Volume XIII Issue 3

Historically, dam and foundation engineering has been dominated by non-linear assumptions. Rock wedge analyses, slip circle slope stability analyses, and gravity dam sliding and overturning analyses, are all examples of non-linear analysis since deflection is not required to be a linear function of load. These simple non-linear techniques are very useful in the modelling of failure mechanisms but are, however, limited to two-dimensional cases with simple geometries.

The finite element method has been used as a tool for the solution of problems in structural mechanics for half a century. Airframes and concrete dams were among the first structures to be analysed using finite element methods. This method has the advantage of being able to accommodate three-dimensional structures of arbitrary geometry.

However, its application to dam engineering has clouded what used to be a clear understanding of the need to identify and evaluate failure mechanisms. Because the majority of finite element analyses are based on linear load deflection relationships, they are incapable of evaluating failure mechanisms, which are by nature non-linear.

This paper discusses a variational finite element technique (VF), which accommodates material non-linearity more easily. It is not a matrix method. This method will be discussed in general. Its application will also be demonstrated.

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