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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: June 2016




Two sources of nonlinearity exist in the analysis of solid continua, namely, material and geometric nonlinearity. The former occurs when, for whatever reason, the stress–strain behavior given by the constitutive relation is nonlinear, whereas the latter is important when changes in geometry, however large or small, have a significant effect on the load deformation behavior. Material nonlinearity can be considered to encompass contact friction, whereas geometric nonlinearity includes deformation-dependent boundary conditions and loading.

Despite the obvious success of the assumption of linearity in engineering analysis, it is equally obvious that many situations demand consideration of nonlinear behavior. For example, ultimate load analysis of structures involves material nonlinearity and perhaps geometric nonlinearity, and any metal-forming analysis such as forging or crash-worthiness must include both aspects of nonlinearity. Structural instability is inherently a geometric nonlinear phenomenon, as is the behavior of tension structures. Indeed the mechanical behavior of the human body itself, say in impact analysis, involves both types of nonlinearity. Nonlinear and linear continuum mechanics deal with the same subjects, including kinematics, stress and equilibrium, and constitutive behavior. But in the linear case an assumption is made that the deformation is sufficiently small to enable the effect of changes in the geometrical configuration of the solid to be ignored, whereas in the nonlinear case the magnitude of the deformation is unrestricted.

Practical stress analysis of solids and structures is unlikely to be served by classical methods, and currently numerical analysis, predominately in the form of the finite element method, is the only route by which the behavior of a complex component subject to complex loading can be successfully simulated. The study of the numerical analysis of nonlinear continua using a computer is called nonlinear computational mechanics, which, when applied specifically to the investigation of solid continua, comprises nonlinear continuum mechanics together with the numerical schemes for solving the resulting governing equations.

The finite element method may be summarized as follows. It is a procedure whereby the continuum behavior described at an infinity of points is approximated in terms of a finite number of points, called nodes, located at specific points in the continuum. These nodes are used to define regions, called finite elements, over which both the geometry and the primary variables in the governing equations are approximated.

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