A generalized weighted residual method is used to formulate the discrete element method (DEM) for rigid or deformable bodies. It is shown that this approach provides a unified methodology for deriving many of the different discrete element techniques in current use today. This procedure is used to develop a number of different element formulations for use in problems in which the distinct bodies exhibit complex deformation behaviour such as beam or plate flexure, membrane action, and additional reinforcement of a jointed discontinuum. A covergence proof for the two‐dimensional beam element is given for mathematical validation. A number of examples are also presented which illustrate the usefulness of different discrete element types in engineering analyses of discontinuum problems.
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