Investigation of micro- and macro-phenomena in densely packed granular media using the discrete element method
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Granular materials are in abundance in nature and are estimated to constitute over 75% of all raw materials passing through the industry. Granular or particulate solids are thus of considerable interest to many industrial sectors and research communities, where many unsolved challenges still remain. This thesis investigates the micro- and macro-phenomena in densely packed particulate systems by means of the Discrete Element Method (DEM), which is a numerical tool for analysing the internal complexities of granular material as the mechanical interactions are considered at the grain scale. It presents an alternative approach to phenomenological continuum approaches when studying localisation problems and finite deformation problems in granular materials. In order to develop a comprehensive theoretical understanding of particulate matter and to form a sound base to improve industrial processes, it is desirable to study the mechanical behaviour of granular solids subject to a variety of loading conditions. In this thesis, three loading actions were explored in detail, which are biaxial compression, rigid object penetration and progressive formation of granular piles. The roles of particle shape and contact friction in each of these loading scenarios were investigated. The resulting packing structures were compared and studied to provide a micromechanical insight into the development of contact force network which governs the collective response. The interparticle contact forces and displacements were then used to evaluate the equivalent continuum stress and strain components thus providing the link between micro- and macroscopic descriptions. The information collected from the evolution of strong contact network illustrates the underlying mechanism of force transmission and propagation. DEM simulations presented in this thesis demonstrate strong capability in predicting the bulk behaviour as well as capturing local phenomenon occurring in the system. The research first simulates a testing environment of biaxial compression in DEM, in which the phenomenon of strain localisation was investigated, with special attention given to the interpretation of underlying failure mechanism. Several key micromechanical quantities of interest were extracted to understand the bifurcation instability, such as force chains, contact orientation, particle rotation and void ratio. In the simulation of progressive formation of granular piles, a counterintuitive pressure profile with a significant pressure dip under the apex was predicted for three models under certain conditions. Both particle shape and preparation history were shown to be important in the resulting pressure distribution. During the rigid body penetration into a granular sample, the contact forces were used to evaluate the equivalent continuum stress components. Significant stress concentration was developed around the punch base which further led to successive collapse and reformation of force chains. Taking the advantage of micromechanical analysis at particle scale, two distinct bearing failure mechanisms were identified as the penetration proceeded. To further quantify the nature of strain mobilisation leading to failure, Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) was employed to measure the deformation over small strain interval in association with shear band propagation in the biaxial test and deformation pattern in the footing test. The captured images from DEM simulation and laboratory experiments were evaluated through PIV correlation. This optical measuring technique is able to yield a significant improvement in the accuracy and spatial resolution of the displacement field over highly strained and localised regions. Finally, a series of equivalent DEM simulations were also conducted and compared with the physical footing experiments, with the objective of evaluating the capability of DEM in producing satisfactory predictions.