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Modeling guidelines for full vehicle contact

Crash analysis involving a full vehicle incorporates contact interactions between all free surfaces. This is quite expensive since 20-30 percent of the total calculation CPU time is used by the contact treatment.

One of the challenging aspects of contact modeling in crash analysis is the handling of interactions between structural metallic parts and non-structural components typically made from foam and plastic. This is especially important when occupants are included in the model. Another challenge is handling contact at corners or edges of geometrically complex parts. Guidelines should be followed to achieve stability in contact as well as reasonable contact behavior. Some of the modeling practices based on experience are discussed below.

Global or local contact

Historically, many individual contact definitions were used for the treatment of contact. The development and implementation of a robust single surface type of contact has changed the way engineers model the contact today. From the standpoints of simplicity in preprocessing, numerical robustness, and computational efficiency, it is now usually advantageous to forsake the use of numerous contact definitions in favor of ONE single-surface-type contact that includes all parts which may interact during the crash event. We often casually refer to this single contact approach as a global contact approach.

This, however, does not mean that one should always avoid local contact definitions. Frequently, there exist certain areas of the vehicle that require special contact considerations where the global contact definition is observed to fail. In such instances the user is encouraged to define local contact interfaces with non-default parameters that would best suit the contact condition.


Though both contact algorithms belong to the single surface contact type, several key parameters distinguish these two contact types. Table 7.1 highlights the important differences.

PENAX 0.4 100
BSORT frequency Every 100 cyles Every 10 cycles
Shell Exterior Edge Treatment No Yes
Beam to Beam Contact No Yes

Table 7.1 Difference between *AUTOMATIC_SINGLE_SURFACE (13) and *AUTOMATIC_GENERAL (26)

Of the two single surface contact types listed in Table 7.1, *AUTOMATIC_GENERAL is computationally more expensive owing to its additional capabilities and its more frequent and thorough contact search.

The *AUTOMATIC_SINGLE_SURFACE contact option is recommended for global contact. To treat special contact conditions where shell edge-to-edge or beam-to-beam contact is anticipated, the additional use of the *AUTOMATIC_GENERAL contact in localized regions is recommended. *AUTOMATIC_GENERAL contact should be used sparingly and only where conditions dictate its use. One advantage of the *AUTOMATIC_SINGLE_SURFACE contact starting with LS-DYNA version 950d is in its more rigorous treatment of interior sharp corners within the finite element mesh and in the handling of triangular contact segments; consequently, the *AUTOMATIC_SINGLE_SURFACE contact is usually superior for parts meshed from triangular and tetrahedron elements. In future version of LS-DYNA, the *AUTOMATIC_GENERAL option will also include these improvements.

Standard penalty-based or soft constraint stiffness method

When several parts of dissimilar mesh sizes and/or dissimilar material properties are included into one global slave set for *AUTOMATIC_SINGLE_SURFACE, the soft constraint stiffness method (SOFT =1) is recommended. The soft constraint method seeks to maximize contact stiffness while also maintaining stable contact behavior. The interacting nodal masses and the global time step are used in formulating the contact stiffness. The segment-based contact method, invoked by setting SOFT=2, calculates contact stiffness much like the soft constraint method but otherwise is quite different. Segment-based contact can often be quite effective where other methods fail at treating contact at sharp corners of parts.

In contrast to a soft constraint approach, the standard penalty-based contact stiffness (SOFT=0) is based on material elastic constants and element dimensions. In foam and plastic materials, the contact stiffness given by the two methods can differ by one or more orders of magnitude. The primary disadvantage of choosing the soft constraint method is its dependence on the global time step. Occasionally, the global time step must be scaled down using the TSSFAC parameter in *CONTROL_TIMESTEP to avoid numerical instabilities in the contact behavior. This results in an increased run time for the entire simulation. As an alternative to reducing the global time step the soft constraint scale factor, SOFSCL, in the *CONTACT definition can be reduced from the default value of 0.1 to 0.04-0.07.

If the standard penalty-based approach in used in a global contact definition, the soft constraint approach can be used locally to handle dissimilar materials in contact. The following are examples where contact behavior may benefit from use of the soft constraint method:

  • Airbag to Steering Wheel
  • Airbag to Occupant
  • Front Tire to SIL
  • Spare tire to neighboring components
  • Foam to structural components

Using a combination of both contact stiffness methods may promote good contact behavior without having to reduce the global time step.

Definition of slave set

There are several ways to define the slave set for the global contact definition. These include: all parts (this is the default), a set of included parts, a set of excluded parts, or a set of segments. The default, which includes all parts, can sometimes result in obvious instabilities at the beginning of a simulation unless great care is taken in setting up the model to avoid such things as initial penetrations and nonphysical intersections of parts. The option to ignore penetrations on the *CONTROL_ CONTACT keyword (set IGNORE equal to 1) is recommended if care is not taken to eliminate initial penetrations. Many models run perfectly with just one interface definition; others, however, will not run until changes are made to the input, usually by excluding parts or by modifying the finite element mesh to more accurately reflect the physical model. To reiterate, the following methods can be used for defining the global contact definition:

  • All parts (default)
  • Included parts by *SET_PART
  • Excluded parts by *SET_PART. Non-Excluded parts will be considered for contact
  • Segments by *SET_SEGMENT

In addition to the above slave sets, a three-dimensional box, defined using *DEFINE_BOX, may be used to restrict the contact to the parts or segments that lie within the box at the start of the calculation. This will reduce the extent of the contact definition leading to a reduction in contact-associated cpu time.


When using one global contact that includes several components of the vehicle, a uniform friction coefficient (possibly zero) may be acceptable for initial analyses. However, the use of *PART_CONTACT keyword to specify friction coefficients on a part-by-part basis is recommended when friction is expected to play a significant role. Friction coefficients specified in *PART_CONTACT will override friction coefficients specifed elsewhere if and only if FS in *CONTACT is set to -1.0. Please note that the dynamic friction coefficient FD will have no effect unless a nonzero decay coefficient DC is provided.


Thickness To reduce the number of initial penetrations, the contact thickness can changed from the default element thickness by using the global SST and MST parameters in *CONTACT. The OPTT parameter in *PART_CONTACT can be used to override SST and MST on a part-by-part basis. The user is cautioned against setting the contact thickness to an extremely small value as this practice will often cause contact failure. In fact, for treating contact of very thin shells, e.g., less than 1 mm, it may be necessary to increase the contact thickness to prevent contact failure.

If a contact surface is comprised of tapered shell elements, then a uniform contact thickness should always be specified. The contact assumes that the segment thickness is constant, which can result in thickness discontinuities between adjacent segments. As a node moves between segments of differing thickness, the interface force will either suddenly drop or increase as a result of the discontinuous change in the penetration distance. This can result in negative contact interface energies.

sb 2001