# Theory of Finite Element Analysis

Finite Element Analysis (FEA) is a numerical method which provides solutions to problems that would otherwise be difficult to obtain. In terms of fracture, FEA most often involves the determination of stress intensity factors. FEA, however, has applications in a much broader range of areas; for example, fluid flow and heat transfer. While this range is growing, one thing will remain the same: the theory of how the method works. The most efficient method of learning is by example. Therefore, I would like to present to you a simple FEA problem: the case of a three-member truss. The method of solution to this problem should demonstrate the basic concepts of FEA which are present in any analysis. Before introducing specific quantities for our example, let's first take a look at our structure:

The overall objective of our analysis will be to determine the displacements of the truss members given the load P. The first thing we must do is choose our elements. For our situation this is easy: each truss member should be one element. Further division would accomplish nothing, since each truss member can only support axial loads. Let us now examine a single truss member:

(more info. on nodes) Nodes are located at each end of the bar, each of which can have displacements in the x and y directions. The displacements are denoted u1, u2, u3, and u4. Corresponding forces due to these

With displacement u1 = 1. To maintain equilibrium. in matrix form: The matrix kij is called the " stiffness matrix. These matrices always define inherent properties of the system being studied. we need to determine the stiffness matrix. Now. we have: . In our particular example of a horizontal truss element. The bar has a uniform cross-sectional area A and Young's Modulus E. F2. and kij is the "stiffness" coefficient relating Fi to uj. Then our matrix takes the form: Each force Fi is equal to kj1. we have the following system of equations: F1 = k11u1 + k12u2 + k13u3 + k14u4 F2 = k21u2 + k22u2 + k23u3 + k24u4 F3 = k31u1 + k32u2 + k33u3 + k34u4 F4 = k41u1 + k42u2 + k43u3 + k44u4 Alternatively. recall from mechanics of materials that the displacement of a rod is given by u = FL/AE. and F4. For the system at hand. The way we will go about doing this may seem a little strange at first. Let's begin by assuming u1 = 1 and u2 = u3 = u4 = 0. uj is the displacement in direction j. force 1 is F1 = AE/L. we must also have a force F3 = -AE/L: Since our Fi's equal our ki1's.displacements are F1." It is the matrix which defines the geometric and material properties of the bar. The general relationship between force and displacement is Fi = kij*uj. F3. Stiffness matrices are a fundamental part of FEA. but try to follow the reasoning as it does make sense. where Fi is the force in direction i.

It important to remember that our element can support only axial loads. Finally. Now knowing the stiffness matrix for any axially loaded bar. the stiffness coefficients of these displacements must be zero: ki2 = ki4 = 0. Note that when "theta" = 0. Through a similar derivation it can be shown that the stiffness matrix for any bar oriented at an angle "theta" to the x-axis is: where c = cos"theta" and s = sin"theta". Our stiffness matrix is: It must be emphasized that the stiffness matrix just derived is only valid for bars parallel to the xaxis. displacements u2 and u4 can not give rise to stresses in the bar since these displacements are perpendicular to the axis of the bar. this stiffness matrix reduces to the one we derived for a horizontal bar. a displacement u3 = 1 will result in forces just opposite to those from u1 = 1. Consider the following truss: . Thus. Therefore. we can apply it to a real situation with specific quantities. so ki3 = ki1.

"theta" = 135 degrees for element 2. Knowing the orientations of each element.The displacements and external forces are: Note the symbols we are using: R is an external force on the truss. Using "theta" = 90 degrees for element 1. F is an internal force resulting from the stresses imposed on the structure during a displacement. we can set up matrices for them. Consider the following figure: . and "theta" = 0 degrees for element 3 we obtain the following matrices: Element 1: Element 2: Element 3: We can now generate a set of equilibrium equations for each node.

Thus.u5/2 +3u6/2 ) We can now combine all of our external forces into one matrix: .u6 ) R5 = AE/L ( -u1/2 + u2/2 + u5/2 .u2/2 .u4 . Note that we have all forces drawn in positive x and y directions. for equilibrium at node 1: x .F1(element3) . from equilibrium of nodes 2 and 3 we obtain: R3 = AE/L ( -u1 + u3 ) R4 = AE/L ( u4 . and F1(element2) from our previously determined matrices we get: R1 = AE/L ( 3u1/2 .u6/2 ).direction: R2 .F2(element3) . F1(element3). F2(element2).u3 .The nodal forces (resulting from element displacements) must be equal and opposite to the externally applied forces.u5/2 + u6/2 ) R2 = AE/L ( -u1/2 + u2/2 + u5/2 . Similarly.u2/2 .F2(element2) = 0 y . Obtaining the nodal forces F2(element3).F1(element2) = 0 We want to solve for R1 and R2.u6/2 ) R6 = AE/L ( u1/2 .direction: R1 .

Now recall what we are trying to do here: given a load P. These values are quite important because without them we wouldn't be able to solve the problem. however. Inc. and u5 must equal 0. we must state the reactions which are known from our particular loading.PL/AE u2 = -4PL/AE u6 = -PL/AE This application of FEA to a simple three-member truss shows in general how the method works. u4. Observing that node 2 is pinned and that node 3 is on a roller. McGraw-Hill Book Company. 1988. Baran. u2. and u6: u1 = . R2 = -P. Entering the known displacements and reactions into our matrix we get: This matrix reduces to: We can now finish our problem by solving this matrix for u1. the displacements u3. we want to solve for the displacements at each node. John Wiley & Sons." Next. and R6 = 0. . Finite Element Primer. Bruce Irons and Nigel Shrive. References Finite Element Analysis on Microcomputers.. Most applications to engineering problems. values such as these are always needed in finite element analyses. As a matter of fact. These analyses inevitably require the application of a computer. 1983. they are known as " boundary conditions. are much more complex. We can see from the truss that R1 = 0. Such analyses require large numbers of elements and nodes in order to accurately represent the physical system being studied. Nicholas M.