Multistable Shell Structures

Change log

Multistable structures, which possess by definition more than one stable equilibrium configuration, are capable of adapting their shape to changing loading or environmental conditions and can further improve multi-purpose ultra-lightweight designs. Whilst multiple methods to create bistable shells have been proposed, most studies focussed on free-standing ones. Considering the strong influence of support conditions on related stability thresholds, surprisingly little is known about their influence on multistable behaviour. In fact, the lack of analytical models prevents a full understanding and constitutes a bottle-neck in the development process of novel shape-changing structures. The relevance becomes apparent in a simple example: whilst an unsupported sliced tennis ball can be stably inverted without experiencing a reversion, fixing its edge against rotation erodes bistability by causing an instantaneous snap-back to the initial configuration. This observation reveals the possibility to alter the structural response dramatically by a simple change of the support conditions.

This dissertation explores the causes of this behaviour by gaining further insight into the promoting and eschewing factors of multistability and aims to point out methods to exploit this feature in optimised ways. The aforementioned seemingly simple example requires a geometrically nonlinear perspective on shells for which analytical solutions stay elusive unless simplifying assumptions are made. In order to captures relevant aspects in closed form, a novel semi-analytical Ritz approach with up to four degrees of freedom is derived, which enforces the boundary conditions strongly. In contrast to finite element simulations, it does not linearise the stiffness matrix and can thus explore the full solution space spanned by the assumed polynomial deflection field. In return, this limits the method to a few degrees of freedom, but a comparison to reference calculations demonstrated an excellent performance in most cases.

First, the level of influence of the boundary conditions on the critical shape for enabling a bistable inversion is formally characterised in rotationally symmetric shells. Systematic insight is provided by connecting the rim to ground through sets of extensional and rotational linear springs, which allows use of the derived shell model as a macro-element that is connected to other structural elements. It is demonstrated that bistability is promoted by an increasing extensional stiffness, i.e. bistable roller-supported shells need to be at least twice as tall compared to their fixed-pinned counterparts. The effect of rotational springs is found to be multi-faceted: whilst preventing rotation has the tendency to hinder bistable inversions, freeing it can even allow for extra stable configurations; however, a certain case is emphasised in which an increasing rotational spring stiffness causes a mode transition that stabilises inversions.

In a second step, a polar-orthotropic material law is employed to study variations of the directional stiffness of the shell itself. A careful choice of the basis functions is required to accurately capture stress singularities in bending that arise if the radial Young’s modulus is stiffer than its circumferential equivalent. A simple way to circumvent such singularities is to create a central hole, which is shown not to hamper bistable inversions. For significantly stiffer values of the radial stiffness, a strong coupling with the support conditions is revealed: whilst roller-supported shells do not show a bistable inversion at all for such materials, fixed-pinned ones feel the most disposed to accommodate an alternative equilibrium configuration. This behaviour is explained via simplified beam models that suggest a new perspective on the influence of the hoop stiffness: based on observations in free-standing shells, it was thought to promote bistability, but it is only insofar stabilising, as it evokes radial stresses; if these are afforded by immovable supports, it becomes redundant and even slightly hindering.

Finally, combined actuation methods in stretching and bending that prescribe non-Euclidean target shapes are considered to emphasise the possibility of multifarious structural manipulations. When both methods are geared to each other, stress-free synclastic shape transformations in an over-constrained environment, or alternatively, anticlastic shape-changes with an arbitrary wave number, are achievable. Considering nonsymmetric deformations offers a richer buckling behaviour for certain in-plane actuated shells, where a secondary, approximately cylindrical buckling mode as well as a ‘hidden’ stable configuration of a higher wave number is revealed by the presented analytical model.

Additionally, it is shown that the approximately mirror-symmetric inversion of cylindrical or deep spherical shells can be accurately described by employing a simpler, geometrically linear theory that focusses on small deviations from the mirrored shape.

The results of this dissertation facilitate a versatile practical application of multistable structures via an analytical description of more realistic support conditions. The understanding of effects of the internal stiffness makes it possible to use this unique structural behaviour more efficiently by making simple cross-sectional adjustments, i.e. by adding appropriate stiffeners. Eventually, the provided theoretical framework of emerging actuation methods might inspire novel morphing structures.

Seffen, Keith
Transformables, Morphing Structures, Bistability, Multistability, Nonlinear shell theory, Analytical approach
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Friedrich Ebert Foundation (Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung) Corpus Christi College, Cambridge Department of Engineering, Cambridge