This paper investigates issues that have arisen in recent efforts to revise long-standing knockdown factors for elastic shell buckling, which are widely regarded as being overly conservative for well-constructed shells. In particular, this paper focuses on cylindrical shells under axial compression with emphasis on the role of local geometric dimple imperfections and the use of lateral force probes as surrogate imperfections. Local and global buckling loads are identified and related for the two kinds of imperfections. Buckling loads are computed for four sets of relevant boundary conditions revealing a strong dependence of the global buckling load on overall end-rotation constraint when local buckling precedes global buckling. A reasonably complete picture emerges, which should be useful for informing decisions on establishing knockdown factors. Experiments are performed using a lateral probe to study the stability landscape for a cylindrical shell with overall end rotation constrained in the first set of tests and then unconstrained in the second set of tests. The nonlinear buckling behavior of spherical shells under external pressure is also examined for both types of imperfections. The buckling behavior of spherical shells is different in a number of important respects from that of the cylindrical shells, particularly regarding the interplay between local and global buckling and the post-buckling load-carrying capacity. These behavioral differences have bearing on efforts to revise buckling design rules. The present study raises questions about the perspicacity of using probe force imperfections as surrogates for geometric dimple imperfections.

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