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finite element method

What Is Finite Element Method and How do Engineers Use it?

With more than one-third of America’s major roads being in either poor or mediocre condition, engineers have their hands full designing repairs and replacement structures all around the country. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways civil engineer services can be made easier and more effective. One technique engineers use is the finite element method and this article is going to explore this process.

First off, what exactly is the finite element method (FEM)? This numerical technique is used during finite element analysis, which helps engineers understand and predict physical phenomena. So in construction, physical phenomena may be structure or fluid behavior, like floods or ground movement. Essentially, this process can predict how a structure will behave in certain environmental conditions and assess structural or mechanical issues.

Certain aspects of FEM were developed in the 16th century, but mathematicians and engineers didn’t really start researching and fine-tuning the process until the late 1800s and early 1900s. The equations used today have been developed over the years to be more accurate than ever.

Traditional FEM technology has even been expanded and adjusted to form several other types of finite element method. Some of these types include:

  • Generalized Finite Element Method
  • Mixed Finite Element Method
  • Extended Finite Element Method
  • hp-Finite Element Method

These variations of the traditional FEM can provide improvements to the solution process and increase the application to even more potential problems engineers may face with during their design process.

And along with other processes and technology, like lidar surveying and photogrammetry, engineers can accurately predict potential problems with their structural design before the actual construction process begins. This saves time, resources, and certainly money on big projects, like roadways, buildings, and bridges. All in all, FEM can help engineers test a variety of possible outcomes from potential problems, like floods and earthquakes, to ensure their design will hold up properly.

Without the finite element method, building structures and roads may not be as secure as they are today. Today’s engineers use this mathematical technique to make their jobs easier, make their designs more accurate, and make the world’s structures safer and more prepared for potential problems.

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