Granular Matter

, 20:16 | Cite as

A medial axis based method for irregular grain shape representation in DEM simulations

  • Tijan MedeEmail author
  • Guillaume Chambon
  • Pascal Hagenmuller
  • François Nicot
Original Paper


This paper describes a novel method for representing arbitrary grain shapes in discrete element method (DEM) simulations. The method takes advantage of the efficient sphere contact treatment in DEM and approximates the overall grain shape by combining a number of overlapping spheres. The method is based on the medial axis transformation, which defines the set of spheres needed for total grain reconstruction. This number of spheres is then further diminished by selecting only a subset of reconstructing spheres and opting for a grain approximation rather than a full grain reconstruction. The effects of the grain approximating parameters on the key geometrical features of the grains and the overall mechanical response of the granular medium are monitored by an extensive sensitivity analysis. The results of DEM quasi-static oedometric compression on a granular sample of approximated grains exhibit a high level of accuracy even for a small number of spheres.


Irregular grain Overlapping spheres DEM Medial axis Snow 



We would like to thank Mohamed Naaim for fruitful discussions and support. This project is Funded by Labex TEC21 (Investissements d’Avenir, Grant agreement ANR-11-LABX-0030). We thank Henning Lö we and an anonymous reviewer for their constructive comments.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors, T. Mede, G. Chambon, P. Hagenmuller, F. Nicot have no conflict of interest or financial tie to disclose. They agree to allow the corresponding author to serve as the primary correspondent with the editorial office and to review and sign off on the final proofs prior to publication.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University Grenoble Alpes, Irstea, UR ETGRSaint-Martin-d’HèresFrance
  2. 2.Météo France – CNRS, CNRMSaint-Martin-d’HèresFrance

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