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Easily Made Errors in FEA 2

Easily Made Errors in FEA 2

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Published by: darkwing888 on Oct 11, 2010
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Printed in U.S.A., Copyright © 2000. PentonMedia, Inc. All rights reserved. Machine De-sign (ISSN 0024-9114) is published semi-monthly by Penton Media, Inc., 1100 Supe-rior Ave., Cleveland, OH 44114-2543. Copiesnot qualified for domestic requester circula-tion: one year, $105; two years, $165. Permis-sion to photocopy is granted for users regis-tered with the Copyright Clearance Center(CCC) Inc. to photocopy any article, with theexception of those for which separate owner-ship is indicated on the first page of the arti-cle, provided that the base fee of $1.25 percopy of the article, plus $.60 per page is paidto CCC, 222 Rosewood Dr., Danvers, MA01923 (Code No. 0024-9114/00 $1.25 + .60).Permission to reprint: Barbara LoSchi-avo; Purchased reprints: Judy Dustman(216-696-7000, ext. 9607); Advertising Ma-terials: Advertising Dept., Machine Design,1100 Superior Ave., Cleveland, OH 44114-2543, 216-696-7000. Inserts should be sentto Machine Design, Penton Press, 680 N.Rocky River Dr., Berea, OH 44017-1691.
MACHINEDESIGNwww.machinedesign.com51MARCH 21, 2002
Field variables, such asdisplacements and tem-peratures, are describedby lower-order polyno-mials, usually of thefirst and second order.Element order is fixedand does not changeduring the solution. Ele-ment shapes are re-stricted to primitives(tetrahedrons, wedges,and hexahedrons) andallow little deviationfrom ideal shapes.
Edited by Paul DvorakA common objective of FEM is finding displacements andstresses in a structure. This requires meshing (discretization) acontinuous mathematical model.
More errors
that mar
FEA results
Easy-to-make meshing errors can render finite-element analysis resultmisleading to dangerous.
Paul KurowskiDirector of Engineering DevelopmentGenexis Design Inc.London, Ontario, Canada
inite-element analysis, or the finite-element method (FEM) aswe will call it, hides plenty of traps for uninitiated users. Er-rors that come from idealization and meshing a part can bebad enough to render results either misleading or dangerous,depending on the importance of the analysis.Idealizing and defeaturing a 3D model eliminates small and unimpor-tant details. Sometimes the process replaces thin walls with surfaces, ordrops a dimension to work with a 2D representation of the part. Modelbuilding also uses simplified descriptions of material properties by, forinstance, considering them as linear-elastic materials (many are not),and assigning boundary conditions as rigid supports and time-inde-pendent loads. There are many other simplifying assumptions.The process eventuallyforms a mathematical de-scription of reality whichwe call a mathematicalmodel. To solve it with nu-merical techniques, themath model must be dis-cretized or meshed. (Dis-cretization and meshingare synonymous in theFEM). But mind you, cre-ating a mathematicalmodel is error prone.Here are a few of thethings that can go wrongwhen modeling, even be-fore meshing.
A mathematical modelcan be pictured as a con-tinuous domain with im-
posed boundary conditions that include loads and supports. Mathe-maticians say this represents a field-variable problem and is de-scribed by a set of partial-differential equations. Examples of fieldvariables include displacements in structural analyses or tempera-tures in thermal studies. We will focus on a more intuitive structuralanalysis where displacements are the field variables.To analyze a structure, we solve its equations. Solving complexequations “by hand” is usually out of the question because of com-plexity. So we resort to one of many approximate numerical methods.For numerical efficiency and generality, we almost always select thefinite-element method.At the risk of oversimplification, imagine an unmeshed FE modelwith field variables (displacements for our case) repre-sented by a few polynomial functions written to minimizethe total potential energy in the model. The polynomialswould have to be quite complex to describe the entiremodel. To get around that difficult task, the model (a do-main) is split into simply shaped elements (subdo-mains). Now, reasonably simple polynomials can ap-proximate the displacement field in each element. Noticethat a continuous mathematical model has an infinitenumber of degrees of freedom while the discretized(meshed) model has a finite number of degrees of freedom.The allowed complexity of an element’s shape depends on thebuilt-in complexity of its polynomials. For example, first-order poly-nomials call for elements with straight edges, while higher-00orderpolynomials allow for more sophisticated element shapes. Obviously,using simply shaped elements to represent a solution domain (ourmodel) calls for many of them to correctly represent both the struc-ture’s geometry and its displacement field. Using more complex (andmore computationally intensive) elements allows using fewer ofthem. No universal rule tells which approach is better.The mesh imposes restrictive assumptions on the displacementfield. This is because the field must comply with model geometry and
MACHINEDESIGNwww.machinedesign.com52MARCH 21, 2002
Field variables in p-elements can be described byhigher-order polynomials, up to ninth order. Ele-ment order is selected automatically during an it-erative solution process. Element shapes are stillrestricted to simple primitives but they can devi-ate further from ideal shapes.In a mesh of first-order elements, the dis-placement field is piecewise linear and con-tinuous. The displacement field in each ele-ment is linear while strain (calculated asthe first derivative of displacement) is con-stant. Consequently stresses are also con-stant in each element and stress distribu-tion in the model is discontinuous.
Alternatives to FEM
The finite-element method is not the only numerical method that can handlestructural, thermal, and other types of analyses. But it has dominated othermethods because of its generality and convenient formulation, at least fromprogrammers point of view. Other available numerical methods work with fi-nite differences and boundary elements. However, they miss the generality ofFEM and so have been relegated to niche applications.

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