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Lesson 01 – Introduction to FEM

Mario Guagliano

FEM: Finite Element Method

•  It is a numerical method
•  At first it was developed to solve the problem of the computation of
the stresses in loaded structures.
•  FEM can be applied to many other physical problems, where the
unkonwns are field variables (as dispalcement in structural
•  It is a useful method to find a numerical solution to a particular
•  Thus, it is different from analytical solutions to a class of problems,
for istance the fundamental equation that relates bending to

= − M(x) EJ

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First step: to divide the structure in 3


The complete geometry is divided in portions called elements, that

form the mesh.
The elements describe the displacement field in a simple manner,
basically by means of a polynomial representation.
The nodes and not the sides are the connection points among

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The elements and the displacement field. 4

The displacments of a point in one element are approximated by polynomial


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The elements and the displacement field. 5

The same relation is valid for the nodal displacements

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The elements and the displacement field. 6


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The elements and the displacement field. 7

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Strain and stresses 8

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Stress and strain

Strain field {ε}=[B]{u}

Δ: area of the undeformed triangular element

The way the node numbers are assigned is free, but the 123 sequence must
be counterclockwiseto obtain a positive element area .
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The stiffness matrix 10

The stiffness matrix can be calculated by equating the

external and the internal work.

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Stiffness matrix 11

Kix,jy is the reaction force at node i in x direction when a unit displacement

is applied to node j in direction y.

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Global Stiffness matrix: 12

global and local node numbering

1st node 2nd node 3rd node


Element 2

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Global Stiffness matrix: 13

global and local node numbering

Element number

Global model number Local (element) number of the node

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Solution of the linear elastic problem 14

After having related the displacement field inside every element to the
nodal displacements at nodes, it is possible to proceed and to solve the
linear elastic problem that is developed in such a way to obtain the value
of the nodal displacements.
By opportunely assigning boundary conditions and loads, so that they
are referred to nodes, a linear system like the following one is solved:

[K ] g { f n }g = {F }g
{ f n }g = [K ] g −1{F }g

With [K]g is the global stiffness matrix, that gives the reaction forces at
nodes of the model€when a unit displacement is assigned to the nodes.

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Solution of the linear algeabric system: 15

Once the nodal displacements are known, it is possible to calculate

the stress and the strain vectors by considering the elements of the
model. Thus, for each element:

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Congruence of displacements 16

3 u3

4 1 u1 2
The adopted expression of the displacements is valid for adiacent
elements, that has one common side (side 1-3)
This garantees that there are no voids or overlaps among elements when
they deform (the displacements are congruent or compatible)

Costant strain + compatibility = convergence of the results by

increasing the mesh density.
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Following points (to be developed) 17

These are the basis of the FE Method. We will look in depth at

•  The definition of the stiffness matrix of every element type: [K]el

•  The connection of the stiffness matrices of the different elements to
form the stiffness matrix of the system: [K]Global
•  The schematization of the loads: {f}
•  The representation of boundary conditions: {u}known
•  The methods used to solve the system that gives the nodal
displacements {u}
•  The computation of the strains {ε}
•  The computation of the stresses {σ}

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