In the classical finite-element formulation for beams and plates, infinitesimal rotations are used as nodal coordinates. As a result, beams and plates are not considered as isoparametric elements. Rigid body motion of these non-isoparametric elements does not result in zero strains and exact modeling of the rigid body inertia using these elements cannot be obtained. In this chapter, a formulation for the large reference displacement and small deformation analysis of deformable bodies using nonisoparametric finite elements is presented. This formulation, in which infinitesimal rotations are used as nodal coordinates, leads to exact modeling of the rigid body dynamics and results in zero strains under an arbitrary rigid body motion. It is crucial in this formulation that the assumed displacement field of the element can describe an arbitrary rigid body translation. Using this property and an intermediate element coordinate system, a concept similar to the parallel axis theorem used in rigid body dynamics can be applied to obtain an exact modeling of the rigid body inertia for deformable bodies that have complex geometrical shapes.
To develop a finite-element formulation for deformable bodies in multibody systems, the assumed displacement field of the finite element is first discussed and some important concepts that are fundamental in understanding large rotation problems in particular and the dynamics of constrained deformable bodies in general are introduced. In Section 2, the gross rigid body motion of the finite element is described using a set of reference coordinates that describe the gross rigid body translational and rotational displacements of a selected deformable body reference.