The combination of thin metal cases or tubes with a filling made of metal foams is interesting and promising for many applications in mechanical engineering. Components made of an outer hollow thin compact metal structure and a cellular lightweight core are especially suited to energy absorption applications. In order to allow for an efficient product/process design with a concurrent engineering approach, reliable and computationally affordable finite element method (FEM) calculations are required by both product and process engineers. The structural performance of these complex composite parts must be numerically predicted, in order to find the optimal combination of outer structure and metal foam properties. While FEM simulation at large deformations of bending, crushing, etc. of thin sheets and tubes is state of the art, the accurate FEM simulation of the mechanical behavior of metal foams cannot be considered fully established. In this paper the three most common methods for FEM simulation of metal foam materials are discussed: (a) homogenization approach, (b) realistic reconstruction of tomographic data, and (c) repetition of standard unit cells. A new effective approach is proposed, suited for simulation of composite, metal foam filled, structures of realistic dimensions. The approach is based on meshing the metal foam by replicating a unit cell made of 32 triangular shell elements, and then by randomizing the nodal position in order to emulate the intrinsic homogeneity of foam morphology. The method is validated by means of different experimental tests. The results show that the proposed method correctly predicts the behavior of foam structures in axial compression. The method slightly overestimated the actual load registered in three point bending tests. Several improvements are described and discussed in the paper, such as randomization of nodal positions of the mesh, in order to reduce the overestimation of forces. An FEM approach for the simulation of large deformations of metal foam filled metal structure (e.g., tubes) suited for the design of realistic large dimensions structural components has been presented. The proposed method shows some innovative features with respect to the available scientific literature, such as a configuration based on octahedral unit cells with low number of triangular shell elements. Randomization of nodal positions of each unit cell has been implemented as a method for better representing the intrinsic variability of metal foams and for reducing the stiffness of the simulated structure.

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