Acoustic Boundary Element Solver.

















Dr Dan J. O’Boy






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This manual is provided for reference and may not be copied and / or altered without the permission of the author. References to the manual should be made whenever material is used.


The manual provides guidance and information in order to use the Sonitus BE program and may be altered without notice being provided. No responsibility is assumed or given for any damage, commitments, liabilities or inaccuracies incurred as a result of the information provided.


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Revision 1


Copyright ©2008


Dr Dan J O’Boy

4 The Green






United Kingdom




VI.            Mathematical foundation of the boundary element method


A typical boundary element code has several advantages over traditional finite differencing calculation methods. As with finite element codes, a geometry is described and a mesh generated, however, only the bounded surfaces require meshing, which allows not just a speed advantage, but also the possibility to investigate domains which are relatively large in comparison to the geometry being examined.


Broadly speaking, boundary conditions are applied to the surface under investigation, and solutions found for the amplitude of potentials applied to the surface which yield those boundary conditions. Once these amplitudes are known, they may be used to obtain the displacement, velocity or other parameter inside the domain.


The aim of this section is to provide an illustration of the boundary element method, through the work of Brebbia and Walker. [C. A. Brebbia, “The Boundary Element Method for Engineers”. Pentech Press, 1980. C. A. Brebbia and S. Walker, “Boundary Element Techniques in Engineering, Newnes-Butterworths, 1980].



Figure 5 Definition of a domain for acoustic calculations.



A domain is defined by the symbol  and a surface which is closed inside it . This surface is separated into two sections, joined together to create a closed surface, with the first section denoted  and the second  as shown in Figure 5. On each surface are located surface potentials of unknown amplitude which give rise to certain physical conditions on the surface.


On the first, , for the acoustic calculation is a term  while in on the surface  we define the property of interest to be the normal derivative, the flux . It is possible to write the physical boundary conditions of pressure or velocity in terms of the amplitudes of the fundamental solutions.


By converting physical conditions such as pressure or velocity into just the amplitudes of the fundamental solutions, the problem can be decomposed into a generic solution to a matrix.


The exact solutions for the physical properties are denoted by the functions  and  on the sections of the surface respectively. This allows an error on the surfaces to be defined as,






The aim of the boundary element method is to determine the amplitude of a distribution of potentials so as to minimise the error. This error is distributed over the surface according to a weighting function , which may be a fundamental solution to the governing equation in the domain. 


The distribution of the error in the domain is written,



For the Helmholtz problem, the governing equation is , where the wavelength is denoted . Substitution of the error residuals and weightings (fundamental solutions) provides the starting weighting residual statement.


where  describes the fundamental solution to the Helmholtz equation,  (also termed the Green’s function).


The first term may be integrated by parts,


It is noted that we have specified that the boundary conditions on the two parts of the surface must exactly meet the exact solution. Therefore, this simplifies the equation to,


The integration over the domain of the fundamental solution yields only a delta term, located at the point of interest “i”.


This final equation relates the value of  at the location of point “i” with the values of  and  over the domain  and it applies when the point is inside the interior domain  . The advantage of boundary integrals appears when we only consider points on the surface of the geometry, therefore the point needs to be moved to this boundary. Due to the singularity which occurs at this point, we analytically represent this through a constant . For a point inside the boundary, , for a point on the boundary it is 0.5 and outside the boundary it is zero.


This is the governing boundary element equation for use with a fundamental Helmholtz solution. Such solutions for the fundamental equation are shown in Table 5.


The boundary element equation is a continuous integral, however the numerical implementation is a discrete equation with truncation errors through the continuous domain being represented by a series of linear joins, as shown in Figure 6. The requirements for this discretisation, the type of elements which can be created and the number of elements for a given acoustic frequency are discussed later in this manual.





Figure 6 Discretisation of the surface bounding the solution domain. The surface is created by joining nodes together with linear segments. When completed over a three dimensional domain, the linear segments create surface areas (elements).



Principle of the indirect boundary element method


The formulation of the indirect boundary element method starts with the boundary integral equation  applied to an interior domain .The indirect method starts with a solution which satisfies the governing equation in the domain but has unknown coefficients at a number of points. At this point, we also introduce to the formulation a monopole source located inside the domain which will allow the non-trivial solution to be obtained (without this, the only sound field that exists is silence). The amplitude of this source is  with a location inside .



As shown in Figure 6, the surface can either be integrated as a continuous surface (we will use the continuous form for the present section) or discretised by nodes joined with linear elements.


In order to enforce the boundary condition on the surface, it becomes necessary to also consider a domain exterior to the surface  where no sources exist and the properties  are governed by the equation  (as the surface is pointing in the opposite direction, the sign is reversed).


As part of the derivation, we assume that the solution generated for the exterior field is identical to that generated for the interior field on the surface. Therefore we are able to write,


On the surface, it is possible to write that  as exact terms. Rearranging the above equation, these terms cancel with each other.

If we examine the form of this equation, we can define  as the unknown density of the fundamental solutions or amplitudes of the fundamental solutions across the surface of the domain, necessary to generate  The constants can be taken inside this variable and summarised as,


An alternative formulation is clearly gained by writing the sum of the derivatives of u, the fluxes as equal to zero. If  then the boundary integral equation becomes


Writing the dipole term  relates the value of  in the domain to the amplitude of a series of dipoles distributed over the whole surface.


The former method has greater advantages as lower orders of derivatives of the fundamental solution are utilised. If we choose this former method, then we can write  and the derivative, the flux, as,


This applies for any point on the inside of the domain, however, in order to find the value of a point on the boundary, the location  needs to be moved to the surface. A singularity exists, therefore, the integration is carried out analytically, to obtain,




Discretisation of the surface domain


Up until this point, the boundary integral equation has been considered as a continuous integral over the surface in the domain. There are a number of challenges with this method, most notably that few geometries exist in reality where there is simple analytical solution for the boundary integral. It is more likely that the geometry is a component in an automotive, aeronautical, aerospace or industrial environment.


For this reason, the integral has to be completed using a numerical method, which requires that the surface be discretised into a series of nominally evenly spaced nodes (see Figure 1 for a description of the node and Figure 6 to see how the surface is broken up into elements separated by these nodes).


There are  elements from  to , where we may describe two different elements by their indices  and . The value of  on element  is denoted  while the value attached to element  is . We may then begin to write the discretised formulation in matrix notation using a summation over  elements. At this point we do not consider the implications of  in the mathematical derivation. In addition, we temporarily leave the source term  out of the equations, for brevity.


The boundary integrals are provided with their own specific notation for the matrices, such that  and .

Finally, for the boundary integral for the fluxes, we may write that if  then , whereas for , .


Now we introduce the discretisation of the source term. These can be used to include either monopole sources or body forces. These are written as .

Our final discretised indirect boundary integral equation is left as,


In this code, the matrices are hard coded for  elements as .




Figure 7 Boundary integral surface illustrating how each element takes into account the effect of a source of unknown amplitude located at each element. The problem is then posed as “what amplitude of all of the sources yields the correct known boundary condition at this element?” in matrix form.


The effect of each fundamental solution located at the nodes are shown in Figure 7, where it may be seen that the vector is never zero, as two nodes are never co-located.



Integrating a boundary element


The integration of the boundary element is usually the most complex part of the boundary element code, due to the fact that the surface is generally not aligned with the principle axes of the problem (see for example the example in any of the previous figures) but rather with the normals pointing in an arbitrary direction (yet consistent with each other).


In this document, two integral methods are shown as examples, relating to the integration of a quadrilateral and also triangular element respectively. Both element types are calculated in a similar manner.


The components of the matrix   , where the fundamental solution is assumed to be o the form  where the frequency in radians / second is related to the frequency in Hz by  and r is the distance between the source element and the observer element. The element is defined using non-dimensional coordinates and an interpolation routine is used to obtain the values of the fundamental solution across the whole element. A linear integration method is then applied to determine the value of the integration over the area of the element.


Quadrilateral elements


The principle axes are , however the linear element may be sloping in directions which are different to this. Therefore there needs to be an integration along non-dimensional coordinates. This involves a change of variable in the double integral using a Jacobian method.


Text Box: The change of variable in a double integral using a Jacobian can be summarised from Kreyszig as,



We now  look at the element , with four labels denoting nodes k=1, 2, 3 and 4.


Figure 8 Quadrilateral boundary integral surface showing non-dimensional coordinate form of the surface direction.


For each coordinate node on the element, the product  is obtained, where the surface directions are obtained through an interpolation routine (the details are provided in the coding explanation).



Once the product of  is found at each of the corners, the numerical integration can take place. For a linear surface, the following is appropriate.


Figure 9 Quadrilateral linear integration method.



This is Gauss’ integration method for linear elements in two dimensions (non-dimensionalised), See Abramowitz and Stegun P887, P916 for weightings .


So , where . This is the final boundary integral for the linear quadrilateral element.


Triangular elements


The process is similar for triangular elements, first the value of the fundamental solution is obtained between each node  and nodes which make up the three corners of the triangular element , k=1,2,3.


Figure 10 Triangular linear integration method.


The position of a point on the triangular element is,


These are rearranged to obtain any point on the triangular element as a function of non-dimensional coordinates.


Once the values at an arbitrary location on the triangular element are known, the integration over the surface area can be found using a simple Gaussian integration method for triangular elements, where the non-dimensional coordinate varies from 0 to 1.


This is Gauss’ integration method for linear elements in two dimensions (non-dimensionalised), See Abramowitz and Stegun P887, P916 for weightings .


So , where . This is the final boundary integral for the linear triangular element.



Source definition and location


For a non-trivial solution, the domain needs to include at least one source, with defined amplitude Q and location. If the distance between the source and the observer element is given by Rs, then the pressure and velocity may be written in terms of this distance and the fundamental solution.


Data recovery parameters


The data recovery points are incorporated into the input file as a list of points where the user is interested in knowing the acoustic pressure, intensity or velocity. They must be at least one quarter of an acoustic wavelength away from the solid geometry (boundary) in order to avoid singularities occurring in the boundary integral formulation.


The data recovery points can either be designed as single points or through the use of a meshing program, which allows a fuller graphical representation of the end data.


The preferred format for the data recovery mesh is through the use of a Patran Neutral file with extension “.out.1”. Although Patran is a commercial program, many converters exist for moving between one neutral format to another.


As a result, it is relatively easy to obtain the data recovery mesh in this appropriate format, however, it is also possible to directly program typical geometries into the correct surface mesh format through the use of a bespoke program. One such example is provided here, in the subdirectory “DRMGen”.


The Patran file format contains information about the location of the nodes making up the data recovery mesh, and also how they are connected to create a structured orderly design for graphical processing. A file may also include data on material properties and node loading, however these are not of interest for this application.


The scripted mesh generator provides a structured grid of quadrilateral elements with a fixed number in the x and y directions. It models a mesh surrounding an automotive tyre, see Figure 15 for an illustration. The first few lines of the file describe how many nodes are to be defined in the program and a date (and time) of creation.


The nodal data number is defined, followed by it’s position in three dimensional Cartesian coordinates, x,y,z. Following this, a list of the elements are defined. These quadrilateral elements connect four nodes together. As previously described, it is vital that the normal directions of conjoining elements be consistent.


The C++ data recovery mesh program can be compiled using the command “g++  DRMGen_Tyre.cpp –o a.out”.



Once the location of the data recovery nodes are known it remains to determine the physical parameters of interest.  We start with the equation for the known boundary condition relating to the matrix of boundary integrals and their associated amplitudes . At this point we assume that we have a suitable solution for the amplitudes , which will allow all physical parameters to be determined inside the domain.


If the amplitudes of the fundamental solutions are known across the surface, as shown in Figure 11, then the corresponding boundary integrals can be calculated between each data recovery node and each boundary element on the surface. This is written as, .


Figure 11 Boundary integrals from the surface to the data recovery mesh.



In order to obtain the pressure and velocity at each data recovery point, the relationship between the fundamental solution and these physical relations are re-stated.


The pressure may be calculated at each of the data recovery points thus, as the amplitude of the source (usually Q) is given by . In addition to this, the contribution from the source location is also added.

The output variables relating to the sound pressure are denoted for the i’th node: Outputvar[i][0] to Outputvar[i][2].


Outputvar[i][0]            Sound pressure in dB re Pref.


Outputvar[i][1]            Sound pressure magnitude [N/m^2].


Outputvar[i][2]            Sound pressure phase in degrees.


The velocity is given by  where r is the distance from the source element to the observer data recovery node. The velocity is different from the pressure in that the former is a scalar whereas the velocity can be defined in terms of components in the three Cartesian axes.



Outputvar[i][3]            X component of the velocity, magnitude [m/s].


Outputvar[i][5]            Y component of the velocity, magnitude [m/s].


Outputvar[i][7]            Z component of the velocity, magnitude [m/s].


Outputvar[i][9]            Magnitude of the velocity, magnitude [m/s].


Outputvar[i][4]            X component of velocity, phase [degrees].


Outputvar[i][6]            Y component of velocity, phase [degrees].


Outputvar[i][8]            Z component of velocity, phase [degrees].



The acoustic intensity can be determined for each of these coordinate axes through the power dissipation analogy in electrical components. The intensity may be written in terms of the pressure and velocity using  where the overbar denotes the complex conjugate.


Outputvar[i][10]          X component of the intensity.


Outputvar[i][11]          Y component of the intensity.

Outputvar[i][12]          Z component of the intensity.



The solution method for a matrix problem


Two numerical methods are available for the solution of an matrix problem, however, the computer code has been written so that a different solution method may be substituted with no significant alteration required. The two methods are Gaussian Jordan and LU decomposition, both validated through the use of complex value matrices.


The method is based on the classical equation  where the vector of boundary conditions and sound source contributions are given by  (known), the amplitudes of the fundamental solutions  (unknown) and the square matrix of boundary integrals (known).


In the code, these variables are copied into duplicated variables for processing. The solution function is then called, which replaces the square matrix  with  and the vector  with .


Details of solution methods are available in Flowers, “An Introduction to Numerical Methods in C++”, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1995.


The Gauss-Jordan elimination is not the most efficient solver, however, is well known and many varieties of the code exist. It differs from a standard Gauss solver as back substitution to reduce a matrix to a triangular form is avoided. Instead, additional operations reduce the matrix to diagonal formation. It is assumed that the matrix  is non-singular with a well defined inverse.