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1 FiniteElementAnalysisMethods
1.1 Introduction
Thefiniteelementmethod(FEM)rapidlygrewasthemostusefulnumericalanalysistoolforengineersand
appliedmathematiciansbecauseofitnaturalbenefitsoverpriorapproaches.Themainadvantagesarethatit
canbeappliedtoarbitraryshapesinanynumberofdimensions.Theshapecanbemadeofanynumberof
materials.Thematerialpropertiescanbenonhomogeneous(dependonlocation)and/oranisotropic(depend
ondirection).Thewaythattheshapeissupported(alsocalledfixturesorrestraints)canbequitegeneral,as
cantheappliedsources(forces,pressures,heatflux,etc.).TheFEMprovidesastandardprocessforconverting
governingenergyprinciplesorgoverningdifferentialequationsintoasystemofmatrixequationstobesolved
foranapproximatesolution.Forlinearproblemssuchsolutionscanbeveryaccurateandquicklyobtained.
Havingobtainedanapproximatesolution,theFEMprovidesadditionalstandardproceduresforfollowup
calculations(postprocessing),suchasdeterminingtheintegralofthesolution,oritsderivativesatvarious
pointsintheshape.Thepostprocessingalsoyieldsimpressivecolordisplays,orgraphs,ofthesolutionandits
relatedinformation.Today,asecondpostprocessingoftherecoveredderivativescanyielderrorestimates
thatshowwherethestudyneedsimprovement.Indeed,adaptiveproceduresallowautomaticcorrectionsand
resolutionstoreachauserspecifiedlevelofaccuracy.However,veryaccurateandprettysolutionsofmodels
thatarebasedonerrorsorincorrectassumptionsarestillwrong.
WhentheFEMisappliedtoaspecificfieldofanalysis(likestressanalysis,thermalanalysis,orvibration
analysis)itisoftenreferredtoasfiniteelementanalysis(FEA).FEAisthemostcommontoolforstressand
structuralanalysis.Variousfieldsofstudyareoftenrelated.Forexample,distributionsofnonuniform
temperaturesinducenonobviousloadingconditionsonsolidstructuralmembers.Thus,itiscommonto
conductathermalFEAtoobtaintemperatureresultsthatinturnbecomeinputdataforastressFEA.FEAcan
alsoreceiveinputdatafromothertoolslikemotion(kinetics)analysissystemsandcomputationfluiddynamic
(CFD)systems.
1.2 BasicIntegralFormulations
ThebasicconceptbehindtheFEMistoreplaceanycomplexshapewiththeunion(orsummation)ofalarge
numberofverysimpleshapes(liketriangles)thatarecombinedtocorrectlymodeltheoriginalpart.The
smallersimplershapesarecalledfiniteelementsbecauseeachoneoccupiesasmallbutfinitesubdomainof
theoriginalpart.Theycontrasttotheinfinitesimallysmallordifferentialelementsusedforcenturiestoderive
differentialequations.Togiveaverysimpleexampleofthisdividingandsummingprocess,consider
calculatingtheareaofthearbitraryshapeshowninFigure11(left).Ifyouknewtheequationsofthe
boundingcurvesyou,intheory,couldintegratethemtoobtaintheenclosedarea.Alternatively,youcould
splittheareaintoanenclosedsetoftriangles(covertheshapewithamesh)andsumtheareasofthe
individualtriangles:
A = A
c n
c=1
.
Now,youhavesomechoicesforthetypeoftriangles.Youcouldpickstraightsided(linear)triangles,or
quadratictriangles(withedgesthatareparabolas),orcubictriangles,etc.Theareaofastraightsidedtriangle
isasimplealgebraicexpression.Theareaofacurvedtriangleisrelativelyeasytocalculatebynumerical
integration,butiscomputationallymoreexpensivetoobtainthanthatforthelineartriangle.Thefirsttwo
trianglemeshchoicesareshowninFigure11foralargeelementsize.Clearly,thesimplestraightsided
triangularmesh(ontheleft)approximatestheareaveryclosely,butatthesametimeintroducesgeometric
errorsalongtheboundary.Theboundarygeometricerrorinalineartrianglemeshresultsfromreplacinga
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boundarycurvebyaseriesofstraightlinesegments.Thatgeometricboundaryerrorcanbereducedtoany
desiredlevelbyincreasingthenumberoflineartriangles.Butthatdecisionincreasesthenumberof
calculationsandmakesyoutradeoffgeometricaccuracyversusthetotalnumberofrequiredareacalculations
andsummations.
Areaisascalar,soitmakessensetobeabletosimplysumitspartstodeterminethetotalvalue,asshown
above.Othertopics,likekineticenergyorstrainenergy,canbesummedinthesamefashion.Indeed,thevery
firstapplicationsofFEAtostructureswasbasedonminimizingtheenergystoredisalinearelasticmaterial.
TheFEMalwaysinvolvessometypeofgoverningintegralstatement.Thatintegrationisalsoconvertedtothe
sumoftheintegralsovereachelementinthemesh.Evenifyoustartwithagoverningdifferentialequation,it
getsconvertedtoanequivalentintegralformulationbyoneofthemethodsofweightedresiduals(MWR).The
twomostcommonmethods,forFEA,aretheGalerkinMethodandtheMethodofLeastSquaresFigure.

Figure11Anareacrudelymeshedwithlinearandquadratictriangles
Youmaythinkthatthegeometricboundaryerrorcitedforthelineartrianglesiseliminatedbychoosingtouse
themeshofcurvedquadratictriangles(ontheright).Theparabolasegmentspassthroughthreepointslying
exactlyontheboundarycurve,butcandegeneratetostraightlinesintheinterior.(Tospeedplottingofsmall
elements,mostsystemsdrawalltheparabolasastwostraightlinesegments,asontherightinFigure11.)
Thus,theboundaryshapeerrorisindeedreduced,attheexpenseofmorecomplicatedareacalculations,butit
isnoteliminated.Somegeometricerrorremainsbecausemostengineeringcurvesarecirculararcs,splines,
ornurbs(nonuniformrationalBsplines)andthusarenotmatchedbyaparabola.Themostcommonwayto
reducemeshgeometricerroristosimplyusesmallerelements,likeFigure12shows.Thedefaultelement
choiceinSWSimulationisthequadraticelement.Othersystemsofferawiderrangeofedgepolynomial
degree(e.g.cubic),aswellasothershapeslikequadrilateralsorrectangles.Inthreedimensionalsolid
applicationssomesystemsofferdozensofchoicesfortheedgedegreepolynomialorder,andshapesincluding
hexahedral,wedges,andtetrahedralelements.Hexahedralelementsaregenerallymoreaccurate,butcanbe
morechallengingtomeshautomatically.Tetrahedralelementscanmatchhexahedralelementperformance
byusingmore(smaller)elements,andtetrahedralelementsaremucheasiertomeshautomatically.SW
Simulationusesonlytetrahedralelementsforsolidstudies.
Anexampleofthesmalltwodimensionalgeometricboundaryerrorduetodifferentcurvedshapesisseenin
Figure13whereacirculararcandaparabolapassthroughthesamethreepoints.(Anewmethod,called
isogeometricanalysis,canessentiallyeliminateallgeometricerrors,butitintroducesnewapproximationsin
otherstudystages,suchasintherestraintconditions.)

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Figure12Meshrefinementquicklyreducesgeometricboundaryerrorsforlinear(left)orquadraticelements

Figure13Linearorparabolicelementsneverexactlymatchcircularshapes
1.3 StagesofAnalysisandTheirUncertainties
AFEAalwaysinvolvesanumberofuncertaintiesthatimpacttheaccuracyorreliabilityofeachstageofaFEA
anditsresults.Thebook,BuildingBetterProductswithFiniteElementAnalysisbyAdamsandAskenazi[1]
givesanoutstandingdetaileddescriptionofmostoftherealworlduncertaintiesassociatedwithsolid
mechanicsFEA.Allengineersconductingstressstudiesshouldreadit.Thatbookalsopointsouthowpoor
solidmodelingskillscanadverselyaffecttheabilitytoconstructmeshesforanytypeofFEA.Here,themost
importantFEAuncertaintiesarehighlighted.
ThetypicalstagesofaFEAstudyarelistedbelow:
1. Constructthepart(s)inasolidmodeler.Itissurprisinglyeasytoaccidentallybuildflawedmodelswith
tinylines,tinysurfacesortinyinteriorvoids.Thepartwilllookfine,exceptwithextremezooms,butit
mayfailtomesh.Mostsystemshavecheckingroutinesthatcanfindandrepairsuchproblemsbefore
youmoveontoaFEAstudy.Sometimesyoumayhavetoexportapart,andthenimportitbackwitha
newnamebecauseimportedpartsareusuallysubjectedtomoretimeconsumingchecksthannative
parts.Whenmultiplepartsformanassembly,alwaysmeshandstudytheindividualpartsbefore
studyingtheassembly.Trytoplanaheadandintroducesplitlinesintotheparttoaidinmating
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assembliesandtolocateloadregionsandrestraint(orfixtureorsupport)regions.Today,construction
ofapartisprobablythemostreliablestageofanystudy.
2. Defeaturethesolidpartmodelformeshing.Thesolidpartmaycontainfeatures,likearaisedlogo,
thatarenotnecessarytomanufacturethepart,orrequiredforanaccurateanalysisstudy.Theycan
beomittedfromthesolidusedintheanalysisstudy.Thatisarelativeeasyoperationsupportedby
mostsolidmodelers(suchasthesuppressoptioninSW)tohelpmakesmallerandfastermeshes.
However,ithasthepotentialforintroducingserious,ifnotfatal,errorsinafollowingengineering
study.Thisisareliablemodelingprocess,butitsapplicationrequiresengineeringjudgment.For
example,removingsmallradiusinteriorfilletscangreatlyreducesthenumberofelementsand
simplifiesthemeshgeneration.But,thatcreatessharpreentrantcornersthatcanyieldfalseinfinite
stresses.Thosefalsehighstressregionsmaycauseyoutooverlookotherareasoftruehighstress
levels.Smallholesleadtomanysmallelements(andlongruntimes).Theyalsocausestress
concentrationsthatraisethelocalstresslevelsbyafactorofthree.Thedecisiontodefeaturethem
dependsonwheretheyarelocatedinthepart.Iftheylieinahighstressregionyoumustkeepthem.
Butdefeaturingthemisallowedifyouknowtheyoccurinalowstressregion.Suchdecisionsare
complicatedbecausemostpartshavemultiplepossibleloadingconditions(loadcases)andalowstress
regionforoneloadcasemaybecomeahighstressregionforanotherloadcase.
3. Combinemultiplepartsintoanassembly.Again,thisiswellautomatedandreliablefromthe
geometricpointofviewandassemblieslookasexpected.However,geometricmatingofpart
interfacesisverydifferentfordefiningtheirphysical(displacement,ortemperature)mating.The
physicalmatingchoicesareoftenunclearandtheengineermayhavetomakearangeofassumptions,
studyeach,anddeterminetheworstcaseresult.Havingtousephysicalcontactsmakesthelinear
problemrequireiterativesolutionsthattakealongtimetorunandmightfailtoconverge.
4. Selecttheelementtype.SomeFEAsystemshaveahugenumberofavailableelementtypes(with
underlyingtheoreticalrestrictions).TheSolidWorkssystemhasonlythefundamentaltypesof
elements.Namely,trusselements(bars),frameelements(beams),thinshells(orflatplates),thick
shells,andsolids.Thesystemselectstheelementtype(beginningin2009)basedontheshapeofthe
part.Theuserisallowedtocovertanonsolidelementregiontoasolidelementregion,andvisa
versa.Knowingwhichclassofelementwillgiveamoreaccurateorfastersolutionrequirestrainingin
finiteelementtheory.Attimesasecondelementtypestudyisusedtohelpvalidateastudybasedon
whatisthoughttobethebestelementtype.
5. Meshthepart(s)orassembly,rememberingthatthemeshsolidmaynotbethesameasthepartsolid.
AgeneralruleinFEAisthatyourcomputerneverhasenoughspeedormemory.Soonerorlateryou
willfindastudythatyoucannotexecute.Oftenthatmeansyoumustutilizeacrudemesh(oratleast
crudeinsomeregion)and/orinvoketheuseofsymmetryorantisymmetryconditions.Localsolution
errorsinastudyareproportionaltotheproductoftheelementsizeandthegradientofthesecondary
variables(i.e.,gradientofstressorheatflux).Therefore,youexercisemeshcontroltoplacesmall
elementswhereyourengineeringjudgmentestimateshighstress(orflux)regions,aswellaslarge
elementsinlowstressregions.Thelocalsolutionerroralsodependsontherelativesizesofadjacent
elements.Youdonotwantskinnyelementsadjacenttobigones.Thus,automaticmeshgenerators
haveoptionstograduallyvaryadjacentelementsizesfromsmallesttobiggest.
Thesolidmodelsenttothemeshgeneratorfrequentlyshouldhaveloadorrestraint(fixture)regions
formedbysplitlines,evenifsuchsplitsarenotneededformanufacturingtheparts.Themesh
typicallyshouldhaverefinementsatsourceorloadregionsandsupportregions.
Ameshmustlooklikethepart,butthatisnotsufficientforacorrectstudy.Asinglelayerofelements
fillingapartregionisalmostneverenough.Iftheregioniscurved,orsubjectedtobending,youwant
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atleastthreelayersofquadraticelements,butfiveisadesirablelowerlimit.Forlinearelementsyou
atleastdoublethosenumbers.
Mostengineersdonothaveaccesstothesourcecodeoftheirautomaticmeshgenerator.Whenthe
mesherfailsyoufrequentlydonotknowwhyitfailedorwhattodoaboutit.Oftenyouhavetoretry
themeshgenerationwithverylargeelementsizesinhopesofgettingsomemeshresultsthatcangive
hintsastowhyotherattemptsfailed.Themeshingofassembliesoftenfails.Usuallythemesherruns
outofmemorybecauseoneormorepartshadaverysmall,oftenunseen,featurethatcausesahuge
numberoftinyelementstobecreated.Youshouldalwaysattempttomesheachindividualpartto
spotsuchproblemsbeforeyouattempttomeshthemasamemberofanassembly.
Automaticmeshing,withmeshcontrols,isusuallysimpleandfasttoday.However,itisonlyasreliable
asthemodifiedpartorassemblysuppliedtoit.Distortedelementsusuallydonotdevelopin
automaticmeshgenerators,duetoempiricalrulesforavoidingthem.However,distortedelements
locationscanusuallybeplotted.Iftheyareinregionsoflowgradientsyoucanusuallyacceptthem.
Youshouldalsonotethatstudiesinvolvingnaturalfrequenciesareinfluencedmostbythedistribution
ofthemassofthepart.Thus,theycanstillgiveaccurateresultswithmeshesthataremuchcruder
thanthosethatwouldbeacceptableforstressorthermalstudies.
6. Assignalinearmaterialtoeachpart.ModernFEAsystemshaveamateriallibrarycontainingthe
linearmechanical,thermal,and/orfluidpropertiesofmoststandardizedmaterials.Theyalsoallow
theusertodefinecustomproperties.Thevaluesinsuchtablesareoftenmisinterpretedtobemore
accurateandreliablethantheyactuallyare.Thereportedvaluesareacceptedaveragevaluestaken
frommanytests.Rarelyarethereanydataaboutthedistributionoftestresults,orwhatstandard
deviationwasassociatedwiththetests.Mosttestsyieldresultsthatfollowabellshapedcurve
distribution,orasimilarskewedcurve.Thetestsforstainlesssteeltendtohavenarrowdistributions,
likethatontheleftinFigure14,whiletheresultsforcastironhavewiderdistributions.Whenyou
acceptatabulatedpropertyvalueasasinglenumbertobeusedintheFEAcalculationrememberit
actuallyhasaprobabilitydistributionassociatedwithit.Youneedtoassignacontributiontothetotal
factorofsafetytoallowforvariationsfromthetabulatedvalue.

Figure14Typicaldistributionsofproportionallimitofsteel(left)andcastiron
Thevaluesofpropertiesfoundinamaterialtablecanappearmoreorlessaccuratedependingonthe
unitsselected.Thatisanillusioncausedbyconvertingonesetofunitstoanother,butnottruncating
theresulttothesamenumberofsignificantfiguresavailableintheactualtestunits.Forexample,the
elasticmodulusofonesteelistabulatedfromtheoriginaltestas210MPa,butwhendisplayedin
otherunitsitshowsas30,457,924.92psi.Whichonedoyoubelievetobetheexperimentalaccuracy;
the3digitvalueorthe10digitone?Theansweraffectshowyoushouldviewandreportstress
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results.Theaxialstressinabarisequaltotheelasticmodulustimesthestrain, o = E e.Thus,ifEis
onlyknowntothreeorfoursignificantfiguresthenthereportedstressresultshouldhavenomore
significantfigures.(Itistruethatthecomputerusesmanydigitstoobtainthemostaccurateanswer,
butyoushouldnotacceptthedisplayednumbersblindly.)
Materialdataareusuallymorereliablethantheloadingvalues(considerednext),butlessaccurate
thatthemodelormeshgeometries.
7. Selectregionsofthepart(s)tobeloadedandassignloadlevelsandloadtypestoeachregion.In
mathematicalterminology,loadorfluxconditionsonaboundaryregionarecalledNeumannboundary
conditions,ornonessentialconditions.Thegeometricregionscanbepoints(intheory),lines,
surfaces,orvolumes.Iftheyarenotexistingfeaturesofthepart,thenyoushouldapplysplitlinesto
theparttocreatethembeforeactivatingthemeshgenerator.Pointforces,orheatsources,are
commoninundergraduatestudies,butinaFEAtheycausefalseinfinitestresses,orheatflux.Ifyou
includethemdonotbemisleadbythehighlocalvalues.Refiningthemeshdoesnothelpmuchsince
thesmallestelementstillreportsnearinfinitevalues.Inreality,pointloadsarebettermodeledasa
totalforce,orpressure,actingoverasmallareaformedbypriorsplitlines.
SaintVenantsPrinciplestatesthattwodifferent,butstaticallyequivalent,forcesystemsactingona
smallportionofthesurfaceofabodyproducethesamestressdistributionsatdistantnesslargein
comparisonwiththelineardimensionsoftheportionwheretheforcesact.Inundergraduatestatics
anddynamicscoursesengineersaretaughttothinkintermsofpointforcesandcouples.Solid
elementsdonotacceptpurecouplesasloads,butstaticallyequivalentpressurescanbeappliedto
solidsandyieldthecorrectstresses.Indeed,acoupleatapointisalmostimpossibletocreate,sothe
distributionofpressuresisprobablymorelikethetruesituation.
Themagnitudesofappliedloadsareoftenguesses,orspecifiedbyagoverningdesignstandard.For
example,considerawindload.Abuildingstandardmayquoteapressuretobeappliedforagiven
windspeed.But,howwelldoyouknowthewindspeedthatmightactuallybeexertedonthe
structure?Again,thereprobablyissometypeofbellcurvearoundtheexpectedaveragespeed.
Youneedtoassignacontributiontothetotalfactorofsafetytoallowforvariationsintheuncertainty
oftheloadvalueoractualspatialdistributionofappliedloads.
Loadingdataareusuallylessaccuratethanthematerialdata,butmuchmoreaccuratethatthe
restraintorsupportingconditionsconsiderednext.
8. Determine(ormorelikelyassume)howthemodelinteractswiththesurroundingsnotincludedinyour
model.Thesearetherestraint(support,orfixture)regions.Inmathematicalterminology,theseare
calledtheessentialboundaryconditions,orDirichletboundaryconditions.Youcannotaffordtomodel
everythinginteractingwithapart.Formanydecadesengineershavedevelopedsimplifiedconceptsto
approximatesurroundingsadjacenttoamodeltosimplifyhandcalculations.Theyincluderoller
supports,smoothpins,cantilevered(encastre,orfixed)supports,straightcableattachments,etc.
ThoseconceptsareoftencarriedovertoFEAapproachesandcanoversimplifythetruesupport
natureandleadtoverylargeerrorsintheresults.
Thechoiceofrestraints(fixations,supports)foramodelissurprisinglydifficultandisoftentheleast
reliabledecisionmadebytheengineer.Smallchangesinthesupportscancauselargechangesinthe
results.Itiswisetotrytoinvestigateanumberoflikelyorpossiblesupportconditionsindifferent
studies.Whenindoubt,trytoincludemoreofthesurroundingsupportmaterialandapplyassumed
supportconditionstothoseportionsatagreaterdistancefromcriticalpartfeatures.
Youneedtoassignacontributiontothetotalfactorofsafetytoallowforvariationsintheuncertainty
ofhoworwheretheactualsupportconditionsoccur.
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9. Solvethelinearsystemofequations,ortheeigenvalueproblem.Withtodaysnumericalalgorithms
thesolutionofthealgebraicsystemoreigensystemisusuallyquitereliable.Itispossibletocauseill
conditionedsystems(largeconditionnumber)withmesheshavinglargeelementsadjacenttosmall
ones,butthatisunlikelytohappenwithautomaticmeshgenerators.
10. Checktheresults.Arethereactionsatthesupportsequalandoppositetothesourcesyouthought
thatyouapplied?Aretheresultsconsistentwiththeassumedlinearbehavior?Theengineering
definitionofaproblemwithlargedisplacementsisonewherethemaximumdisplacementismore
thanhalfthesmallestgeometricthicknessofthepart.Theinternaldefinitionisadisplacementfield
thatsignificantlychangesthevolumeofanelement.Thatimpliestheelementgeometricshape
noticeablychangedfromthestartingshape,andthattheshapeneedstobeupdatedinaseriesof
muchsmallershapechanges.Arethedisplacementsbigenoughtorequireresolutionwithlarge
displacementiterationsturnedon?Haveyouvalidatedtheresultswithananalyticapproximation,or
differenttypeoffiniteelement?Engineeringjudgmentsarerequired.
11. Postprocessthesolutionforsecondaryvariables.Forstructuralstudiesyougenerallywishto
documentthedeflectionsandstresses.Forthermalstudiesyoudisplaythetemperaturesandheat
fluxvectors.Withnaturalfrequencymodelsyoushow(oranimate)afewmodeshapes.Youcan
controlthenumberofcontoursemployed,aswellastheirmaximumandminimumranges.Thelatter
isimportantifyouwanttocomparetwodesignsonasinglepage.Limitthenumberofdigitsshownon
thecontourscaletobeconsistentwiththematerialmodulus(orconductivity,etc.).Contourplots
oftendonotreproducewellinareport,butgraphsgenerallydo,solearntoincludegraphsinyou
documentation.
12. Determine(ormorelikelyassume)whatfailurecriterionappliestoyourstudy.Thisstageinvolves
assumptionsabouthowastructuralmaterialmightfail.Thereareanumberoftheories.Mostare
basedonstressvaluesordistortionalenergylevels,butafewdependonstrainvalues.Ifyouknow
thatonehasbeenacceptedforyourselectedmaterialthenusethatone(withacontributiontothe
overallfactorofsafety).Otherwise,youshouldevaluatemorethanonetheoryandseewhichisthe
worstcase.Alsokeepinmindthatloadingorsupportuncertaintiescanleadtoarangeofstresslevels,
andvariationsinmaterialpropertiesaffectthestrengthandunexpectedfailurescanoccurifthose
typesofdistributionshappentointersect,assketchedinFigure15.
13. Optionally,postprocessthesecondaryvariablestomeasurethetheoreticalerrorinthestudy,and
adaptivelycorrectthesolution.Thisconvergestoanaccuratesolutiontotheprobleminput,but
perhapsnottotheproblemtobesolved.Accurategarbageisstillgarbage.
14. Document,report,andfilethestudy.Thepartshape,mesh,andresultsshouldbereportedinimage
form.Assumptionsonwhichthestudywasbasedshouldbeclearlystated,andhopefullyconfirmed.
Thedocumentationshouldcontainanindependentvalidationcalculation,ortwo,fromananalytical
approximationoraFEAbasedonatotallydifferentelementtype.Trytoaddresstherelative
uncertaintiesofthemainanalysisstages,assummarizedinFigure116.
Technicalcommunicationanddocumentationisalwaysimportant.InAmerica,engineersare
supposedtoretaintheircalculationsforatleastsevenyears.Willyourreportbeclearandhelpfulif
youhavetodefendityearslater?Paperhardcopiesarethemostreliableforlongtermstorage.(Can
youreadtheelectronicmediayouusedfiveyearsago?)
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Figure15Distributionsofloads/restraintsandmaterialstrengthscancausefailure

Figure116Relativeuncertaintyofmajormodelingstages
Youusuallyassumethatthematerialsarelinear.Ifnot(creeping,hyperelastic,inelastic,plastic,viscoelastic,
etc.),definetheappropriatematerialdataandthenonlinearequationstobesolved.Thenthematrixsystem
becomesnonlinear.Youroriginalresultscheckmayleadyoutoconcludethattheproblemisactuallyan
iterativeoneduetolargedisplacements,ortheneedtoinsertphysicalcontactinterfaces.
1.4 PartGeometricAnalysisandMeshingFailures
Beforeattemptingmeshingyourpart,forafiniteelementanalysis,youshouldcheckyoursolidmodelfor
potentiallyfatalgeometricflawsthatmaynotbenoticedexceptatgreatlymagnifiedviews.Within
SolidWorksthisiscalledaGeometricAnalysis.Toutilisethatfeature,ageometricanalysischeckthe
Angel_Connectorpartwillbeoutlined:
1. Withthepartopen,gotoToolsCheckwillopentheCheckEntitypanel.
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2. Inthatpanelchecktheboxesformostentities,selectCheck.
3. HighlighteachitemintheResultList.AsyouscrolldowntheResultlisttheshortedgelocationonthe
partisillustratedbyayellowarrow.Eitherthefeatureneedstobeeliminated(best),orthemeshwill
needtobefinethere(ok,usually).

4. Toconsiderapotentialmeshrefinementyoushoulddeterminethesizeofthesmallfeature.Use
ToolsMeasuretoopenuptheMeasurepanel.SelecttheXYZoption,clickonaedgeofthefeature
toseeitslengthdisplayed.

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5. Attempttocreateamesh:MeshCreateMeshandselectadefaultelementsize.Asexpected,that
processfailsandafailurediagnosticmessageappears:

6. RightclickonMeshtoopentheFailureDiagnosticspanel.Scrolldownthelistsoffacesoredgesthat
causedthemeshfailure.Inthiscase,thereisahighlydistortedsurfacethatformedwiththefillets.
Sometimesthistypeofsurfacecanberemovedbysuppressingthefillets,orbybuildingthemina
differentorder.Sometimesthesurfacecansplitbyinsertingsplitlinestomakemoremanageable
regions.Fixingthesurfaceisbetterthathavingtotrytocontrolthemeshinsuchregions.

7. First,trytogetsometypeofmeshoutputbyspecifyingasmallelementsizealongtheedgesofthe
distortedregionMeshApplyMeshControl.Specifyalocalelementsizethatwillassurethatoneor
twoelementswillfitalongthesmallestedge.

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Surprisingly,thisexecuted.Butityieldedadistortedmeshintheregionofthesmalledge.Ideally,thesurface
triangles(onefaceofthetetrahedron)wouldbeisosceles.Thatgivesanelementaspectratio(saytheratio
ofthelongsidedividedbytheshortone)ofunity.Herethetrianglesarecurved.Afewarealsobadly
distortedandnotdesirableforanalysisiftheyareinanexpectedhighstressregion.

8. Onemeasureofthequalityofanelementisitsaspectratio.Thinkofthatastheratioofthediameter
oftheenclosingspheretothediameteroftheenclosedsphere.Alternately,usetheratioofthe
longestelementedgelengthtoitsshortest.Anidealaspectratioshouldbenearunity.Checkthe
meshqualitybylookingataplotoftheaspectratiooftheelements.SelectMeshCreateMeshPlot
AspectRatio.Thatshowsanaspectratioofmorethanten,whichisonthehighside(fiveisagood
upperboundgoal).

9. Trytoimprovethismeshbyremovingthebadsurface,orsubdividingitintocontrollableregions.At
thenarrowregion,insertasplitlinethatavoidsverysmallintersectionangleswithbothcurves.
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2. Trytogenerateameshforthepart,andexamineeachoftheregionsintheResultList,via
MeshCreateMesh.Ameshiscreated.

Notethattheaspectratiosarebadinthefirstshortedgeregion.Foranidealelementshape,inadditiontoa
smallaspectratio,youalsowantthecorneranglesoftheelementtobeequal.Whilethatisnotlikelytooccur
youshouldavoidcornerangleslessthan15degreesortheelementaccuracydecreasesduetotoomuch
distortion(itdevelopsanonpositivegeometricJacobian).Toavoidthatcondition,themeshgeneratorchecks
thegeometricJacobianvalueatanumberofpoints(underyourcontrol)ineachelement.Ideally,allthe
valueswouldbethesameconstant(e.g.allitsedgesarestraight),ortheyshouldnotvarygreatly,andthey
shouldneverreachafatalnegativevalue(sincethatcancauseanegativeelementvolume).
Theotherregionsinthechecklistforthispartarewheretwocurvesbecometangent.Acommoncauseof
failureinmeshgenerationistohavetwosolidregionsortwojoiningsurfacesmeetatanearzeroangle.That
oftenhappensinpracticeandoftenrequiresinterventiontobeabletocreateameshforanalysis.Ifa
tangencyconditionisreallyrequiredinthepart,thenyoumustforcesmallerelementsizesthereviatheMesh
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