Efficient DEM simulations of railway ballast using simple particle shapes

Bettina Suhr*, Klaus Six

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


For complex shaped materials, computational efficiency and accuracy of DEM models are usually opposing requirements. In the literature, DEM models of railway ballast often use very complex and computationally demanding particle shapes in combination with very simple contact laws. In contrast, this study suggests efficient DEM models for railway ballast using simple particle shapes together with a contact law including more physical effects. In previous works of the authors, shape descriptors, calculated in a shape analysis of two types of ballast, were used to construct simple particle shapes (clumps of three spheres). Using such a shape in DEM simulations of compression and direct shear tests, accurate results were achieved only when the contact law included additional physical effects e.g. edge breakage. A parametrisation strategy was developed for this contact law comparing DEM simulations with the measurements. Now, all the constructed simple particle shapes are parametrised allowing to study their suitability and relating their shape descriptors to those of railway ballast. The most suitable particle shapes consist of non-overlapping spheres, thus have a high interlocking potential, and have lowest sphericity and highest convexity values. In a micromechanical analysis of the four best performing shapes, three shapes show similar behaviour on the bulk and the micro-scale, while one shape differs clearly on the micro-scale. This analysis shows, which shapes can be expected to produce similar results in DEM simulations of other tests/load cases. The presented approach is a step towards both efficient and accurate DEM modelling of railway ballast
Original languageEnglish
Article number114
JournalGranular Matter
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022


  • Calibration
  • DEM modelling
  • Railway ballast
  • Simple particle shapes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)
  • Materials Science(all)

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