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Engineering often goes unappreciated until there’s a mistake. Then everyone knows about it.

Engineering mistakes can lead to high-profile disasters and even litigation. That’s why engineers need to optimize and stress test their designs. Doing so can also save millions on iterative prototyping with physical materials.

Finite element analysis is a common way of testing a design. Here’s a look at FEA and how it can help.

What is Finite Element Analysis?

Finite element analysis is a way of mathematically modeling the stresses on an engineering design.

Engineers can apply FEA to any physics problem we can model mathematically. That includes structural analysis, fluid dynamics, and heat transfer.

The importance of FEA lies in its ability to take a complex design and offer insight into its efficiency and robustness of the design. With FEA, engineers can gain early information on system failures and improper design techniques.

The Finite Element Method

The finite element method involves constructing a digital mesh of the design. This design comprises of innumerable smaller elements. These smaller elements are the “finite elements” of the name.

We can then map data for each of the finite elements. This breaks a large-scale equation down into multiple, smaller equations for each element. These equations then combine to give a picture of the dynamics acting on the design.

The equations usually required for this kind of calculation are often partial differential equations. With FEM, these PDEs break down into simpler algebraic approximations.

In FEA, engineers can tweak the prediction accuracy of a complicated domain to maintain focus on the core problem. For instance, in an FEA of a human leg, they could focus prediction accuracy on the stresses acting on the knee during impact exercise.

Why is FEA Useful?

FEA allows engineers to prototype a design in action without the need to create a physical working model.

The nature of FEA offers a few more advantages. The use of finite elements allows the modeling of multiple material types, testing of complex geometry, and the ability to capture local effects acting on a small area of the design.

In practice, engineers can use finite element modeling software on a huge variety of tasks. The deformation of a car on impact, stresses on human joints, and fluid dynamics over turbines are just a few of its varied applications.

Finite element analysis is only a predictive model. It doesn’t confirm that a design will survive the modeled stresses. But it gives engineers a clearer picture of how the design will react to stresses and reduces the need for extensive prototyping.

Effective Use of Finite Element Analysis

Finite element analysis is a powerful tool in the belt of an engineer, and effective use of FEA can save companies time and money through mathematical prototyping. FEA is just one of the digital technologies transforming the future of engineering.

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