2966 5'0687 2.7922 -0.140 0.861 0.408 0.407
solution** - 1.5199 1.7837 1,2773 5,0735 2.7936 -0.141 0.859 0.411 0411
114 plate
**Reference 5
t U is strain energy for full plate

Table 111. Cantilever beam under tip load

Mesh 6, x 10-3
size "tip (~=12, y=6)
4x 1 0.3026 52.7
8x2 03394 58.4
16x4 0.3512 59.7
Comparison 0.3558 60.0

Figure 6. Cook's problem

shown in Table IV where they are compared to an accurate solution given by Bergan and Felippa'
using a (32 x 32) mesh.
In addition to the above examples, an extra test is included here to study the sensitivity of the
quadrilateral element to variations in aspect ratio, a topic which is of considerable importance for

Table IV. Cook's problem

size VC urnax* Ornine

2x2 2027 01825 -01716

4x4 22.78 0.226 1 -01921
8x8 23.56 0.2340 - 02004
Accurate 23.91 0.2359 -02012
*Reference 5

practical applications.The finite element meshes shown in Figures 7 and 8 for the pure bending and
cantilever beam problems now involve rectangular elements of increasing aspect ratio. The results
are shown in Table V for strain energy U and tip deflexion u; it is evident that the element is fairly
accurate for aspect ratios up to 4: 1.
The results obtained for the quadrilateral element are found to be always more accurate than the
triangular element for the same finite element mesh size. But this apparent increase in accuracy is a
consequence of quadrilateral mesh zones now being, in effect, an assemblage of four triangular
elements instead of two as previously. It is generally observed that the results show very good
numerical accuracy for both displacements and' stresses, even for quite coarse finite element

A finite element of arbitrary quadrilateral shape is presented for plane elasticity analysis. It is
derived from the fields of compatible quadratic displacementsof an earlier triangular element. The
resulting element has two components of displacement and a rotation as connectors at each of its
vertices, and this makes it a most efficient element for computational algorithms. The formulation
includes a special strategy which automatically suppresses an extra, unwanted, zero energy mode
of the triangular element. All rigid body movements and const?nt strain states are recovered
exactly. Results from several test problems demonstrate that very good numerical accuracy is
obtained for both displacements and stresses, even for quite coarse finite element meshes.

a a

- =0
Figure 7. Aspect ratio test for bending
730 D. J. ALLMAN

a/b / a


$ b

I b

Figure 8. Aspect ratio test for cantilever

Table V. Aspect ratio tests

Pure Cantilever
Element bending beam
ratio u :a,
___ (vtip)calc
alb u,,,,, (qiP)exact
1.o 0.96 095
2.0 0.94 0-91
3.0 0.84 0.87
4.0 0.83 0.77

t U is strain energy


1. D. J. Allman, ‘A compatible triangular element including vertex rotations for plane elasticity analysis’, Comp. Struct., 19,
1-8 (1984).
2. G . A. Mohr, ‘A simple rectangular membrane element including the drilling freedom’, Comp. Struct., 13,483487 (1981).
3. T. H. H. Pian, ‘Derivationofelement stiffness matrices by assumed stress distributions’, A I A A J.,2, 1333-1336 (1964).
4. R. D. Cook, ‘Improved two-dimensional finite element’, J . Struct. Diu. ASCE, 100, 1851-1863 (1974).
5. P. G. Bergan and C. A. Felippa, ‘A triangular membrane element with rotational degrees of freedom’, Comp. Methods
Appl. Mech. Eng., 50, 2 5 4 9 (1985).