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A 3D DEM model using Particle Flow Code (PFC3D) software was developed utilizing a bonded-ball flexible membrane approach to study cohesionless soil as a discontinuous discrete material. This approach is not yet widely used because of its complexity and high computational cost, but it allowed the authors to observe the stress-strain curves of triaxial specimens, to single out effects of individual factors on the strength and strain properties, and to observe the formation of the shear band and failure surface. The 3D model was calibrated and verified with experimental data, and a sensitivity analysis was carried out for the microparameters. Triaxial tests were simulated to observe the stress-strain curves and volumetric changes, as well as the strength parameters of soils consisting of spherical particles with different gradations but the same porosity. The authors investigated the effects of mean particle size, larger particle size, smaller particle size, and soil gradation on three soil parameters: peak deviatoric stress, internal friction angle, and dilatancy angle. Four different cases with different soil gradations and particle sizes were studied: a uniform soil, a soil with randomly created particle sizes, and two soils each contains two particle sizes. For two out of the four cases studied, peak deviatoric stress, internal friction angle, and dilatancy angle increased when the mean particle size D50 increased. For the other two cases, the parameters decreased when the mean particle size D50 increased. One important finding is that the relationships between particle size and deviatoric stress, internal friction angle, and dilatancy angle were found to be linear. These relationships can provide predictions on soil strength and strain properties when the particle size changes. Observations and discussions on the formation of shear bands during shear testing are also presented. A step-by-step delineation of the DEM model development is also presented with the development process of a flexible membrane carefully described.


Copyright © 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature. Original published version available at

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Transp. Infrastruct. Geotech.





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