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Finite Element Representations

for Thin Shell Instability Analysis

R. H. Gallagher
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, U.S.A.

The development of finite element calculational procedures for thin shell in-
stability analysis has involved the definition of appropriate element representa-
tions (i.e. the geometric form of the element and the approximation of displace-
ment and/or stress), constitutive expressions, and computational algorithms.
Among these, the status of thin shell finite element representations remains
unsettled. This paper therefore emphasizes recent developments in the basic
aspects of thin shell finite element analysis and discusses one simplified approach
in more detail. Formulative and computational procedures for elastic instability
analysis are then summarized and numerical results are shown for the simplified
shell element formulation.

1. Introduction
In an earlier review [1] the writer outlined the component features
of the finite element approach to thin shell instability analysis and
observed that many serious developmental challenges remained in
even these basic aspects. For example, the reliability in prediction of
thin shell instability can be no better than in calculation of linear
static shell analysis. Recent developments have shed new light on
features of the latter which have heretofore been poorly understood,
and have indicated more promising avenues of approach. One of these
avenues, that of "generalized potential energy" [2], forms the basis
of the triangular shell element described herein, which has been
extended [3, 4] to deal with a variety of elastic instability phenomena.
This paper begins with a discussion of the linear static formulation
and then progress from there to elastic instability analysis. The route
followed represents a projection of the direct stiffness, assumed dis-
placement procedures that have predominated in finite element analy-
sis to date. vVe comment briefly on alternative routes at the close of the

B. Budiansky (ed.), Buckling of Structures

© Springer-Verlag, Berlin/Heidelberg 1976
Finite Element Representations 41

2. Finite Element Representations

Three distinct approaches to assumed-displacement finite element ana-
lysis of thin shell structures can be identified: (1) by means of three-
dimensional (solid) elements with curved boundaries, (2) in "faceted"
form with flat elements, and (3) via elements formulated on the basis
of curved shell theory.
An appeal of solid elements is that they stem directly from three-
dimensional theory of elasticity. The curved boundaries are easily
defined through use of "isoparametric" curvilinear coordinates, which
employ the same form of description for both geometry and displace-
ment. Conditions of the Love-Kirchoff type are imposed, but this is
insufficient to achieve economical solutions; it is necessary either to
introduce certain supplementary displacement modes to describe bend-
ing action [0] or to de-emphasize the representation of shear deforma-
tion by approximation (reduced numerical integration) of the shear
strain energy [6]. There has not been sufficient development of the
non-lincar analysis side of this approach to measure its effectiveness in
thin shell stability analysis.
The use of flat plate elements is appealing in its simplicity. Among
the objections to them, however, are the following: (a) they exclude
coupling of stretching and bending within the element, (b) the re-
striction to triangular shapes when general shells are to be handled,
(c) difficulty of treating junctions where all elements meeting at the
point arc co-planar, (d) "discontinuity" bending moments at element
juncture lines, which do not appear in the continuously curved actual
structure, and, for stability analysis, (e) the influence of the geometric
approximation upon the solution for imperfection-sensitive structures.
We might add the problems of definition of displacement fields which
meet interelcment continuity conditions, but these are even more serious
for curved elements.
Straight finite elements represent the behaviour of curved struc-
tures in the limit and the errors due to (a) can be made small by use
of a refined clement nctwork. Nearly all finite element programs suit-
able for stability analysis will contain triangles so that (b) is not a
serious objection.
In item (c), co-planarity, a null stiffness corresponding to rotation
about the axis norlllal to the plane will be present. One may define
coordinate axes in the plane (which is generally at an angle with the
global axes) and eliminate this rotational degree-of-freedom. This may
be awkward in practical application since many different such planes
may appear in the structure. Conversely, for small angles between the
elements, dependence may be placed on this angle to maintain solu-
42 It. H. Gallagher

tion stability but now the stiffness eqnations approach singularity as

the elements approach co-planarity. Note that related practical limi-
tations appply to most existing curved shell element formulations, which
admit only constant curvatures or restricted coordinate systems in the
global idealization.
The formulation ofthe buckling problem does not involve the bend-
ing moments directly and often the influence of flexure on the distribu-
tion of in-surface forces is small. Thus, one might argue that objection
(d) is not applicablc to the analysis for instability. With respect to
item (e), there is insufficient numerical experience in the related ana-
lysis situation to measure its significance.
In addressing the questions rasied by curved thin shell elements
we assume that the strain-displacement equations of a "consistent"
first-order deep shell theory will be adopted. We also confine attention to
formulations in curvilinear coordinates, taking note of the alternative
of formulations in projectcd rectangular coordinates. The principal
concern is then the selection of displacement fields which meet the
following conditions:
1. Zero strain energy under rigid body motion.
2. Inclusion of constant strain states.
3. Inter-element continuity to the degree required by the variatio-
nal principle employed.
By using trigonometric as well as polynomials for coupled displace-
ment fields it is possible to satisfy the rigid body motion condition.
Such developments often fail to meet the constant strain condition,
however. Ashwell and Sabir [8] satisfy both conditions by first selecting
strain expansions which include the necessary constant terms and then
integrating to produce thc rigid body motion terms. This function fails
to satisfy the interelement continuity condition because of the trig-
onometric tenllS introduced to meet the other two conditions.
The choice of conditions to be met exactly has therefore become a
dilemma confronting those who formulate such elements and numerical
evidence by Fonder and Clough [9] indicates that each alternative is
unsatisfactory in certain cases. A logical alternative is therfore to use
as many terms in a purely polynomial expansion-for which inter-
element continuity and the constant strain condition can generally be
enforced-as are necessary to closely approximate the trigonometric
terms associated with the rigid body motion condition.
To clarify this approach, we first note that the interelement con-
tinuity conditions on flexure demand a polynomial of such high order
in the normal displacement that the approximation of the rigid body
motion condition is usually satisfaetory without additional terms. Under
Finite Element Representations 43

certain conditions of coupling of the displacement components the in-

surface displacement components may be required to be of the same
order as the normal displacement to meet strict inter-element con-
tinuity conditions. \Vhere these are not coupled, however, the in-
surface continuity can be achieved with lower order terms than for
flexure. In consequence, the polynomial terms which are employed
above those required for flat element interelement continuity can be
viewed as contributing principally to the satisfaction of the rigid body
motion condition.
There are two differing views regarding the degree of polynomial
representation of the in plane components in comparison with the degree
employed for normal displacement. In conjunction with the above
argument concerning approximate representation of the rigid body
motion condition, Morley [10] shows that when the in-surface displace-
ments are quadratic polynomials a solution of aceeptable aeeul'acy
may require element planform dimensions that are of the same order
as the thickness. This has been eonfirmed by Morris [11, 12]. Thus, at
least a cubic polynomial should be specified and this is at the same
level as the simple normal displaeement assumption to be described
Cowper, et al [13], however, believe that sinee the in-surfaee dis-
plaeements appear in lower-order derivatives in the energy expression
they should be represented by lower order polynomials. The numerieal
evidenee of their work is not necessarily at varianee with the view
above since they also use a eubic polynomial for in-surface components,
but a quintie polynomial for normal displaeements.
To adapt these considerations to an element of minimal formulative
complexity we examine the element shown in Fig. 1. The shell middle
surface corresponds to the orthogonal curvilinear system ex - fJ. All
three displacement components are described by complete cubic poly-
nomials in triangular coordinates

1l = LN J u, v = LN J v, w = LN J w, (1)

'!l Points of application of constraint conditions

Fig. 1. Triangular shell element.
44 R. H. Gallagher


and similarly for v and w. I N I contains the standard shape functions

of a complete cubic corresponding to these degrees-of-freedom.
Equation (1) does not permit continuity of the angular displace-
ment across element boundaries and leads to very poor results even
for flat plate flexure. To resolve this, Harvey and Kelsey [2] introduce
the notion of a constraint condition to "restore" continuity. That is,
if A and B are neighbouring elements and the subscript n denotes the
normal direction, the relative angular displacement (¢) of adjacent
edges at their midpoint can be set equal to zero
¢t- B = ¢t - ¢!{ = o. (3)
Differentiation of the displacement field [Eq. (1)] gives ¢A and ¢B in
terms of the joint displacements A. Applying this to each boundary
in each displacement component gives the set of algebraic constraint
These are handled in the global analysis by use of Lagrange multipliers.
Details of the element formulation are presented in [3].
It is noteworthy that the constraint condition can be directly
incorporated in the variational principle and represented in the dis-
cretized system as a corrective element boundary stiffness matrix.
Kikuchi and Ando [14] refer to this as the "simplified hybrid displace-
ment method" and have recently [15] applied it to thin shell instability

in. Analytical solution (deep shell theory)

--; . . .i ___ _

L ,/

I '~-t/I/
o cJplete cubic fields+constroints
• Complete quintic fields
" Flat elements I
o 100 200 300 400 500 600
Total number of degrees of freedom
Fig. 2. Linear solution shell roof (E = 3.0 X 106 IbJin2 , jJ = 0, weight = 90 IbJft2).
Finite Element Representations -15

One can proceed from complete cubic to complete quintic displace-

ment fields with improved satisfaction of both rigid body motion and
interelement displacement continuity conditions at the expense of
increased cost of element formulation. One must ask if the cost is
justified by the increased accuracy. Complete quintic fields are em-
ployed for the highly accurate and sophisticated Sheba element [Hi],
but this is not directly comparable with the above due to its use of a
special coordinate system and exact satisfaction of all basic conditions.
Recently, Dawe [17] presented a complete quintic element in curvi-
linear coordinates that is comparable with the above. One comparison
is given for the case of the uniformly-loaded cylindrical shell [18, 19]
in Fig. 2. Although these results suggest that higher sophistication
does not have a corresponding payoff, extensive data on other numeri-
cal analyses in [17] demonstrate that the question is not clearly settled.

3. Element Relationships for Instability Analysis

The potential energy is a convenient starting point for the definition
of element relationships for instability analysis. For simplicity we
exclude initial strains and displacements, which are otherwise readily
accounted for, and make no specification of the strain-displacement
equations except to note that they are of the Lagrangian type.
The total strain s can be written as the sum of components sL that
are linear in the strain-displacement expressions and components s~
that are non-linear functions of the displacements.

The potential energy is

n = (1/2) JsEs d(Vol) - Jif ~bdS,

Vol Sa

where E denotes the set of elastic constants, (Val) is the volume of the
structure, Sa is the portion of the structure on which the tractions T
are prescribed, and ~ b are the surface displacements.
If the displacements are discretized by use of element shape func-
tions, in the manner indicated previously, Eq. (1), we can write

(7, 8)

where DL and D~ (~e) result from the application of the linear and
non-linear operators of the strain displacement equations on the
assumed displacement field, ~ lists the element discrete d.o.f. After
substitution of (7,8) into (5) and the result into (6) we have the element
46 R. H. Gallagher

potential energy
:;r = k ij tii tij/2 + nijk tii tij ti /6 +

nijld tii tij ti k tizl12 - Fi ti i , (9)

in which k ij , nijk, and nijl,;! are second, third and fourth order tensors,
and are fixed values, and F; is the nodal or generalized force corres-
ponding to tii' After summation of element potential energies we have
the global potential energy
:;r = Kij tii I1j/2 + N ijk 11; tij I1k/6 +
+ NijkzI1il1jl1k l1 d12 - P i l1 i · (10)
Pi denotes the external load in degree-of-freedom i.
The equilibrium state is represented by the solution to the equa-
tions resulting from application of the first necessary condition. Thus
differentiation of (10) with respect to l1i gives
Pi = K ij l1j + Nijkl1jl1k/2 + N;jkZl1jl1kl1z13. (11)

In the above we have implied the use of the same displacement

function in all component terms, k ij , nijk, and nijkZ, i.e., a "consistent"
formulation. Economic feasibility of analysis may depend on the use
of simpler displacement fields for nijl.; and nijkZ' Numerical evidence
supports the view that very little accuracy is lost when linear approxi-
mations are made for these terms in the presence of cubic approxima-
tions for k ij and recently Oden, et al. [20] proved theoretically the
validity of this approach for beam elements.
Another factor in economic feasibility concerns the elimination of
certain degrees-of-freedom prior to the start of non-linear analysis.
Such "condensations" are facilitated when nijk and nijkZ are formulated
inconsistently and are also possible, if rather more complicated, in a
consistent formulation. The usual practice is to eliminate angular
degrees-of-freedom; the limits of condensation with respect to solution
accuracy are not well understood, however.

4. Calculation of Iload-nisplacement Paths

The alternative methods of calculation of the load-displacement paths
of finite element representations has recently been reviewed by the wri-
ter [21] for instability problems and by Stricklin and Haisler [22] for
the pre buckling phase. In the following we present the outline only of
the procedures employed in the numerical calculations to be described
subsequently. Four features of the load-displacement path are treated:
(1) general non-linear analysis, (2) limit point calculation, (3) bifurca-
tion, and (4 ) post-buckling.
Finite Element Representations 47

The widely-used combination of the tangent stiffness method with

one-step Newton-Raphson (N-R) iteration has been adopted for the
general non-linear analysis. In matrix form the N-R approach is
toi+l = to! - [K~J-l ji, (12)
where di+l and di are the displacement vectors in successive cycles of
iteration and l is the residual (imbalance of load) calculated from the
equilibrium equation evaluated for d i , i.e.
ji = [[KJ + (1/2) [N1J + (1/3) [N~]] to i - P. (13)
In conventional N-R analysis one iterates on Eq. (12) until d i +1 is
arbitrarily close to d i . We see, however, that when the load path is
followed incrementally [KTJ- 1 is available and one cycle of Eq. (12)
can be applied at small additional cost.
[KTJ is singular at the limit point and poorly conditioned in its
vicinity. It is therefore desirable to shift to a scheme of displacement,
rather than load, incrementation. There are many ways of implementing
this approach, the one adopted here being the superposition procedure
described by Zienkiewicz [23].
The method of calculation of the bifurcation load is based on the
zero-determinant condition. The determinant is evaluated at each load
intensity and the intensity for zero determinant is obtained through
Lagrange interpolation. The mode shape is calculated by solution of
the stiffness equations after one degree-of-freedom has been assigned
a reference value. Details are given in [4]. Few situations involving
multiple or closely-spaced roots have yet been analyzed; it would
appear that algorithms which exploit the Sturm-sequence property
(e.g. [24 and 25] have the desired reliability in such cases.
Perturbation methods have a predominant role in analytical studies
of postbuckling behaviour, and numerous studies have attempted to
adapt these ideas to finite element analysis. This work is summarized
in a report by Mau and the writer [26] and by Thompson and Hunt [27].
These demonstrate that the needed basic properties are given by the
terms nijk and nijkl' The mode of combination entails so much compu-
tational effort, however, that perturbation analysis is less effective than
pursuing the load-displacement path as a non-linear analysis problem,
as described above and done in [4, 15, 28]. A different view of this
situation is that finite element analysis has not exploited effectively
the parametric analysis advantages of perturbation procedures.

5. Numerical Results
Numerical solutions for a number of beam, arch, plate and shell in-
stability solutions, covering all of the phenomena described above, have
48 R. H. Gallagher

been given in [], 3, 4, 26]. In each case the results are compared with
alternative analytical or numerical solutions. The problem shown in
Fig. 3 is chosen for presentation here since it represents the full range

·10] 0 Present study i
kg - Leieesteriseries) and Ohatt ifinit~ element)


! I

Thickness=3.9154 em
Eo 10 000 kg/em 1

Fig. 3. Spherical cap under concentrated load at crown-nonlinear analysis.

of considerations described in prior sections, except for bifurcation and

non-zero twisting curvature. It involves a spherical cap with hinged
rectangular boundaries, subjected to a concentrated load at the crown.
The load-displacement response is of the snap-through type with recovery
of stiffness at higher displacements.
The results are shown for an 18-element (3 X 3 grid) representation
of the quadrant. The non-dimensionalized central deflection is plotted
versus the scaled intensity. An 8-term double series solution, based on
potential energy, by Leicester [29] and a "discrete Kirchoff" finite
element solution by Dhatt [30] are given for comparison. Agreement
among the three alternative solutions is very good, up to where a
stiffening behaviour is experienced.

6. Concluding Remarks
A principal motivating factor in the continuing development of the
finite element method is its suitability as a basis for the "general pur-
pose" program, i.e. a program which can be used for the analysis of
many different structural forms and behaviour mechanisms. The frame-
work of a general finite element computational procedure for elastic
Finite Element Representations 49

instability phenomena is at hand but is too complex to permit imple-

mentation and efficient performance within many, if not all, of the
existing general purpose programs.
As noted in the Introduction, the avenues outlined in this paper
represent a natural projection of the direct stiffness, assumed displace-
ment procedure that have grown up around linear, static finite element
analysis and general purpose programs. It was earlier anticipated that
strict adherence to potential energy concepts would enable "lower
bound" solutions on strain energy to be realized. Due to factors described
earlier, this goal has been difficult to reach in thin shell finite element
analysis. Also, the strain energy is not often a parameter of design
significance. The goal of a bounded solution is significant in bifurcation
analysis, however, since it applies to the intensity of critical load.
Research into admissible approximations and more efficient proce-
dures is therefore of key importance. The suggested alternatives include
mixed variational principles (Reissner, Hu-Washizu, hybrid) and modes
of algebraic formulation (Eulerian, convected coordinate). The formid-
able literature surrounding these attempts is beyond the scope of this
paper. 'Ve observe, however, that these also confront the problem of
integration in general purpose programs.
Comparisons with analytical solutions mainly serve to verify the
basic adequacy of finite element thin shell formulations. These problems
are usually best solved by analytical procedures however. The import-
ance of finite element representations rests with stiffened shells of
complicated geometry under arbitrary load. Careful, appropriate test
data must be obtained to validate the method in these applications.

Work described in this paper was supported by NASA under Grant "NGR 33-010-
070. The author wishes to thank the former students who contributed to this
work, but especially to Dr. Gareth Thomas who was responsible for the develop-
ment of the triangular shell element and computational capabilities described

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