Finite element analysis (F.E.A.) is a method used in simulating any physical phenomenon by the use of a numerical method known as the finite element method (F.E.M). F.E.M. is a numerical approach to solving engineering, mathematical, and physics problems. Some of the problems solved by different types of finite element analyses include transportation planning, structural analysis, fluid flow, and flood control.
In structural design and material science, finite element analysis helps in determining the behavioral characteristics and strength of materials under different conditions such as vibration, heat, and stress.
This article reviews the major benefits of the F.E.A. process in modeling structural systems and their components.
How do the different types of finite element analysis work?
The use of F.E.A. allows large structures with high mathematical discontinuity and physical complexities to get broken down into small sections that are manageable. Each of these sections is a representation of the material properties of its small domain. The simulator can understand how the large structure will respond to internal and external stimuli by slicing the whole structure into small parts.
Benefits of the Finite Element Analysis Process
1. Improved Accuracy
Past structural design processes started by sketching, which were followed by prototype development and the manufacture of the designed structures. In such cases, the testing phase sometimes reveals that some parameters are overlooked and this leads to the failure of some structures. Such challenges are overcome through the use of F.E.A.
F.E.A. requires the designers to input all the material parameters. The inclusion of all parameters enables precise modeling of all physical stresses on each structural unit. This use of F.E.A. increases material accuracy in the design of structural components by showing how all stresses may impact on the design of a structure.
2. Affordable and Faster Design Cycle
In the use of F.E.A., most design iterations don’t depend on manufacturing and machine shop schedules. Almost all new designed structural components can be tested in a few hours. As such, you don’t have to wait for weeks or days for a hard copy to get the tests done.
3. Improved Design
F.E.A. allows the designer of a structure to model a whole structural system instead of separate structural components. The modeling is helpful in improving the speed of product development. The use of different types of finite element analysis allows the designer of a structure to determine how the stress components in one part of the structure will impact the other materials and components in another separate piece of the structure.
4. Insights Into Crucial Design Parameters
The use of different types of finite element analysis allows you to model the exteriors and interiors of any designed structure. Finding out how critical design factors affect the entire inside and outside of a structure is of great advantage to a designer. A designer needs to understand where failures may occur and why they will occur.
5. Virtual Prototyping
F.E.A. simulations assist in reducing many iterations of the initial metal prototyping phase. The prototypes are costly because they take a lot of time and labor to build by hand. Unlike hard prototyping that may take weeks, as a designer you can use F.E.A. software to simulate the structural system you intend to build. You can also model the structure in different materials and designs within hours.
6. Few Hardware Prototypes
The high-quality simulations in F.E.A. software allow structural designers to start virtual testing early in the design process. The ease of using simulations reduces the designer’s reliance on many physical prototypes and thus cutting prototyping costs. This outcome implies you can cut material wastage and shorten the design cycle.
Many structures are either failing or at a point where they pose significant safety concerns. For instance, over 25% of bridges in the U.S. are handling more traffic than their design specifications or they need considerable repair work. Redesigning and prototyping such structures may take lots of time and resources if done in the physical form.
It’s thus ideal for structural engineers in these areas to seek different types of finite element analysis simulations to find remedial measures that will improve the functionality of such structures.