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Demystifying Contact Elements


Part 1 of 2: What they are, how they work and when to use them.
By John Crawford Consulting Analyst If you analyze enough problems, chances are good that sooner or later youll run across one that requires the use of contact elements. Contact elements are used to simulate how one or more surfaces interact with each other. For most analysts, our first exposure to contact elements can be a little confusing because of the variety of elements and the multitude of special features that are available. We have to determine which contact elements are appropriate for our problem, resolve any convergence problems that might arise during solution, and check the results for reasonable and accurate answers. Lets see if we can clear up some of the mysteries that surround the use of contact elements. Well begin by talking about the elements themselves. Remember that an analysis is made up of one or more load steps, and each load step has one or more substeps. Within each substep there can be several nested layers of equilibrium iterations. The precise number and manner in which they are nested is dependent on the solver, how many nonlinear features are being used and several other things. Contact analyses are nonlinear and therefore require their own equilibrium iteration loop. At the end of each contact equilibrium iteration, ANSYS checks to see if the status of each contact element has changed. It also calculates a convergence value (usually force equilibrium) and compares it to the convergence criteria. If the element status has not changed and the convergence criteria has been met, ANSYS determines that the solution for this iteration has converged and moves on to the next outer iteration loop, the next substep or the next load step, or stops solving altogether if the analysis is now complete. If at this point you re a little confused, don t worry. The critical ideas to remember from this are the following: Contact analyses are nonlinear in nature ANSYS performs a special equilibrium iteration loop when doing a contact analysis Contact elements have a status that indicates if they are open, closed, sliding, etc. ANSYS checks the element status and the convergence criteria at the end of each contact equilibrium iteration to determine if equilibrium has been achieved

Node-to-Node Elements
In the early days of finite element analysis, there was one type of contact element: the node-to-node variety. The early versions of node-to-node contact elements were CONTAC12 (2-D) and CONTAC52 (3-D). More recently, CONTA178 (2-D and 3-D) was introduced to encompass the capabilities of both of these elements and also introduce some new features, such as additional contact algorithms. Node-to-node contact elements are simple and solve relatively quickly. Their basic function is to monitor the movement of one node with respect to another node. When the gap between these nodes closes, the contact element allows load to transfer from one node to the other. What does this really mean and how does ANSYS know when the nodes are touching?

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ANSYS Solutions

Summer 2004

Tech File

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These characteristics are true for all types of contact elements. While they may seem a little primitive when compared with the newer contact elements, node-tonode contact elements have a lot going for them. Theyve been around long enough to have had their bugs worked out many years ago, and their extensive use over several decades means that there is a vast experience base to draw upon when setting up and debugging an analysis. CONTAC12 and CONTAC52 can have nodes that are either coincident or non-coincident. While the majority of applications involve using non-coincident nodes, coincident nodes can be useful for certain analyses. If coincident nodes are used, the orientation of the contact surface that exists between the two nodes must be defined. The initial condition gap or interference can be provided by the user as being either positive (gap) or negative (interference), or automatically calculated from the relative positions of the nodes. Node-to-node contact is also available in COMBIN40. COMBIN40 is a rather unique element because it also includes a spring-slider, a damper (which works in parallel with the spring-slider) and a mass at each node. Any of these features can be used alone or simultaneously with any or all of the other features. While node-to-node contact elements are very useful, there are some limitations that must be kept in mind when using them. One limitation is that the orientation of the gap is not updated when large deflection analyses are performed. Another limitation is that these elements do not account for moment equilibrium. This does not present a problem when a line drawn between the nodes is normal to the contact surface because in this instance the moments are zero, but care should be taken in each analysis to recognize whether this is the case or not. If not, it is important to consider what effect this might have on the results. It is the responsibility of the analyst to recognize whether this condition is present and whether it introduces an unacceptable error that invalidates the usefulness of the analysis. Node-to-node elements can always be generated manually, and, depending on the model, you can often use the EINTF command to make them as well.

Node-to-Surface Elements
The next evolution in contact elements was the introduction of node-to-surface contact elements, such as CONTAC26 (2-D), CONTAC48 (2-D), CONTAC49 (3-D), and the recent addition of CONTA175 (2-D and 3-D). The major enhancement offered by node-to-surface contact elements is that they allow a node to contact anywhere along an edge (in 2-D) or a surface (in 3-D). Rather than a node being confined to contacting a specific node, a node can contact the edge of a certain element. This has significant benefits when objects translate or rotate relative to each other. Node-to-surface contact elements are capable of simulating large relative movements with accuracy. Because CONTA175 includes all the capabilities of the other node-to-surface contact elements and has other features that these elements do not have, CONTA175 will replace the other node-to-surface elements in future versions of ANSYS. Beginning in ANSYS 8.1, CONTAC26, CONTAC48 and CONTAC49 will be undocumented, and they will eventually be removed from ANSYS. There are several ways to generate node-tosurface contact elements. They can be made manually, but this becomes impractical when making more than a few elements. GCGEN and ESURF are commands that are frequently used to generate node-to-surface contact elements, with GCGEN being the easiest and quickest way to make CONTAC48 and CONTAC49 node to surface contact elements, while ESURF is used to make CONTA175 node to surface elements. To use GCGEN, you make two components, one that contains the nodes from one of the contact surfaces, and another that contains the elements from the other contact surfaces, and then use GCGEN to automatically generate node-to-surface contact elements between every node and every element that are in these components. To use ESURF, you select the elements that the CONTA175 elements will be attached to and their nodes that are on the surface you wish to place the contact elements onto, making sure that you have the proper element attributes active (TYPE, REAL and MAT), and then issue the ESURF command. Last but not least, the Contact Wizard can be used to generate node-to-surface contact elements and is usually the easiest and quickest way of making them.

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ANSYS Solutions

Summer 2004

Surface-to-Surface Elements
The latest evolution of contact element technology has been in the area of surface-to-surface contact. This allows contact to take place between one or more edges in 2-D, or one or more surfaces in 3-D. There are several important characteristics that make surface-to-surface contact elements very different from their less sophisticated ancestors. Surface-to-surface contact is not defined by a single element, but by two types of elements called targets and contacts. Any number of target and contact elements can be identified as being a set or group. Contact can take place between any contact elements and any target elements that are in this group. ANSYS uses the real constant number to identify the target and contact elements that are in a group. All target and contact elements in this group have the same real constant number. Two-dimensional contact problems can be simulated using either CONTA171 or CONTA172 with TARGE169, while three-dimensional problems would use either CONTA173 or CONTA174 with TARGE170.

CONTA171 and CONTA173 are appropriate for edges and surfaces made from linear (no midside nodes) elements while CONTA172 and CONTA174 can be used with edges and surfaces made from quadratic (having midside nodes) elements. Both CONTA172 and CONTA174 can be used in a degenerate form on surfaces made from linear elements. The introduction of surface-to-surface contact elements has brought about big improvements in solution efficiency and has also broadened the types of contact problems that can be modeled. They offer many new and improved features, such as the ability to contact and then bond two surfaces together, automatic opening or closing of gaps to a uniform value, and a variety of contact algorithms, to name just a few. You can generate surface-to-surface contact elements by using series NSEL, ESEL and ESURF commands. The Contact Wizard automates these steps and makes the generation of surface-to-surface contact elements quick and easy in both 2-D and 3-D. Now that we have been introduced to the contact elements that are at our disposal, well follow up next time with some helpful hints on how to use them. s
Part two of this article, to appear in the next issue of ANSYS Solutions, will discuss various aspects of using contact elements, including modeling tips and setting appropriate stiffness.

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www.ansys.com

ANSYS Solutions

Summer 2004