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International Journal of Rock Mechanics & Mining Sciences 60 (2013) 125133

Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect

International Journal of
Rock Mechanics & Mining Sciences
journal homepage:

Discrete crack model for simulating rock comminution processes

with the Discrete Element Method
Danilo A. Estay n, Luciano E. Chiang
lica de Chile, 4860 Vicun
a Mackenna Avenue, Santiago, Chile
Department of Mechanical Engineering, Ponticia Universidad Cato

a r t i c l e i n f o


Article history:
Received 21 November 2011
Received in revised form
6 August 2012
Accepted 28 December 2012
Available online 1 February 2013

Comminution processes are not fully understood today and more research is necessary towards the
improvement of existing comminution equipment. Presently, the best suited modeling technique is the
Discrete Element Method (DEM) but in its conventional form it is not suitable for simulating industrial
comminution processes where size reduction is an important issue, if not the main issue, such as in
crushers. Attempts for simulating such mining equipment with DEM have been carried out previously
applying empirical models for rock rupture. The foundations of the Discrete Crack Model (DCM) are
presented here as a new method for efciently modeling rock fracture within a DEM work frame. In
DCM, random cracks seeds are generated inside the rock specimens and the stress eld in the vicinity of
the cracks is calculated by the Convex Polygons Stress Approximation (CPSA), the basis of DCM.
A rupture criterion is then applied to determine if or when the rock splits. Resulting CPSA stress elds
are compared here to those obtained by a more precise but much slower Finite Element Method (FEM)
solution. Next, to validate DCM methodology, three illustrative loading cases are analyzed comparatively. It is shown that the failure mechanism predicted by the DCM methodology agrees to similar
documented cases in the literature. The proposed approach is applicable both in 2D and 3D.
& 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Discrete Element Method
Rock fracture

1. Introduction
Simulation of comminution process is still not well understood
and although much effort has been made in the past, many
aspects of the process still remain poorly understood. Authors
such as Powell and Morrison [1] identify essentially four
approaches to study comminution processes. The rst approach
is Power based models, for example the Bond index [2,3]
provides a good correlation for controlled laboratory work in ball
mills. However, an abuse of Bonds excellent work is often made
by trying to cover most comminution machinery with little
consideration of the limitations of the original work. Improvements have been made to cover todays machines, but as in all
empirical relationships its strength relies on the experimental
database, and accurate extrapolation to different machines, ores,
or production rates is not guaranteed.
The second approach is Population balance-based model,
which is good at predicting size reduction, production rates, and
power drawn. The problem with these kinds of models is that
they do not describe the breakage process, and only keep track of
the output. It is also difcult to obtain some ore-specic parameters needed for simulation.

The third approach is Energy based model, used to model

vertical and horizontal impact crushers where impacts can be
assumed to be independent. Simulation results are in good
agreement with real data, but cannot predict output for more
complex machines such as the Barmac impact crusher.
Finally, the fourth kind of approach are the Computationally
intensive techniques such as the Discrete Element Method
(DEM), which is good for modeling kinematics of granular
material. In comminution machinery, kinematics is not enough
to describe the process, fracture modeling must be included. New
models for this purpose are available but some difculties exist
when applied, such as excessive computation time requirements
in physic based models, or extensive experimental data in
phenomenological models.
Powell and Morrison [1] highlight that the future of comminution modeling must be focused in the process and not just the
output. A good mathematical model should be able to describe
every stage of the comminution process, this is why the bestsuited model is DEM, but an appropriate rupture model needs to
be developed for accurate and fast simulations.

2. DEM fracture models


Corresponding author. Tel.: 56 2 686 4229; fax: 56 2 686 4630.

E-mail addresses:,, (D.A. Estay).
1365-1609/$ - see front matter & 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Two approaches have been used in the past to include the

fracture process in DEM simulations.


D.A. Estay, L.E. Chiang / International Journal of Rock Mechanics & Mining Sciences 60 (2013) 125133

2.1. Glued particles

Traditionally, the approach to include fracture is to consider
that one body is formed by many elements bonded together.
When forces are applied to the body, the bonds must resist a force
to hold the particles in place. If the stress limit is exceeded then
the bond breaks.
The Bonded Particle Model (BPM) developed by Potyondy and
Cundall [4] ts this kind of model. It uses disks in 2D and spheres
in 3D. The bonds can resist axial and shear forces and moments.
It has been used to simulate rock fracture with good results, but
one of the disadvantages of this method is that when fracture
occurs the volume is not dened because of empty spaces
between particles. In comminution machinery, it is really important to estimate accurately the production rate so that no
ambiguities can be allowed. This problem is overcome by the
Discrete Grain Breakage method (DGB) prop. Herbst and Potapov [5]. It uses triangles in 2D and tetrahedrons in 3D so that no
spaces between particles are left.
Although these methods, BPM and DGB, give very good results
as big problem arises when used for simulating comminution
machinery. They require large number of particles to describe one
rock, and considering that a crusher or mill handles many tons
per hour, the time needed for the simulation is huge. Whittles
et al. [6] report simulations of as many as 5 days for a conventional uniaxial compressive test where 12,047 spherical elements
are needed for rock samples simulation, so it is evident that
application of these methods in crushers is difcult with todays
computational power.
Djordjevic et al. [7] and Lee et al. [8] used glued particles
simulations to describe the impact crusher comminution process.
Impact crushers accelerate rocks against the walls, so impacts
occur independently. This fact allows an important simplication
that it is not necessary to simulate all the rocks processed. DEM
technique provides data for single particle impacts then it is
extrapolated according to the crusher production rate, hence
results can be obtained in a reasonable time.
2.2. Population Balance Model based
The Fast Breakage Model (FBM) developed by Potapov et al. [9]
is a hybrid method that uses both DEM and Population Balance
Model (PBM). DEM with polyhedral convex polygons is used to
determine kinematics and PBM for breakage. PBM divides the
problem in three stages, each one associated with a specic
function, selection function, describes which particles will break,
appearance or breakage function, describes the degree in which
the selected particle undergoes breakage and discharge function
which describes the particles that leave the process.
FBM uses DEM to determine the forces and energy applied to
particles, when a certain level is exceeded the appearance
function is used to describe the rock breakage. Lichter et al.
[10] use FBM to simulate a cone crusher. They reported good
results using this method, and that a typical simulation takes
3 weeks.
Powell and Morrison [1] highlight that the appearance function in PBM is always an issue. It is ore specic, and prior
intensive laboratory test work is needed which cannot be done
in an industrial setup.

3. Discrete Crack Model (DCM)

In this section, we explain the foundations of our proposed
approach. Let us consider a rock that contains randomly oriented
cracks. These cracks are generated by loads that have been

applied to the mineral rock through thousands of years while in

place at the original site and those induced by the process used to
extract it, normally by rock blasting. When the rocks are comminuted, compression forces are applied to them. These forces
create internal stresses which activate existing cracks that grow
and therefore rock subsequently undergoes rupture and splits.
The above ideas are the basis of the Discrete Crack Model
(DCM). We consider that rocks contain random crack seeds that
due to the comminution process get activated and eventually
cause the rock rupture. In DCM, crack seeds are placed in
randomly and which one is activated is detected. Enough crack
seeds must be used to assure failure detection.
Modern methods such as the Rock Failure Process Analysis
(RFPA) use the Finite Elements Method (FEM) to determine the
stress eld on the rock. The MohrCoulomb strength criterion
with tensile cutoff is also used to determine if an element fails.
When this happens, the stress distribution changes, and at some
points the stress can increase so that more failures may occur.
When no more failures occur, time is increased and the simulation continues. It is not the intention here to introduce RFPA
method, hence only a small description is given. For a detailed
discussion see [11,12].
A combined FEMDEM method proposed by Munjiza [13], has
been successfully used for simulations. However FEM based
methods cannot be used in large DEM simulations because it is
too CPU intensive. So although with FEM it is possible to
determine how individual rocks will break under certain loads,
it is not practical for large simulations.
A convenient shortcut would be to estimate the rocks stress
eld without using FEM (i.e. analytically), but this is a really
difcult task and some simplications must be made to achieve
acceptable results. Hence in our method, we consider the rock
shape exclusively as convex polygons or polyhedrons; concave
shapes have stress concentrations that are too difcult to solve.
Note that this shape consideration is also required in FBM.
Although rocks are anisotropic in nature here they are
considered as isotropic for simplication. The last consideration used to simplify the model is that cracks exist in an innite
medium and do not change material properties or interact with
each other.
These considerations have important implications. As stated
previously, when RFPA detects a failed element the stress eld is
computed again. Such consideration is not used by our model.
Cracks do not interact so in a dynamic simulation the stress eld
is not affected by activated cracks. This implies that the fracture
path is derived using the stress eld before failure. Zacharopoulos
and Kalaitzidis [14] claim that this is not correct and the authors
agree on this, but nevertheless Ostoja-Starsewski and Wang [15]
present evidence that experiments on seven samples with
nominally identical shape presents different crack patterns.
Hence crack paths cannot be exactly replicated even by carefully
controlled experiments, and numerical simulations with state of
the art algorithms can only determine the major crack path. It is
obvious that DCM cannot be proposed to exactly determine the
complex crack path generated during a rock breakage process, but
it can give enough information for determining failure type, crack
initiation, and propagation direction so approximate rupture
information is obtained to simulate comminution.
Even if it was possible to determine the exact crack path in
rock rupture, the shape of the remaining pieces would be a
complex polygon with large number of vertex, increasing computation time for performing contact detection. The best choice
according to todays computational power is therefore to obtain a
roughly approximated crack path, so rocks can be represented
with a small number of vertex and contact detection can be
performed fast and efciently.

D.A. Estay, L.E. Chiang / International Journal of Rock Mechanics & Mining Sciences 60 (2013) 125133


3.1. Crack activation model

3.2. Stress approximation

In this section, we describe the crack activation criteria used in

DCM. In the following analysis: compressive stress is positive and
s1 4 s2 4 s3 , where si are the three principal stresses. It was
shown by Hoek [16] that only s1 and s3 are responsible for crack
Three situations may occur when a crack propagates.
If s1 r 0and s3 Z 0, a tensile stress on the tip exists and if the
materials tensile stress is overcome, the crack propagates in a
direction perpendicular to the minimum stress, the stress at the
tip will continue in tension and the crack will propagate until the
axial splitting occurs.
When s1 Z 0 and s3 Z 0, the crack propagates perpendicular to
the minimum stress. When the crack is aligned with the mayor
principal stress direction, the stress at the tip will be compressive
and the crack will no longer propagate. The crack growth is in the
order of the crack length so the rock will not break.
In the same case of s1 Z 0 and s3 Z 0 a second possibility
exists. Experimental evidence obtained by Hoek and Bieniawski
[17] show that shear failure occurs when

3.2.1. Stress in disk

Flamant [18] proposed a solution for the stress of a lineal
elastic wedge by modifying the three dimensional solution
proposed by Boussinesq [19]. The stress eld is simple compression in the radial direction:

sxy ZC 0 msy

where sxy is the shear stress, sy is the normal stress, C 0 is the

cohesion, and m is the internal friction angle.
Let us recall that in a standard DEM simulation, four basic
stages are performed. The rst stage is Contact Detection
ParticleParticle contact and ParticleWall contact is determined
at current time step, contact detection is the most time consuming
stage. The second stage is Force Calculation particles in touch
have reaction forces in the contact point, the force magnitude is
determined according to overlap. The third stage is Time Integration where the Newtons Law is used to calculate acceleration,
and time integration is carried in order to determine velocity
and position in the next time step. The nal stage is Position
Update the model is updated with new positions and the cycle
starts again.
When DCM is incorporated for rock rupture consideration,
three new additional stages are included. The rst step in DCM
cycle is the Stress Calculation, CPSA method is used to
determine the stress eld according to the contact forces.
The next stage is the Breakage Determination, here the
stress eld is evaluated according to a breakage criterion.
Two conditions are evaluated: tensile failure and shear failure.
The third and nal stage is Rock Fragmentation where
subdivision is performed according to which mechanism is
The newly added stages from DCM allows to simulate rock
breakage when performing a DEM simulation. The advantages of
DCM are that opposite to phenomenological methods like FBM,
breakage is based on physical laws by approximating the stress
eld. Also the rocks are considered as a single element so
simulations with DCM are faster than using Glued Particle
method (previously explained in Section 2.1).
The advantage of using CPSA over FEM is that there is no need
for mesh calculation or solving a large set of system equations, so
calculation time is much faster. CPSA is similar to an analytical
solution in that once the boundary stress is computed the stress
inside the rock can be computed at one point or in as many as
wanted without the need to solve a grid.
Nevertheless CPSA has some disadvantages with respect to
FEM. It may generate a larger error than FEM, and it is not
possible to directly nd the maximum stresses since the stress
eld is constructed by computing the stress at several selected


2C 1 cos y 2C 3 sin y


sry 0, syy 0,

where C1 and C3 are constants calculated from the boundary

conditions according to
Z b
C 1 cos y C 3 sin ycos ydy 0


C 1 cos y C 3 sin ysin ydy 0

where F1 and F2 are the applied forces, and a and b are the wedge
angles shown in Fig. 1.
This analytical solution is used to determine the stress eld in
a disk as in the case of the conventional Brazilian test for example.
As depicted in Fig. 2, it can be shown that a solution can be
obtained by applying the Flamant solution for each force. This will
create a compressive stress state at the perimeter of the disk,
adding a constant radial traction force at circumference of the
disk, the perimeter becomes stress free and it looks as below:
si,j x,y
si,ji x,ysTi,j x,y

Fig. 1. Angles and forces for Flamant linear elastic wedge solution.

Fig. 2. Composition of the analytic solution for stress distribution in a disk by a

Flamant solution.


D.A. Estay, L.E. Chiang / International Journal of Rock Mechanics & Mining Sciences 60 (2013) 125133

where si,j x,y is the stress in the disk, sFi,ji x,y is the stress
predicted by Flamant solution, and sTi,j x,y is the stress generated
by the traction force at the perimeter
Timoshenko and Goodier [20] analized more complicated load
conguration. The solution has a similar form, which is to apply
the Flamant solution for each force and apply a radial tension
3.2.2. Convex Polygons Stress Approximation (CPSA)
When we change from a disk to a more complex shape like
polygons the same principle can be applied, for each force we use
the Flamant solution. This will generate a compressive stress at
the boundary, the only difference is that the applied force at the
perimeter to eliminate the compressive stress is not constant and
because of this the stress distribution sTi,j x,y generated inside
the rock is not easily found:

sxx nx sxy ny sxz nz tx

sxy nx syy ny syz nz ty
sxz nx syz ny szz nz tz

In order to determine sTi,j x,y, the stress generated by Flamant

solution at the perimeter must satisfy the natural boundary
conditions formulated in Eq. (5). This is done with Eq. (6).
If sTi,j x,y can be solved, then the stress inside the rock is directly
determined by Eq. (4). Considering that the shape of the rock can
change and that the forces can be at any point in the perimeter
then it is really difcult to develop an analytic expression for
sTi,j x,y. The problem could be solved numerically by FEM or an
equivalent method, but then it becomes more convenient to solve
directly the original problem without resorting to additional
computations. By using FEM at this stage the only advantage
would be that a coarse mesh can be used.

n 0
sFi sG d!
In our work, a much simpler but effective approach is used.
When a point force acts on a surface a large stress gradient exist,
specially near the force application point. When distributed forces
are applied, such gradients are not as high and a soft function
solution exists, this is the reason why a coarse mesh may be used
to solve it by FEM. It is known that the force that generates
sTi,j x,y is distributed with known values at the perimeter, then
the function is soft and a simple interpolation is used.
In the interpolation process, rst nT points are selected,
distributed at the boundary, then the Flamant solution is applied
at these points to calculate the stress. Once the stress is calculated, the natural boundary conditions are used to determine
sG xi ,yi according to Eq. (6). Finally the stress at any point inside
the rock can be approximated by Eqs. (4) and (7):

sTi,j x,y


wi x,ysG x,y


where sTi,j x,y is the stress caused by the tension solution on the
perimeter, wi x,y is the weight function, and sG xi ,yi is the stress
in the ith point of the perimeter.
It is not necessary to use all the nT points in the perimeter, a
subset with the n closest points can be used with good results.
The weighting function used depends on the distance from the
crack seed point to the boundary point and it is represented by

Qn q
xj x2 yj y2
wi x,y
xj x2 yj y2
where x,y is the crack seed coordinates, and xj ,yj is the point at
the perimeter.

It is important to note that CPSA does not need a mesh. Once

sG xi ,yi is calculated, the stress determination is straightforward

and computation time is proportional to the number of crack
seeds. Conversely, if FEM is used, a large percentage of computation time is used for solving the system equations and all node
stresses are computed every time.
3.2.3. Convex Polyhedron Stress Approximation
As mentioned previously in Section 3.2.1, Flamant solution
predicts a stress eld with compression in the radial direction and
null components in polar direction as shown in Eq. (2). As the
stress is exclusively radial, the solution can be applied to wedges.
The 3D solution found by Boussinesq [19] for a concentrated
normal load and by Cerruti [21] for a tangential load is not as
general, it is applicable only for half spaces. As shown in Eq. (9),
the BoussinesqCerruti solution in spherical coordinates has nonzero azimuthal and polar components. Analytical solution for
concentrated load on wedges or corners has not been found.

A 2n
F z 12n22ncosf
1 cosf
12n cotfcosf
12n cos2 f
1cosf F z
1 cosf
2pr2 1 cosf
12n cotf1cosf
12n cosfsin2 f
2 cosf F z
1 cosf
2pr2 1 cosf
12n cotf1cosf
12n cosfsinf
1 cosf
2pr2 1 cosf
12n cotf1cosf
1 cosf
12n 1cosf
2pr2 1 cosf


where A F x cos y F y sin y, B F x sin y F y cos y, and (F x ,F y ,F z ) is

the concentrated point force, and n is the Poisson ratio.
Without an analytical solution for concentrated forces acting
on corners, it is not possible to extend CPSA to 3D. To overcome
this problems two approaches can be employed. It can be noted
that when Poisson ratio n 0.5, azimuthal and polar components
are zero. Stress becomes radial and BoussinesqCerruti solution
can be applied to wedges and corners.
The second approach is to consider Poisson ratio not equal to
0.5. In this case the stress at the faces conforming the wedge or
corner does not satisfy the natural boundary conditions. This can
be xed by using the same interpolation principle used in 2D
CPSA described in Section 3.2.2.
Both approaches can be used with acceptable results. The
algorithm is exactly the same as in 2D CPSA, the only difference is
that in 2D Flamant solution is used and in 3D BoussinesqCerruti
solution is used.
3.3. Stress calculation performance
Convex Polygon Stress Approximation (CPSA) is a new method
we propose to approximate the stress eld inside a convex
polygon for comminution process simulation. It is based on the
Flamant solution for linear elastic wedges and an important
assumption is made, which is that stress caused by a distributed
traction force on the perimeter can be approximated by simple
interpolation. It is important to validate the CPSA results to check
its validity. Hence in this section CPSA stress results are compared
with stress results obtained by Salome-Meca [22,23], a FEMbased program.
In the FEM models of Fig. 3, displacements are prescribed to
simulate the forces shown. Then stresses at the nodes and the
reaction force from imposed displacements points are calculated.
The computed forces are then used as input to the CPSA model,

D.A. Estay, L.E. Chiang / International Journal of Rock Mechanics & Mining Sciences 60 (2013) 125133

and stress is calculated at the FEMs mesh nodes. For comparison,

the relative error is calculated as in Eq. (10). Three loading cases
are examined: (a) point to point; (b) point to plane and (c) plane
to plane loading.

9sFEM sDCM 9



3.3.1. Case 1: point to point load

Here a point load is applied at the top and bottom corners of a
diamond shaped rock as shown in Fig. 3a, the stress is computed
by CPSA method and results are shown in Fig. 4a.
The solution shows that the stress is higher at the loaded corners
and smaller at the right and left side. For direct comparison, Fig. 4b
shows that the relative error is small at the center and over 100% at
the sides, this large error causes no problem for DCM simulation
because as shown later all activated crack seeds fall in the low error
zone, not in the high error zone.


3.3.2. Case 2: plane to point load

Here a triangle shaped rock is loaded at the top corner and at
the base as shown in Fig. 3b. When this model is solved by FEM,
the distributed force at the bottom is simulated as multiple point
forces applied at the nodes. The same principle is applied in CPSA,
so both models have exactly the same input forces. The stresses
are calculated by the CPSA method and results obtained are
shown in Fig. 5a.
As expected, stress is higher at the top corner, and lower at the
bottom side where the applied force is distributed. As in Case 1 a
low stress area is located at both sides. In this area the relative
error is large as shown in Fig. 5b. This large error causes no
problem for DCM simulation because as shown later all activated
crack seeds will occur in the low error zone.
3.3.3. Case 3: plane to plane load
A rectangular shaped rock is loaded at the top and bottom
faces as shown in Fig. 3c. In FEM models distributed loads are
discretized and applied at nodes, the same practice is applied
here. So the input for both models is the same. Stresses are
computed by CPSA method and the results are shown in Fig. 6a.
The stress eld in this case is smooth mainly because of the
absence of point forces, or stress concentration points. No areas
with small stress relative to the maximum exist, so it can be
expected that the error with respect to FEM results is small as
shown in Fig. 6b.

4. Discrete Crack Model examples

Fig. 3. Loading cases examined: (a) point to point loading; (b) point to plane
loading; and (c) plane to plane loading.

Cracks propagate according to the surrounding stress eld and

each activated crack generates changes in the neighborhood of
the stress eld. The CPSA method only allows us to approximate
the stress eld when no crack exists, so in this section we

Fig. 4. Stress eld for a diamond shaped rock: (a) Von Misses stress, solved by the CPSA method in point to point loading case; and (b) relative error between FEM and
CPSA solutions for point to point loading case.

Fig. 5. Stress eld for a triangle shaped rock: (a) Von Misses stress, solved by the CPSA method in point to plane loading case; and (b) relative error between FEM and CPSA
solutions for point to plane loading case.


D.A. Estay, L.E. Chiang / International Journal of Rock Mechanics & Mining Sciences 60 (2013) 125133

Fig. 6. Stress eld for a square shaped rock: (a) Von Misses stress, solved by the CPSA method in plane to plane loading case; and (b) relative error between FEM and CPSA
solutions for plane to plane loading case.

Fig. 7. Activated cracks seeds in fracture process for the three analized loading cases: (a) point to point loading; (b) point to plane loading; and (c) plane to plane loading,
green cracks seeds are activated by shear and red by tensile failure, red arrow represents the propagation direction of tensile cracks. (For interpretation of the references to
color in this gure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)

demonstrate that although we cannot determine the exact path of

the crack, enough information for characterizing the rupture
process is obtained. This is based mainly on the fact that activated
cracks affect the stress eld only on the vicinity and hence the
simplication of no interaction between cracks can be used. This
implies that we only need to know the stress eld before fracture
occurs to apply DCM.
The rock specimen will split when one of two predened
conditions is reached, that is to say when s1 r sTensile and s3 Z0,
a tensile stress on the tip exists and the crack propagates in a
direction perpendicular to the minimum stress, breaking the rock
into two pieces. When both principal stresses are compressive
shear failure occurs when Eq. (1) is satised.
CPSA allows to evaluate the stress at any point in a way similar
to an analytic solution, but still the maximum compressive or
tensile stress cannot be directly determined. Hence enough crack
seeds must be considered in order to detect correctly which crack
is activated. In the following examples for illustrative purposes
1000 random cracks seeds are generated inside each rock. The
stress eld is calculated by the CPSA method. At each crack, as
load increases, the rupture criterion is applied to evaluate
potential failure along the crack seeds.
Three loading cases are examined. Results are shown in Fig. 7
where crack seeds that satisfy predened conditions are painted
in red if tensile failure is reached and in green for the shear
condition. When rock reaches breakage condition, the direction of
crack propagation is shown with a red arrow for tensile failure
and green for shear failure.
4.1. Case 1: point to point load
Fig. 7a shows how cracks activate when breakage condition is
achieved. As load is increased the stress eld is calculated using
CPSA method. When the load is small stress concentrations at the
loading points create high stress points. Cracks located near the
force application point have shear failure. When load increases

more shear failure points occurs near the loading points, and
nally tensile cracks appear at the center of the rock. The red line
indicates the direction in which the crack should propagate, so in
this case clearly the rock will be divided in two main parts. This
behavior is similar to the Brazilian test where a disk is loaded
with opposite point forces. Khanal et al. [24] studied breakage in
the Brazilian test and reported that failure is by axial splitting.
It is also possible to say that the area near the loading point is
damaged due to contact and the multiple cracks activated by
shear are proof of this.
It is important to compare Fig. 7a with Fig. 4b. We can clearly
see that all activated crack fall in a zone with a low stress error
between FEM and CPSA, so the approximation for the stress eld
using CPSA is really helpful given the simulation time reduction
4.2. Case 2: point to plane loading
Fig. 7b shows activated cracks in plane-to-plane loading at the
nal stage of loading. When load is small, shear failure occurs at
the point force application point. The cracks grow quickly as the
load increases. When breakage condition is achieved tensile
cracks appear, and given the crack propagation direction it can
be concluded that the cracks will propagate in an inclined
direction towards the loading point. Similar to point to point
loading (Case 1), it can be concluded that contact damage will
occur at the top.
As in point to point loading, we can identify the zone of
activated cracks. From Fig. 5b it is important to note that all
activated cracks are found in a zone with low error between CPSA
and FEM.
4.3. Case 3: plane to plane load
Fig. 7c shows activated cracks in plane-to-plane loading. Since
no point forces exist, no stress concentration points or shear

D.A. Estay, L.E. Chiang / International Journal of Rock Mechanics & Mining Sciences 60 (2013) 125133


Fig. 8. Fracture pattern for the three different loading cases examined: (a) point to point loading, the rock is subdivided in two major parts by tensile failure, shear
activated cracks at the contact points are proof of contact damage; (b) point to plane loading, shear fractures are generated at the contact point and tensile cracks are
generated towards the loading point; and (c) plane to plane loading, a shear crack propagates at the center of the rock, only a few cracks seeds present shear failure at the
contact surface so no damage is assumed.

Fig. 9. DCM simulation of a disk Brazilian Test: (a) loading principle of Brazilian test in a cylindrical shaped rock; (bd) Von Mises stress before and after breakage;
and (e) rock fragments at the nal time step.

Table 1
DCM simulation parameters for Brazilian test


Time step [ms]

Loading rate [mm/s]
Compressive strength [Mpa]
Tensile strength [Mpa]
Friction angle [deg]
Cohesion [Mpa]
Youngs modulus [Gpa]
Specimen radius [mm]

2.5  10  3

failure appear in the perimeter as in the previous cases. At an

early stage of loading there are no activated cracks. When load
keeps increasing shear failure points begin to appear but not
enough to assume damage in the contact area.
At the nal stage of loading tensile failure appears. In the same
gure there is also evidence of shear cracks in the center of the
specimen. This is consistent with the behavior in the Uniaxial
Compressive Test (UCT) where two fracture modes can be
recognized, as reported by Li et al. [25]. Their laboratory tests
show that an specimen in UCT develops shear and tensile cracks.
They also found that no matter what the nal failure method,
axial splitting is always present. When comparing Fig. 7c
with Fig. 6b all activated crack are in a zone of low relative
error between FEM and CPSA, as found also in the previous
loading cases.
4.4. Fracture pattern
Using activated crack seeds allows to identify the fracture
mechanism and a general description of the rock fracture. Fig. 8

shows how rocks undergo breakage. Fracture modes agree with

similar documented experiments. Fig. 8a represents Case 1: point
to point loading. Tensile crack seeds located at the center indicate
a tensile failure, the crack split the rock in two main parts. The
area near the force application points shows high stress and shear
failures. This is evidence for contact damage. Fig. 8b represents
Case 2: point to plane loading. It can be seen that two groups of
tensile activated cracks seeds appear, the cracks directions are
inclined towards the point force. As in point to point loading, a
high stress area is generated near the loading point and again this
is evidence for contact damage. Fig. 8c represents Case 3: plane to
plane loading. Shear activated crack seeds at the center show that
the specimen undergoes shear failure. An inclined crack splits the
rock, where the angle of the crack depends on material properties.
As only distributed forces act there are no high stress zone and no
contact damage occurs, results that are in agreement with Wang
et al. [26] experiments reported in the literature.

5. DCM simulation performance

The Brazilian test is a standard laboratory experiment to
indirectly determine the tensile strength of brittle materials.
Specications has been established by the American Society for
Testing and Materials (ASTM D 3967-86) and by the International
Society for Rock Mechanics (ISRM).
The Brazilian test consists of loading a cylindrical rock sample
of radius R and thickness L as shown in Fig. 9a. Previous attempts
for a computer simulation with DEM has been carried with
remarkable results, but the computation time requirements are
A simulation of Brazilian test using DCM is presented in Fig. 9.
The simulation parameters used can be found in Table 1. It is


D.A. Estay, L.E. Chiang / International Journal of Rock Mechanics & Mining Sciences 60 (2013) 125133

and will be discussed in more detail in future publications.

However, for the purpose of illustration, shown in Fig. 10 is the
convergence behavior for the Brazilian test simulation. It can be
seen in this example that convergence is reached when using in
the order or more than 600 crack seeds.
Fig. 11 shows the loaddisplacement curve. According to ASTM
the splitting tensile strength is calculated with Eq. (11). For this
simulation the calculated tensile strength using the peak force in
the loaddisplacement curve is 13.62 MPa which is 4.8% greater
than the input tensile strength. This difference is reasonable given
that DCM is an approximated method to obtain the stress eld.
After breakage the elements cannot resist the compressive force
and the load falls to nearly zero.


Fig. 10. Convergence behavior of tensile strength when the number of crack seeds
changes in a Brazilian test simulation.




where st is the splitting tensile strength, P is the maximum

applied load, L is the thickness of the specimen, and D is the
diameter of the specimen.
Thus, DCM is able to determine the main crack path and the
secondary damage at the contact points. It can also predict when
the breakage occurs. Computation time for this simulation is
5 min and 32 s. This compared to computation times of previously
published reports is the outstanding improvement generated
by DCM.
Munjiza et al. [28] used the combined nitediscrete elements
method (FEM/DEM) to study the behavior of rocks in the Brazilian
test. Munjiza points out that the simulation loading rate he used
(0.1 m/s) is much higher than that in actual laboratory experiments (0.01 mm/s), because in combination with the small time
step used (2.5  10  5 ms) would require several weeks of computation. For comparison purposes a DCM simulation carried with
the same time step takes 308 min. This amazing time reduction
characteristic is possible because rocks are treated as a single

6. Conclusions

Fig. 11. Loaddisplacement curve for a Disk Brazilian test simulation. Note that
loading platen was not in contact with the disk at start.

important to highlight that the time step required for numerical

stability depends of the rigidity and mass of the elements. As new
and smaller elements are generated during a DCM simulation the
program automatically calculates the required parameters for
stability after each breakage. In this simulation a xed time step
is used in order to be able to compare elapsed computation time.
The time step chosen is small enough so no instabilities occur
after breakage.
Fig. 9b shows that no crack growth exists. When breakage
condition is achieved the specimen is instantaneously subdivided
as shown in Fig. 9d. Fig. 9e shows the remaining pieces of the
rock. The major crack is vertical due to axial splitting. The smaller
fragments are generated due to damage from the contact points,
this behavior is described by Jaeger et al. [27] and states that
when forces are distributed the likelihood of shear failure at
contact points is decreased.
We must point out that crack seed density is an important
operational parameter in DCM. A compromise exists between
accuracy and speed. If not enough crack seeds are placed, there is
a higher probability that DCM will fail to detect the true failure
point. On the other side, too many cracks will increase computation time. The effect of crack density is part of ongoing research

Discrete Crack Model (DCM) is proposed in this work to

efciently model rock fracture within DEM simulations, and it
has been shown that enough information to predict rock rupture
is obtained when used, making it an appropriate tool for modeling
comminution processes.
The most signicant contribution of the DCM method is that it
is based in an efcient analytical solution (CPSA) found on
physical rules by approximating the stress eld inside an intact
convex shaped rock. It has been shown, by comparison with FEM,
that CPSA gives a really good approximation at the points of
interest, this meaning that all relevant high stress points are
computed with low error. CPSA may give larger errors in zones of
low stress, but this fact is not important since cracks do not get
activated in these zones, so rock rupture simulation delity is not
affected by this characteristic.
Previous work by Tang et al. [29] introducing the Rock Failure
Process Analysis (RFPA) method, which is used here to assess
DCM validity, and similar results were obtained. For the analyzed
cases it is possible to conclude that when opposed point forces
(Case 1) are applied to the rock the rupture mechanism is axial
splitting. As force increases, cracks near the loading points
activate by shear. At the nal stages of loading, tensile cracks
activate at the center of the rock. This mechanism is consistent
with the axial splitting mechanism, and cracks predicted near the
loading point indicate crushing due to stress concentration.
In the plane to point (Case 2) loading case, at the early
loading stages, shear activated cracks appear near the point force

D.A. Estay, L.E. Chiang / International Journal of Rock Mechanics & Mining Sciences 60 (2013) 125133

application location. These cracks indicate crushing in this zone.

At the nal stages of loading, tensile cracks appear at the center of
the rock specimens and the cracks propagation direction indicate
that they have an inclination towards the loading point.
In the plane to plane loading case (Case 3) only a few cracks are
activated near the loading point, and it is assumed that they are not
enough to establish crushing occurring in this zone. When the load
increases, shear and tensile cracks appears at the center of the rock. If
tensile failure is assumed, cracks should be vertical, and if shear
failure is assumed then an inclined crack must split the rock. As
stated before, the shear condition is necessary but not enough to
initiate shear movement, so both fracture modes can occur.
When shear cracks appear near the loading zone, crushing can
be assumed, and when they are in the middle of the specimen
they are an indication of shear failure. Tensile cracks must always
be associated with splitting.
For our purpose, which is to model comminution processes,
predicting the exact crack path is not important. We must bear in
mind that real cracks follow such a complicated path that even if we
could exactly determine its resultant geometry, it would be extremely
complicated to do so, and conventional contact detection algorithms
would be too CPU intensive to be of any practical value. Exact crack
path computation is not cost-effective in large scale simulations with
todays CPU power for the purpose of comminution simulations.
As postulated by Zacharopoulos and Kalaitzidis [14], real crack
paths cannot be determined alone from the stress elds known prior
to failure, and experiments also demonstrate that even with nominally equal specimens, cracks will have different paths. Hence DCM is
not intended for determining the exact complex crack path generated
during the rock breakage process, but instead it gives enough
information for determining failure type, crack initiation, and propagation direction, so approximate rupture characteristics can be
obtained to simulate comminution within DEM.
It is possible to extend DCM to 3D and good results have been
achieved. Our current work is focused on integrating DCM in to a 3D
DEM software, and results are in the preliminary stages of publishing.

Appendix A. Supplementary Information

Supplementary data associated with this article can be found in
the online version at

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