Laminate composites are widely used in automotive, aerospace, medical, and increasingly in consumer industries, due to their reduced weight, superior structural properties and cost-effectiveness. However, structural analysis of complex laminate structures remains challenging. 2D finite element methods based on plate and shell theories may be accurate and efficient, but they generally do not apply to the whole structure, and require identification and preprocessing (dimensional reduction) of the regions where the underlying assumptions hold. Differences in and limitations of theories for thin/thick plates and shells further complicate modeling and simulation of composites. Fully automated structural analysis using 3D elements with sufficiently high order basis functions is possible in principle, but is rarely practiced due to the significant increase in computational integration cost in the presence of a large number of laminate plies.

We propose to replace the actual layup of the laminate structure by a simplified material model, allowing for a substantial reduction of the computational cost of 3D FEA. The reduced model, under the usual assumptions made in lamination theory, has the same constitutive relationship as the corresponding 2D plate model of the original laminate, but requires only a small fraction of computational integration costs in 3D FEA. We describe implementation of 3D FEA using the reduced material model in a meshfree system using second order B-spline basis functions. Finally, we demonstrate its validity by showing agreement between computed and known results for standard problems.

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