Discrete element methods are numerical procedures for simulating the complete behaviour of systems of discrete, interacting bodies. Three important aspects of discrete element programs are examined: (1) the representation of contacts; (2) the representation of solid material; and (3) the scheme used to detect and revise the set of contacts. A proposal is made to define what constitutes a discrete element program, and four classes of such programs are described: the distinct element method, modal methods, discontinuous deformation analysis and the momentum‐exchange method. Several applications and examples are presented, and a list is given of suggestions for future developments.
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