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Interface Formulation Problem in


Geotechnical Finite Element Software


Adis Skejic
M.Eng.
Civil Engineering faculty Sarajevo, BiH
askeja@live.com


ABSTRACT
A serious problem has been discovered in the interface formulation in one of the most popular
finite element software programs used in geotechnical practice. This paper analyses the problem of
interface formulation which is not in agreement with the definition given in program manuals.
Problem explained appears to have been solved in the most recent version, but the author finds it
important to discuss the implications of this problem, because there are so many investigation
conclusions given in the recent past without being aware of this problem. A simple example of
sliding block on elastic soil is used for this investigation and the results with discussions are
presented, with intimate details of the computational model.
KEYWORDS: interface, finite element method, Plaxis 2D.
INTRODUCTION
Very often in Geotechnical enginering practice using the advanced tool of the finite element
technique, interface elements are used to model soil structure interaction. Modeling of discontinuities
in rocks, soil geogrid interaction modeling in reinforced soil, soil pile interaction for pile capacity
calculations are only few examples where interface plays a crucial role. Interface formulation given in
programs manuals is not in agreemnet with program code, what makes the conclusions reached using
the numerical model imprecise. After a brief interface formulation, details of practical example
numerical model shall be presented, to prove the point of this article. Same problem was analysed
with Plaxis version 2011, and problem was not found. To end this introduction, an interesting
quotation given by Kulhawy (2011) is reminded: Please do not use software if you do not understand
what is it doing.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Numerical model of sliding block on elastic soil, is used to analyse the stress state on the
discontinuity between block and soil medium. Plane strain model with 6-node triangular finite
elements is employed. The soil block contact is modeled by interface element. An isoparametric
Vol. 17 [2012], Bund. N 2036

zero thickness interface element (Goodman et al. 1968, Ghaboussi et al., 1973; Carol and Alonso,
1983; Wilson, 1977; Desai et al. 1984, Beer, 1985). Interface is defined as thick layer connected with
soil and structure elements with 2 degrees of freedom. (Figure 1)

Figure 1: Geometry and interface slippage criterion for 6 node element (Modified from Van
Langen & Vermeer, 1990)
The soil behaviour in this discontinuity can be different from soil behaviour, what it confirmed by
many experimental investigations (Potyondy 1961, Desai, 1981, Acar et al., 1982, Desai et al. 1985,
Boulon i Plytas, 1986, Boulon, 1989). Interface stiffness matrices formed according to constitutive
low of its behavior, are assembled in stiffness matrice of particular problem as whole structure. After
slippage occurs, volumetric as well as shear deformations occurs on interface. Volumetric strain
magnitude, are controled by dilatancy angle () which defines the constitutive low flow rule.

Figure 2: Interface modeling and interface deformations definition

The constitutive law of interface behavior is defined by:
( )
e p
D D = =

where e nad p indexes defined elastic and plastic part of deformation respectively. For elastic
deformations the stress and strain increment can be related by interface shear an normal stifness, k
s

and k
n
respectively.
0
0
e
n s s
e
n n n
k
k


( ( (
=
( ( (




Vol. 17 [2012], Bund. N 2037

,
0
0
i
e
i n s
e
oed i n n
i
G
t
E
t


(
(
( (
(
=
( (
(

(




Where G
i
and E
oed,i
are shear and oedometer modulus of interface. The relative thickness factor is
taken as default value 0,1, and will not be analyzed in this article. Using the theory of plasticity terms
(flow rule, consistency condition) the scalar multiplicator magnitude can be calculated, and
elastoplastic stifness matrix can be derived as :
,
0
0
i
i n s
oed i n n
i
G
t
g
E
t


(
(
( (
(
=
( (
(

(




2
2
0 tan ' 1
0 (tan ') (tan ') (tan ') (tan ') (tan ')
n s s s n s
n n s n s n n n
k k k k
k k k k k k


(
| | ( ( | |
=
( | ( | (
+
( \ . \ .



For Plaxis 2D, the strength and stiffness of interface are defined as part of the strength and
stiffness of soil adjusted to interface strength according to :
soil i i
c R c =

soil i i
R =

while in Reference manual, the last relation is defined as
soil i i
R tan tan =
soil i i
G R G =
2

,
1
2 ; 0.45
1 2
i
oed i i i
i
E G

= =


where R
i
is reduction coefficient. Also, for:

i
= 0 for R
i
< 1,
i
=
tla
for R
i
= 1
where: c cohesion of soil material
soil friction angle
soil dilatancy angle

i
Poisson ratio for interface
And finally we can write the slippage criterion as :

' '
tan ) (
i i n n
c f + =


Next, the details of numerical model are presented. Refer to Figure 3 and Table


Vol. 17 [2012], Bund. N 2038

Figure 3: Numerical model with material parameters shown in Table 1.


Table 1: Material parameters
Soil & Interface Model [kN/m
3
] E
ref
[kPa] c [kPa] [] [-]
Concrete block Linear
elastic
25,0 3e7 - - 0,0
interface
Mohr-
Coulomb
0,0 5e4 0,0 65 0,45
After generating initial stress state which is defined with self-weight of concrete block, prescribed
displacement are applied at the left boundary, to cause slippage of concrete block. Shear and normal
stresses are generated at the interface, and shear to normal stress ratios are analyzed to investigate the
definition of interface strength. The stress distributions along interface, as well as plastic points are
shown to prove that the slippage occurs on soil block contact.
Two different cases of reduction coefficient (R
i
) and relatively high value of internal friction
angle ( = 65) are used to show the difference between programs code and programs reference
manual definition of interface strength. First R
i
= 1,0, and then R
i
= 0,2. The ratio of average stresses
values is also compared to show the described difference.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
The results of provided analysis, shows the shear and normal stress ratio for prescribed
displacement of 2,0 cm, when plastic points occurs along full length of interface (figure 5). As it is
said earlier, the strength of interface is actually defined as R
i
, and not R
i
tan, as it is written in
programs manuals (figure 5). Of course for reduction coefficient equal 1,0 such a difference do net
exists (figure 5).
Vol. 17 [2012], Bund. N 2039


Figure 4: Slippage criterion difference in programs code (R
i
) and reference manual
(R
i
tan); (a) R
i
= 0.2; (b) R
i
= 1,0

As it can be seen, the slope of the line defined by normal and shear stresses on interface is defined
with tangent of angle of internal friction of interface itself, and it is 0.2309, what is exactly
tan(0.2 65), and not 0.2 tan65.
Finite element mesh as well as plastic points are shown on the picture below.

Figure 5: Finite element mesh and plastic points for R
i
= 0.2

Finally, the results for normal and shear stress distribution along interface are shown.

Figure 6: Stress distribution along interface for prescribed displacement of 2.0 cm (R
i
= 0.2)
(a) (b)
(a) normal stress distribution
(b) shear stress distribution
219.32 kPa
470.34 kPa
Vol. 17 [2012], Bund. N 2040

As a discussion part, the author would like to underline that explained problem does not exist in
Plaxis version 2010 and 2011. The idea of this text is to show that some conclusions of investigations
done with previous versions (like 8.1 and 8.5) of this very popular software may be questionable. This
paper does not discuss the role of interface elements in practice of geotechnical engineering, but only
inform about a particular problem found in a widely used software program.
CONCLUSIONS
Interface formulation defined in Plaxis ver. 8.5 program manual does not agree with programs
code. The problem is definition of interface strength which is defined as R
i
tan
soil
in manual, and
R
i

soil
in programs code, according to calculation results shown in this paper. This problem becomes
more obvious for higher values of internal friction angles (), and lower values of reduction
coefficient (R
i
).
This problem should be on mind to everyone using named version of Plaxis software. Even for
using newer version which solved this problem, suggested values of reduction coefficients for
modeling any soil structure interaction problem investigated by doing back analysis with older
versions, should be taken with caution.
A very simple problem is analyzed in order to eliminate as many second order factors as possible.
REFERENCES
1. Binesh, S.M., Hataf, N. and Ghahramani A. (2010) Elasto-plastic analysis of reinforced soils
using mesh-free method, Applied Mathematics and Computation, Elsevier Inc

2. Brinkgreve, R.B.J. (2002) PLAXIS Finite Element Code for Soil and Rock Analyses:
Users Manual Version 8, A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands

3. Coutinho, A.L.G.A., Martins, M.A.D., Sydenstricker, R.M., Alves, J.L.D. and Landau L
(2003) Simple zero thickness kinematically consistent interface elements, Computers and
Geotechnics 30 347374

4. Grubi, N., Skeji, A. i Bali A. (2012) Numerical modeling of interaction between stiff
reinforcing elements and granular backfill under pullout conditions, 7th International
Conference on Computational Mechanics for Spatial Structures, IASS-IACM, Sarajevo

5. Li, J. & Kaliakin, V. N. (1993) Numerical Simulation of Interfaces in Geomaterials :
Development of Zero Thickness Interface Elements, Department of Civil Engineering,
University of Delaware, Newark, Civil Engineering Report

6. Skeji, A., Balic, A., Grubi, N. (2011) Uloga Interface elemenata pri numerikom
modeliranju armiranog tla, Forth International conference Geotechnical aspect of
engineering, Zlatibor.

7. Van Langen H. and Vermeer P. A. (1991) Interface elements for Singular Plasticity Points,
International Journal for numerical and Analitical Methods in Geomechanics. Vol. 15, 301-3
15

Vol. 17 [2012], Bund. N 2041

8. Van Langen, H. & Vermeer, P. A. (1990) Automatic Step Size Correction for non-
associated Plasticity Problems, International Journal for Numerical Methods in
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9. Van Langen, H. (1991) Numerical Analysis of Soil Structure Interaction, PhD thesis, Delft
University

10. Wood D.M. (2004) Geotechnical Modeling, Spon Press
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