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Why prefer QUADs over TRIAs?

It is an interesting question which appears so simple; yet there is so much R&D effort of more than a decade and hundreds of research publications behind the development of the present day QUAD element - the workhorse element of FE production runs now routinely carried out. I try to trace the developmental history of this element, though very briefly, with the hope that it would motivate a serious engineer to pursue the subject which is now a textbook material. The triangular elements were popular during initial stages of development of plane stress and Plate Bending (PB) finite elements, especially since one can model any geometry using triangular elements. In fact, it was the most challenging problem of the time to develop a conforming triangular PB element with 9-degrees of freedom using a cubic polynomial, until it was clear that no such direct development was possible, but one needs to deploy at least a quintic (5th degree) polynomial for development of such an element, which lead to the famous Cowpers high-precision triangle element with 18-DoF element in an element. However, successful conforming 9-DOF triangular elements (HCT elements) were developed by sub-domain approach through doctoral works at Berkeley and other schools. The deployment of classical Kirchhoff plate bending theory in the development of thin PB elements demanded the continuity of w-displacement and its two first derivatives (i.e. normal rotations) across the inter-element boundaries for a conforming PB element, which was at the heart of the difficulty in the development of conforming PB triangular element. This problem was circumvented by the development of conforming PB element based on Midlins plate bending theory where the w-displacement and normal rotations are interpolated independently (hence allowing for transverse shear deformation and enabling the modelling thick plates also) and consequently just the continuity of the function (displacement and rotation) across the inter-element boundaries was sufficient for a conforming element development. The emergence of Isoparametric interpolation concept along with Midlins plate bending theory paved the way for the development of conforming quadrilateral plate bending element for both thick and thin plates. However, the problem of Shear locking, where such Mindlin elements when deployed in modelling thin plates did not converge to the thin-plate solution (but converged to a wrong solution), was identified and the remedy of selective and reduced integration approach to overcome the shear- locking problem finally led to the development of present-day quadrilateral PB element. The plate bending elements were deployed in the modelling of thin shell structures in a facet representation (after Clough and Johnson, 1968), and emerged as the robust approach for the modelling of thin shell structures. The developers of General purpose programs elected that the nodal DoF should be displacement and rotations only so as to be related to physical deformation quantities (for ease of application of boundary conditions and results interpretation); thus QUADs with 6-DoF per node emerged as the workhorse element. It is the most widely used element (QUAD is a rule, and TRIA is an exception) and the Technology of element design and development was deployed to evolve the present day QUAD element which gives satisfactory results in most of the practical problems, provided the guidelines suggested in their use are strictly adhered to. In fact the contemporary meshing software has all the options to check whether these elements meet all the required rigorous element geometric specifications (like skew, taper, warping, normal reversals, Jacobean sign reversal etc.), otherwise to revise the mesh to satisfy these requirements to ensure that FE solution obtained is reliable.