3D zero-thickness coupled interface finite element: Formulation and application

Benjamin Cerfontaine, Anne-Catherine Dieudonné, Jean-Pol Radu, Frédéric Collin, Robert Charlier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)
405 Downloads (Pure)


In many fields of geotechnical engineering, the modelling of interfaces requires special numerical tools. This paper presents the formulation of a 3D fully coupled hydro-mechanical finite element of interface. The element belongs to the zero-thickness family and the contact constraint is enforced by the penalty method. Fluid flow is discretised through a three-node scheme, discretising the inner flow by additional nodes. The element is able to reproduce the contact/loss of contact between two solids as well as shearing/sliding of the interface. Fluid flow through and across the interface can be modelled. Opening of a gap within the interface influences the longitudinal transmissivity as well as the storage of water inside the interface. Moreover the computation of an effective pressure within the interface, according to the Terzaghi’s principle creates an additional hydro-mechanical coupling. The uplifting simulation of a suction caisson embedded in a soil layer illustrates the main features of the element. Friction is progressively mobilised along the shaft of the caisson and sliding finally takes place. A gap is created below the top of the caisson and filled with water. It illustrates the storage capacity within the interface and the transversal flow. Longitudinal fluid flow is highlighted between the shaft of the caisson and the soil. The fluid flow depends on the opening of the gap and is related to the cubic law.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-140
Number of pages17
JournalComputers and Geotechnics
Early online date6 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2015


  • Contact mechanics
  • Interfaces
  • Finite elements
  • Offshore engineering
  • Hydro-mechanical couplings


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