A3
Shear Locking
3.1 General Remarks
Already in the early days of finite element analysis in the sixties it had been recognized that finite elements based upon the virtual work principle (“displacement method”) may provide inaccurate results and exhibit slow convergence. In certain limit cases predictions for dis placements and stresses might even be completely useless. The phenomenon is characterized by a severe underestimation of the displacements, i.e. the structural response is too stiff. Since the late seventies the term locking is used, reflecting the graphical perception that the structure “locks” itself against deformations.
This chapter focuses on shear locking (in its two occurrences as “inplane shear locking” and “transverse shear locking”, which are strongly related). Other locking effects, like membrane locking or volumetric locking, and a detailed account on techniques to formulate lockingfree elements are treated in the course on “Finite Element Technology”.
3.2 What is Locking?
Unfortunately, a unique, rigorous definition of locking does not seem to exist. From a most simple an general point of view one could state that
Locking means the effect of a reduced rate of convergence for coarse meshes in dependence of a critical parameter.
For example, in the case of transverse shear locking of plate elements this parameter is the slenderness of the plate, in volumetric locking it is the bulk modulus. An optimal rate of con vergence, as predicted by mathematical error analysis for elements of a certain polynomial order, is not achieved until the element size falls below a certain limit. As this limit is often beyond available computer capacities there is a strong interest to avoid such locking effects.
3.3 Rate of Convergence and Accuracy
For practical applications the most important efficiency aspect of a certain finite element scheme is coarse mesh accuracy. This means that we want the absolute error to be small at low computational expense. Rate of convergence, however, is also important, for instance when adaptive methods are used. It specifies the rate at which certain results approach the exact solution with mesh refinement. The basic ideas are discussed in this section with the help of simple numerical examples, comparing three different type of beam elements, namely
! Bernoulli beam elements with cubic shape functions,
! linear Timoshenko type beam elements and
! Timoshenko beam elements with reduced integration.
We are analyzing the results obtained for a beam with length l , thickness t and material pa rameters E = 10000,ν = 0 . The beam is clamped at both ends and subject to a distributed
force
q
(
x
)
equal size.
=
100
⋅
t
3
⋅
1
−
cos
x
20
. The computations are carried out using n elements of
1
Figure 3.1 shows the results obtained with cubic Bernoulli beam elements. More precisely, the relative error is plotted versus the number of degrees of freedom for bending moments and transverse shear forces (evaluated in the center of the beam) as well as strain energy. The first observation that can be made is that rate of convergence for all quantities is almost independ ent of the number of degrees of freedom. Results for displacements and rotations are not shown, because these values are exact at the nodes. This is due to the fact that the stiffness matrix of a Bernoulli beam element is exact.
Strain energy exhibits 4 ^{t}^{h} order convergence which complies with what mathematical theory predicts. This means that increasing the number of degrees of freedom by a factor a reduces
. The thin, black line labeled O(−4) does not represent any numerical
the error by a factor
result but is a fourth order function introduced manually in order to help visualizing the rate of convergence. Note that the error curve for the strain energy is parallel to this line almost in the entire range.
Similarly, it can be stated that rate of convergence of the bending moments is of second order and transverse shear forces converge by order one. All these results are “optimal” in the mathematical sense. This is the case because Bernoulli beam elements are lockingfree. If locking occurs, rates of convergence will not be optimal in the case of coarse meshes. This can be seen in Figure 3.2, showing the results obtained with linear Timoshenko beam ele ments.
a
−4
2
Fig. 3.2: Timoshenko beam elements, thick beam
According to theory, optimal rate of convergence for displacements, rotations and strain en ergy is 2. The corresponding curves are practically coincident and show the optimal rate of convergence on the right side of the diagram. For coarse meshes, however (number of degrees of freedom lower than 10) the curves are almost horizontal, meaning that the result is hardly improved with mesh refinement. Results for transverse shear forces are even getting worse at the beginning. The optimal rate of convergence for both bending moments and transverse shear forces is 1 and it is attained for fine meshes only. Note that the absolute error, especially for transverse shear forces, is relatively high also in the area where optimal convergence can be observed (compare the values to the ones obtained with Bernoulli beam elements!).
The situation is getting significantly worse if the setup of the problem is changed to a “thin” beam ( l t = 100 ). The results are shown in Figure 3.3. The range within which the error re mains practically constant (or even gets larger in the case of Q) has extended until approxi mately 100 degrees of freedom. Consequently, the absolute values of the error in the region where optimal rates of convergence can be observed are higher than before.
The phenomenon that accuracy depends on the problem setup (here slenderness of the struc ture) is typical for locking. In the case at hand the elements start to behave well (i.e. to stop “locking”) as soon as the slenderness of one individual element reaches approximately 1. This is the reason that for thinner structures more elements are needed to obain the same accuracy.
3
Fig. 3.3: Timoshenko beam elements, thin beam
It is known that reduced integration can help to remove transverse shear locking. In contrast to most two and threedimensional cases this does not lead to spurious zero energy modes in the case of Timoshenko beam elements. The results obtained for both the thick and thin beams with a Timoshenko beam element using onepoint Gauss integration are put together in Figure 3.4.
There is no perceptible difference between both results, although the thin beam has turned out to be the “harder” problem when full integration is used (see results above). Moreover, all quantities show optimal rates of convergence throughout the whole range, independent of the number of elements. Reduced integrated Timoshenko beam elements can thus be identified as being lockingfree also for very thin beams. Their convergence is said to be uniform with re spect to the parameter l t (or just t ) because rate of convergence is independent of this pa rameter.
The fact that rate of convergence is still smaller than for Bernoulli elements is due to the cir cumstance that linear shape functions instead of cubic ones are used. Increasing the order of interpolation for Timoshenko beam elements will also increase the optimal rates of conver gence. Displacements of fournode elements with cubic shape functions will thus also have a convergence order of 4. Often, however, practical considerations demand the formulation of low order elements. In most commercial codes elements with linear shape functions are the “work horses” for a wide class of problems.
4
Fig. 3.4: Timoshenko beam elements, reduced integration
5
3.3.1
A Mechanical Perspective
Perhaps the simplest way to explain the origins of locking is to associate the effect with the presence of “parasitic” stresses. With parasitic we mean such stresses that do not show up in the exact solution of a certain problem. These are, for instance, transverse shear forces in the case of pure bending of a plate element (transverse shear locking) or membrane stresses in the case of inextensional bending of shells (membrane locking).
The resulting parasitic internal energy leads to an additional, artificial stiffness. The ratio of this additional stiffness to the total stiffness of the structure can tend to 1 when a certain pa rameter approaches infinity. This means, that the prediction of structural behavior is totally dominated by artificial, numerical effects and the actual mechanical or physical behavior is not represented at all. It is this property which makes locking so dramatic in certain cases.
The presence of parasitic stresses can usually be associated with a lack of “balance” of inter polations of certain physical quantities. For example, if the interpolation of a certain stress component is one order higher than the interpolation of the energetically conjugate strain, artificial constraint stresses can evolve. In the case of a linear Timoshenko beam element, the rotations and transverse deflections are interpolated with the same (linear) functions. Thus, the Bernoulli condition γ = 0 (which has to hold in the thin limit) can only be fulfilled for the trivial case of a rigid body rotation or translation. The reason is that the condition
γ
= 0 = w′+ β
⇒
w′ = −β
is linear), as
can only be satisfied for constant β w′ is constant a priori.
This mechanical viewpoint has the drawback that the identification of “parasitic” strains is subject to a certain arbitrariness of the observer. This problem is especially obvious in the case of inplane shear locking which will be discussed later. For comprehension of the physi cal background of locking, however, this insight is extremely helpful. It also serves as a guideline for the development of improved methods which do not suffer from locking prob lems.
(excluding the case of bending, where β
3.3.2 A Mathematical Perspective
In the mathematical literature, the term “locking” is not as popular as in engineering literature. From a mathematical point of view, it is rather an illconditioning of the underlying mechani cal problem, or the system of partial differential equations, to be more precise. The crucial property is the presence of a certain “small parameter” within the equations. This parameter leads to a high ratio of the coefficients (the stiffnesses) in the discretized system of equations. Thus, the parasitic terms, evolving from unbalanced shape functions (see Section 3.3.1), are overly enlarged. The element “locks” if there is no uniform convergence with respect to this parameter (i.e. the rate of convergence in the range of coarse meshes depends on this parame ter).
This circumstance can be explained most easily at the example of transverse shear locking in Timoshenko beam elements. Inserting the kinematic and constitutive equations
γ
= w′ + β ,
κ = β′ ,
into the equilibrium equation m = −M ′ + Q leads to
6
Q =
α
Gbt
{
A
γ
M 
= 
E 
bt 
3 
κ 

, 
12 { 
I
bt
3
m
= −
E
12
β ′′ +α Gbt(w′ + β ) .
For a small thickness t the coefficient of the second term, containing the shear modulus G (and thus the transverse shear stiffness) is relatively large in comparison to the coefficient of
the first one, representing bending. Their ratio is proportional to
infinity relatively fast as t goes to zero. Therefore, in the case of pure bending, the solutions for β and w′ have to be exactly balanced. Even very small deviations from the correct solu tion (and thus a nonzero value between the parentheses) lead to an absolute dominance of the transverse shear part over the bending part. Thus, small errors in the primal variables w and _{β} are extremely enlarged, which is typical for illconditioned problems.
2
t t = 1 t , which tends to
3.4 
Shear Locking Phenomena in Beam, Plate, Shell and Solid Elements 
3.4.1 
Transverse Shear Locking 
Transverse shear locking can occur in shear deformable beam, plate and shell elements. In principle it is also present in threedimensional solid elements if these are applied to the analysis of thinwalled structures. However, in this case it is simply called “shear locking” (Section 3.4.2), because there is no distinct “transverse” direction in a solid element. The stiffening increases with slenderness (lengthtothickness ratio) of the element. Transverse shear locking is one of the most important locking effects, because it does not only slow down convergence a little bit, but can essentially preclude an analysis with a reasonable amount of numerical effort in practical applications. Especially the transverse shear forces are afflicted with enormous errors. Typical for these errors is an oscillation within the element which is why a simple smoothing often helps to significantly improve the stresses. This, however, does not solve the problem of locking as a whole.
convergence of displacements
number of nodes
q
4
3
2
1
0
1
2
xcoordinate
Fig. 3.5: Displacements and forces for Q1, Q2 and Q1ANS elements
7
Figure 3.5 shows some results of an analysis of a rectangular plate of
t = 20 cm . The plate is fully clamped along all edges and subject to a uniform load. The dia gram on the left side shows convergence of the center deflection with increasing number of nodes for three different elements: The bilinear pure displacement element Q1, its “big brother”, the biquadratic, ninenode element Q2 and Q1ANS, a fournode element, which is not based on a standard displacement formulation, but on the socalled Assumed Natural Strain (ANS) technique.
The first observation that can be made is that the results of the higherorder element Q2 are significantly better than those of Q1, which is no surprise. It is striking, that the – basically linear – Q1ANS element shows practically the same accuracy for the displacement. It has to be mentioned here, that for the same number of nodes (and therefore degrees of freedom), computation time for lower order element is much lower, because of the smaller bandwidth of the stiffness matrix.
On the right hand side of Figure 3.5 the transverse shear force distributions along a line paral lel to the longer edge of the plate, starting at the center of the plate (left) and ending at the supported edge (right) are shown. The underlying discretization utilizes 10 × 6 elements. The results of both displacement elements, Q1 and Q2(!), show severe oscillations, especially near the boundary. Particularly the results of the bilinear element are completely useless. These oscillations become much more pronounced, as the slenderness (it is actually a rather thick plate, L t = 15 ) is increased. Transverse shear forces are constant within the element in the Q1ANS formulation, and – in view of this restriction – the approximation of the exact solu tion is almost optimal for this element.
2
3× 5 m and thickness
slenderness L/t
slenderness L/t
Fig. 3.6: Behavior of elements for t → 0
In Figure 3.6 the behavior of the elements as the thickness t approaches zero is shown for a discretization with 10 × 6 elements. The left diagram demonstrates the behavior in a loglog scale, on the right hand side a zoom is provided where (for technical reasons) the vertical axis
3 to make the result independent of the thickness in
is scaled linearly. The load is scaled with the thin limit (Kirchhoff solution).
t
8
The most important phenomenon when discussing the issue of locking is the behavior of Q1 where the displacements apparently approach zero as t → 0 . In contrast to that, both Q2 and Q1ANS seem to be able to approximately predict the deformations of “arbitrarily” thin plates. The zoom on the right hand side, however, reveals that the results of Q1ANS are ac tually significantly better then those of Q2. In fact, Q2 is not completely lockingfree (cf. the oscillations of the shear forces in Fig. 3.5).
Referring to the definition given in the introduction to this chapter, locking affects the rate of convergence of an element, rather than particular results or errors. This is, however, only true for meshes with elements of finite size. Eventually, with mesh refinement, both lockingfree elements and elements that suffer from locking will exhibit the same rate of convergence which depends on the order of the shape functions. Of course, the absolute errors of locking free elements are usually much smaller. Moreover, in many cases this consideration is merely academic, because in practice mesh refinement can only be applied to a certain extend due to the increasing computational costs.
The numerical example demonstrates two things:
1. A satisfactory result for the displacements does not guarantee reliable results for forces (Q2). Especially in displacement formulations, the approximation of stresses or stress re sultants is usually worse than the approximation of the displacements, because the former are obtained from the gradients of the latter.
2. Using advanced finite element formulations (in contrast to a pure displacement formula tion) can solve locking problems and increase accuracy without requiring additional nu merical effort.
Mechanically, shear locking can be correlated with the presence of parasitic transverse shear strains and stresses. When linear shape functions are used, even constant bending moments cannot be represented without transverse shear forces. The reason for that has been explained in Section 3.3.1 at the example of a shear deformable beam element.
When quadratic shape functions are used, constant bending moments can be represented ex actly. The locking problem occurs for the linear part of the bending moments which, again, are accompanied by parasitic shear forces. Thus, convergence of (bi)quadratic elements is superior to that of (bi)linear elements, but they are still not lockingfree.
Mathematically, transverse shear locking depends on the small parameter t in the governing differential equation. The problem is illconditioned in the sense that the coefficient of the shear term grows with the order 1 t compared to the bending term, but the actual solution of the problem behaves vice versa, i.e. the bending term dominates the solution as t approaches zero (see Section 3.2.3). Thus, small errors in the shear energy lead to extremely large errors in the overall solution of the problem.
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3.4.2 Inplane Shear Locking
Shear locking can occur in 2d and 3d solid elements as well as shell elements. The effect is
significant only if there is a certain (inplane) “bending” deformation of the structure. Figure
3.7 illustrates such a situation for linear and bilinear 2d solid elements (T1 and Q1). The right
hand side shows, qualitatively, the corresponding deformations and indicates the stress states for “longitudinal” normal stresses and “transverse” shear stresses.
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F
F
F
F
F
F
F
F
y
Fig. 3.7: “Bending” deformation of 2d solid elements
xx vary linearly in ydirection,
which corresponds to the mechanical notion of a bending deformation (“bending normal strains”). But there are also shear forces, varying linearly with respect to the xcoordinate. Like in the linear Timoshenko beam element these stresses could be regarded as parasitic be cause they do not correspond to bending, but they are coupled to the bending normal stresses. In the linear triangle the distribution of all stress components is constant. Thus, the modeling of a bending deformation is inhibited a priori. As it has been stated already earlier in the con text of volumetric locking, the constant stress modes of the linear triangle are exact, but as soon as linear deformations have to be modeled, the element fails and behaves too stiff.
In the case of the fournode element, the normal stresses
σ
The behavior of the triangular element in this case reveals the aforementioned weakness in the mechanical explanation of locking effects via “parasitic stresses”. As all the stress modes of the triangle are “exact”, the term “parasitic” stress does not seem to be justified. The non physical shear stresses, occurring in the above described example, are not coupled to a bend ing deformation like in the case of the fournode element. Only an inspection of the system behavior reveals the problems of the triangular element.




mode 








c 
1 
c 
2 
c 
3 
c 
4 
c 
5 
c 
6 
c 
7 
c 
8 

displacement 
u = 
1 
u = 
0 
u = x 
u = 0 
u = y 
u = 0 
u 
= 
x y 
u = 0 

v = 
0 
v = 
1 
v = 0 
v 
= 
x 
v = 0 
v 
= 
y 
v = 0 
v 
= 
xy 

ε xx 
= u 
, 
x 
0 
0 
c 
3 
0 
0 
0 
c 
7 
y 
0 

ε yy 
= v 
, 
y 
0 
0 
0 
0 
0 
c 
6 
0 
c 
8 
x 

2 ε xy = 
u , 
y 
+ 
v 
, 
x 
0 
0 
0 
c 
4 
c 
5 
0 
c 
7 
x 
c 
8 
y 
Fig. 3.8: Deformation modes of bilinear element Q1
This contradiction is especially pronounced in the case of 2d and 3d solid elements. The rea son is that, obviously, the term “bending” is somewhat artificial in this case.
10
Figure 3.8 illustrates the situation for the bilinear fournode element with the help of a de
composition into deformation modes
c , such that
i
u
v
= c
= c
1
2
+
+
c
c
3
4
⋅
⋅
x
x
+
+
c
c
5
6
⋅
⋅
y
y
+
+
c
7
c
8
⋅ xy , ⋅ xy .
. The cru
Here, the eight parameters
cial modes with respect to shear locking are modes 7 and 8. All other modes represent con stant shear or normal strain modes or rigid body motions, respectively (the rotation is ob
tained as a linear combination of the two shear modes
c − c ). From the strain vectors in the
c
i
are functions of the nodal displacements
4
5
u
K
and
v
K
lowermost line it can be seen how normal and shear strains are coupled. The diagram demon strates that it is impossible to find a linear combination of modes that leads to a linear varia
in ydirection without being accompanied by shear strains (mode 7). The same is,
tion of ε
xx
in turn, true for the other direction (mode 8).
From a mathematical point of view, shear locking is not existent. Looking at the correspond ing differential equation, there is no illconditioning or “small parameter”. Actually, the criti cal parameter in the case of shear locking is the aspect ratio of the element (i.e. no property of the underlying mathematical problem itself). This can be understood most easily with the help of an analogy to the Timoshenko beam element. The aspect ratio of a 2d solid element has the same effect on the stiffness matrix as the lengthtothickness ratio in the beam element.
The fact that the underlying differential equation is wellconditioned is a hint that shear lock ing is not as big a problem as transverse shear locking or volumetric locking. It is also obvi ous that in practical applications the critical parameter will not reach dramatically high values if a reasonable mesh is used.
To sum up one can say that in this case both the mathematical point of view and numerical experience suggest that shear locking is a problem “we can live with” (as long as solid ele ments are not applied to thin plates or shells). Finite elements that exhibit shear locking still show an acceptable rate of convergence in most situations. Certainly, if advanced finite ele ment formulations can improve efficiency, this is an effort worth while also here.
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