Large-Scale Simulations in Structural Mechanics: Retrospective and Prospective Views by Dr.

Eugene Sevin
Plenary Talk to the ISIEMS 14 Seattle, WA 20 October 2011

The development of finite element modeling in structural mechanics is traced from its early beginnings, through the period of aboveground and underground nuclear testing that gave rise to the underlying experimental database, and the Cold War military requirements that led to today’s large-scale simulation capabilities. Limitations to that capability are explored by means of a case study seeking to validate ground shock damage modeling of underground tunnels. Required improvements to both geologic modeling of discontinuities and mechanics of code implementation are identified.

Originally I had in mind titling this talk “Weapons and Targets” as it reminded me of the old joke about the difference between Mechanical and Civil engineers: Mechanical Engineers build weapons. Civil Engineers build targets. I suppose at the time Civil Engineers were meant to bear the brunt of the joke, but if so, the tables have turned. The “bad guys” response to the accuracy of our precision guided conventional weapons is to go underground wherever they can. Thus, following the law of unintended consequences, our prowess in weapon accuracy ushered in the era of hard and deeply buried targets which are difficult-to-impossible to defeat with conventional weapons. But that’s not the subject of my talk. Rather, my remarks will address (1) the origin of critical elements in computational structural modeling, (2) the limits in current large-scale modeling capability as I see them, and (3) my view of what the future may hold for improvements in both code physics and code mechanics. But to begin at the modern beginning: the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) held its first structural engineering conference devoted to electronic calculation in 1958, which I



attended. The late Professor Nathan Newmark, who both inspired and chaired the conference and was then Head of the Civil Engineering department at the University of Illinois, said in his introductory remarks, “… the high-speed computer is more than a new tool…its use involves a revolution in methods, concepts and even in education.” Earlier that year (1958), Newmark had published a paper in Civil Engineering magazine, “A Revolution in Design Practice” (still worth reading today) In which he argued that the real impact of computers on the engineering profession will be in the direction of implementing more rigorous analysis, not in simply doing the old things faster. As in so many other things during his lifetime, Professor Newmark got that exactly right. As I said, I was at the 1958 ASCE conference and presented a paper on dynamic column buckling. The numerical solutions were done on an IBM 650 computer; I carry more computing power with me today on my iPhone The 2nd ASCE conference on Electronic Computation was held two years later in September 1960. There, Professor Ray Clough presented his seminal paper “The Finite Element Method in Plane Stress Analysis;” while this was not the very first paper on the finite element method, Clough was the first to give the name “Finite Element Method” 1- so today we can belatedly celebrate its Golden Anniversary. Thus, by 1960 the essential computational modeling tool to advance the art of “computational mechanics“was defined (although the name was yet to be coined). From the perspective of our technical community, which relies on the FEM to predict structural failure, the development of a supporting experimental database is crucial. In fact, this began almost immediately after World War II, largely in the context of U.S. nuclear weapon testing. The period from 1945 to 1992 saw a mammoth investment by the U.S. in some 1000 nuclear tests2, atmospheric and underground. Most of these were for weapon development, but there were 100 atmospheric weapons effects tests and 67 underground tunnel tests during this period. That led to a greatly improved understanding of airblast and ground shock loading of aboveground and shallow buried structures, as well as the ground shock response of deeply buried structures. Many of these tests were well-instrumented scientific experiments that can still serve us well today 3.

R.W. Clough, “Early history of the finite element method from the view point of a pioneer,” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL FOR NUMERICAL METHODS IN ENGINEERING, 2004. Other innovators who Clough cites as sharing in the development of the FEM were John H. Argyris, M. J. Turner and O. C. Zienkeiwicz. 2 “United States Nuclear Tests, July 1945 through September 1992,” DOE/NV209 (Rev. 14), December 1994 3 DTRA maintains an online library (STARS) that includes a complete collection of nuclear and conventional weapon test reports, as well as individual guides to the nuclear weapons effects test database. However, much of this material is limited in distribution to U.S. government agencies and U.S. government contractors.




Cold War operational requirements, with its emphasis on nuclear weapons, provided the primary motivation for research in computational simulation of the effects of munitions on structures. At the same time, force protection developments against conventional weapon threats were gaining prominence within the military services, particularly the US Army. These relied heavily on field experimentation, which was practical for conventional high explosive weapons but not so practical for nuclear weapons. The string of US Embassy bombings In the mid-70’s, and especially the October 1983 bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beruit, led to increased emphasis on structural protection against terrorist-type HE threats within the military. In time, terrorist threats, along with continuing targeting concerns for hard and deeply buried targets, came to replace Cold War requirements. While those interests exist today, the focus on research and application has turned almost entirely from nuclear to conventional weapons. The Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA, remnants of which are now incorporated in the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, DTRA) was responsible for designing and conducting DoD’s nuclear weapons effects tests. At that time, DNA also was the principal funding agency for related NWE application research within the Army, Navy and Air Force. Under this general R&D support, the Services extended the experimental database to include conventional weapons effects and a broad range of structural modeling and response investigations. Well, that’s a very brief historical overview of how we got to where we are today. So where are we today and what do we recognize as shortcomings in today’s structural simulation capabilities? I don’t claim a global view of present day capabilities but I do have a reasonable appreciation of what the DTRA-supported R&D community can do in the hard target area.

We have codes today that are capable of running very large 3D simulations (with millions of finite elements) that are advertised as able to predict fracture and structural failure under dynamic loads. These analyses tend to be major undertakings, requiring the largest supercomputers, and involving considerable time and expense to set up, execute and interpret. But what is the basis for estimating the predictive accuracy of such simulations? Verification and validation of these models and software generally is accepted as being essential; however, these processes seldom are well-documented, nor is accuracy in the face of modeling and input parameter uncertainty often assessed quantitatively. These views may sound harsh to you, and there may be exceptions of which I’m unaware, but let me flesh out the argument with a recent case study of underground facilities. I think



overcoming some of the shortcomings evidenced in this study is of general applicability and points the way to needed improvements in structural modeling capabilities. Over the 5-year span from 2003-2007, DTRA conducted an analytical and experimental study to determine the practicality and predictive accuracy of selected high fidelity (first-principle physics) codes to model the ground shock response of deeply buried tunnels. Significant emphasis in the design of this study was placed on software verification and model validation. As I use these terms, Verification is concerned with correct evaluation of the underlying mathematical models, while Validation deals with how well the models perform for their intended purposes. Or more simply put, verification asks if we’re solving the equations correctly while validation asks if these are the correct equations. In the DTRA study, code verification was evaluated on the basis of 20 computational problems of increasing complexity; these problems focused mainly on modeling of joints and other types of geologic discontinuities. Validation typically involves comparison of prediction with experiment. Here, the validation database consisted of two so-called precision tunnel tests in manufactured jointed limestone at laboratory scale and two 3000 lb high-explosive (HE) field tests in a limestone quarry, one with and one without tunnels. A larger scale tunnel experiment was planned but did not take place. Instead, a simulation was performed on a portion of the DIABLO HAWK Underground Nuclear (UGT) structures test bed, of which more later. At the outset of the program DTRA asked me to assemble a Modeling Assessment Group (MAG) comprised of independent subject matter experts to (1) review the V&V planning effort, (2) assess the program’s success, and (3) recommend confidence and limitations in code application. Five experienced modeling teams participated in the study, each using its own codes. Each code can be described as a general purpose finite element solver embodying non-linear, large deformation, explicit time domain formulations. One of the codes was Eulerian; the others were either fully Lagrangian or Arbitrary Lagrangian-Eulerian (ALE) codes. Most had adaptive mesh refinement. One modeling team used the commercial ABAQUS/Explicit code. All of the codes included a variety of element and interface properties to model the dynamic response of structures in a jointed rock mass. The five teams operated independently, more competitively than cooperatively, although frequent joint meetings were held with the MAG and with an internal DTRA analysis team to compare interim results. A considerable effort was made to standardize model definitions and input parameters, and code outputs to facilitate comparison of results. Still, the modeling teams largely brought their own expertise to finalizing the simulation models.



I don’t have the time to tell you much about the program, which is well-documented 4,5,6 and generally available to most in this audience. The bottom line is that while a number of important lessons were learned, the program fell short of its original validation goals, both because of limited experimental results and because the modeling efforts proved to be more complicated and required more extensive resources than originally envisioned. Thus it was not possible to assess quantitatively the overall accuracy and predictive uncertainty among the high fidelity codes. However, it was possible to rank order the performance of the modeling teams based on the intermediate-scale tunnel test. The MAG judged the overall accuracy of the best-performing team to be about 30-40 percent in terms of peak velocities and tunnel damage. The primary source of uncertainty was in assigning the physical properties of the rock. Also, the prediction of rock failure by all of the teams was essentially heuristic in nature and an obvious area for improvement. It also was clear that the skills of the modeling team and their experience in modeling deep underground structures were integral to overall code performance and accuracy.

The large-scale tunnel test was intended as the central validation experiment and its cancellation was a major setback to realizing the goals of the project. Instead, it was decided to use the results from an existing underground nuclear test (UGT) as a proxy validation data set. The DIABLO HAWK UGT was conducted in 1978 at the Nevada Test Site (NTS); it was a test of tunnels of various sizes and reinforcement designs in NTS tuff 7, a weak, nearly saturated sedimentary rock with a highly faulted, irregular 3D geology. This test was selected from other tests of tunnels because of its well-documented geology, instrumentation, and range of damage results. While this experiment does not meet usual conditions for validation as the experimental results are known in advance, the complexity of the test bed and the different

Final Report of the Tunnel Target Defeat ACTD Modeling Assessment Group, Northrop Grumman Report, September 2007 5 Proceedings from the 78th Shock and Vibration Symposium on CD-ROM, Shock and Vibration Information Analysis Center, 2008 6 Supplement to the Final Report of the Tunnel Target Defeat ACTD Modeling Assessment Group: The DIABLO HAWK Simulation, Northrop Grumman Report, February 2009 7 The NTS is geologically situated in the Basin and Range province, a region characterized by folded and faulted Paleozoic sedimentary rocks overlain by Tertiary volcanic tuffs and lavas. NTS Tuff is a weak, nearly saturated rock (unconfined compression strength of about 0.2 kbars). The majority of the faults within the tunnel complex have very high dip angles and are nearly parallel to the pre-Tertiary rock ridge.




levels of damage sustained by the test structures made it a very useful and revealing exercise, nonetheless. The DIABLO HAWK simulation was carried out by 3 of the 5 original modeling teams using the same codes and modeling approaches as for the original test simulations. Their results were sobering and served to curb somewhat the enthusiasm for earlier findings. These simulations point up modeling limitations of the codes, the ability to characterize complex geologic sites, and the ability to represent massively discontinuous media. They also provide insight into desired future code capabilities. I am going to show you 3 charts of the DIABLO HAWK event: (1) a plan layout of the test bed showing the region of the simulation [Chart 1], (2) a cross-section of the geology showing bedding planes and faults as prescribed for the modelers [Chart 2 ], and (3) posttest photographs showing large block motions in a test tunnel [Chart 3]. Available time doesn’t allow me to say more about the test here, but a sense of the complexity of the simulation can be garnered from these charts.

Chart 1 DIABLO HAWK Test Bed Showing Damage Levels



Chart 2 Faults and Beds in the GAMUT Model

Block motion along a fault Dip-slip ≈ 2’; Strike-slip ≈ 10’

Block motion along a bedding plane ≈ 3’ laterally and ≈ 5-10’ longitudinally.

Chart 3 DIABLO HAWK Post-Test Block Motions Along Faults



It was anticipated that the modelers would represent the faults and bedding planes as discrete surfaces capable of transmitting normal and shear tractions according to a Coulomb friction law. In fact, none of the modelers did so; rather, faults and bedding planes were modeled as conventional finite elements with Mohr-Coulomb failure surfaces. The simulations exhibited features that made it difficult to evaluate overall accuracy in a consistent manner. For example, one team’s rock model was much weaker than the DIABLO HAWK tuff due to a combination of material and element properties and mesh design choices. This led to large overestimates of displacements in comparison to both the free field measurements and high speed camera data. The Eulerian model used by another team reduced the weakening effect of faults and bedding planes due to averaging of properties at the element level. Consequently, their rock model was stronger than the DIABLO HAWK tuff and resembled a more homogeneous medium. The third team’s simulation provided the most faithful representation of the specified DIABLO HAWK test bed geology; still they underestimated damage to the intermediate range structures, and showed other features not evident in the data. The primary lesson learned from the DIABLO HAWK simulations was that the modelers didn’t represent media with extensive discontinuities very well. Discontinuities such as faults and bedding planes, and how they are modeled, can have a pronounced effect on predicted ground shock, and can influence ground shock energy flow by channeling, and diversion. Regions with oriented flaws or fractures behave as anisotropic materials that may give rise to highly directional stress-wave propagation, and to date cannot be accurately modeled as intact isotropic material with “equivalent” material properties. The simulation also highlighted that fact that software validation has meaning only in relatively narrow bounds of application. The same code and modeling team that performed best in the intermediate-scale HE tunnel test didn’t fare nearly so well in the DIABLO HAWK simulation. This realty needs to be kept in mind when the notion of validated software is bandied about, as it may have limited practical relevance.

The DTRA study, rather than validating available software and modeling capabilities, demonstrated the need for improvements in modeling technology, both in terms of physics modeling and code mechanics. Requirements for verification and validation merit separate consideration as does the manner of quantifying uncertainty. ISIEMS -8

For the application I’ve been discussing, improvements in physics modeling would include higher fidelity constitutive models for faults and joints, to include material softening, failure and fracture modeling, scale and rate effects, and history dependence. Because of the impracticality of characterizing real world geologic sites to the level of detail required by a deterministic model, there is a need to be able to selectively model joint-sets interacting with intact material inelastically, either explicitly (as for a few well-defined faults) or implicitly by means of a homogenized representation of massive jointing. The need for probabilistic modeling also needs to be considered. DTRA organized a workshop on Ground Shock in Faulted Media in January 2010 that dealt with a number of such modeling and code improvements. The proceedings of the workshop, which involved funded studies, are now available from DTRA. Looking to the future, I believe we will see a much stronger focus on dealing comprehensively with uncertainties 8 in both deterministic and probabilistic formulations. Ground shock is an obvious example where knowledge of faults, joint systems, and other inhomogeneities are typically unknown at the level of detail required by the simulation. The DOE weapon laboratories have been pursuing a probability risk assessment methodology (referred to as “Quantification of margins and uncertainty,” or QMU) under their Science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program to predict the reliability, safety and security of nuclear weapons. The relevancy to our community of this technology to estimate predictive uncertainty remains to be determined. A committee of the National Academies currently is examining practices for verification and validation and uncertainty quantification of large-scale computational simulations in several research communities. Their report “Mathematical Science Verification, Validation, and Uncertainty Quantification” is expected late this yeaar or early next. A more conventional approach is to characterize predictive uncertainty on the basis of extensive variation of parameter studies; that is, by repeating a simulation systematically over a broad range of model assumptions and parameter values in Monte Carlo-like fashion. For largescale simulations today this probably is unaffordable except in very high-value instances, but it is something I think that we need to plan for as a regular event. Key to making this a practical approach will be the ready availability of greatly increased computing power together with significant improvements in code mechanics.


Comprehensive uncertainty includes uncertainties in domain knowledge, validation referent, modeling, user effects and interpretation of results



Improving code mechanics means significantly reducing problem setup time, running time and the time to interpret results. Constructing a three-dimensional finite element model of a complex system of upward of 2-4 million or more finite elements typically is an extremely labor intensive “trial and error” effort, and in the DTRA study was a bottleneck of the model building process. For example, in the DIABLO HAWK simulation I’ve discussed, mesh building absorbed most of the available resources and impacted adversely on the modeling teams’ ability to fully exploit the simulation (e.g., through even modest sensitivity studies) and interpret its results. The end goal would be to provide an integrated tool-chain (mesh generation to simulation to post-processing) based on a unified results database that requires no translators or manual intervention to go from one process to the next. For geologic models this should include a capability to generate a mesh conforming to the geometry of a fault and to use a sliding interface algorithm to model arbitrarily large differential tangential motions along the fault surface. Also, XFEM-like technology should be available to model newly generated fractures. In summary, my view is that while we are capable today of running very large 3D FEM structural response simulations, we do not yet have a solid basis for dealing with uncertainty of problem variables and predictive accuracy. Characterizing failure of geologic and structural materials under dynamic loads needs to progress beyond heuristic criteria. The investment of time and effort to set up, execute and interpret large-scale simulations needs to be reduced substantially to where variation of parameter-type studies become practical and routine. The formality of the validation process and the role of experimentation are less clear to me, and I suppose will depend on how high a value is placed on the importance of a particular suite of simulations. However, I do see a need for development of benchmark-type problems and supporting proof-of-concept experiments that collectively lend credence to the validity of the simulation tools.