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Journal of Materials Processing Technology 105 (2000) 110±118

Comparison of implicit and explicit ®nite element methods

for dynamic problems
J.S. Sun, K.H. Lee, H.P. Lee*
Department of Mechanical and Production Engineering, National University of Singapore, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260, Singapore
Received 15 April 1999


The ®nite element software ABAQUS offers several algorithms for dynamic analysis. The direct integration methods include the implicit
and the explicit methods which can be used for linear and nonlinear problems. The performance of these two methods are compared for
several dynamic problems including the impact of an elastic bar and a cylindrical disk on a rigid wall. The advantages of the implicit
method for small wavefront problems and the explicit method for short transient problems are veri®ed. # 2000 Elsevier Science S.A. All
rights reserved.

Keywords: Implicit ®nite element method; Explicit ®nite element method; Dynamic problems

1. Introduction The drawback of the explicit method is that it is

conditionally stable. The stability limit for an explicit
The ®nite element method (FEM) has become the most operator is that the maximum time increment must be less
popular method in both research and industrial numerical than a critical value of the smallest transition times for a
simulations. Several algorithms, with different computa- dilatational wave to cross any element in the mesh. Sec-
tional costs, are implemented in the ®nite element codes, ondly, the nature of the explicit method limits it to the
ABAQUS [1], which is a commonly used software for ®nite analysis of short transient problems. If this method is
element analysis. Understanding the nature, advantages and used for quasi-static problems, the inertia effects must
disadvantages of these algorithms is very helpful for choos- be small enough to be neglected. One way to assure
ing the right algorithm for a particular problem. this is to set the limit on the kinematic energy to be less
Comparison of implicit and explicit methods for ABA- than 5% of the strain energy. Another limit is that only
QUS in nonlinear problems has been reported by ReBelo the ®rst-order, displacement methods elements (four-node
et al. [2]. The unconditionally stable implicit method will quadrilaterals, eight-node bricks, etc.) are available for the
encounter some dif®culties when a complicated three- present version.
dimensional model is considered. The reasons are as fol- For dynamic problems, ABAQUS also offers some other
lows: (i) as the reduction of the time increment continues, methods such as a modal dynamic algorithm. However, only
the computational cost in the tangent stiffness matrix is direct integration methods Ð implicit dynamics and explicit
dramatically increased and even causes divergence; (ii) local methods Ð are suitable for nonlinear problems.
instabilities cause force equilibrium to be dif®cult to Most of the reported works on the comparison of implicit
achieve. and explicit methods are on quasi-static nonlinear problems
The explicit techniques are thus introduced to overcome [2,3]. In this paper, attention is paid to comparison of the
the disadvantages of the implicit method [3]. For the explicit implicit and the explicit method for linear dynamic pro-
method, the CPU cost is approximately proportional to the blems.
size of the ®nite element model and does not change as
dramatically as the implicit method.
2. Solution procedures

Corresponding author. Tel.: ‡65-874-2205; fax: ‡65-779-1459. The implicit procedure uses an automatic increment
E-mail address: (H.P. Lee). strategy based on the success rate of a full Newton iterative

0924-0136/00/$ ± see front matter # 2000 Elsevier Science S.A. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0 9 2 4 - 0 1 3 6 ( 0 0 ) 0 0 5 8 0 - X
J.S. Sun et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 105 (2000) 110±118 111

solution method: As mentioned above, the explicit integration operator is

conditionally stable, so that the time increments must satisfy
Du…i‡1† ˆ Du…i† ‡ Kÿ1 …i† …i†
t  …F ÿ I † (1)
where Kt is the current tangent stiffness matrix, F the Dt 
applied load vector, I the internal force vector, and Du is
the increment of displacement. where omax is the element maximum eigenvalue. A con-
For an implicit dynamic procedure, the algorithm is servative estimate of the stable time increment is given by
de®ned by Hilber et al. [4,5]: the minimum value for all elements. The above stability
limit can be written as
u…i‡1† ‡ …1 ‡ a†Ku…i‡1† ÿ aKu…i† ˆ F…i‡1†
M (2)  
Dt ˆ min
where M is the mass matrix, K the stiffness matrix, F the cd
vector of applied loads and u the displacement vector:
where Le is the characteristic element dimension and cd the
u …i‡1† …i†
ˆu ‡ Dtu_…i†
‡ Dt 2
……12 ÿ b†
u …i† …i‡1†
‡ b
u † (3) current effective, dilatational wave speed of the material.

3. Example problems
u_ …i‡1† ˆ u_ …i† ‡ Dt……1 ÿ g†
u…i† ‡ g
u…i‡1† † (4)
3.1. Impact of an elastic bar against a rigid wall
b ˆ 14 …1 ÿ a2 †; g ˆ 12 ÿ a; 1
3 a0 (5) As the ®rst example, the impact of an elastic bar against a
rigid wall is presented. This model is used to compare the
a ˆ ÿ0:05 is chosen by default in ABAQUS as a small results by ABAQUS and the reported results by Zhong [6].
damping term to quickly remove the high frequency noise The dimensions of the bar are 1  1  10 m3 . Young's
without having a signi®cant effect on the meaningful, lower modulus is given as Eˆ100 kPa. Possion's ratio is n ˆ 0, and
frequency response. the mass density is r ˆ 0:001 kg mÿ3 .
The explicit procedure is based on the implementation of Eighty C3D8 and C3D8R (eight-node bricks) elements
an explicit integration rule along with the use of diagonal are used for the implicit and explicit methods, respectively.
element mass matrices. The equation of motion for the body An initial velocity of 1 m sÿ1 is prescribed to the bar striking
is integrated using an explicit central difference integration the rigid wall. The elements of the rigid wall are R3D4. The
rule: mesh is shown in Fig. 1.
The impact time can be simply estimated by
u…i‡1† ˆ u…i† ‡ Dt…i‡1† u_ …i‡1† ;
u_ …i‡1=2† ˆ u_ …iÿ1=2† ‡ 12 …Dt…i‡1† ‡ Dt…i† †
u…i† 2L
Dt ˆ
 the acceleration, and i and i ÿ 12,
where u_ is the velocity, u where L is the length of the bar, and c the wave speed for this
i ‡ 2 refer to the increment number and mid-increment kind
numbers. p  of material, which is determined by
E=r ˆ 2:0  10ÿ3 m sÿ1 .
For the implicit method, the half-step residual tolerance
…i† ˆ Mÿ1  …F…i† ÿ I…i† †
u (6)
HAFTOL is a very important parameter to control the
where M is the mass ``lumped'' matrix, F the applied load computational accuracy [1]. A large value of 10 is set
vector and I the internal force vector. initially. In Fig. 2a, the contact reaction forces are compared.

Fig. 1. Mesh of the bar.

J.S. Sun et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 105 (2000) 110±118
Fig. 2. (a) Contact reaction force RF1 with HAFTOLˆ10; (b) the stress component S11 with HAFTOLˆ10; (c) contact reaction force RF1 with HAFTOLˆ1; (d) the stress component S11 with HAFTOLˆ1.
J.S. Sun et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 105 (2000) 110±118 113

Fig. 3. Mesh of the cylindrical disk.

It only takes 19 steps and less than 1 s CPU time for the analyze and predict failure. Comparing the stresses by these
explicit method, while it takes 106 s of CPU time for the two methods is helpful for failure diagnosis.
implicit method. However, under this condition, the accu- A three-dimensional example is needed for the above
racy of the results by the explicit method is better than that purpose. This example is shown in Fig. 3. A cylindrical disk
by the implicit method. Fig. 2b shows the stress component is formed by two cylinders. The radius of the bottom
S11. The values of S11 by the implicit method are found to cylinder is 1 m, and the radius of the top cylinder is
oscillate much more than the corresponding results by the 0.25 m. The bottom cylinder is of 0.5 m height, and the
explicit method. height of the top one is 0.1 m. The distance between the
From Fig. 2a, the reaction force is found to be about centers of these two cylinders is 0.31 m. There are 548 eight-
10 N. In order to secure more accurate results, 10% of the node brick elements and 810 nodes for the mesh. Elements
reaction force, 1.0, is set as the revised HAFTOL value. The 173 and 409 are chosen for the purpose of stress comparison.
reaction force and S11 are shown in Figs. 2c and d. The Nodes 311 and 709 are one of the eight nodes for elements
values of S11 by the implicit methods still oscillate more 173 and 409, respectively.
than those by the explicit method, but both the stresses and The material is ductile steel with a Young's modulus of
reaction force oscillate less than the corresponding results E ˆ 200 GPa and density of r ˆ 7833 kg mÿ3 . Poisson's
for the previous case with HAFTOLˆ10. The CPU time for ration is taken to be n ˆ 0 in order that the stresses can
the implicit method signi®cantly increases, from 106 to be simply calculated by
524 s.  
E @ui @uj
The periods of the FEM deviate from that of the exact si;j ˆ ‡ ; i; j ˆ 1; 3 (7)
solution. As mentioned above, a is set to ÿ0:05 for the 2 @xj @xi
implicit method to induce arti®cial damping. The numerical
dissipation leads to an amplitude decay of 2px [5], where x is
the algorithmic damping ratio. This is illustrated in Figs. 2a
and c.

3.2. Impact of an elastic cylindrical disk against a rigid


In the ®rst example, the results for the displacement by

both the implicit and explicit method in direction 1 agree
very well with the initial velocity in direction 1, which is
used to control the movement of the bar. Moreover, the
displacements in the other two directions are very small.
Actually, this example cannot show the effects of these two
methods on the displacements of the other two directions
and subsequent effects on the stress distribution. In engi-
neering applications, stress analysis is usually important to Fig. 4. The maximum principal stress SP3 for static contact.
114 J.S. Sun et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 105 (2000) 110±118

Fig. 5. (a) The contact reaction force RF2; (b) the displacement component U1 of node 311; (c) the displacement component U2 of node 311; (d) the stress
component S11 of element 173; (e) the stress component S22 of element 173; (f) the stress component S33 of element 173.
J.S. Sun et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 105 (2000) 110±118 115

Fig. 5. (Continued ).
116 J.S. Sun et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 105 (2000) 110±118

Fig. 6. (a) The displacement U3 by explicit; (b) the displacement U3 by implicit.

in which si;j are the six independent components of stress, ui 3.3. Slow contact between an elastic cylindrical disk and a
are the three components of displacement, and xj are the rigid wall
three coordinates.
The maximum principal stresses (SP3) by the static The displacement for the bottom surface of the elastic
algorithm are shown in Fig. 4. The original gap between cylindrical disk is set to be 0.02 m. The total time is 1 s,
the model and the rigid wall is 0.01 m. A static displacement which is much larger than in the fast case (0.002 s).
of 0.02 m is applied on the bottom surface of the large Fig. 8a shows the displacement U2 of node 311, whilst
cylinder. Fig. 8b shows the stress component S22 of element 173:
An initial velocity of 10 m sÿ1 is prescribed. Fig. 5a shows differences are apparent.
the agreement of the contact reaction force RF2 for the Fig. 8b shows the stress component S22 of element 409.
results by the two methods. The results show good agreement. Figs. 8c and d compare
The displacements U1, U2 and U3 of node 311 are shown the maximum principal stress SP3. The regularities are the
in Figs. 5a±c. U3 shows a large difference, but the absolute same as mentioned in the last section. The perfect agreement
value of U3 for node 311 is relatively small because node between Fig. 8c and Figs. 6a and b show that the results by
311 is on the axisymmetric axis. Due to the fact that the implicit methods are very accurate, where under these
displacement of the rigid body in direction 2 is compara- conditions inertia effects can be neglected.
tively large relative to the deformation, U2 shows an insig- The stable time step for explicit is 7  10ÿ6 s for the slow
ni®cant change, but Figs. 5d±f show apparent differences of case and 8:5  10ÿ6 s for the fast case. For the slow case, the
stresses of element 173 by these two methods. Although at time increment 139935 is much more than that of the fast
some region such as node 331, the values of U3 are quite case. Thus the CPU cost increases dramatically from 7 min
different for the two methods, the whole displacement to 1 h 17 min. The CPU cost for the implicit method is
pattern of U3 is similar, as shown in Figs. 6a and b. 10 min.
On the other hand, the stress components S11, S22 and
S33 of another element 409 which connects to the contact
surface, show agreement by the two methods in Figs. 7a±c. 4. Closure
Displacements have higher accuracy than stresses, thus the
three displacements U1, U2 and U3 of node 709 obviously Fast and slow linear contact problems have been analyzed
agree. The results are testi®ed in Figs. 6a and b. For stress by different methods in ABAQUS. For the fast case, the
distribution, the regularity is the same. Figs. 7d and e show advantages of the explicit method are apparent within the
that the pattern of stress distribution is similar for most desirable tolerance. The cost of the explicit method is much
regions, especially at regions where the stresses are com- less than that of the implicit method. Due to numerical
pressive and the absolute values are large. This is a com- damping, amplitude decay is observed for the implicit
pressive model, the absolute values of tensile stresses being method.
much smaller than the compressive stresses. The differences For the slow case, the solutions are more unstable because
shown in Figs. 7d and e are all in the region of tensile high frequency numerical noise becomes more important.
stresses. The numerical damping induced in the implicit method
For this fast impact problem, the total time is usually very shows its function to remove the noise and keep the results
short, the computational cost of the explicit begin about one more accurate. Because the explicit method is conditionally
tenth that of the implicit. stable, the stable time period is much smaller than that of the
J.S. Sun et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 105 (2000) 110±118 117

Fig. 7. (a) The stress component S11 of element 409; (b) the stress component S22 of element 409; (c) the stress component S33 of element 409; (d) the
maximum principal stress SP3 of the impacting disk by explicit; (e) the maximum principal stress SP3 of the impacting disk by implicit.
118 J.S. Sun et al. / Journal of Materials Processing Technology 105 (2000) 110±118

Fig. 8. (Continued ).

implicit method. If the whole procedure is very long, it takes

many time increments for the explicit method. Thus the
advantages of the implicit method are obvious for the slow
contact problem.


[1] ABAQUS User's Examples and Theory Manual, Version 5.7. Hibbitt,
Karlsson & Sorensen Inc., 1998.
[2] N. Rebelo, J.C. Nagtegaal, L.M. Taylor, Comparison of implicit and
explicit ®nite element methods in the simulation of metal forming
processes, in: Chenot, Wood, Zienkiewicz (Eds.), Numerical
Methods in Industrial Forming Processes, 1992, pp. 99±108.
[3] Hibbitt, Karlsson & Sorensen Inc., Application of implicit and
explicit ®nite element techniques to metal forming, J. Mater. Process.
Technol. 45 (1994) 649±656.
[4] H.M. Hilber, T.J.R. Hughes, Collocation, dissipation and `overshoot'
for time integration schemes in structural dynamics, Earthquake Eng.
Struct. Dyn. 6 (1978) 99±117.
[5] T.J.R. Hughes, The Finite Element Method Ð Linear Static and
Fig. 8. (a) The displacement U2 of node 311; (b) the stress component S22 Dynamic Finite Element Analysis, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs,
of element 173; (c) the stress component S22 of element 409; (d) the NJ, 07632, 1987.
maximum principal stress (SP3) of the slow contact disk by explicit; (e) [6] Z.H. Zhong, Finite Element Procedures for Contact Ð Impact
the maximum principal stress (SP3) of the slow contact disk by implicit. Problems, Oxford University Press, New York, 1993.