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International Journal of Refrigeration 26 (2003) 360367

Estimation of shape factor for transient conduction

G.C.J. Bart*, K. Hanjalic
Section Thermal and Fluids Sciences, Applied Physics Department, Delft University of Technology,
PO Box 5046, 2600 GA Delft, The Netherlands
Received 26 July 2001; received in revised form 8 July 2002; accepted 21 August 2002

A procedure is presented for obtaining a shape factor for transient heat conduction in arbitrary objects for which no
analytical solution exists. Such a shape factor is the dominant parameter in the prediction of heat transfer processes.
The procedure has been applied and compares favourably with other existing methods. Some data is given for transformation between the dierent parameters that are in use to describe shape or geometry, including those for an
equivalent one-dimensional object.
# 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd and IIR. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Heat transfer; Convection; Geometric factor

Estimation dun facteur de forme dans les phenome`nes

transitoires de conduction
Mots cles : Transfert de chaleur ; Convection ; Geometrie

1. Introduction
For prediction of cooling, heating, freezing or thawing processes shape factors are often used. Many dierent definitions of shape factors do exist in literature. An
extensive overview can be found in the reference work
of Cleland [1] and a practical example in the ASHRAE
handbook [2].
The shape factor for a particular object can be defined
as the ratio of process time for a slab and that object. In
such a case, the shape factor not only depends on the
geometry of the object, but also on other thermal properties and the boundary conditions. The shape factor
can then be dierent for cases with and without change
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +31-15-278-6061; fax: +3115-278-1204.
E-mail address: (G.C.J. Bart).

of phase and can even depend on the definition for size

of the object.
Another possible definition, used by Martin [3], Fikiin
and Fildin [4] and Fikiin [5], is based on X S/V, with S
the surface area, V the volume and X the shortest distance from the centre of the object to the surface.
In this paper, we follow the well-known procedure
where the shape factor is proportional to the characteristic time constant of the slowest eigenfunction of the
cooling or heating problem with temperature independent thermal properties and boundary condition of the
first kind. Size was universally defined by the volume to
surface area ratio V/S. In such a way the shape factor
becomes a purely geometric parameter. The shape factor
is used for classification or ranking of the shapes of different objects. No attempt will now be made here, as has
been done before [6], to predict the course of the heat
transfer process itself.

0140-7007/03/$30.00 # 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd and IIR. All rights reserved.
PII: S0140-7007(02)00079-8

G.C.J. Bart, K. Hanjalic / International Journal of Refrigeration 26 (2003) 360367

(hT i)

aspect ratio, dimensionless

Biot number, dimensionless
equivalent heat transfer dimensionality,
spatial variable in temperature, dimensionless
shape factor, dimensionless
Fourier number, dimensionless
length (m)
Nusselt number, dimensionless
heat flux (W m!2)
radius of curvature (m)
radius (m)
surface (m2)
time (s)
temperature (K)
mean temperature (K)
surrounding temperature (K)
volume (m3)
coordinate (m)
coordinate, dimensionless
length (m)
Bessel function, dimensionless

Greek symbols
heat transfer coecient (W m!2 K!1)
zero of Bessel function, dimensionless
geometric factor, dimensionless
thermal conductivity (Wm!1 K!1)
parameter for geometry, dimensionless
coordinate, dimensionless
temperature, dimensionless
time, dimensionless


When the analytical solution for transient heat transfer with boundary condition of the first kind is known,
the shape factors can easily be rated. In this way, values
for rectangular parallelepipeds and finite cylinders are
readily available. It has been shown for such common
objects [6,7], that the thermal response, i.e. mean
enthalpy as a function of dimensionless time, is quite
similar for objects having the same shape factor and the
same characteristic size.


Once the shape factor of an object is known its thermal response can be obtained by using the thermal
response of another object with the same shape factor
and known thermal response. For instance, the thermal
response of an ellipsoid can be replaced by the thermal
response of an equivalent rectangular parallelepiped. In
addition, procedures exist [8,9] for a direct and simple
estimation of the thermal response of an arbitrary object
by using the shape factor or the closely related internal
Nusselt number as a parameter. However, the accuracy
of these methods has not yet been fully assessed.
In this paper we present a geometrical interpretation
of the shape factor and derive a method to assess shape
factors of convex objects for which an analytical solution does not exist. The results are compared with other
methods for arbitrary shapes, available in the literature
Finally, a procedure is outlined to formulate a onedimensional finite dierences object with arbitrary
shape factor. As indicated by Fikiin [5], such an object
can save considerable computing time in comparison
with the corresponding multidimensional solution.

2. Thermal response and definition of shape factor

If the volume to surface area ratio, V/S, is used as
length parameter in dimensionless numbers the short
time thermal response for an arbitrary object with initial
temperature T1 and boundary temperature T0 is given
hTi ! T1
h! i 2
T0 ! T1
Thermal response here is mean temperature hTi or
mean dimensionless temperature h!i as function of
dimensionless time Fo. This answer is found from the
solution in the semi-infinite one-dimensional space that
is presented in many standard text books on heat conduction. It is also called penetration theory solution and
is shape independent here because V/S is used as length
For long times the temperature decay is exponential
and can be written as:
1 ! h!i / exp !fshape "2 Fo=4
A few characteristic thermal responses, obtained by
the complete analytical solutions given in the textbooks,
are given in Fig. 1. In accordance with Eq. (1) the four
cases coincide for Fo!0. Between the short time and
long time solution the thermal response behaves
smoothly. It turns out that the thermal response is well
fixed, when the size, V/S, and the shape factor, fshape,
are known for an arbitrary object. This holds both for a

G.C.J. Bart, K. Hanjalic / International Journal of Refrigeration 26 (2003) 360367


q #i hTi ! T0

The use of X, radius of cylinder or sphere or half of a

plate thickness, as length parameter obscures the fact
that the internal Nusselt number can be interpreted as a
simple physical quantity for shape. For this reason, it
seems to be advantageous to use V/S as length parameter in Nui;1 .
This has been done in the long-time Nusselt number
for Bi!1, as defined and used by Yilmaz [10]:

6#i V 3"2


However, the so-called equivalent heat transfer

dimensionality for Bi!1 used by Lin et al. [12]
$ %2
E1 fshape

Fig. 1. Thermal response for constant temperature boundary

condition of slab (a), infinite cylinder (b), sphere (c) and
cube (d) with the volume to surface-area ratio V/S as a length
parameter in the dimensionless time Fo.

constant temperature boundary condition and a constant

external heat transfer coecient boundary condition.
It is clear that a shape factor, based solely on X S/V,
will not be adequate in all cases. For both sphere and
cube X S/V=3, but, as can be seen in Fig. 1, the two
objects have dierent thermal responses.
With the choice for shape factor and size made here,
there is no need for an extra shape factor for small Biot
numbers. For Bi!0, transient heat transfer is described
by the so-called lumped analysis that can be found in
many textbooks on engineering heat transfer. The only
geometrical parameter in this lumped analysis is the
volume to surface area ratio, V/S.
2.1. Relation of fshape to other parameters
The shape factor, fshape, as defined by Eq. (2), is simply related to the internal long-time Nusselt number
Nu1,1 based on length parameter X as defined in Section Ec of the VDI-Warmeatlas [3]:

#i X " 2

where #i is the internal heat transfer coecient of the

object that relates, for constant boundary temperature
T0, the heat flux at the boundary q and mean driving
temperature interval:

can be considered as a mixed physical quantity depending on two dierent definitions for shape.
A better standardization in definitions and nomenclature will be beneficial for international cooperation
between researchers in this field.
In an earlier publication [6] the shape factor fshape has
been formulated and determined, see Table 1, for different objects with readily available analytical solution,
e.g. slab, rectangular parallelepiped, finite full cylinder,
sphere and hemisphere. Additional information for
more elaborate cases as, for example, finite hollow
cylinders is also available [7].
2.2. Interpretation of shape factor
Once the shape factor has been found for many differently shaped objects, e.g. the data given in Table 1, an
attempt can be made to understand which parameters of
the geometry determine the shape factor. First, it can be
noticed that sphere and cube, with heat fluxes directed
to a single point, have a lower shape factor than infinite
cylinder or infinite square rod, where heat fluxes are
directed to a line. The highest shape factor is found for
the infinite slab, with heat fluxes directed to a flat plane.
It can be concluded that the dimensionality of the heat
transfer process is an important parameter.
Further, cube (fshape=0.3333) and infinite square rod
=0.5) have
lower shape factor than sphere
fshape 0:4444
(fshape=0.5859). So, apparently also the smoothness of
the outer surface plays a role. Both eects, dimensionality and smoothness, can be taken together in a single
statement or interpretation. The more, after initial
penetration, heat fluxes entering from the outer surface
have to concentrate or to converge the lower the shape
factor becomes.

G.C.J. Bart, K. Hanjalic / International Journal of Refrigeration 26 (2003) 360367

Table 1
Characteristic size V/S and shape factor fshape for dierent




L12 L12


Rectangular parallelepiped:
dimensions: 2 Lx, 2 Ly, 2 Lz


Infinite slab: dimension: 2 Lz


Infinite cylinder: dimension: R



Sphere: dimension: R





Inf. square rod: dimension: 2 Lz Lz =2


Cube: dimension: 2 Lz



Finite cylinder: dimensions: R,

2 Lz


Half sphere: dimension: R

2 R/9




"2 R 2
Lz R



centration or convergence of heat fluxes. The remaining

problem is to find a suitable combination of values for (
and rc that gives an optimal correlation between Spen =S
and the shape factor. Therefore dierent: combinations
of values for ( and rc have been tested with help of the
shape factor known from analytical solutions given in
Table 1.
Finally we found that (=0.15 V/S and rc=0.14 V/S
are a suitable combination correlating well the surface
area ratio Spen/S with the shape factor. This correlation
is presented in Fig. 3 for a wide variety of rectangular
parallelepipeds, finite cylinders, sphere, hemisphere,
infinite cylinder and slab.
The following second order polynomial least squares
fit makes it possible to calculate the shape factor from a
surface area ratio:
% !
fshape 6:9948
1 1:773333
! 0:827480 ! 1
The accuracy of such a calculation can be estimated
from Fig. 3 as follows:
!fshape < 0:01 for fshape & 0:9

3. Estimation of shape factor

The interpretation of shape factor can be used to
develop a procedure for evaluating the shape factor for
those cases where an analytical solution is not available.
This means that a measure for the degree of convergence of the heat fluxes has to be found.
This has been done, see Fig. 2, by constructing an
artificial surface area within the object. This artificial
surface area can be seen as a representation of an isothermal surface during the heat transfer process. The
internal surface is at distance ( from the boundaries of
the original object, but sharp corners are rounded o
with a radius of curvature rc. In this way the area Spen of
the internal surface is aected both by the dimensionality and the smoothness of the original object. The
ratio Spen/S now can be seen as a measure for the con-

Fig. 2. Rectangular parallelepiped with inner isothermal surface with pentration depth ( and radius of curvature rc.

!fshape & 0:02 for fshape & 0:6

!fshape & 0:05 for fshape & 0:4

In future research another combination of ( and rc or

a dierent procedure for assessing Spen may come up
and produce better correlation between fshape and Spen/
S, especially when shape factors smaller than 1/3 are considered. The distinct outlier in Fig. 3 that originates from
the case of the hemisphere, is an indication for this. The
reason for choosing a rather small value for ( comes from

Fig. 3. Relationship between the surface area ratio, Spen/S, and

shape factor, fshape.


G.C.J. Bart, K. Hanjalic / International Journal of Refrigeration 26 (2003) 360367

the fact that, in the real heat transfer process, initially rc

grows together with (. However, at the end of the
process, (!X, and consequently both rc!0 and Spen/
S!0. Then Spen/S no longer bears information on
shape. With small ( we stay at the save side.
The method is not very sensitive towards errors,
because Spen is found only from S by a purely mathematical procedure. Modern laser scanning techniques
[13] can produce the coordinates of the surface S for
arbitrarily shaped objects. Spen can then be found by
mimicry of the heat diusion process, e.g. a perpendicular penetration of the object followed by a smoothing
procedure of the surface thus obtained.

"Lz 2Lz2

2R 3R 2
"Lz 2Lz2


Spen 2Lz ! (Lz ! ( "R=2 R 2

2Lz Lz "R=2 R 2


The test objects have the advantage that the three

classical shapes, infinite plate, infinite cylinder and
sphere, can be approximated with proper choice of
length parameters.
4.3. Comparison with two other methods

4. Estimation methods compared

The estimation method for shape factor fshape as
described in this paper is not the only one available.
Comparisons are here presented with results obtained
by Lin et al. [12] and Yilmaz [10]. For that purpose we
have chosen an object for which no data is available in
literature. It has the shape, see Fig. 4, of dierent kind
of food products, e.g. sausages, Frankfurter, Hamburger, Gouda cheese.
4.1. Description of rounded o cylinder
For the limit Lz =R ! 0 the rounded o cylinder has
spherical shape with radius R and for Lz =R ! 1 the
rounded o cylinder should get infinite cylinder properties.
S 2

2 3Lz =R
R Lz

The results for the shape factors for rounded o

cylinder and rounded o disk can be combined into a
single graph if these results are presented as a function
of the aspect ratio A, being defined as the ratio of the
overall height over the overall width. Then for the
rounded o cylinder with A51 the shape factor will
gradually vary from fshape=0.4444 for the spherical
shape with A=1 till fshape=0.5859 when the shape
approaches infinite cylindrical shape for A!1. For the
rounded o disk with A41, values for shape factor are
expected between fshape=0.4444 for the spherical shape
and fshape=1 when shape approaches the infinite slab
for A!0. This behaviour is confirmed in the curves
presented in Fig. 5. The solid line represents results
obtained by the method described in this paper. Results
of Lins [12] equivalent ellipsoid model with the conservation of area-volume approach ^ and with the
dimensional measurement approach + together with
results of Yilmazs [10] model & are also shown in
Fig. 5. All proposed models behave well for the classic
shapes of infinite plate A!0, infinite cylinder A!1

4.2. Descrcption of rounded o disk

For the limit Lz =R ! 1 the rounded o disk
approaches the properties of the infinite plate and for
Lz =R ! 1 the rounded o disk gets spherical shape.

Fig. 4. Rounded o cylinder (Frankfurter shape) and rounded

o disk (Gouda-cheese shape) in a cylindrical coordinate

Fig. 5. Shape factor fshape of rounded o disk and rounded o

cylinder as a function of the aspect ratio, A, (overall height to
overall width). The solid line represents results obtained by the
method proposed. It is compared with shape factors obtained
by the models of Lin (+, ^) and Yilmaz (&).

G.C.J. Bart, K. Hanjalic / International Journal of Refrigeration 26 (2003) 360367

Fig. 6. Shape factor fshape of finite cylinder as a function of

aspect ratio, A, (overall height over overall width). The solid
line represents exact results from the analytical expression. It is
compared with shape factors obtained by the model of Lin (+,
^) and Yilmaz (&) and the proposed method (').

and sphere A=1. Both models of Lin show some nonsmooth behaviour for aspect ratios between 0.1 and 1
and produce somewhat conflicting results for aspect
ratios about 1. The model of Yilmaz behaves strange
about aspect ratio 1 and shows severe deviations from
the other models for aspect ratios about 0.1. An additional independent reference is therefore needed, for a
reliable judgement of the accuracy of dierent methods.
Hence, we carried out the same procedure for the case
of a finite cylinder, for which an exact analytical
expression for the shape factor is available, see Table 1.
The results were collected in Fig. 6. The estimation
method developed in this paper always produces values
of the shape factor that are within 0.01 from the values
found with the exact analytical expression. All other
models show larger deviations. Especially the minimum
and the behaviour about the minimum are better predicted by the estimation method described in this paper.
The dierences between the exact analytical solution
and the models of Lin and Yilmaz can be seen in Fig. 6,
while the dierences between our model and the models
of Lin and Yiimaz could be estimated from Fig. 5.
These data suggest that in general the model we developed gives quite reliable results. The model seems to
behave smoothly and no big dierences with exact
solutions have been found until now.

5. Equivalent one-dimensional object

5.1. Geometry
The surface area ratio is constant for an infinite slab,
a linear function of radial position for an infinite cylinder and a quadratic function of radial position for a
sphere. This can be generalized, see also Fig. 7, by the
following equation for the surface area ratio.


Fig. 7. Representation of Eq. (13) for the parameter v=1, 1.5,

2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 3.5 and 4.0. Each line ends at the horizontal axis as

xS v!1


Here the function is normalized in such a way that

v $



%v!1 $ %


For )=1, 2 and 3, a constant, a linear and a quadratic

area distribution for plate, cylinder and sphere respectively are found from this equation. For arbitrary values
of % we formulated an object for which the unsteady
heat transfer process can be described with a onedimensional diusion equation.
5.2. Dierential equation
With x0 =x S/V and '=at S2/V2 the transient heat
conduction in a one-dimensional object with area distribution according to Eq. (13) can be described by the
dierential equation
@T @2 T
x0 !1 v ! 1 @T
02 ! 1 !
@' @x
v @x0


If & v ! x0 is chosen as a new" variable

and by
separation of variables T F&exp !$2i ' the following ordinary dierential equation of the SturmLiouville type is found for the spatial variable part
&2 F 00 v ! 1&F 0 $2i &2 F 0


The general solution of this dierential equation is

given by
F &1!v=2 Z v=2!1 $i &


G.C.J. Bart, K. Hanjalic / International Journal of Refrigeration 26 (2003) 360367


Fig. 8. Shape factor, fshape, of the one-dimensional object

described by Eqn. 13 as a function of parameter v, calculated
from analytical (solid line) and numerical solutions (& means
5, + means 20 and ^ means 80 control volumes).

Fig. 9. Comparison for the case of rectangular parallelepipeds

of parameter v found via $1 "+1=X S/V as proposed by
Fikiin and Fikiin [4].

where Z is a Bessel function of the first or second kind.

As expected, the well-known equations and solutions
for plate, cylinder and sphere are obtained for v=1, 2
and 3 respectively. For the given boundary condition
@& =0 for &=0 only Bessel functions of the first kind
are allowed. From the second boundary condition, F=0
for & v, the relation between ) and $i can be found.
Easily available computer algebra software e.g. MAPLE
can do this. Having the smallest eigenvalue $i the shape
factor becomes:

The results in Fig. 9 indicated with ^ have been

obtained for dierent combinations of the two aspect
ratios. Comparing these results with Fig. 8 shows that
" 6 v ! 1. It is however expected that objects having the
same value for " will show a similar thermal response,
but apparently this is not the case. In this example "
solely depends on the parameter X S/V and that seems
to be inappropriate. However, as mentioned by Fikiin
[14], better expressions for " could be derived.
The important progress made here, is that the shape
factor fshape now is linked to the parameter ) and to the
one-dimensional representation S(x, v)/S. For a given
geometry, first the shape factor has to be determined.
Then with the one-to-one relation between shape factor
fshape and parameter v, presented in Fig. 8, the parameter % of the equivalent one-dimensional object can be
obtained. As this equivalent object has the same surface
area S as the original two- or three-dimensional object,
it will show a similar short time behaviour. The smallest
eigenvalue being the same for the two objects takes care
of a similar long time behaviour. Once having a onedimensional finite-dierence representation of an arbitrary object, simulations for time-varying boundary conditions, non-constant thermal properties and change of
phase can also be carried out. Transient thermal conduction can then be described by a simple tridiagonal matrix.
If thermal properties are constant, the thermal response
estimation requires only one iteration for each time step
in an implicit scheme. Further research has to be done to
assess the accuracy of such simulations.





The relationship thus found between the shape factor

fshape and parameter v is shown in Fig. 8.
If we make a finite-dierence model of the onedimensional shape, the lowest elgenvalue of the matrix
equations and also the shape factor not only depend on
%, but also on the number of control volumes. This
eect can also be seen from Fig. 8. A number of 20
control volumes seems to be sucient to represent the
lowest eigenvalue well.
A one-dimensional unsteady dierential equation of
the type of Eq. (15) with parameter " instead of % ! 1
has also been described by Fikiin [5], where " is called
geometrical factor. In his paper Fikiin pays attention to
the savings in computing time for a finite-dierence
solution of unsteady heat transfer in a one-dimensional
object as compared with two or three-dimensional objects.
In an earlier paper Fikiin and Fikiin [4] present procedures
to calculate the geometrical factor " for various shapes,
giving the possibility to assess the relationship between
shape factor fshape and geometrical factor ".
Results of this exercise for the case of arbitrary parallelepipeds are presented in Fig. 9. The shape of an
parallelepiped can be described by two aspect ratios.

6. Conclusions
( A relatively accurate method was developed for
assessing the shape factor of irregular objects.
( Better intuitive understanding and interpretation of shape factor were acquired.

G.C.J. Bart, K. Hanjalic / International Journal of Refrigeration 26 (2003) 360367

( In Section 2.1 equations were presented to connect dierent existing parameters from literature, which define the geometry of an object.
( An equivalent one-dimensional artificial object
was defined that is described with a parameter %.
A graph was presented that gives the relation
between parameter % and shape factor fshape.
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