The purpose of this paper was to investigate the sensitivity of the structural responses and bone fractures of the ribs to mesh density, cortical thickness, and material properties so as to provide guidelines for the development of finite element (FE) thorax models used in impact biomechanics. Subject-specific FE models of the second, fourth, sixth and tenth ribs were developed to reproduce dynamic failure experiments. Sensitivity studies were then conducted to quantify the effects of variations in mesh density, cortical thickness, and material parameters on the model-predicted reaction force-displacement relationship, cortical strains, and bone fracture locations for all four ribs. Overall, it was demonstrated that rib FE models consisting of 2000-3000 trabecular hexahedral elements (weighted element length 2-3mm) and associated quadrilateral cortical shell elements with variable thickness more closely predicted the rib structural responses and bone fracture force-failure displacement relationships observed in the experiments (except the fracture locations), compared to models with constant cortical thickness. Further increases in mesh density increased computational cost but did not markedly improve model predictions. A ±30% change in the major material parameters of cortical bone lead to a -16.7 to 33.3% change in fracture displacement and -22.5 to +19.1% change in the fracture force. The results in this study suggest that human rib structural responses can be modeled in an accurate and computationally efficient way using (a) a coarse mesh of 2000-3000 solid elements, (b) cortical shells elements with variable thickness distribution and (c) a rate-dependent elastic-plastic material model.
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