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CHAPTER

INTRODUCTION
1.1 What Is Finite Element Analysis?
Finite element analysis, commonly referred to as FEA, is a tool of design
analysis. Therefore, it is appropriate to start our discussion with a definition
of what design analysis is and how it relates to FEA. Design analysis is a
process of investigating certain properties of parts, assemblies, or structures.
Design analysis can be conducted on real objects or on models that represent
certain aspects of a real object. If models are used instead of real objects, the
analysis can be conducted earlier in the design process, before the final product or even the prototypes are built. Those models can be physical models
(e.g., scaled-down models, mockups, photoelastic models) or mathematical
models where a certain behavior of a part or structure is captured and described
by a mathematical apparatus. The design analysis conducted with the use of
mathematical models can be further broken down, based on what methods
are used to obtain the solution. Simple mathematical models can be solved
analytically, but more complex models require the use of numerical methods.
Finite element analysis is one of those numerical methods used to solve complex mathematical models. It has numerous uses in science and engineering,
but in this book we will focus on its applications to structural and thermal
analysis as used in the field of mechanical engineering. We will alternate
between two terms that became synonymous in engineering practice: (1) finite
element analysis (FEA), and (2) finite element method (FEM).
As we will point out on numerous occasions, FEA is a powerful but demanding tool of engineering analysis. The expertise expected of FEA users depends
on the extent and complexity of the conducted analysis but always requires
familiarity with the mechanics of materials, engineering design, and other
topics as required in any mechanical engineering curriculum. For this reason,
many introductory FEA books offer readers a quick review of those engineering fundamentals. Rather than duplicating the efforts of other authors, Chapter 11 of this book refers to some of those books for reference.

I Finite Element Analysis for Design Engineers

1.2 What Is FEA for Design Engineers?


What exactly distinguishes FEA for design engineers from regular FEA?
To set the tone for the remainder of this book, we will highlight the most
essential characteristics of FEA for design engineers, as opposed to FEA performed by analysts.
FEA is only another design tool.

For design engineers, FEA is one of many design tools and is used in
addition to computer-aided design (CAD), spreadsheets, catalogs, databases, hand calculations, textbooks, and so forth.
FEA is based on CAD models.

Today, design is almost always created using CAD tools; therefore, the
CAD model is the starting point for FEA.
FEA occurs concurrently with the design process.
Because FEA is a design tool, it should be used concurrently with the
design process. It should keep up or, better yet, drive the design process.
Analysis iterations must be performed rapidly, and because results are used
to make design decisions, the results must be reliable even if an inadequate amount of input data may be available for analysis conducted early
in the design process.

Limitations of FEA for design engineers.


As we can see, FEA used in the design environment must meet very high
requirements. It must be executed quickly and accurately, although it is in
the hands of design engineers rather than FEA specialists. An obvious
question is: Would it be better to have a dedicated specialist perform
FEA, and allow design engineers to do what they do best-design new
products? The answer depends on the size of the organization, the types
of product, the company organization and culture, and many other tangible and intangible factors. The general consensus is that design engineers should handle relatively simple types of analyses in support of the
design process. More complex types of analyses, which are too complex
and too time-consuming to be executed concurrently with the design process, are usually better either handled by a dedicated analyst or contracted
out to specialized consultants.

Objective of FEA for design engineers.


The ultimate objective of using FEA as a design tool is to change the
design process from iterativecycles of design,prototype,test into a streamlined process where prototypes are used only for final design verification.

Introduction I

With the use of FEA, design iterations are moved from the physical space
of prototyping and testing into the virtual space of computer-based simulations (Figure 1.1). Finite element analysis is not, of course, the only tool
of computerized simulation used in the design process. There are others,
such as computational fluid dynamics and motion analysis, jointly called
the tools of computer-aided engineering (CAE).

TRADITIONAL PRODUCT

FEA-DRIVEN PRODUCT

DESIGN PROCESS

DESIGN PROCESS

F
I

PROTOTYPING

It
It
PRODUCTION

1
1

Figure 1.1. Traditionalproduct development needs prototypes to support the design process. The FEA-driven
product development process uses numerical models, rather
than physical prototypes, to drive the development process.

1.3 Note on Hands-on Exercises and Illustrations in


This Book
Based on my many years of teaching experience, I suggest that simply reading this book (or any other FEA book, for that matter) is not enough to allow
the knowledge to sink in. To assure an effective transfer of knowledge, it is
necessary to complete some examples. Therefore, most topics discussed in
this book are accompanied by simple but informative exercises listed at the
end of related chapters. Exceptions are Chapters 9 through 12, which can be
considered as standalone and can be read independently of the remainder of
this book. The suggested exercises are not specific to any particular software
and can be solved using almost any commercial FEA software. For readers
convenience, the geometry for all exercises can be downloaded in Parasolid
format from www.designgenerator.com.

I finite Element Analysis for Design Engineers

All illustrations in this book have been printed in black and white where they
are first cited in the text. However, some illustrations, particularly those presenting FEA results in the form of fringe plots, are difficult to interpret when
color is missing. Therefore, such illustrations also appear in a separate color
section of this book. All illustrations also are available in color for download
from www.designgenerator.com.
For the exercises, readers can use the commercial FEA software StressCheck@'
from Engineering Software Research & Development, Inc. (ESRD).
Stresscheck is a general-purpose FEA software product that is particularly
useful for learning purposes because of its unique approach to discretization
error control, the availability of both h- and p-elements, and a library of commonly used parts. A free six-month software license may be requested by
visiting the ESRD website at www.esrd.com, by sending an e-mail to
support@esrd.com,or by calling 3 14-983-0649. When requesting a license,
the reader should identify himself or herself as a purchaser of this book.

1. Stresscheck is a registered trademark of Engineering Software Research & Development,


Inc. (ESRD), St. Louis, Missouri; www.esrd.com.