Triaxial Driver


When calibrating solid material parameters to experimental data, it can be a hassle to launch a full finite element simulation to mimic experimental loading conditions. Instead, GEOS provides a TriaxialDriver allowing the user to run loading tests on a single material point. This makes it easy to understand the material response and fit it to lab data. The driver itself is launched like any other GEOS simulation, but with a particular XML structure:

./bin/geosx -i myTest.xml

XML Structure

A typical XML file to run the triaxial driver will have the following key elements. We present the whole file first, before digging into the individual blocks.

<?xml version="1.0" ?>




      inputVarNames="{ time }"
      coordinates="{ 0.0, 3.0, 4.0, 7.0, 8.0 }"
      values="{ 0, -0.003, -0.002, -0.005, -0.004 }"/>

      inputVarNames="{ time }"
      coordinates="{ 0.0, 8.0 }"
      values="{ -1.0, -1.0 }"/>

  <!-- Mesh is not used, but GEOSX throws an error without one.  Will resolve soon-->
      elementTypes="{ C3D8 }"
      xCoords="{ 0, 1 }"
      yCoords="{ 0, 1 }"
      zCoords="{ 0, 1 }"
      nx="{ 1 }"
      ny="{ 1 }"
      nz="{ 1 }"
      cellBlockNames="{ cellBlock01 }"/>

      cellBlocks="{ cellBlock01 }"
      materialList="{ dummy }"/>

The first thing to note is that the XML structure is identical to a standard GEOS input deck. In fact, once the constitutive block is calibrated, one could start adding solver and discretization blocks to the same file to create a proper field simulation. This makes it easy to go back and forth between calibration and simulation.

The TriaxialDriver is added as a Task, a particular type of executable event often used for simple actions. It is added as a SoloEvent to the event queue. This leads to a trivial event queue, since all we do is launch the driver and then quit.

Internally, the triaxial driver uses a simple form of time-stepping to advance through the loading steps, allowing for both rate-dependent and rate-independent models to be tested. This timestepping is handled independently from the more complicated time-stepping pattern used by physics Solvers and coordinated by the EventManager. In particular, in the XML file above, the maxTime parameter in the Events block is an event manager control, controlling when/if certain events occur. Once launched, the triaxial driver internally determines its own max time and timestep size using a combination of the strain function’s time coordinates and the requested number of loadsteps. It is therefore helpful to think of the driver as an instantaneous event (from the event manager’s point of view), but one which has a separate, internal clock.

The key parameters for the TriaxialDriver are:








Function controlling axial stress or strain (depending on test mode)




Baseline file




Initial stress (scalar used to set an isotropic stress state)




Log level




Solid material to test




Test mode [stressControl, strainControl, mixedControl]




A name is required for any non-unique nodes




Output file




Function controlling radial stress or strain (depending on test mode)




Number of load steps to take


GEOS uses the engineering sign convention where compressive stresses and strains are negative. This is one of the most frequent issues users make when calibrating material parameters, as stress- and strain-like quantities often need to be negative to make physical sense. You may note in the XML above, for example, that stressFunction and strainFunction have negative values for a compressive test.

Test Modes

The most complicated part of the driver is understanding how the stress and strain functions are applied in different testing modes. The driver mimics laboratory core tests, with loading controlled in the axial and radial directions. These conditions may be either strain-controlled or stress-controlled, with the user providing time-dependent functions to describe the loading. The following table describes the available test modes in detail:


axial loading

radial loading

initial stress


axial strain controlled with axialControl

radial strain controlled with radialControl

isotropic stress using initialStress


axial stress controlled with axialControl

radial stress controlled with radialControl

isotropic stress using initialStress


axial strain controlled with axialControl

radial stress controlled with radialControl

isotropic stress using initialStress

Note that a classical triaxial test can be described using either the stressControl or mixedControl mode. We recommend using the mixedControl mode when possible, because this almost always leads to well-posed loading conditions. In a pure stress controlled test, it is possible for the user to request that the material sustain a load beyond its intrinsic strength envelope, in which case there is no feasible solution and the driver will fail to converge. Imagine, for example, a perfectly plastic material with a yield strength of 10 MPa, but the user attempts to load it to 11 MPa.

A volumetric test can be created by setting the axial and radial control functions to the same time history function. Similarly, an oedometer test can be created by setting the radial strain to zero.

The user should be careful to ensure that the initial stress set via the initialStress value is consistent any applied stresses set through axial or radial loading functions. Otherwise, the material may experience sudden and unexpected deformation at the first timestep because it is not in static equilibrium.

Output Format

The output key is used to identify a file to which the results of the simulation are written. If this key is omitted, or the user specifies output="none", file output will be suppressed. The file is a simple ASCII format with a brief header followed by test data:

# column 1 = time
# column 2 = axial_strain
# column 3 = radial_strain_1
# column 4 = radial_strain_2
# column 5 = axial_stress
# column 6 = radial_stress_1
# column 7 = radial_stress_2
# column 8 = newton_iter
# column 9 = residual_norm
0.0000e+00  0.0000e+00 0.0000e+00 0.0000e+00 -1.0000e+00 -1.0000e+00 -1.0000e+00 0.0000e+00 0.0000e+00
1.6000e-01 -1.6000e-04 4.0000e-05 4.0000e-05 -1.1200e+00 -1.0000e+00 -1.0000e+00 2.0000e+00 0.0000e+00
3.2000e-01 -3.2000e-04 8.0000e-05 8.0000e-05 -1.2400e+00 -1.0000e+00 -1.0000e+00 2.0000e+00 0.0000e+00

This file can be readily plotted using any number of plotting tools. Each row corresponds to one timestep of the driver, starting from initial conditions in the first row.

We note that the file contains two columns for radial strain and two columns for radial stress. For an isotropic material, the stresses and strains along the two radial axes will usually be identical. We choose to output this way, however, to accommodate both anisotropic materials and true-triaxial loading conditions. In these cases, the stresses and strains in the radial directions could potentially differ.

These columns can be added and subtracted to produce other quantities of interest, like mean stress or deviatoric stress. For example, we can plot the output produce stress / strain curves (in this case for a plastic rather than simple elastic material):

stress/strain figure

Fig. 80 Stress/strain behavior for a plastic material.

In this plot, we have reversed the sign convention to be consistent with typical experimental plots. Note also that the strainFunction includes two unloading cycles, allowing us to observe both plastic loading and elastic unloading.

Model Convergence

The last two columns of the output file contain information about the convergence behavior of the material driver. In triaxial mode, the mixed nature of the stress/strain control requires using a Newton solver to converge the solution. This last column reports the number of Newton iterations and final residual norm. Large values here would be indicative of the material model struggling (or failing) to converge. Convergence failures can result from several reasons, including:

  1. Inappropriate material parameter settings

  2. Overly large timesteps

  3. Infeasible loading conditions (i.e. trying to load a material to a physically-unreachable stress point)

  4. Poor model implementation

We generally spend a lot of time vetting the material model implementations (#4). When you first encounter a problem, it is therefore good to explore the other three scenarios first. If you find something unusual in the model implementation or are just really stuck, please submit an issue on our issue tracker so we can help resolve any bugs.

Unit Testing

The development team also uses the Triaxial Driver to perform unit testing on the various material models within GEOS. The optional argument baseline can be used to point to a previous output file that has been validated (e.g. against analytical or experimental benchmarks). If such a file is specified, the driver will perform a loading run and then compare the new results against the baseline. In this way, any regressions in the material models can be quickly identified.

Developers of new models are encouraged to add their own baselines to src/coreComponents/constitutive/unitTests. Adding additional tests is straightforward:

  1. Create a new xml file for your test in src/coreComponents/constitutive/unitTests. There are several examples is this directory already to use as a template. We suggest using the naming convention testTriaxial_myTest.xml, so that all triaxial tests will be grouped together alphabetically. Set the output file to testTriaxial_myTest.txt, and run your test. Validate the results however is appropriate.

  2. This output file will now become your new baseline. Replace the output key with baseline so that the driver can read in your file as a baseline for comparison. Make sure there is no remaining output key, or set output=none, to suppress further file output. While you can certainly write a new output for debugging purposes, during our automated unit tests we prefer to suppress file output. Re-run the triaxial driver to confirm that the comparison test passes.

  3. Modify src/coreComponents/constitutive/unitTests/CMakeLists.txt to enable your new test in the unit test suite. In particular, you will need to add your new XML file to the existing list in the gtest_triaxial_xmls variable:

set( gtest_triaxial_xmls
  1. Run make in your build directory to make sure the CMake syntax is correct

  2. Run ctest -V -R Triax to run the triaxial unit tests. Confirm your test is included and passes properly.

If you run into troubles, do not hesitate to contact the development team for help.