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Keywords:

  • biomechanics;
  • finite element analysis;
  • skull;
  • validation

Abstract

A finite element (FE) validation and sensitivity study was undertaken on a modern domestic pig cranium. Bone strain data were collected ex vivo from strain gauges, and compared with results from specimen-specific FE models. An isotropic, homogeneous model was created, then input parameters were altered to investigate model sensitivity. Heterogeneous, isotropic models investigated the effects of a constant-thickness, stiffer outer layer (representing cortical bone) atop a more compliant interior (representing cancellous bone). Loading direction and placement of strain gauges were also varied, and the use of 2D membrane elements at strain gauge locations as a method of projecting 3D model strains into the plane of the gauge was investigated. The models correctly estimate the loading conditions of the experiment, yet at some locations fail to reproduce correct principal strain magnitudes, and hence strain ratios. Principal strain orientations are predicted well. The initial model was too stiff by approximately an order of magnitude. Introducing a compliant interior reported strain magnitudes more similar to the ex vivo results without notably affecting strain orientations, ratios or contour patterns, suggesting that this simple heterogeneity was the equivalent of reducing the overall stiffness of the model. Models were generally insensitive to moderate changes in loading direction or strain gauge placement, except in the squamosal portion of the zygomatic arch. The use of membrane elements made negligible differences to the reported strains. The models therefore seem most sensitive to changes in material properties, and suggest that failure to model local heterogeneity in material properties and structure of the bone may be responsible for discrepancies between the experimental and model results. This is partially attributable to a lack of resolution in the CT scans from which the model was built, and partially due to an absence of detailed material properties data for pig cranial bone. Thus, caution is advised when using FE models to estimate absolute numerical values of breaking stress and bite force unless detailed input parameters are available. However, if the objective is to compare relative differences between models, the fact that the strain environment is replicated well means that such investigations can be robust.