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3D analysis of kinematic behavior of granular materials in triaxial testing using DEM with flexible membrane boundary


This paper describes the constitutive behavior and particle-scale kinematics of granular materials in three-dimensional (3D) axisymmetric triaxial testing using discrete element method (DEM). PFC3D code was used to run the DEM simulations using a flexible membrane boundary model consisting of spherical particles linked through flexible contact bonds. The overall deformation behavior of the specimen was then compared with the specimen with rigid boundary and experimental measurements. Computed tomography was used to track the evolution of particle translation and rotation within a laboratory triaxial specimen in 3D. The DEM model of the flexible membrane specimen successfully predicted the stress–strain behavior when compared with laboratory experiment results at different confining pressures. The DEM results showed that the rigid specimen applies a uniform deformation and leads to non-uniformities in the confining stress along the particle-boundary interface in the lateral direction. In contrast, the flexible specimen better replicates the uniformly applied confining stress of a laboratory triaxial experiment. The 3D DEM simulations of the specimen with flexible membrane overpredicted particle translation and rotation in all directions when compared to a laboratory triaxial specimen. The difference between the particle translation and rotation distributions of DEM specimens with rigid and flexible membrane is almost negligible. The DEM specimen with flexible membrane produces a better prediction of the macroscopic stress–strain behavior and deformation characteristics of granular materials in 3D DEM simulations when compared to a specimen with rigid membrane. Comparing macroscale response and particle-scale kinematics between triaxial simulation results of rigid versus flexible membrane demonstrated the significant influence of boundary effects on the constitutive behavior of granular materials.

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This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. CMMI-1156436. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Also, the authors thank Dr. Ron Beshears, Mr. David Myers and Mr. Buddy Guynes of NASA/Marshall Space Flight center for helping us to perform the CT scans.

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Correspondence to Mehmet B. Cil.

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Cil, M.B., Alshibli, K.A. 3D analysis of kinematic behavior of granular materials in triaxial testing using DEM with flexible membrane boundary. Acta Geotech. 9, 287–298 (2014).

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  • Computed tomography
  • Discrete element
  • Granular materials
  • Membrane effects
  • Rigid boundary
  • Rolling
  • Rotation
  • Shear