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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 importance of modern simulation methods in the mechanical analysis of heterogeneous solids is presented in detail. Thereby the problem is noted that even for small bodies the required high-resolution analysis reaches the limits of today's computational power, in terms of memory demand as well as acceptable computational effort. A further problem is that frequently the accuracy of geometrical modelling of heterogeneous bodies is inadequate. The present work introduces a systematic combination and adaption of grid-based methods for achieving an essentially higher resolution in the numerical analysis of heterogeneous solids. Grid-based methods are as well primely suited for developing efficient and numerically stable algorithms for flexible geometrical modeling. A key aspect is the uniform data management for a grid, which can be utilized to reduce the effort and complexity of almost all concerned methods. A new finite element program, called Mulgrido, was just developed to realize this concept consistently and to test the proposed methods. Several disadvantages which generally result from grid discretizations are selectively corrected by modified methods. The present work is structured into a geometrical model, a mechanical model and a numerical model. The geometrical model includes digital image-based modeling and in particular several methods for the theory-based generation of inclusion-matrix models. Essential contributions refer to variable shape, size distribution, separation checks and placement procedures of inclusions. The mechanical model prepares the fundamentals of continuum mechanics, homogenization and damage modeling for the following numerical methods. The first topic of the numerical model introduces to a special version of B-spline finite elements. These finite elements are entirely variable in the order k of B-splines. For homogeneous bodies this means that the approximation quality can arbitrarily be scaled. In addition, the multiphase finite element concept in combination with transition zones along material interfaces yields a valuable solution for heterogeneous bodies. As the formulation is element-based, the storage of a global stiffness matrix is superseded such that the memory demand can essentially be reduced. This is possible in combination with iterative solver methods which represent the second topic of the numerical model. Here, the focus lies on multigrid methods where the number of required operations to solve a linear equation system only increases linearly with problem size. Moreover, for badly conditioned problems quite an essential improvement is achieved by preconditioning. The third part of the numerical model discusses certain aspects of damage simulation which are closely related to the proposed grid discretization. The strong efficiency of the linear analysis can be maintained for damage simulation. This is achieved by a damage-controlled sequentially linear iteration scheme. Finally a study on the effective material behavior of heterogeneous bodies is presented. Especially the influence of inclusion shapes is examined. By means of altogether more than one hundred thousand random geometrical arrangements, the effective material behavior is statistically analyzed and assessed.