How to Learn Finite Element Analysis?

How to Learn Finite Element Analysis?

One of the most frequently asked questions by beginners in engineering simulation is “how to learn finite element analysis?”. It is not an easy process but with direction, motivation and time, it is achievable. Apart from reading "Practical Finite Element Analysis for Mechanical Engineers", your learning process will require lots of practice and keep in mind that it takes time to make a good FEA analyst.

The importance of the FEA software itself is very often over-estimated compared to the understanding of the modeling process. Most of the beginners in FEA focus to much on the graphical aspects rather than on engineering data and on modeling techniques.

A FEA solver is just a black box which can solve very complex systems of equations that you cannot solve quickly. FEA is just a tool we use to feed our analyses. However, if you do not master the physics and modeling techniques, you will potentially submit the wrong system of equations to the solver. The solver will often give you an answer, even if the system of equations has nothing to do with your real problem.

The Main Rule of FEA Learning

Learning FEA is a lot more than learning a particular software, it is a question of understanding the FEA process and the best modeling practices as well as the understanding of the behavior of the physical system you want to model.


The Three Stages of the FEA Learning process

1 Learning the FEA theory

2 Learning the modeling techniques

3 Learning a software

Most of the time, people learn theory at university and after that they learn a FEA software, they skip the stage 2 which consist in learning the modeling techniques. The trap behind that is that some FE analysts make bad assumptions and generate wrong analyses just because they ignore the basic rules of finite element analysis. A good knowledge of the modeling techniques allows the analyst to have a vast range of tools at his disposal and permits him to do the right assumptions and the right choices in order to properly model and solve his problem using simulation.

FEA is Used to Solve Complicated Problems

FEA is used to solve complex real problems for which the solution cannot be found with the conventional approach like hand calculations or testing due to the conservatism or the cost. There is no reason to use FEA to solve simple problems that can be solved by hand calculations.

To produce a reliable FEM which permits to do the right predictions, the analyst has to deep dive in the mechanical system to understand the environment of the system and how it reacts to external loading. The analyst does not use FEA to predict how a mechanical system behaves, he teaches to the FEM representing the mechanical system how to behave. So, to transform his real mechanical system into a model able to predict accurate results, the FE engineer will have to learn many things.

Another difficulty of FEA lies in the fact that to produce a reliable model, the analyst must understand all the factors and assumptions which influence the results in the real world before transferring them into the model.


What You Must Learn to Master FEA?

  • 1 - Define a FEA strategy
  • 2 - Understand the solutions available with your solver (capabilities and limitations)
  • 3 - Know the library of elements
  • 4 - Perform adequate meshing
  • 6 - Choose the right material models
  • 7 - Do assumptions about the connections
  • 8 - Perform validation and correlation
  • 9 - Understand the outputs
  • 10 - Do submodeling
  • 11 - Optimize the performances of your runs
  • 12 - Document your Finite Element Analysis
  • 13 - Follow the FEA best practices
  • All these points are discussed in "Practical Finite Element Analysis for Mechanical Engineers". It takes time to absorb all the concepts. The FE beginner should take them one by one and experiment them by developing his own examples. He should keep a critical eye on the results and, most importantly, always trust his engineering judgment.


Guide to Finite Element Analysis Learning

    For a mechanical engineer, FEA is one thing that is well worth the effort to learn. You will not regret it. Below are some tips that will help you in your learning process and that will make you an FEA specialist.

  • Start with the educational background in the particular physics that you want to simulate
  • Take classes in FEA theory
  • Do not just learn a software, learn the modeling techniques
  • Understand the behavior of your mechanical problem
  • Always try to understand things in depth
  • Start with simple problems
  • Practice, practice and more practice
  • Take FEA classes
  • Learn from your peers
  • Be patient, it takes time to become a specialist

"Practical Finite Element Analysis for Mechanical Engineers" has been built to help you through your FEA learning process. Your are not obliged to read it from first to last page. You can pick up information here and there according to your needs. The modeling techniques presented in the text are embellished with examples which have been prepared with MSC-PATRAN and solved with MSC-NASTRAN. However, all the concepts and modeling techniques presented in this book are applicable to all commercial FEA software.

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