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Finite Element

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Solution Using Linear and Bilinear Finite Elements

Lets recall the diffusion equation governing, for example, transient problems in heat transfer. If

u(x, y, t) is the temperature in a 2d conducting body (e.g. a thin plate with insulated faces) occupying

a region D of the x, y-plane, then

c

u

u

=

(kx ) +

(ky ) + Q(x, y, t), (x, y) D, t > 0

t

x

x

y

y

where , c, kx , ky are the density, specific heat, and conductivities in the two coordinate directions

respectively, and Q is the given rate of heat generation in D. On the surface of the body (edge of

the thin conducting plate), denoted by D, a variety conditions can be specified. Well consider the

following fairly general case: We assume that D = 3j=1 Dj with Dj three disjoint regions and

require that u = g1 (x, y, t) on D1 , qn = g2 (x, y, t) on D2 , and qn hu = g3 (x, y, t) on D3 , where

gj , h are given functions, and qn = nx kx u/x ny ky u/y is the heat flux in the direction of the

exterior normal vector, (nx , ny ) to D. In addition to these boundary conditions, we give the initial

condition u(x, y, 0) = g0 (x, y), (x, y) D, where g0 is the given initial temperature in the body.

We will begin by looking at steady state problems with kx = ky = k =constant. Setting Q/k =

f (x, y) we see that the temperature satisfies the Poisson equation u = f or

(

2u 2u

+ 2 ) = f.

x2

y

If no heat is generated within the body, the temperature satisfies the Laplace equation u = 0.

A large number of other physical problems turn out to be governed by the Laplace or Poisson

equation (e.g., potential flow problems in fluid mechanics, displacement of a membrane in elasticity,

electrostatic potential in electromagnetic theory, to name a few). As in the case of an ODE, we

start with the partial differential equation (PDE), develop the weak form, decide on a space of

functions in which to represent the approximate solution (well again choose continuous, piecewise

linear functions this time on triangles instead of intervals). Using Galerkins method this will lead

us to a numerical method of solution.

Before we begin, it is probably wise to review the statement of the divergence theorem (in 2D),

because we will use it in obtaining the weak form. In 1D this theorem will be familiar as the

fundamental theorem of calculus, i.e., that if a real valued function f is defined, continuous, and

Rb

has a continuous derivative f 0 on an interval [a, b], then a f 0 (x) dx = f (b) f (a). Note that the

integral involves values of the function on the boundary of its interval of definition. To generalize to

two dimensions, we need to consider functions defined on sets in R2 . The sets we will consider will

always be geometrically simple triangles, rectangles, ellipses, etc. possibly having holes which are

themselves triangles, rectangles, ellipses.

First, lets recall that a smooth curve in 2d is defined as a map X : R R2 X(t) = (

x(t), y(t)), 0

t ` with the component functions differentiable, and X 0 6= 0. The points X(0) and X(`) are

called the initial and final ends of the curve. If X(0) = X(`) the curve is closed otherwise its

open. For example, the equations x = t, y = t2 , 0 t 1 define an open curve (a parabola),

while x = r cos(t), y = r sin(t), 0 t 2 define a closed curve (a circle of radius r). We wont

distinguish between the set of points C = {X(t) : 0 t `} and the curve X. If f : D R2 R

is a function whose domain includes C, we define the integral of f along C (from the initial end to

1

Z

f ds =

R

The integral C f ds is defined by the right hand side above with the limits of integration interchanged

andR represents the integral along C from the final end to the initial end. Clearly,

R

f

ds

=

C f ds. It is often convenient to replace t as the parameter along the curve by

C

Rt

s = s(t) = 0 kX 0 ( )k d . The function s represents distance along the curve measured from

X(0), and since s0 6= 0 we can always solve s = s(t) for t = t(s). (For our examples, the circle

has the distance function s = s(t) = rt (i.e., the arc length), while in the case of the parabola

Rt

s = s(t) = 0 1 + 4 2 d = [ln(2t + 4t2 + 1) + 2t 4t2 + 1]/4.) With distance along C as the

parameter, the line integral takes the simpler form

Z

Z L

f (X(s))ds

f ds =

C

where L = s(`) is the length of C, and we use the notational abuse X(t(s)) = X(s).

Lets denote a geometrically simple region of interest by D and its boundary curve by D. (Technically, D is a connected open set, and in fact, for all our applications is the interior of a polygon.)

The boundary curve will always be closed and piecewise smooth, i.e., it will consist of one or several

pieces each of which is a smooth curve as described above with the final end of the last piece equal to

the initial end of the first. For simplicity, well treat D as if it has only one piece and use distance s

along the curve as the parameter: X = (

x(s), y(s)), 0 s L. We assume that as one travels along

D in the direction of increasing s, D lies to the left. In particular, at each point of the boundary

curve (with the exception of possible corner points when is more than one piece) there is unit a

tangent vector, X 0 (s) = (

x0 (s), y0 (s)), and a normal vector ~n(s) = (

y 0 ,

x0 ) obtained by rotating

0

Suppose that on the region D there is defined a vector function f~ = (fx , fy ) where both components

then the divergence theorem states that

fj , j = x, y have continuous first partial derivatives on D,

Z

Z

f~ dA =

~n f~ ds,

D

and the right hand side is a 1d integral. (Of course, the integral of the scalar function g = ~n f~ is

defined as in the discussion above.)

It may be worth while to derive the divergence theorem in the simple case of a rectangle D =

(a, b) (c, d). In this case, D = 4j=1 Dj with, D1 described by x = s a, y = c, 0 s b a,

D2 by x = b, y = s c, 0 s d c, etc.. Then

R

R

Rd

Rd

R

Rd

fx /x dA = c fx (x, y)|x=b

x=a dy = c fx (b, y) dy c fx (a, y) dy = D2 fx ds D4 fx ds,

D

R

R

Rb

Rb

R

Rb

fy /y dA = a fy (x, y)|y=d

y=c dx = a fy (x, d) dx a fy (x, c) dx = D3 fy ds D1 fy ds,

D

Rd

R

R dc

where, for example, we have used D4 fx ds = 0 fx (a, d s) ds = c fx (a, y) dy. Adding the two

equations above and noting, for example, that on the side x = b, c y d the outer normal is in

the positive x-direction so that ~n f~ = fx while on x = a, c y d the outer normal is oppositely

directed so that ~n f~ = fx .

2

A second concept we need to discuss before embarking on 2d finite element methods is the use of

continuous, piecewise linear interpolation of functions of two variables on triangles and on triangulated domains. This is the generalization to 2d piecewise linear interpolation of functions of a single

variable on intervals.

First, lets describe a triangulation of a domain D. We will always approximate D by a collection

of straight line segments. Thus, we can always assume that D is a polygon. A subdivision of D is a

A triangulation of a

finite collections of sets Tj , j = 1, . . . , nt such that Ti Tj = and Tj = D.

polygonal D is a subdivision of D consisting of triangles and having the property that no vertex of

any triangle lies in the interior of an edge of another triangle.

Now, suppose we have a triangulation of D and a function f (x, y) defined on D. Let Pi = (xi , yi ),

i = 1, . . . , N be the vertices of the triangles in the triangulation, and fi = f (Pi ) the values of f at

these points. On each triangle Tj we define a linear function Lj (x, y) = aj x + bj y + cj by requiring

Lj (Pk ) = fk at each vertex of Tj . These three equations completely determine the three coefficients

of Lj . In addition, the function L(x, y) which equals Lj on Tj is continuous on the entire polygonal

domain D. This continuity is clear on individual triangles. It also holds on the edges because along

a common edge of two triangles we have a linear function of one variable (say distance along the

edge) and this is uniquely determined by the values fj at the end points. We will provide more detail

on efficient computing of the continuous piecewise linear interpolant of a data set in what follows.

Now Ill describe the model problem to be used in illustrating the formulation of the weak form, and

subsequent development of the 2D finite element method. Suppose that f is a given function, and

D is a given region of the x, yplane with boundary D. Consider the problem of determining the

solution u(x, y) of the partial differential equation

2u 2u

+ 2 = f,

x2

y

(x, y) D,

u = p,

(x, y) Dp ,

nx

u

u

+ ny

= q,

x

y

(x, y) Dq ,

where p, q, are given functions, Dp , Dq , are curves which together compose D, and (nx , ny ) is

the unit exterior normal to the boundary.

We assume that the basic domain is triangulated, divided into ne triangles which meet one another

only along their edges and are such that no vertex of any triangle is an interior point of the edge

of another triangle. The vertices of the triangles are called (global) nodes (labeled (xk , yk ), k =

1, . . . , n), and the triangles themselves are called elements. We denote the vertices of a typical

element e by (xe1 , y1e ), (xe2 , y2e ), (xe3 , y3e ). 1,2,3 are called the local node numbers of element e =

1, . . . , ne . Local node 1 is chosen arbitrarily, the remaining nodes are labeled in sequence as the

boundary is traversed in the counterclockwise direction. The relation between local and global

nodes is provided by the configuration matrix n(e, j), e = 1, . . . , ne , j = 1, 2, 3, where n(e, j) is the

global node number corresponding to local node j of element e.

We begin to develop our numerical method by finding the weak form of the model equation. To

obtain this form, we define the residual

2

u 2u

+ 2 f,

r=

x2

y

and note that if u is a solution of the differential equation, and w is an arbitrary function possessing

first partial derivatives and vanishing of Dp then

Z

rw dA = 0.

D

Noting that

2u 2u

+ 2 = (wu) + w u,

w

x2

y

R

R M N

and using the divergence theorem (i.e. R ( x + y ) dA = R (M nx +N ny ) ds) applied to (M, N ) =

(wu/x, wu/y) and the region R = D we find

Z

Z

Z

u w u w

u

u

(

+

) dA =

f w dA +

+ ny )w ds,

(nx

y y

x

y

D x x

D

Dq

where since w = 0 on Dp the last integral above is only over the portion Dq over the boundary

traversed in the counterclockwise direction (ds is the length element along the boundary). We call

u

this last equation the weak form of the partial differential equation. Note that B(u) = nx u

x +ny y =

q(x, y) is given on the boundary Dq so that the right hand side can be computed in terms of given

functions. If u is a smooth function taking the values u = p on Dp , and the function u satisfies

the weak form for every w which vanishes on Dp , then by reversing the integration by parts it will

follow that u satisfies the differential equation in D and its normal derivative takes the value q on

the portion Dq of the boundary.

We will use the weak form as our starting place for finding approximate solutions (also called trial

functions). In general, Ill denote the approximation by the same letter as the exact one (although

this is not, in general, considered a good practice). The only type of approximation we consider for

the present is constructed by triangulating the domain, letting uj j = 1, . . . , n denote the values of

the solution at the vertices of the triangles (these are the numbers that well actually compute!) and

using piecewise linear interpolation on the triangles to define the trial function u(x, y) on the entire

triangulated domain. We can give an explicit representation of u on any triangular element e as

follows: We define the three linear functions (element shape functions) Hie (x, y) = aei x + bei y + cei

on e by requiring that Hie (xej , yje ) = ij , i.e., Hie equals 1 at local node i and 0 at the other two

nodes of e . As we mentioned above, for each fixed i these three conditions determine the three

coefficients aei , bei , cei uniquely, i.e., we have the equations

e

e

i1

x1 y1e 1

ai

xe2 y2e 1 bei = i2 , i = 1, 2, 3.

i3

cei

xe3 y3e 1

The solutions of these equations can be written as:

Hie =

1

[(xe y e xek yje ) + (yje yke )x + (xek xej )y],

2Ae j k

where Ae is the area of e , and (i, j, k) take the values (1,2,3), (2,3,1) and (3,1,2). The formula for

the shape function can be pictured as follows:

P3

A2 P

P1

A1

A3

P2

The point P = (x, y) in the element defines 3 sub-triangles Aej , j = 1, 2, 3, where Aej is opposite

to Pj = (xej , yje ) and Hje = Aej /Ae . The Hje , as mentioned above, are called the element shape

functions, and in terms of these shape functions, the trial solution in the element may be expressed

as u(x, y) = ue1 H1e (x, y) + ue2 H2e (x, y) + ue3 H3e (x, y), or

e

u1

u = ( H1e (x, y) H2e (x, y) H3e (x, y) ) u32 ,

u33

where uej is the value of the trial solution at the local node j. (Of course, the uej are related to the

global nodal values ui via the connectivity matrix, i.e., uej = un(e,j) ).

The global interpolant is obtained by piecing together the element interpolation P

functions. This

n

interpolant may be expressed in the same way as the one dimensional case, u(x, y) = i=1 i (x, y)ui ,

or

u1

..

u = ( 1 n )

,

.

un

where each i is defined in terms of Hje as follows: Let Ki be the set of element numbers defined

by Ki = {e : n(e, j) = i, j {1, 2, 3}}, and Di = eKi e be the union of all triangles e such

that node i equals n(e, 1), n(e, 2) or n(e, 3). Then i vanishes outside of Di and if n(e, j) = i, then

i |e = Hje , where i |e denotes i restricted to e . The i are the two dimensional versions of the

tent functions we used in solving ODEs. The graphs of these new functions are truly tents in 3D

sense, i.e., the base of the tent with apex above the point Pi is the union of the triangular domains

having Pi as a vertex. The tent itself rises to unit height above Pi , and the walls of the tent are

composed of triangular plane surfaces.

We are now in a position to find the algebraic equations which determine the nodal values of u. As

our test functions w we take the same i described above omitting those i which lie on Dp (since

w = 0 is imposed here). In this way we have the same number of test functions w = i as unknown

values of u. To make the algebra easier we actually ignore this restriction on w i.e., we use every

i and then throw out the extra equations at the end. Substituting the test and trial functions into

the weak form gives

n Z

X

j=1

Z

Z

i j

i j

+

) dA uj =

f i dA +

qi ds,

x x

y y

D

Dq

i = 1, . . . , n

The integrals on the left hand side form the elements of the global n n stiffness matrix K = [Kij ].

If we introduce the n 1 column vector = [1 2 n ]T , we can express K in the form

Z

T

T

K=

+

dA.

x x

y y

D

Letting F denote the n 1 vector

F =

f dA +

q ds,

Dq

and U = [u1 u2 un ]T , we have the formal system of linear equations KU = F whose solution

provides the unknown values of the trial function at the nodes. The system is only formal, since we

have not taken into account the known values of uj on the Dp . This is easy to do. If uj is known,

we set the jth row Kj equal to zero and then set Kjj = 1. Finally, we set Fj = uj . Obviously, these

simple changes will enforce the required condition. (If desired, the symmetry of K can be retained

if we also set the jth column Kj equal to zero of course, with the exception of Kjj = 1.)

As in the case of one dimensional problems, we dont need to work with n n matrices. We can

focus on individual triangular elements containingR just three nodes. To see how this comes about,

consider, for example, the n 1 contribution L = D f dA to the load vector. Since D = e e , we

can write L as the sum

ne Z

ne

X

X

L=

f dA =

Le ,

e=1

e=1

shape functions Hje , that is, in element e, all components of vanish except the three composed

from the element basis functions Hje , j = 1, 2, 3. These non vanishing components may be found

from the configuration or connectivity matrix: Hje = n(e,j) |e . Thus, we can compute the 3 1

element vector

e

e

Z

Z

H1

H1

H2e f dA =

H e f dA, H e = H2e

Le =

e

e

H3e

H3e

and use this vector to build L, e.g., add LRe1 to Ln(e,1) , etc.. Similar remarks apply to the stiffness

matrix K and the remaining portion Q = Dq q ds of the load vector. Thus,

K=

ne Z

X

e=1

T

T

+

x x

y y

dA =

ne

X

K e

e=1

where K

is determined by the restriction of the derivatives of to the element e . Thus, this

n n matrix has all its components zero except those arising from the 3 3 element matrix

Z

Z

Hre Hse

H e H e T

H e H e T

Hre Hse

e

+

) dA =

+

) dA.

(

[Krs ] =

(

y y

x

y y

e x

e x x

Once these matrices are computed, the n n matrices K e can be found using the configuration

matrix, and the global stiffness matrix can be assembled by a simple summation. In more detail, if

e

e

n(e, r) = i, n(e, s) = j, then Krs

is equal to Kij

. In the same way, the remaining portion of the

load vector can be written as

ne Z

ne

X

X

Q=

q ds =

Q e ,

e=1

Dq e

e=1

where Qe is determined by the restriction of to the boundary of elements e which form part of

Dq . These n 1 vectors can be composed from the 3 1 element vectors

Z

Z

e

e

e

Q = [Qr ] =

qHr ds =

qH e ds,

e

All that remains is to describe explicitly the process of constructing the global stiffness and load

vectors from the element K e and F e . In fact, this is an easy process once the connectivity matrix is

given. It is probably best explained using specific examples to illustrate the details, and we will take

advantage of the textbook exercises to do this. One point that has to be kept in mind: We are dealing

with a case in which there is a single unknown at each node (the value ui of the trial function at the

node). The text examples are written to handle a more general case in which there are nd unknowns

per node. This complicates things in the following minor way: With one unknown per node, node k

can be associated with unknown uk so there is no problem keeping track of the unknowns. With nd

unknowns per node or a total of n nd unknowns in the system, we keep track of them as follows: At

node 1 we have unknowns (degrees of freedom) 1, . . . , nd and at node 2 unknowns nd + 1, . . . , 2nd ,

and in general, at node k unknowns (k 1) nd + 1, . . . , knd . To deal with this complication, we

can use an additional book keeping matrix beside the connectivity matrix. In our text this is called

the index matrix, say J. It simply keeps a count of the indices of the unknowns that are associated

with each element. It is a simple matter to compute J for any element so J can be thought of as a

vector with nd np components, where np is the number of points per element (np = 3 in the case of

linear triangles). For theoretical considerations it is probably better to think of J as an ne nd np

matrix where J(e, k), k = 1, . . . , nd np provides the information which n(e, j), j = 1, . . . , np does in

the case nd = 1.

This essentially completes our discussion of the weak formulation of the Laplace and Poisson equations and the subsequent assembly process used in developing the finite element equations. Note

that if D = Dq , the solution is only determined to within an arbitrary constant (since u = c will

be a solution of the homogeneous equation (f = 0) for any constant c). In this case, the stiffness

matrix will have rank n 1, and provided the problem is consistent will determine the nodal values

to within an arbitrary constant.

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