SOUND AND VIBRATION/JANUARY 2007
Take a look around. Much o what you see has, in some smallor large way, been simulated on a computer prior to production.Numerical simulation helps build sae bridges, improve gas mile-age, and guide the manuacture o plastic parts. It ensures thathand tools will not break, that computers will not overheat andthat knee joint replacement components will not ail.Numerical simulation comes in many orms. It ranges rom theanalysis o an individual part, such as a bolt, to the simulation o anentire system, such as a chemical processing plant. It can involvestructural analysis, electromagnetic analysis, heat transer, or uiddynamics. Structural analyses, including predictions o mechanicalstress, deormation, and vibration, make use o a technique calledFinite Element Analysis, or FEA. This technique has served as thecornerstone or Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) or decades.
An Overview o Finite Element Analysis
In 1943, Richard Courant began to develop structural simulationtools to study vibration. His work was quickly ollowed by broaderdevelopment work in the aerospace and automotive industries.Over the years, the application o FEA has grown to include thestudy o loading, ailure limits, material response, thermal ap-plications, and more, in industries that range rom nuclear powerto healthcare. As an example, FEA can be used during the designo a bridge by civil engineers who need to know how the bridgewill respond when it is flled with cars. For a given set o load-ing conditions, the analysis would indicate how much the bridgestructure would deorm and whether or not any o the componentswould break under the imposed load. Cost-cutting measures, inthe orm o ewer supports or less expensive materials, could also be analyzed.The frst step in perorming an FEA simulation is the creation o ageometric model on the computer. There are many computer-aideddesign (CAD) packages on the market today that can be used orthis purpose. Typically, CAD models are 2D or 3D representationso the system o interest. However, in some cases, beam or shellmodels are used. The next step is the creation o a mesh. Thisprocess breaks up the model into smaller fnite regions, calledelements, where the local response (be it deormation or someother result) under all possible deormations are computed andstored. The points where the elements connect are called nodes.For example, i the response o a ladder to a person standing on itwere under analysis, the ladders’ rungs and legs may be separatedinto individual elements or study. The weight o a person would be applied to the rungs o the ladder, that is to say to the specifcelements o the analysis that are being loaded, on which the per-son is assumed to be standing. The analysis then computes howthe rest o the ladder, the legs and other rungs, would respond toand distribute that person’s weight. Element shape varies basedon the type o problem being solved. For a 2D problem, trianglesand quadrilateral elements are typically used. For 3D problems,the options are 4-sided tetrahedra, 6-sided hexahedra, prisms, orpyramids. During the meshing process, the element attributes arealso defned. The attributes include behavioral actors, materialproperties, and section properties. This inormation is used togovern the physics and guiding equations to be used in the analysis.In general, the element type is selected based on the type o loadingand geometry under examination. For example, line elements o the“beam type” might be used to model bolts, while those o the “3Dtype” are used to model more complicated structures that cannot be modeled with simpler elements. Once the element types arechosen, the model’s geometry is flled with those elements, creat-ing a mesh. During the analysis process, the governing equationsare solved or each node wherethe elements connect.The accuracy o the solutiondepends, in part, on the meshdensity, or number o elementsused to ill a given volume.Up to a point, greater solu-tion accuracy can be achievedwith higher mesh density.The beneits o higher meshdensity must be weighed,however, against the cost o the increased computationalresources needed to solve theproblem. I
governing equa-tions are solved or each nodein a particular model, the totalnumber o equations solvedwill be
multiplied by thenumber o nodes. I a particular part is meshed with 10 nodes, andi 6 equations are solved or each node, then a total o 60 equa-tions would be solved overall. While this is not unmanageable ona basic computer, mesh sizes today can grow to include millionso nodes and elements, so that many millions o equations needto be solved or a single analysis.The calculation itsel begins with prescribed load conditions,such as the mechanical or thermal loading on each element. Dur-ing the solution, the stiness matrix or each element is calculated by solving the governing equations and combined to produce thetotal stiness matrix or the entire structure. For the ladder case,the mesh elements or the rung o the ladder on which a personis assumed to be standing would have the weight o the personas well as the rung’s weight applied to them. These loads arereerred to as the structure load vector. The simulation calculatesa orce balance in the overall system, i.e. all the ladder’s nodesand elements, by solving the total system o equations. This may be a direct or iterative solution. As one can imagine, this type o example can be scaled to something larger as well, or example a bridge’s structural analysis. For a thermal analysis, the elementswould have load vectors in the orm o heat uxes or constraints interms o nodal temperatures, and an overall energy balance would be sought. In this manner, the FEA calculation allows the engineer
Using Finite Element Analysis orContinued Product Improvement
John A. Swanson
, ANSYS Incorporated, Canonsburg, Pennsylvania
Model o a ladder (let) and (right) ladder rungs and legs broken down intoindividuol elements and nodesThis simulation reects the eect o loading a building roo with snow.The image on the let is the original mesh, with red arrows that depict theloading direction. The contour plot on the right depicts the simulation’sdisplacement results.