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Mathematics and Computers in Simulation 48 (1998) 23±32

A review of the finite element modelling techniques of soil tillage

A.M. Mouazen*, M. NemeÂnyi
Institute of Agricultural Engineering, PANNON University of Agricultural Sciences, Faculty of MosonmagyaroÂvaÂr,
MosonmagyaroÂvaÂr vaÂr 2. H-9200, Hungary


Both the analytical and the finite element method are being used to investigate soil cutting process. The finite element
method is adequately contributing to the development of understanding the reality of this phenomenon. This method is used to
predict soil stress distribution of different sorts, soil deformation, positions of soil failure and tool horizontal and vertical uplift
Two aspects are taken into consideration, namely soil mechanical behaviour and soil±tool interaction. The material
behaviour and soil±metal interaction are of non-linear type. To simulate soil material behaviour under loading of tillage tools,
two various theoretical bases are introduced, namely the curve-fitting technique and the elastic±perfectly plastic assumption.
Soil±tool interaction is taken into account either as pure friction or friction with adhesion depending upon different influencing
factors. Material and interaction properties used at the elastic±perfectly plastic assumption are usually considered constants,
while at the curve-fitting technique their values are varied along with the loading path. At the curve-fitting technique large
reduction in their values is made when the soil at a given nodal point fails in shear or tensile. This paper investigates the ability
of applying these techniques of modelling to study soil tillage process. Brief comparison of results calculated by using both
methods is introduced, as well. A review of several previous studies shows that both assumptions are adaptable to simulate soil
material behaviour. However, the finite element method provides more accurate estimation of draught and uplift forces when
the curve-fitting method is used. A reduction in the material and interaction properties should be made in order to improve the
degree of accuracy when the elastic±perfectly plastic assumption is used. # 1998 IMACS/Elsevier Science B.V.

Keywords: Finite element method; Elastoplasticity; Elasticity; Soil tillage; Modelling

1. Introduction

Soil compaction can be directly related to the draught force and consequently the energy
requirements of tillage operations. The higher the degree of compaction, the higher is the amount of
fuel consumed for cutting and loosening of compacted soils. In order to understand this complicated
relation and define optimal designs of tillage tools, analytical or numerical techniques such as the finite
element method (FEM) should be utilised. In fact, such optimal designs should result in minimising the
energy requirement with performing perfect soil loosening.
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +36-96-215-911; fax: +36-96-215-931.

0378-4754/98/$ ± see front matter # 1998 IMACS/Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved
PII: S 0 3 7 8 - 4 7 5 4 ( 9 8 ) 0 0 1 5 2 - 9
24 A.M. Mouazen, M. NemeÂnyi / Mathematics and Computers in Simulation 48 (1998) 23±32

To accomplish a FEM analysis of soil cutting process, several basic phenomena should be taken into
account. First, soil material behaviour must be simulated by a properly selected constitutive
relationship. Based on the stress±strain curves, usually measured by a triaxial compression apparatus,
soil material parameters needed for running a FEM analysis can be calculated using the Mohr±
Coulomb's shear failure criterion. Second, the nature of soil±tool interaction must be well understood
and precisely specified. On the basis of the shear stress±displacement curves, usually measured by
using a modified shear box, soil±metal interaction properties can be calculated. Third, it should be
recognised that agricultural soil failure is of shear or tensile type. Actually, compression failure also
occurs, which usually leads to shear failure. Such a compression may have negative influences when it
does not lead to shear failure causing a new compaction. Hard pan creation directly beneath the cutting
depth of some tillage tools, namely heavy disc harrows and mouldboard ploughs, is a good example.
Once the forenamed phenomena are favourably prepared and properly completed, either the curve-
fitting technique or an elastic±perfectly plastic material model possessing various mechanical
principles can be utilised in order to conduct the FEM analysis.
The FEM is a powerful numerical tool, which provides very important information for understanding
of what is really going on during soil tillage. It can handle complex boundary conditions and different
soil stiffness of different layers. The main limitations are individual creativity and patience when
setting up boundary conditions, and the amount of computational time available [1]. Many researchers
have conducted FEM analysis of tillage process. Some of them employed the curve-fitting technique
[2±6], whereas the others assumed the soil material as elastic±perfectly plastic [7±11]. The accuracy of
prediction depends upon the assumption of soil material behaviour, soil±metal interaction and soil
failure criterion.
The scope of this paper is to review the two ways of the FEM modelling with introducing a brief
comparison, from which the advantages and disadvantages of each are arisen.

2. Materials and methods

2.1. Elastic±perfectly plastic model

The elastic±perfectly plastic material behaviour of the soil under a uniaxial compression test can be
described by a two-stage, stress±strain relationship, as shown in Fig. 1.
At stage 1, the behaviour is purely elastic, while it becomes perfectly plastic when the stress level
reaches a maximum value of 0 at stage 2. The following formula expresses the elastic±perfectly plastic
stress±strain relationship
 ˆ k0 ; 0    0 ;  ˆ k2 ; 0  ; (1)
where  is the compressive axial strain in compression tests, tensile strain in tension test or shear
displacement/sample length in direct shear tests, 0 the strain value at joint point and K0, K2 are the
Agricultural soils, as bulk materials, suffer plastic deformations after a given external load. Hence,
the resulting strain rates can be divided into elastic and plastic as follows:
d ˆ de ‡ dp (2)
A.M. Mouazen, M. NemeÂnyi / Mathematics and Computers in Simulation 48 (1998) 23±32 25

Fig. 1. Elastic±perfectly plastic behaviour of soil under uniaxial load.

where d is the incremental total strain, de the incremental elastic strain and dp is the incremental
plastic strain.
According to the generalised Hook's law of elasticity, the incremental elastic strain can be related to
the incremental stress as
d ˆ De de ˆ De …d ÿ dp † (3)
where ds is the incremental stress and De is the elastic material matrix, which can be written as a
function of Young's modulus and Poisson's ratio.
Young's modulus and Poisson's ratio are elastic parameters that can be measured using the standard
triaxial compression test. Young's modulus is to be estimated either at 0% or 50% stress level using the
following equation:
…1 ÿ 3 †
E0;50 ˆ (4)
where 1 and 3 are the major and minor principal stresses, respectively.
However, for the elastic±perfectly plastic material assumption, Young's modulus E0,50 and Poisson's
ratio v are assumed constants throughout the analysis. Poisson's ratio is to be calculated based upon the
measured soil volumetric change using the following equation:
1 ÿ 
ˆ (5)
where 1 and  are the incremental axial and volumetric strains, respectively.
The classical theory of plasticity denotes that the incremental plastic strains are proportional to the
derivative of the yield function with respect to the incremental stresses. The yield function of an
elastic±perfectly plastic material is a fixed surface in the principal stress space (Haigh±Westergaard
space). Stress states within the yield surface describe elasticity states where purely recoverable
deformations (elastic strains) take place. When stress paths have already touched the yield surface,
plastic strains are introduced so that both recoverable and permanent deformations are produced. This
26 A.M. Mouazen, M. NemeÂnyi / Mathematics and Computers in Simulation 48 (1998) 23±32

definition of the incremental plastic strain is designated as associated plasticity. Other definition of the
incremental plastic strain is to introduce an additional yield function called the plastic potential
function. The plastic potential function confines a surface in the principal stress space like the yield
function. The mathematical determination of the incremental plastic strain as a function of the plastic
potential function is given as
dp ˆ  (6)
where g is the plastic potential function and  is the plastic multiplier.
The plastic multiplier equals zero when a stress state sites within the space enclosed by the yield
surface and the soil is still under elastic deformations, while its value becomes higher than zero when a
stress state touches the yield function and plastic strains arise in soil. An incorporated state is called
elastoplasticity. Substitution Eq. (6) into Eq. (3) results the following:
d ˆ De d ÿ De (7)
But the continuity condition induces
df ˆ d ˆ 0 (8)
where f is the yield function.
From Eqs. (7) and (8), the plastic multiplier can be written as
…@f =@†De d
ˆ (9)
…@f =@†De …@g=@†
Relating Eq. (9) with Eq. (7) yields the expression of the incremental stress in respect to the total
incremental strain
e 1 e @g @f e
d ˆ D ÿ D D d (10)
d @ @
@f e @g
dˆ D (11)
@ @
The yield function of the Drucker±Prager elastic±perfectly plastic model, for instance, can be written
f ˆ 3 m ‡  ÿ k ˆ 0 (12)
where and k are the material parameters, and m is the mean principal stress that can be expressed as

m ˆ 13I1 ˆ 13…x ‡ y ‡ z † (13)

A.M. Mouazen, M. NemeÂnyi / Mathematics and Computers in Simulation 48 (1998) 23±32 27

 is the effective stress that might be related with the second derivative stress invariant as
 ˆ J2
J2 ˆ 12‰…x ÿ m †2 ‡ …y ÿ m †2 ‡ …z ÿ m †2 Š ‡ xy
‡ yz2 ‡ xz2 (14)

where  is the shear stress, I1 and J2 are the first stress invariant and second deviatoric stress invariant,
respectively and  is the compressive stress.
The material parameters included in Eq. (12) are evaluated as a function of soil shear strength
coefficients (soil cohesion c and soil internal friction angle ).
In order to study the interaction and sliding characteristics of soil±tool system, Coulomb's criterion
of dry friction can be specified at the interface elements [10] ignoring soil±tool adhesion. Coulomb
stated that the frictional force is proportional to the normal load [12]
fr ˆ (15)
where fr is the tan  coefficient of friction,  the external friction angle, F the tangential or frictional
force, and W is the normal force to the contact surface between the soil and tillage tool.

2.2. Curve-fitting, elastic model

The basic approach of this technique depends upon considering the soil as elastic material. The
needed parameters are determined by using a non-linear curve-fitting method on data obtained from
standard triaxial compression tests. Several functions characterise the soil stress±strain constitutive
relationship [2]. The best fit of the experimental data was obtained with Kondner's hyperbolic equation
[2,3,13], which can be written as
…1 ÿ 3 † ˆ (16)
a ‡ b1
where a and b are the constants.
Therefore, the hyperbolic formula was derived and rearranged to obtain the tangential modulus,
stress dependency [13]
Rf …1 ÿ sin†…1 ÿ 3 † 2 3
Et ˆ 1 ÿ Kpa (17)
2c cos ‡ 23 sin pa
where Rf is the failure ratio, pa the atmospheric pressure, and K and n are the dimensionless numbers.
In order to deal with the non-linear behaviour of soil material, the full load is divided into several
smaller steps. For each step, a linear elastic analysis is made. Results of stress, strain and displacement
are then accumulated until the full load has been applied. The tangential modulus is varied in
magnitude along the successive load steps so that its value for the next step is calculated from Eq. (17)
by substituting the stress value of the current step as illustrated in Fig. 2.
The incremental strains for each load step are related to the incremental stress changes by the
generalised Hooke's law of elasticity [14] as
28 A.M. Mouazen, M. NemeÂnyi / Mathematics and Computers in Simulation 48 (1998) 23±32

Fig. 2. Calculation of the tangential modulus at every load step.

x ˆ 1=Et ‰x ÿ v…y ‡ z †Š (18)

y ˆ 1=Et ‰y ÿ v…z ‡ x †Š (19)
z ˆ 1=Et ‰z ÿ v…x ‡ y †Š (20)
 xy ˆ 2…1 ‡ v†=Et xy (21)
 yz ˆ 2…1 ‡ v†=Et  yz (22)
 zx ˆ 2…1 ‡ v†=Et  zx (23)
where  is an incremental shear strain and  is an incremental shear stress.
In contrast, Poisson's ratio is usually assumed constant for all load steps. It is calculated using Eq. (5)
as well.
Likewise, the way utilised to study soil±tool interaction coincides with that followed at the
investigation of the soil material behaviour by the curve-fitting technique. The hyperbolic function of
soil±wall interface proposed in [15] provides the best fit with the experimental data. Therefore, the
tangent modulus of soil±tool interface is deduced starting from the hyperbolic equation. On the basis of
the stress level of a preceding load step, the interface tangential modulus is evaluated and assigned to
the current load step.

2.3. Finite element formation

The basic finite element equation can be formulated by transforming the non-linear equations of
equilibrium for the elastic plastic problems to the incremental form of linearised FEM equations [16].
The simplified incremental form of the basic equation is given as follows:
‰KŠfdUg ˆ fdRg (24)
A.M. Mouazen, M. NemeÂnyi / Mathematics and Computers in Simulation 48 (1998) 23±32 29

where [K] is the total stiffness matrix, which relates a vector {dR}ˆ[dR1,dR2, . . ., dRn]T of the total
load increments to a vector {dU}ˆ[dU1,dU2, . . ., dUn]T of the total displacement increments. The
incremental strain {d}n‡1 for the element can be evaluated from the kinematic condition

fdUgn‡1 ˆ ‰KŠÿ1
n‡1=2 fdRg in structure level (25)

fdgn‡1 ˆ ‰BŠfdUŠn‡1 in an element level (26)

where [B] is the transformation matrix.
The stress increment {d}n‡1 can be obtained by using the current constitutive matrix as

fdgn‡1 ˆ ‰Dep Šn‡1=2 fdgn‡1 (27)

where [Dep] is the elastoplastic material matrix.
For an elastic soil material behaviour like that of the curve-fitting technique, Eq. (27) can be given as

fdgn‡1 ˆ ‰De Šn‡1=2 fdgn‡1 (28)

3. Results and discussion

Results calculated from the FEM model of soil cutting usually provide information about soil stress
and strain contour distributions, soil movement fields and tool forces. Furthermore, zones where soil
failure occurs can be determined based on the critical state soil mechanics after handling the predicted
stresses and making comparisons with the measured soil shear and tensile strength. Several FEM
studies did not perform validations of the calculated results with experimental data. Even the verified
studies provided only partial verification of the theoretical predictions. Tool forces and soil movement
are conventionally validated with soil bin experiments. This procedure is of high impotence for tillage
tool design from the point of view of energy consumption and quality of soil loosening. Therefore, in
this section a review of the validated predictions of tool forces and soil movement from several former
studies is introduced.
At their trial to model cutting of a clay soil with a simple tillage tool by adopting a similar technique
to the curve-fitting approach, Yong and Hanna [6] recorded a good correspondence between the
computed displacement fields and the measured values. In addition, the computed and experimentally
measured values of forces developed in blade thrust were shown to be in a very close agreement. This
good agreement might be attributed to their procedure of reducing the shear stiffness of elements to a
negligible value after these elements have failed in shear.
Chi and Kushwaha [3] applied the curve-fitting technique to analyse soil failure with a narrow blade.
The hyperbolic formulae were used to approximate the behaviour of soil and soil±tool interaction. They
report that the FEM model predicted relatively accurate draught forces. The relative error of draught
force between the FEM model and soil bin test ranged from 0.8% (458 rake angle) to 10.5% (908 rake
angle). For the inclined tool, the FEM model over-predicted the vertical forces, whereas for the vertical
tool there was under-prediction of this force. The relatively small error of draught force estimation
seems to be because of the variation of the tangential modulus along with the successive load steps (see
30 A.M. Mouazen, M. NemeÂnyi / Mathematics and Computers in Simulation 48 (1998) 23±32

Fig. 2 and Eq. (17)) and the reduction of the tangential modulus value to a negligible value once a soil
failure takes place at any nodal point.
Gee-Clough et al. [4] reported their achievement in the FEM modelling of deformation and failure of
a wet clay soil by simple tillage tool. Their FEM analysis type can be also classified under the curve-
fitting technique so that the analysis procedure is similar to the previous one. One difference can be
distinguished between the tangential modulus equations. In spit of the fact that the tangential modulus
equation was also derived from Eq. (17), the final form of the tangential modulus defers from that of
Chi and Kushwaha [3]. Moreover, their formula does not involve the Mohr±Coulomb's strength
Et ˆ 1=a‰1 ÿ b…1 ÿ 3 †Š‰1 ÿ …b ‡ a†…1 ÿ 3 †Š: (29)
Their FEM model provided good approximations to the soil bin measured soil movement and tool
forces, particularly for the 258 rake angle tine.
In their computer code [8] a number of constitutive elastic±perfectly plastic models such as the von
Mises, Drucker±Prager, critical state and cap models were incorporated to simulate three soil types. The
agreement between their predicted results and soil bin test data for tool forces and strain was not in a
good range, probably because of applying a constant Young's modulus and not accounting for occurring
of a significant number of cracks and fractures formed in the soil at very small tool displacement.
Araya and Gao [7] have conducted three-dimensional FEM analysis of subsoiler cutting with
pressurised air injection. The Drucker±Prager with the flow rule of associated plasticity and strain
hardening model were used considering the soil as elastic±perfectly plastic material. The effect of the
shank rake angle on soil failure was tested as well. Their results showed that the shank rake
angle affected the rupture distances strongly. The theoretical and soil bin experiment indicated that
optimum shank rake angles of 45±608 were found to create larger soil disruption. A comparison
between the measured and calculated draught force showed good agreement for some cases and
relatively large differences for others. The calculated draught force for instance over-predicted the
measured draught by a 38% (for subsoiler cutting without injector), whereas the measured draught
force over-predicted the calculated draught by a very small percentage of 0.03±0.8 (for subsoiler
cutting with injector).
In his attempt to modelling deep loosening by a medium-deep subsoiler, Mouazen [17] proposed the
material of a sandy loam soil to be simulated as an elastic±perfectly plastic material, and the Drucker±
Prager model with the flow rule of associated plasticity was applied. He reported a comparison of the
FEM prediction and soil bin test for subsoiler forces and soil surface movement dimensions. This
comparison was made for four subsoiler geometrical types. The predicted subsoiler forces from the
FEM model exceeded the measured ones for all subsoiler types. The over-prediction of draught
estimation ranged from 15% to 18.4%, which was attributed to the following:

1. Crack formation and fragmentation of the soil during the soil bin test was not properly accounted for
in the FEM model, when the Drucker±Prager elastic±perfectly plastic model with the general flow
rule of associated plasticity was adopted.
2. Considering constant Young's modulus of elasticity and Poisson's ratio in the FEM analyses could
have been a factor.
3. Assuming a homogeneous soil body during the FEM analysis, whereas during the soil bin test a non-
homogeneous soil body was created.
A.M. Mouazen, M. NemeÂnyi / Mathematics and Computers in Simulation 48 (1998) 23±32 31

Table 1
Brief comparison of the two FEM modelling methods of soil material and soil±metal interaction
Terms Elastic±perfectly plastic model Curve-fitting technique
Material behaviour Non-linear, elastoplastic Non-linear hyperbolic, elastic
Soil±metal interaction Linear, friction Non-linear hyperbolic, friction and adhesion
Output strains Elastic and plastic Elastic
Modulus type Young's modulus, E0,50 Eq. (4) Tangential modulus, Et, Eqs. (17, 29)
Prompt modulus value Constant Several (one for each step)
Poisson's ratio Constant Constant

On the other hand, the FEM evaluation provided a good approximation of the upward, forward soil
movement with the experimental data, but it gave no indication of significant differences between the
various subsoilers. Less degree of accuracy was found for the estimation of the maximum sideways soil
movement. A similar observation was reported by Araya and Gao [7], who attributed it to omission of
soil discontinuity caused by tensile stresses in the FEM model.
Mouazen [17] figured out an optimal subsoiler design for the energy saving and soil volume
increasing (soil loosening). Both the theoretical and soil bin measurements indicated that the subsoiler
that had 758 inclined shank and 158 inclined chisel required the lowest draught and developed an
appropriate soil loosening quality.

4. Conclusions

A review of several previous studies shows that the curve-fitting technique and the elastic±perfectly
plastic models are both applicable to simulate soil material behaviour during soil cutting. However, the
FEM provides more accurate estimation of draught and uplift forces when the curve-fitting method is
used. A reduction in the material and interaction properties should be made in order to improve the
degree of accuracy when the elastic±perfectly plastic assumption is used.
A brief comparison between the elastic±perfectly plastic model and curve-fitting technique is given
in Table 1.


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