This paper presents a finite element based numerical study on controlling the postbuckling behavior of thin-walled cylindrical shells under axial compression. With the increasing interest of various disciplines for harnessing elastic instabilities in materials and mechanical systems, the postbuckling behavior of thin-walled cylindrical shells may have a new role to design materials and structures at multiple scales with switchable functionalities, morphogenesis, etc. In the design optimization approach presented herein, the mode shapes and their amplitudes are linearly combined to generate initial geometrical designs with predefined imperfections. A nonlinear postbuckling finite element analysis evaluates the design objective function, i.e., the desired postbuckling force-displacement path. Single and multi-objective optimization problems are formulated with design variables consisting of shape parameters that scale base eigenvalue shapes. A gradient-based algorithm and numerical sensitivity evaluations are used. Results suggest that an optimized shape for a cylindrical shell can achieve a targeted response in the elastic postbuckling regime with multiple mode transitions and energy dissipation characteristics. The optimization process and the obtained geometry can be potentially used for energy harvesting and other sensing and actuation applications.

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