Advancements in rotor blade cross-sectional analysis using the variational-asymptotic method
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Rotor (helicopter/wind turbine) blades are typically slender structures that can be modeled as beams. Beam modeling, however, involves a substantial mathematical formulation that ultimately helps save computational costs. A beam theory for rotor blades must account for (i) initial twist and/or curvature, (ii) inclusion of composite materials, (iii) large displacements and rotations; and be capable of offering significant computational savings compared to a non-linear 3D FEA (Finite Element Analysis). The mathematical foundation of the current effort is the Variational Asymptotic Method (VAM), which is used to rigorously reduce the 3D problem into a 1D or beam problem, i.e., perform a cross-sectional analysis, without any ad hoc assumptions regarding the deformation. Since its inception, the VAM based cross-sectional analysis problem has been in a constant state of flux to expand its horizons and increase its potency; and this is precisely the target at which the objectives of this work are aimed. The problems addressed are the stress-strain-displacement recovery for spanwise non-uniform beams, analytical verification studies for the initial curvature effect, higher fidelity stress-strain-displacement recovery, oblique cross-sectional analysis, modeling of thin-walled beams considering the interaction of small parameters and the analysis of plates of variable thickness. The following are the chief conclusions that can be drawn from this work: 1. In accurately determining the stress, strain and displacement of a spanwise non-uniform beam, an analysis which accounts for the tilting of the normal and the subsequent modification of the stress-traction boundary conditions is required. 2. Asymptotic expansion of the metric tensor of the undeformed state and its powers are needed to capture the stiffnesses of curved beams in tune with elasticity theory. Further improvements in the stiffness matrix can be achieved by a partial transformation to the Generalized Timoshenko theory. 3. For the planar deformation of curved laminated strip-beams, closed-form analytical expressions can be generated for the stiffness matrix and recovery; further certain beam stiffnesses can be extracted not only by a direct 3D to 1D dimensional reduction, but a sequential dimensional reduction, the intermediate being a plate theory. 4. Evaluation of the second-order warping allows for a higher fidelity extraction of stress, strain and displacement with negligible additional computational costs. 5. The definition of a cross section has been expanded to include surfaces which need not be perpendicular to the reference line. 6. Analysis of thin-walled rotor blade segments using asymptotic methods should consider a small parameter associated with the wall thickness; further the analysis procedure can be initiated from a laminated shell theory instead of 3D. 7. Structural analysis of plates of variable thickness involves an 8×8 plate stiffness matrix and 3D recovery which explicitly depend on the parameters describing the thickness, in contrast to the simplistic and erroneous approach of replacing the thickness by its variation.