A structural system with an unstable post-buckling response that subsequently restabilizes has the potential to exhibit homoclinic connections from the fundamental equilibrium state to itself over a range of loads, and heteroclinic connections between fundamental and periodic equilibrium states over a different (smaller) range of loads. It is argued that such equilibrium configurations are important in the interpretation of observed behaviour, and govern the minimum possible post-buckling loads. To illustrate this, the classical problem of a long thin axially-compressed cylindrical shell is revisited from three different perspectives: asymptotic conjecture, analogy with nonlinear dynamics, and numerical continuation analysis of a partial spectral decomposition of the underlying equilibrium equations. The nonlinear dynamics analogy demonstrates that the structure of the heteroclinic connections is more complicated than that indicated by the asymptotics: this is confirmed by the numerics. However, when the asymptotic portrayal is compared to the numerics, it turns out to be surprisingly accurate in its Maxwell-load prediction of the practically-significant first minimum to appear in the post-buckling regime.
Additional information: Preprint of a paper later published by Elsevier Science (1999), Computer Methods in Applied Mechanics and Engineering, 170 (3-4), pp.239-251, ISSN 0045-7825