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37, 861-875 (1994)




Department of Power Mechanical Engineering. National Tsing H u a University, Hsinchu, 7aiwan 30043, R.O.C.

Department of Aeronautics und Astronuutics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, M A , U S .A

By using the theory of geodesics in differential geometry. inverse relations of the mapping for 8-node
quadrilaterals with curved boundaries are derived and expressed in terms of the element geodesic co-
ordinates defined at the local origin. The parameters in the expressions of the geodesic co-ordinates in terms
of the isoparametric co-ordinates are suggestcd to be the distortion measures of the element. The mathemat-
ical meanings of these parameters can be discussed and explained by using the coefficient vectors in the
equations delining the isoparametric co-ordinate transformation. This method of defining the element
distortion measures is consistent and general, and can be applied to any other two- or three-dimensional
isoparametric finite elements.

Most isoparametric elements have long been known t o be sensitive to shape distortions. Such an
undesirable property may greatly affect the solution accuracy and reduce the reliability of finite
element analysis.' Some authors2. have therefore proposed t o incorporate element's shape
limitations into the automated modelling systems. In order t o d o so. the element distortion
measures have to be formulated and the element sensitivity to these parameters established.2
Unfortunately, consistent and general definitions for distortion measures have not been
established presently. For flat quadrilateral membrane and plate bending elements, Robinson'
has defined the following four distortion or shape parameters: aspect ratio, skew angle and two
tapers. These four parameters are originally defined based on geometric and graphic consider-
ations of the element geometry. Robinson4 has shown that they can also be expressed analytically
in terms of the coefficients in a simple polynomial, which is the determinant of the Jacobian of the
mapping. Although a valuable improvement, such definitions still have the drawback of being
dependent o n the choice of the axes of the local Cartesian co-ordinate system.
For the %node quadrilaterals with curved boundaries, Robinson' has proposed 12 distortion
parameters based o n similar graphic considerations. Among them, the four parameters men-
tioned above are used for the chord quadrilateral, which is the straight-sided quadrilateral

* Associate Professor
'Graduate Student
: Emeritus Professor

CCC 002~5981/94/050861-15 $9.00 Receiued 5 Januarj I993

0 1994 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Revised 2 August I993
862 K.-Y. YUAN, Y.-S.HUANG AND T. H. H. PlAN

obtained by joining the corner points of the 8-node quadrilateral by straight lines (chords of the
curved boundaries). Eight offsets, representing the deviations of the boundary nodes from the
centre points of the chord lines, are then defined as the additional distortion measures. All these
parameters can be expressed in terms of the coefficients in the element's shape polynomials, which
define the isoparametric co-ordinate transformation, but their definitions again depend on the
choice of the local axes for the chord quadrilateral. Also, the Jacobian determinant can no longer
be expressed explicitly in terms of these parameters, as in the case for the 4-node quadrilateral.
Other definitions of distortion measures proposed for the 8-node quadrilateral may be seen in
References 2 and 3. They are all introduced based on graphic considerations of the element
geometry and therefore cannot easily be generalized. For the three-dimensional solid elements, no
distortion measures ever proposed have been known.
In Reference 5, a rigorous mathematical approach for establishing consistent and general
definitions for distortion measures has been suggested. This involves the concept of element's
geodesic co-ordinates, which are the skew Cartesian co-ordinates determined by the Jacobian of
the mapping evaluated at the origin. By using a theory in differential geometry,6 it has been
shown that the inverse relations of the isoparametric co-ordinate transformation can be derived
and expressed in terms of these geodesic co-ordinates. Such relations assume the form of infinite
power series in which the coefficients are the values of the Christoffel symbols r;k and other
rik..,,,"functions, which are derived from r ; k of the isoparametric co-ordinates, evaluated at the

For 4-node straight-sided quadrilaterals, Reference 5 has shown that the infinite number of
coefficients in the inverse relations can be determined completely by the values of the two
nonvanishing Christoffel symbols evaluated at the origin. These two values occur naturally in the
expressions of the element's geodesic co-ordinates when they are expressed in terms of the
isoparametric co-ordinates. Compared to the distortion parameters in Robinson," the two values
are seen to correspond roughly to the two tapers, but no special choice of local axes is needed for
their definitions. Together with the aspect ratio and skew angle of the basic parallelogram
determined by the axes of the geodesic co-ordinates, they constitute a set of four distortion or
shape parameters consistent and more general than those of R ~ b i n s o n . ~
The present paper generalizes the above concept straightforwardly to the 8-node quadrilateral
with curved boundaries. It will be shown that there are ten parameters in the expressions of the
element geodesic co-ordinates in terms of the isoparametric co-ordinates, and that they uniquely
determine all the coefficients in the inverse relations of the isoparametric co-ordinate transforma-
tion. Together with the aspect ratio and skew angle of the basic parallelogram, they are proposed
to be the distortion measures for the 8-node quadrilaterals.
The 12 distortion or shape parameters suggested need not be resorted to any graphic drawing
procedure for their definitions. However, their simple geometric interpretations can still be
devised to facilitate their understanding. The coefficients in the polynomial of the Jacobian
determinant also can a11 be expressed explicitly in terms of them. Such a way of defining element
distortion measures is consistent and general, and can be applied to any other two- or three-
dimensional isoparametric finite elements.


The theory of geodesics used in deriving the inverse relations of the mapping is briefly described
in the following. In an n-dimensional space, curved or flat, the geodesics are the integral curves of

the following set of differential equations:6*

where t i denote any system of admissible co-ordinates, s the arc parameter and r i k = rij the
Christoffel symbols of the ti co-ordinate system.
To solve equation (l), formally one can differentiate them successively to obtain the following
sequence of equations which must be satisfied by any solution of equation (1):

where the r functions

and, in general,6

where P ( ) denotes the sum of terms obtainable from the ones inside the bracket by permuting
the free subscripts cyclically, and N the total number of subscripts. The l- functions so defined are
therefore symmetric in the subscripts.'
Any integral curve of equation (1) can be uniquely determined by a point q and a direction
specified at q, i.e., by the initial conditions

{'= and (z)q=ri

at s = o

By expanding the parametric equations of the solution curve into series in s, one obtains from the
above equations
+ tis - +(rjk)qrjtks2- &(rjkl)qr~rkt1~3
ti = (ti)q - .. . (7)
where the subscript q indicates that the function within the parentheses be evaluated at the point
q. The above solution can be proved to be ~ n v e r g e n t . ~
For all the geodesics through point q, one may put
ti = t's (8)
and substitute it into equation (7); then
ti- ( t i ) q = Fi + i(r;k)qptk- h(riu)qt'pfl- ' ' ' (9)
Since the above equations do not involve the direction t i , they hold for all geodesics through
point q and therefore constitute the equations of a transformation of co-ordinates. In the new
['-co-ordinatcs, the equations of the geodesics through the origin assume the form in equation (8).
864 K.-Y.YUAN. Y . 4 . HUANG AND T. H. H. PIAN

The I;'-co-ordinate system is a special type of geodesic co-ordinate system, whose properties in
curved Riemannian space have been discussed in References 6 and 7. In the flat Euclidean space,
since the geodesics are known to be straight lines, one may use the above theory to derive the
inverse relations of the isoparametric co-ordinate transformation.


Consider a general 8-node quadrilateral with curved boundaries, as shown in Figure 1. The
transformation between the global Cartesian co-ordinates x and y and the element isoparametric
co-ordinates 5 and q is as follows:

{ 'J ] = c Ni(t,tl) {

" 1 )
= { a0
+ t + a2q + a35q + + a5q2 + a6t2q + a7('IZ
+ hl t + h2q + b35q + h4t2 + b 5 v 2 + b6t2V + b7h2

where xi and yi are nodal co-ordinates, Ni((,

q ) are shape functions,
Ni = !(I + ti<)(l + qiq)(tit + qiq - l), i = 1- 4 (corner nodes)
= t(1 - + qiq), i =$7 (boundary nodes) (1 1)
= t(1 + < i t ) ( 1 - q2), i = 6 , 8 (boundary nodes)
The coefficients a i , i = 0-7, are:

a7 = $ ( - xxl1 + x2 + x3
x3 - 4) + t(-x6 + x8)
- xx4)
Similarly the coefficients bi, i = 0-7 are determined in terms of the nodal co-ordinates yi,
yi, i = 1-8.


Figure 1. Eight-node quadrilateral with curved boundaries

For convenience, define the coefficient vectors

ei = { :}, i = 0-7

and the notations

p.. =
ei x ej k - i#j
IJ el x e , - k '
where k denotes the unit vector along the z axis normal to the x-y plane. The mapping defined in
equation (10) can then be written as

{ ;} = eo + <el + qe2 + tqe3 + t2e4 + q2eS + t 2 v 6 + tq2e7 (1 5 )

The Jacobian and its inverse of the co-ordinate transformation are, respectively,


Jll = a1 + a3q + 2a4t + 2a6tq + a7q2
J 2 ] = a2 + a 3 t + 2a5q + a6t2 + 2a7tq

512 = bi + b3q + 2b4t + 2b6rq + b7q2

J22 = b7 + b 3 t + 2b5q + b6t2 + 2b7tq

and the Jacobian determinant J = IJ 1,

J = Jo(l +fit + f 2 ~ + f 3 5 ~ +f4t2 +.f5q2 +f6t2q +f7tv2 +fst3 +f9q3 +fiot2q2) (19)
in which
.Io = el x e2 - k, fi = PIJ 2p42, f2 = p32 2p15
f3 = p62 + p i 7 + 2p45, f4 = pi6 + 2p43, f5 = p72 + 2p3s
f6 = p63 + 4p47, f7 = p 3 7 + 4p65, f8 = 2p46
f9 = 2p75 f10 = 3p67
From equation (15), it is clear that e, determines the origin 0 of the isoparametric co-ordinate
system. Let the co-ordinate axes of the Cartesian system be translated to the local origin 0 as
shown in Figure 2; then all the coefficients and relations in equations (10)-(20)remain un-
changed, except that a, = bo = 0. Employ the index notation and put the local Cartesian
co-ordinates x = xi and y = x2, and the natural co-ordinates 5 = t1 and q = The six r2.
866 K.-Y. YUAN. Y.-S. HUANG AND T. H. H. PlAN

Figure 2. Local Cartesian co-ordinates (x, y); ( - - - - - ) the chord quadrilateral in Robinson'

Christoffel symbols of the isoparametric co-ordinate system can be calculated from

At the origin 0, their values are calculated to be

The element geodesic co-ordinates and ij defined at 0 can be determined as follows. Since any
direction at 0 can be specified by a straight line passing through 0, along which dx/ds = x/s and
dy/ds = y/s, from equation (8),

That is,

and, inversely,

After substituting equation (10) into equation (24), one obtains

The values (l-;*), in equation (22) are Scen to be directly determined by the coefficients of the six
quadratic terms in C and in the above equation.
To obtain the inverse relations of the mapping, one must calculate the values of the higher-
order functions at the origin. For the eight third-order functions rik,, defined in equation (4),


The four values in equation (27) are seen to be entirely determined by the Pijls associated with the
quadratic terms in equations (26), while the expressions of those in equation (28) involve the
coefficients of the four cubic terms in 5 and q in that equation.
The values at the origin of the other r functions, defined generally in equation(5), can be
calculated similarly. It can easily be shown that they can all be expressed in terms of the ten
parameters Pij in the expressions of the element’sgeodesic co-ordinates in equation (25). When all
these values are substituted into equation (9), with and i j denoting, respectively, and one t2,
obtains the inverse relations of the mapping defined in equation (10) by using also the linear
relations between i j ) and (x, y) in equation (24).


The geodesic co-ordinates r a n d ij, linearly related to the local Cartesian co-ordinates x and y in
equations (24) and (25), define a skew Cartesian co-ordinate system as shown in Figure 3; their
co-ordinate axes are determined by the coefficient vectors el and ez.In equation (20), the value of
the Jacobian determinant at the origin, J o = el x e2 k, is the area of the parallelogram spanned
by el and e,.

Figure 3. Skew Cartesian coordinates (z tj) as the element geodesic co-ordinates;(- - - - -) the basic parallelogram
defined by coefficient vectors c, and c2
868 K.-Y. YUAN. Y . 4 . HUANG AND T. H. H. PIAN

Since the geodesics are straight lines, equation (26) is the expression of straight lines through
the origin in terms of the natural co-ordinates 5 and q. The ten parameters Pij are proposed to be
the distortion measures of the element. In equation (14), Pijhas been defined as the area ratio of
the two parallelograms spanned, respectively, by ei and ej and by el and e2.In equation (15), there
are seven coefficient vectors ei, i = 1-7, besides e,. All the parameters Pij = - Pji determined by
them can be written into an antisymmetric matrix of the following form:

ro 1
-1 0
p31 p32 Antisymmetric

[PI =-[PIT= P41 P42 P43 O
p51 p52 p53 p54 0
p61 p62 p63 p64 p65 0
pll p12 p13 p14 p15 p16

ill'li 1

Figure 4. Element shapes represented by the seven coefficient vectors (only the non-vanishing eis are shown)

Among the 20 Pij’s above, only ten Pij’s in the first two columns appear in the expressions of
f a n d fj in equation (26), while all of them, besides PI4and P52,appear in the determinant of the
Jacobian in equation (19). They can also appear in the expressions of the higher-order r functions
evaluated at the origin.
For the inverse relations and Jacobian determinant to be exclusively expressed in terms of
Pli and Pi2, i = 3-7, the other ten Pij’s in equation (29) must be dependent on and expressible in
terms of them. Such dependency can be obtained by using the following vector identity:
(ei x e j ) (ekx e l )= (ei x ek).(ej x e l ) - (ei x e l ) * (ej x e,) (30)
From equation (14) and the above, the following relations can easily be derived:
p34 = p13p24 -p14p23, p45 = p14p25 -p15p24


i O 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
X, --- -1.3 1.3 0.7 -0.7 0.0 1.0 0.0 -1.0

y, - -0.5 -0.5 0.5 0.5 -0.5 0.0 0.5 0.0

0 , o . 1. 0 . 4 . 3 0 . 0. 0. 0 . -
b, 0. 0 . 0 . 5 0 . 0. 0. 0. 0 . - -

pb - --- 1 0. 0. 0. 0. 0. --
Pa - -I - -0.3 0. 0. 0. 0. -
870 K.-Y. YUAN, Y.-S.HUANG AND T. H. H. PlAN

The values of the Christoffel symbols r:k and all the other r functions at the origin therefore can
all be expressed in terms of the ten parameters Pli and Pi2, i = 3-7. Recall that the Christoffel
symbols completely described the derivatives of the basis vectors bj of the isoparametric co-
ordinate system:’
-b.= Ti. b.
aek I Jk I

Xi - do. 20. 80. 40. -20. 50. 20. -50.

30. 10. --
pa - -1 - 0.067 0. 0. 0. 0. -

n=4 A

Figure 6. Example number 2


It is seen that these ten Pij's also completely determine all the derivatives of the basis vectors bj at
the origin. This provides another reason for them to be the distortion measures of the element.
When all these ten P i i s are zero, the coefficient vectors e3+7 must vanish. The element then
becomes rectangular or parallelogram as determined by the two vectors el and e2. In general
cases, the element geometry can be completely described by the seven coefficient vectors, as
illustrated in Figure 3. When the quadrilateral is straight-sided or when the nodes on the
boundaries are in the centre positions, however, some of the five coefficient vectors e3-e7 may be
vanishing. Figure 4 illustrates several such special cases.

Aspect ratio(ARp1.8333
Skew angle(+~0°36'

i O 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
x, - -60. 20. 80. 40. -20. 60. 20. -50.

Yi - -20. 40. 40. 20. -30. 13.33 30. 0.

a, 5. 55. 20. 10. 0. -5. 0. -5.

b, 6.661 6.67 30. 10. 0. -6.61 0. .,!,&57 -

P" - - I 0.319 0. -0.220 0. -0.220 -
PL -- -I - 0.066 0. -0.011 0. -0.011 --


Figure 7. Example number 3

872 K.-Y. YUAN, Y . 4 . HUANG A N D T. H. H. PlAN

Since it is still desirable to characterize the shape of the element even when it is a rectangle or
a parallelogram, the aspect ratio and skew angle of the basic parallelogram determined by el and
e, may be taken as the two additional shape parameters of the element. In all the examples in the
following section, the aspect ratio (AR) is taken to be the base-to-height ratio of the basic
parallelogram, with the longer one (of el and ez) being chosen as the base. The skew angle (4)is
defined to be the deviation from 90" of the angle between the vectors el and e,. In the
three-dimensional case, similar but different definitions of the aspect ratios and skew angles have
been adopted in Reference 10 for the 8-node hexahedral elements.

Aspect ratiNAR)-l 5217

Skew angle(+)=4°02'
- - - - _ _ _ _

i I -:
x, --



-0.320 0. -0.112 0. 0.058 -
pa - -I - -0.205 0. 0.063 0. 0.033 -

i / \n=3

Figure 8. Example number 4


In the following,six example 8-node quadrilaterals are used to demonstrate the theory described.
Five of them have been considered by Robinson.2 Since Robinson's approach in defining the
distortion measures is fundamentally different from the one proposed here, no comparison of the
parameters calculated in the following against those obtained by him will be made.
For each of the quadrilaterals, the approximations of the element geometry obtained by taking
finite terms in the inverse relations of the mapping are also presented. In equation (9), the inverse
relations are seen grouped into many homogeneous polynomials in and ij with increasing r
degree. The approximation obtained by keeping the first n groups in the expressions for both
5 and q should be accurate to the nth degree in and q.' For n = 0, the approximation
corresponds to the basic parallelogram defined by the coefficient vectors el and e2. In each of the

4 1 : 3

i O 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 8
x, -- -1. 1. 1. -1. 0. 1.3 0. -1.

y, - -0.5 -0.5 0.5 0.5 -0.5 0.2 0.5 0.

a, 0.15 1.15 0. 0. 0. -0.15 0. -0.15 -

b, 0.1 0.1 0.5 0. 0. -0.1 0. -0.1 -
Pb - - 1 0. 0. -0.174 0. -0.174 -
p2, __--1 -___0. 0. -0.130 0. -0.130 ----


n=l n =I

Figure 9. Example number 5

874 K.-Y. YUAN, Y.4. HUANG AND T. H. H. PIAN

examples, the approximations obtained for n = 1-4 have been plotted to illustrate the conver-
gence of the series in defining the inverse relations of the mapping.
For the straight-sided quadrilaterals in the first two examples, shown in Figures 5 and 6,
respectively, the boundary nodes are all in the centre position of their respective boundary. The
element geometry in such a case is the same as that of the 4-node quadrilateral, with at most two
Christoffel symbols non-vanishing. The fourth-degree approximations can be seen to be very
accurate in these two examples in approximating the element shape. Figure 7 shows a straight-
sided quadrilateral with a boundary node shifted to the third point of the element side. Six
distortion parameters Pi become non-zero in this example. The fourth-degree approximation can
be seen still quite accurate. The same is true for the quadrilateral shown in Figure 8, with two
opposite element sides slightly curved while all the boundary nodes in the centre position.
Figure 9 shows a rectangle with one side strongly curved and the boundary node deviated from
the centre position. Four Pi parameters become non-zero and the fourth-degree approximation

i O 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
X, ---- -60. 20. 80. 40. -20. 60. 10. 40.

Y. - -20. -40. 40. 20. -40. -10. 40. 0.

u, 0 50. 15. 10. 5. -10. 5. 0. -----
b, 0 -5. 40. 10. 0. 5. -10. 5. -
Pb - - 1 0.265 0.120 0.0% -0.229 0.120 -
pa _____ -1 ---_ 0.120 0.096 -0.229 0.169 -0.036 -----

----\ gudriw

Figure 10. Example number 6


is considered to be reasonably accurate in this example. For the quadrilateral with all four sides
curved, shown in Figure 10, all the ten P i i s are non-zero and higher-degree approximations
appear to be needed in order to achieve more satisfying accuracy in approximating the element
The convergence and the rate of convergence of the series in equation (9) clearly depend on the
magnitudes of the ten parameters Pij. In order for the series to be convergent and the mapping to
be unique, it is obvious that the absolute value of any of these parameters must be less than one.
This, however, is not a sufficient condition. To ensure the uniqueness of the mapping, the
practical rule for the 8-node quadrilateral is to require the boundary nodes to be within the
middle half of the distance between the adjacent corners but a middle third is usually considered
safer.’ In terms of the ten parameters Ptj, this problem can be further studied to establish the
admissible ranges for their values in order to guarantee the uniqueness of the mapping.

Much of the concern on the reliability of finite elements’ can be shown to be intrinsically related
to the problem of the sensitivity of the element to shape distortion. So far, in attempting to
formulate the element shape distortion measures, the researcher’s attentions have been mainly
directed towards the graphic aspects of the element geometry. In this paper, a different approach
based on a theory in differential geometry is suggested. Compared to the other methods proposed
in the literature, the consistency and mathematical generality of the present approach is worth
noticing. Any other two- or three-dimensional isoparametric finite elements can be treated by
using the same method.

1. K. J. Bathe and D. R. J. Owen (eds.), Reliability ofMethodsfor Engineering Analysis, Pineridge Press, Swansea, 1986.
2. J. Robinson, ‘Distortion measures for quadrilaterals with curved boundaries’, Finite Element Anal. Des., 4, 115-131
3. T. K. Hellen, ‘A finite element mesh quality assessment program’, in J. Robinson (ed.), Accuracy, Reliability and
Training in FEM Technology, Proc. 4th World Congress on Finite Element Methods, Interlaken, Switzerland, 1984,
Robinson and Associates, Okehampton, UK, 1984.
4. J. Robinson, ‘Some new distortion measures for quadrilaterals’, Finite Elements Anal. Des., 3, 183-197 (1987).
5. K. Y. Yuan and T. H.H. Pian, ‘The reference coordinates and distortion measures for quadrilateral hybrid stress
membrane element’, Cornput. Mech., to be published.
6. L. P. Eisenhrrt, Riemannian Geometry, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1949.
7 . 0. Veblen, Invariants of Quadratic Diferential Forms, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1962.
8. 1. S . Sokolnikoff, Tensor Analysis, 2nd edn, Wiley, New York, 1964.
9. 0. C.Zienkiewicz and R. L. Taylor, The Finite Element Method, 4th edn, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1989.
10. K. Y.Yuan, Y.S. Huang, H. T. Yang and T. H. H. Pian, ‘The inverse mapping and distortion measures for 8-node
hexahedral isoparametric elements’, Comput. Mech., to be published.