Deformed Mesh Interfaces: Rotations and Linear Translations

September 7, 2015

When using the finite element method, we often want to model solid objects that are rotating and translating within other domains. The deformed mesh interfaces in COMSOL Multiphysics can be used to model these movements. In this blog post, we will look at the modeling of large linear translations and rotations of domains within other domains, while introducing efficient modeling techniques for addressing such cases.

Linear Translation of an Object Through a Domain

In a previous blog post, we discussed the modeling of objects translating inside of domains that are filled with a fluid, or just a vacuum. This initial approach introduced the use of the deformed mesh interfaces and the concept of quadrilateral (or triangular) deforming domains, where the deformation is defined via bilinear interpolation. Such a technique works well even for large deformations, as long as the regions around the moving object can be appropriately subdivided. This, however, is not always possible.

An image of an object moving along a linear path.
A solid object moving along a linear path inside of a complicated domain.

Consider the case shown above, where an object moves along a straight line path, defined by \mathbf x(t), through a domain with protrusions from the sides. In this situation, it would be quite difficult to implement the original approach. So what else can we do?

Using a Sliding Mesh for Large Linear Translations

The solution involves four steps. They are:

  1. Create several different geometric objects from our two domains
  2. Utilize the Form Assembly functionality to set up so-called identity pairs
  3. Define the linear movement with the previously developed mesh deformation techniques
  4. Use the identity pairs to ensure continuity in the physics that you are solving

We can begin by dividing our original model space into two different geometry objects, as depicted in the figure below. Here, the red domains represent the stationary domains and the blue domains represent the regions in which our object is linearly translating. The subdivision process takes place in the geometry sequence, which is then finalized with the Form Assembly operation.

For a description of this functionality and steps on how to use it, watch this video.

A graphic showing the modeling space divided into different geometry objects.
Subdividing the modeling space into different geometry objects.

The Form Assembly step will allow the finite element meshes in the blue domains to slide relative to the meshes in the red domains. This step will also automatically introduce identity pairs that can be used to maintain continuity of the fields for which we will be solving. Let’s take a look at a representative mesh that may be appropriate in this case.

An image of a representative mesh applied to subdivided domains.
The subdivided domains with a representative mesh.

In the figure above, note that the dark red domains contain meshes that will not move at all. The dark blue domains, meanwhile, have translations completely defined by our known function, \mathbf x(t). The light blue domains are the regions in which the mesh will deform. We can simply use the previously introduced method of bilinear interpolation in these domains. You should also note that a Mapped mesh is used for these two rectangular domains and that the distribution of the elements is adjusted, such that they are reasonably similar in size or smaller than the adjacent nondeforming elements.

A graphic showing one of the deformed mesh interfaces applied to a subdivided domain.
After the object has been linearly translated, the mesh in the light blue domains deforms.

Maintaining Solution Continuity

From the previous images, you can clearly see that the meshes no longer line up between the moving and stationary domains. While COMSOL Multiphysics version 5.0 has introduced greater accuracy in the handling of noncongruent meshes between domains, there are some things that you should be aware of when using this functionality.

As a result of the Form Assembly geometric finalization step, COMSOL Multiphysics will automatically determine the identity pairs — the mating faces at which the mesh can be misaligned. We simply need to tell each physics interface within our model to maintain continuity at these boundaries. This can be accomplished via the Pairs > Continuity boundary condition, which is available within the boundary conditions for all of the physics interfaces.

Once this feature is added and applied to all of the identity pairs, the software will apply additional conditions at these interfaces to ensure that the solution is as smooth as possible over the mesh discontinuity. Each identity pair has a so-called source side and a destination side. The mesh on the destination side should be finer in all configurations of the mesh.

Assembly meshes with noncongruent meshes at the boundaries can be used in combination with most physics interfaces. There are, however, a few important exceptions. Whenever you are solving an electromagnetics problem involving a curl operator on a vector field, such a technique cannot be used. Common physics interfaces that fall into this category include the 3D Electromagnetic Waves interfaces, the 3D Magnetic Fields interfaces, and the 3D Magnetic and Electric Fields interfaces. This still, of course, leaves us with a wide range of physics.

Let’s look at one case of computing the temperature fields around our object, with differing temperatures for the object and the surrounding domain’s outer walls. The contour plots of the temperature fields shown below verify that the solution is quite smooth over the boundary where the mesh is not continuous.

An image showing the temperature fields after using the Continuity boundary condition in COMSOL Multiphysics.
The temperature fields over time are smooth across the Continuity boundary condition applied to the identity pair.

Rotating the Object

At this point, you can probably already see how this same technique can be applied to a rotating object. We simply create a circular domain around our rotating object and use all of the same techniques we have discussed here. Of course, if the object is only rotating, we no longer need the deforming mesh — making things even a bit simpler for us.

The figures below show the same object from before, except now the object is rotating.

A graphic of a rotating object.
An object rotating about a point.

An image of stationary and rotating objects with mesh.
An assembly composed of stationary and rotating objects as well as the mesh.

The expressions for the prescribed deformation of the rotating domain, (X_{r}, Y_{r}), can be expressed in terms of the angular frequency, \omega; the undeformed geometry coordinates, (X_{g}, Y_{g}); the point about which the object is rotating, (X_{0}, Y_{0}); and time, t. This gives us the following expressions:

\left\{ \begin{array}{c} X_r \\ Y_r\end{array} \right\} = \left[ \begin{array}{cc} cos(\omega t) & -sin (\omega t) \\ sin (\omega t) & cos (\omega t) \end{array} \right] \left\{ \begin{array}{c} X_g -X_0 \\ Y_g -Y_0 \end{array} \right\} + \left\{ \begin{array}{c} X_0 \\ Y_0 \end{array} \right\}

where the prescribed deformation in the Deformed Geometry interface is quite simply:

\begin{array}{c} d_x = X_r -X_g\\ d_y = Y_r-Y_g\end{array}

Seems easy, right? In fact, the technique outlined in this section is actually applied automatically in COMSOL Multiphysics when using the Rotating Machinery, Fluid Flow and the Rotating Machinery, Magnetic physics interfaces. This provides you with a behind-the-scenes look at what is going on within these interfaces!

Closing Remarks

We have now introduced methods for modeling the motion of solid objects inside fluid- or vacuum-filled domains. Although we have simply prescribed a displacement in all of these cases, the displacement of our solid objects could be computed and coupled to the field solutions in the surrounding regions. That is, however, a topic for another day.

Interested in learning more about using the deformed mesh interfaces for your modeling? Download the MPH-files from our Application Gallery.


Comments (6)

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Majida Wreikat
Majida Wreikat
March 23, 2016

Hi Walter ,

COMSOL introduced such idea as i remember in ” magnet falling through a tube ” example. However , your illustration for the mesh was wonderful.
I am using the same strategy in my model, where an electrode is moving in x direction through a nozzle in a fluid. all physics works fine with the the ALE sliding mesh , but however i fine the mesh , results came disappointing. the continuity boundary seems to create some barrier and un-smooth distribution appears. i tried to use the weak constraints option but it didn’t work . i attached some pictures in the discussion forum if you could please have a look.

nima amin
nima amin
June 17, 2016

thanks for your interesting article.
here you explain prescribed deformation for rotating, please tell me can we determine prescribed mesh velocity for rotating?in other words can we determine omega for rotating geometry?if not, how can I get these prescibed dx and dy for each seconds?

Antoni Artinov
Antoni Artinov
November 4, 2016


I have a question about the Deformed Mesh Interfaces. I was able to make a 3D model, where I have linear translation of a hot solid object within a domain. The point is that I want to stop the deformation/the movement of the object at a certain time t and continue the simulation with the already deformed mesh. For this I used a piecewise function, which I multiplied with my function defining the translation of the object. So I achieved the linear translation and the rest of the object (in the sense, that it stops and stay at the same point). The second option to do that was with a Boolean expression like if(t<5[s], velocity*time, stay at x=whatever). In both cases I can not get the solution to converge, because I get inverted mesh elements. So that is very unlogical, because through this two options, I actually stoped the movement and I see that all my boundaries don't move, but the mesh in between does. Can you help me out there, will really appreciate it!

Best regards

Yixin Yao
Yixin Yao
February 26, 2020

thanks for your interesting article. What about one model combines translation and rotation? Does COMSOL has a deformed mesh combine these two motion?

Sahrish Naqvi
Sahrish Naqvi
April 3, 2021

Hi Walter Frei, Can I have .mph file of the case “Deformed Mesh Interfaces: Rotations and Linear Translations” specifically rotating objects. I am facing difficulty in one of the problems so close to this one. It will be a good help for me if I can have a case setup of this case you did a few years back.
Sahrish batool Naqi

Md Ibrahim Khalil
Md Ibrahim Khalil
July 8, 2021

Can I have this model which shows the motion of an object in a domain? Otherwise, can I have the link of any existing example of the movement of an through a domain (if any)?