Finite Element Analysis (FEA) is a computer based numerical method of simulating/analyzing the behavior of engineering structures and components under a variety of loading conditions. It is an advanced engineering tool that is used to design and to augment experimental testing.
1. Pre-processing, in which the analyst develops a finite element mesh of the geometry and applies material properties, boundary conditions and loads.
2. Solution, during which the program derives the governing matrix equations from the model and solves for the displacements, strains and stresses. This is the case in implicit code applications. Alternatively explicit codes can be used, mostly for high strain rate engineering problems.
3. Post- processing, in which the analyst obtains results usually in the form of deformed shapes and contour plots which help to check the validity of the solution.
A variety of reporting tools can be used to illustrate the behavior of the analysis model including color contour and vector plots, section cuts, isosurfaces, animations, graphs and text output.
The Benefits and Applications of FEA
FEA is particularly suitable for:
1. Structural Analysis
FEA is commonly used in structural and solid mechanics for calculating stresses and displacements. These are often critical to the performance of equipment and can be used to predict failure.
2. Thermal Analysis/Heat Transfer
FEA can be used for thermal analysis to evaluate the temperature distribution, and stresses resulting from uneven heating or rapid temperature changes. Thermal analysis may include conduction, convection and thermal radiation. Analysis types include both steady state and transient analysis.
3. Frequency Analysis
Mechanical vibration characteristics are often important in design. Modal analysis is used to find the natural frequencies of vibration and their associated mode shapes.
4. Fluid Flow
FEA provides insight into complex transient and turbulent flow fields. It allows analysis and optimization of component geometry for efficient fluid flow, as well as allowing users to view velocity, pressure and thermal conditions inherent in the modeled flow fields.
Electromagnetic compatibility and electromagnetic interference can be important when designing electrical equipment and can be analyzed using FEA.
It is important to note that the real world behavior of any design can be simulated but the accuracy of the simulation results depend heavily on the educational and industrial experience of the analyst. Indeed, experienced analysts acknowledge they have much to learn while newer users who think they know what they are doing often build poor models and produce unreliable results.