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Matrix-free voxel-based finite element method for materials with heterogeneous microstructures
(2019)

Modern image detection techniques such as micro computer tomography
(μCT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) provide us with high resolution images of the microstructure of materials in a non-invasive and convenient way. They form the basis for the geometrical models of high-resolution analysis, so called image-based analysis.
However especially in 3D, discretizations of these models reach easily the size of 100 Mill. degrees of freedoms and require extensive hardware resources in terms of main memory and computing power to solve the numerical model. Consequently, the focus of this work is to combine and adapt numerical solution methods to reduce the memory demand first and then the computation time and therewith enable an execution of the image-based analysis on modern computer desktops. Hence, the numerical model is a straightforward grid discretization of the voxel-based (pixels with a third dimension) geometry which omits the boundary detection algorithms and allows reduced storage of the finite element data structure and a matrix-free solution algorithm.
This in turn reduce the effort of almost all applied grid-based solution techniques and results in memory efficient and numerically stable algorithms for the microstructural models. Two variants of the matrix-free algorithm are presented. The efficient iterative solution method of conjugate gradients is used with matrix-free applicable preconditioners such as the Jacobi and the especially suited multigrid method. The jagged material boundaries of the voxel-based mesh are smoothed through embedded boundary elements which contain different material information at the integration point and are integrated sub-cell wise though without additional boundary detection. The efficiency of the matrix-free methods can be retained.

The gradual digitization in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry over the past fifty years led to an extremely heterogeneous software environment, which today is embodied by the multitude of different digital tools and proprietary data formats used by the many specialists contributing to the design process in a construction project. Though these projects become increasingly complex, the demands on financial efficiency and the completion within a tight schedule grow at the same time. The digital collaboration of project partners has been identified as one key issue in successfully dealing with these challenges. Yet currently, the numerous software applications and their respective individual views on the design process severely impede that collaboration.
An approach to establish a unified basis for the digital collaboration, regardless of the existing software heterogeneity, is a comprehensive digital building model contributed to by all projects partners. This type of data management known as building information modeling (BIM) has many benefits, yet its adoption is associated with many difficulties and thus, proceeds only slowly. One aspect in the field of conflicting requirements on such a digital model is the cooperation of architects and structural engineers. Traditionally, these two disciplines use different abstractions of reality for their models that in consequence lead to incompatible digital representations thereof.
The onset of isogeometric analysis (IGA) promised to ease the discrepancy in design and analysis model representations. Yet, that initial focus quickly shifted towards using these methods as a more powerful basis for numerical simulations. Furthermore, the isogeometric representation alone is not capable of solving the model abstraction problem. It is thus the intention of this work to contribute to an improved digital collaboration of architects and engineers by exploring an integrated analysis approach on the basis of an unified digital model and solid geometry expressed by splines. In the course of this work, an analysis framework is developed that utilizes such models to automatically conduct numerical simulations commonly required in construction projects. In essence, this allows to retrieve structural analysis results from BIM models in a fast and simple manner, thereby facilitating rapid design iterations and profound design feedback.
The BIM implementation Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) is reviewed with regard to its capabilities of representing the unified model. The current IFC schema strongly supports the use of redundant model data, a major pitfall in digital collaboration. Additionally, it does not allow to describe the geometry by volumetric splines. As the pursued approach builds upon a unique model for both, architectural and structural design, and furthermore requires solid geometry, necessary schema modifications are suggested.
Structural entities are modeled by volumetric NURBS patches, each of which constitutes an individual subdomain that, with regard to the analysis, is incompatible with the remaining full model. The resulting consequences for numerical simulation are elaborated in this work. The individual subdomains have to be weakly coupled, for which the mortar method is used. Different approaches to discretize the interface traction fields are implemented and their respective impact on the analysis results is evaluated. All necessary coupling conditions are automatically derived from the related geometry model.
The weak coupling procedure leads to a linear system of equations in saddle point form, which, owed to the volumetric modeling, is large in size and, the associated coefficient matrix has, due to the use of higher degree basis functions, a high bandwidth. The peculiarities of the system require adapted solution methods that generally cause higher numerical costs than the standard procedures for symmetric, positive-definite systems do. Different methods to solve the specific system are investigated and an efficient parallel algorithm is finally proposed.
When the structural analysis model is derived from the unified model in the BIM data, it does in general initially not meet the requirements on the discretization that are necessary to obtain sufficiently accurate analysis results. The consequently necessary patch refinements must be controlled automatically to allowfor an entirely automatic analysis procedure. For that purpose, an empirical refinement scheme based on the geometrical and possibly mechanical properties of the specific entities is proposed. The level of refinement may be selectively manipulated by the structural engineer in charge. Furthermore, a Zienkiewicz-Zhu type error estimator is adapted for the use with isogeometric analysis results. It is shown that also this estimator can be used to steer an adaptive refinement procedure.

Modern digital material approaches for the visualization and simulation of heterogeneous materials allow to investigate the behavior of complex multiphase materials with their physical nonlinear material response at various scales. However, these computational techniques require extensive hardware resources with respect to computing power and main memory to solve numerically large-scale discretized models in 3D. Due to a very high number of degrees of freedom, which may rapidly be increased to the two-digit million range, the limited hardware ressources are to be utilized in a most efficient way to enable an execution of the numerical algorithms in minimal computation time. Hence, in the field of computational mechanics, various methods and algorithms can lead to an optimized runtime behavior of nonlinear simulation models, where several approaches are proposed and investigated in this thesis.
Today, the numerical simulation of damage effects in heterogeneous materials is performed by the adaption of multiscale methods. A consistent modeling in the three-dimensional space with an appropriate discretization resolution on each scale (based on a hierarchical or concurrent multiscale model), however, still contains computational challenges in respect to the convergence behavior, the scale transition or the solver performance of the weak coupled problems. The computational efficiency and the distribution among available hardware resources (often based on a parallel hardware architecture) can significantly be improved. In the past years, high-performance computing (HPC) and graphics processing unit (GPU) based computation techniques were established for the investigationof scientific objectives. Their application results in the modification of existing and the development of new computational methods for the numerical implementation, which enables to take advantage of massively clustered computer hardware resources. In the field of numerical simulation in material science, e.g. within the investigation of damage effects in multiphase composites, the suitability of such models is often restricted by the number of degrees of freedom (d.o.f.s) in the three-dimensional spatial discretization. This proves to be difficult for the type of implementation method used for the nonlinear simulation procedure and, simultaneously has a great influence on memory demand and computational time.
In this thesis, a hybrid discretization technique has been developed for the three-dimensional discretization of a three-phase material, which is respecting the numerical efficiency of nonlinear (damage) simulations of these materials. The increase of the computational efficiency is enabled by the improved scalability of the numerical algorithms. Consequently, substructuring methods for partitioning the hybrid mesh were implemented, tested and adapted to the HPC computing framework using several hundred CPU (central processing units) nodes for building the finite element assembly. A memory-efficient iterative and parallelized equation solver combined with a special preconditioning technique for solving the underlying equation system was modified and adapted to enable combined CPU and GPU based computations.
Hence, it is recommended by the author to apply the substructuring method for hybrid meshes, which respects different material phases and their mechanical behavior and which enables to split the structure in elastic and inelastic parts. However, the consideration of the nonlinear material behavior, specified for the corresponding phase, is limited to the inelastic domains only, and by that causes a decreased computing time for the nonlinear procedure. Due to the high numerical effort for such simulations, an alternative approach for the nonlinear finite element analysis, based on the sequential linear analysis, was implemented in respect to scalable HPC. The incremental-iterative procedure in finite element analysis (FEA) during the nonlinear step was then replaced by a sequence of linear FE analysis when damage in critical regions occured, known in literature as saw-tooth approach. As a result, qualitative (smeared) crack initiation in 3D multiphase specimens has efficiently been simulated.

The nonlinear behavior of concrete can be attributed to the propagation of microcracks within the heterogeneous internal material structure. In this thesis, a mesoscale model is developed which allows for the explicit simulation of these microcracks. Consequently, the actual physical phenomena causing the complex nonlinear macroscopic behavior of concrete can be represented using rather simple material formulations. On the mesoscale, the numerical model explicitly resolves the components of the internal material structure. For concrete, a three-phase model consisting of aggregates, mortar matrix and interfacial transition zone is proposed. Based on prescribed grading curves, an efficient algorithm for the generation of three-dimensional aggregate distributions using ellipsoids is presented. In the numerical model, tensile failure of the mortar matrix is described using a continuum damage approach. In order to reduce spurious mesh sensitivities, introduced by the softening behavior of the matrix material, nonlocal integral-type material formulations are applied. The propagation of cracks at the interface between aggregates and mortar matrix is represented in a discrete way using a cohesive crack approach. The iterative solution procedure is stabilized using a new path following constraint within the framework of load-displacement-constraint methods which allows for an efficient representation of snap-back phenomena. In several examples, the influence of the randomly generated heterogeneous material structure on the stochastic scatter of the results is analyzed. Furthermore, the ability of mesoscale models to represent size effects is investigated. Mesoscale simulations require the discretization of the internal material structure. Compared to simulations on the macroscale, the numerical effort and the memory demand increases dramatically. Due to the complexity of the numerical model, mesoscale simulations are, in general, limited to small specimens. In this thesis, an adaptive heterogeneous multiscale approach is presented which allows for the incorporation of mesoscale models within nonlinear simulations of concrete structures. In heterogeneous multiscale models, only critical regions, i.e. regions in which damage develops, are resolved on the mesoscale, whereas undamaged or sparsely damage regions are modeled on the macroscale. A crucial point in simulations with heterogeneous multiscale models is the coupling of sub-domains discretized on different length scales. The sub-domains differ not only in the size of the finite elements but also in the constitutive description. In this thesis, different methods for the coupling of non-matching discretizations - constraint equations, the mortar method and the arlequin method - are investigated and the application to heterogeneous multiscale models is presented. Another important point is the detection of critical regions. An adaptive solution procedure allowing the transfer of macroscale sub-domains to the mesoscale is proposed. In this context, several indicators which trigger the model adaptation are introduced. Finally, the application of the proposed adaptive heterogeneous multiscale approach in nonlinear simulations of concrete structures is presented.