Finite element analysis (FEA) is the modeling of products and systems in a virtual environment, for the purpose of finding and solving potential (or existing) structural or performance issues. FEA is the practical application of the finite element method (FEM), which is used by engineers and scientists to mathematically model and numerically solve complex structural, fluid and multi-physics problems. FEA software can be utilized in a wide range of industries, but is most commonly used in the aeronautical, biomechanical and automotive industries.
A finite element (FE) model comprises a system of points, called “nodes”, which form the shape of the design. Connected to these nodes are the finite elements themselves which form the finite element mesh and contain the material and structural properties of the model, defining how it will react to certain conditions. The density of the finite element mesh may vary throughout the material, depending on the anticipated change in stress levels of a particular area. Regions that experience high changes in stress usually require a higher mesh density than those that experience little or no stress variation. Points of interest may include fracture points of previously tested material, fillets, corners, complex detail and high- stress areas.
Creating Finite Element Models
By using beams and shells instead of solid elements, a representative model can be created using fewer nodes without compromising accuracy. Each modeling scheme requires a different range of properties to be defined, such as section areas, plate thickness, moments of inertia, bending stiffness, torsional constant and transverse shear.
Simulating real-world working environments
To simulate the effects of real-world working environments in FEA, various load types can be applied to the FE model, including nodal (forces, moments, displacements, velocities, accelerations, temperature and heat flux), elemental (distributed loading, pressure, temperature and heat flux), as well as acceleration body loads (gravity).Types of FE analysis include linear statistics, nonlinear statics and dynamics, normal modes, dynamic response, buckling and heat transfer. Typical results calculated by the solver include nodal displacements, velocities and accelerations, as well as elemental forces, strains and stresses.
Benefits of FEA
FEA can be used in new product design, or to refine an existing product, to ensure that the design will be able to perform to specifications prior to manufacturing. With FEA you can:
- Predict and improve product performance and reliability
- Reduce physical prototyping and testing
- Evaluate different designs and materials
- Optimize designs and reduce material usage