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Topology Optimization and Failure Analysis of Deployable Thin Shells with Cutouts


Ferraro, Serena (2020) Topology Optimization and Failure Analysis of Deployable Thin Shells with Cutouts. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/9VZ4-3E71.


Shell structures with cutouts are widely used in architectural and engineering applications. For thin, lightweight, and deployable space structures, cutouts are cleverly positioned to fold and store the structure in a small volume. To maintain shape accuracy, these structures must fold without becoming damaged and must be stiff in their deployed configurations. Intuitive designs often fail to satisfy these two requirements. This research proposes solutions to the topology optimization of composite, thin shell structures with cutouts.

A novel optimization algorithm was developed that makes no assumptions on the initial number, shape, and location of cutouts on deployable thin shells. The algorithm uses a density-based approach, which distributes the material within the structure by assigning a density parameter to discretized locations. This parametrization of the design domain allows for the finding of new features and the connectivity of the domain, thus providing a completely general formulation to the optimization problem. The goal is to study the effects of volume and stress constraints imposed in a deformed configuration of thin shell structures. While classical topology optimization studies focus on finding solutions to linear problems, this method is applicable to geometrically nonlinear problems and implements stress constraints in the deformed, and hence most stressed, configuration of these shells. A mathematical formulation of the optimization problem and interpolation schemes for stiffness tensor, volume, and stress are presented. A sensitivity analysis of objective function, volume, and stress constraints is provided. Finally, solutions for a thin plate and a tape spring are proposed.

Density-based methods are computationally expensive when applied to large structures and complex shapes because of the large number of design variables. To address these challenges, two optimization methods that provide more specific solutions to the problem of composite, deployable shells are proposed. The first method uses level sets to parametrize the cutouts, thereby restricting the design space and simultaneously limiting the number of design variables. This greatly reduces the computational cost. Using this approach, successful solutions are found for stiff, composite, thin shells with complex shapes that can fold without becoming damaged. The second method uses a spline representation of the contour of a single cutout on the shell, thus performing fine tuning of the shape of the cutout. Modeling techniques that simulate localized strain and experimental methods for studying the quasi-static folding of these composite shells are developed. A laminate failure criterion suitable for thin, plain-weave composites is used in simulations to predict the onset of failure in folded shells. Numerical results are validated with folding experiments that demonstrated good agreement with numerical solutions.

Lastly, it was discovered that many of the best performing solutions have multiple closely spaced cutouts, as opposed to current designs for deployable space structures that have fewer large cutouts. This leads to the formation of small strips of material between cutouts. Hence, the behavior of thin, plain-weave composite material was characterized and the first study on size-scaling effects at small length scales (≤ 15 mm) in this type of material was performed. Size-scaling effects on stiffness and strength shown in this study were introduced in numerical simulations of deployable thin shells. The study demonstrates that the prediction of the onset of failure in folded shells strongly depends on these size effects. Numerical predictions are corroborated by an experimental investigation of localized damage in thin strips of material forming between cutouts. Deployable shells resulting from the optimization studies are built and tested and localized damage is measured via digital volume correlation techniques.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Topology optimization, thin shells, deployable structures, failure analysis
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Space Engineering
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Pellegrino, Sergio
Thesis Committee:
  • Ravichandran, Guruswami (chair)
  • Daraio, Chiara
  • Bhattacharya, Kaushik
  • Pellegrino, Sergio
Defense Date:2 December 2019
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:02032020-164711057
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Paper 2019. Paper 2018.
Ferraro, Serena0000-0002-6038-7863
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:13632
Deposited By: Serena Ferraro
Deposited On:02 Mar 2020 19:28
Last Modified:16 Jan 2021 01:04

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PDF (Serena Ferraro 2020 PhD Thesis Final Version) - Final Version
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