Finite Element Analysis, or FEA, is a key process in fundamentally sound engineering. It helps us understand and test the potential breaking points of objects before we even begin to build them.
As fundamental as it is, it’s not always easy to understand. FEA frequently gets bogged down in technical terminology that obscures how helpful it is.
We’ll clear up some of the confusion now by providing this step-by-step guide to FEA. Read on to see just how straightforward finite element analysis can be.
What Is Finite Element Analysis?
We don’t want to repeat ourselves on this point, but it’s helpful to remember what we’re talking about before we begin.
Simply put, finite element analysis is the simulation of a physical phenomenon. It uses a numerical technique called finite element method, or FEM, to perform this simulation. It involves isolating parts of a large-scale equation to analyze the individual physical components of a larger structure or system.
There are ways to use FEM completely manually, but it’s almost never done these days. It’s just too inefficient. A pencil-and-paper rendering would not give us the thoroughness or interactivity that comes with the FEA we get from various software.
Here are the software programs we use to perform FEA. Both of them fall under the umbrella of CAD, or computer-aided design.
Autodesk Inventor is a popular CAD program from the developers at AutoDesk. It performs 3D visualization, simulation, mechanical design, and documentation.
Solidworks is another software program that uses FEA as part of a larger portfolio of structural analysis tools.
Three Simple Steps of Finite Element Analysis
As complicated as it gets, it’s hard to believe FEA can be as simple as we’re about to reduce it to, but it can. Obviously, reducing FEA to these three steps involves quite a bit of simplification, but simplifying is exactly what we’re doing here.
Here are the most basic building blocks of the FEA process.
Build the Model
You can’t analyze the model until you’ve built the model.
To build the model, you need to create nodes at points that represent the object’s shape. These function almost like stars in a constellation.
Then, you create finite elements to analyze by connecting the nodes.
After you’ve assembled the physical model, it’s time to apply the properties and constraints of the system. These constraints and forces apply to specific nodes.
Solve the Model
In building this model, we’ve set up a problem. Then comes time to solve that problem.
Before you run the analysis, you must determine the type of analysis you want to perform. Examples include a dynamic response with time, static linear analysis, and analysis of vibrational modes.
Display the Results
Once you’ve performed the analysis, you must sort through your results to find the information you want to display. You’ll have several parameters from which to choose, such as temperature, voltage, and stress.
Usually, you’ll perform FEA repeatedly to confirm mesh convergence and alignment with the expectations that come from previous experiments or manual calculations. You get this confirmation from refining the mesh and solving until your results no longer change much.
A Simple and Complicated Process
Even breaking finite element analysis into its component parts provides quite an exercise for the brain. Hopefully, you’ve gained some knowledge from having the elements isolated in this way.
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