Sei sulla pagina 1di 26

Finite Element Primer for Engineers

Mike Barton & S. D. Rajan


A

B
B

A
A

C
B

A
A B

A
B

D
D

C
E

D
G

B
B

H
A

F
F
C
B
A

C
A
D

D
C
A
B
B

A
A
B
C

E
E

C
A
C

Finite Element Primer for Engineers


Contents
Introduction to the Finite Element Method (FEM)
Steps in Using the FEM: An Example from Solid
Mechanics
Examples
Commercial FEM Software
Competing Technologies
Future Trends
Internet Resources
References

Foreword
Thisdocumentwassubmittedasatermpaperforthegraduateengineeringcourse
CEE598FiniteElementsforEngineers,offeredatArizonaStateUniversity.
Theobjectiveofthisarticleistoprovideengineerswithabriefintroductiontothe
finiteelementmethod(FEM).ThearticleincludesanoverviewoftheFEM,
includingabriefhistoryofitsorigins.ThetheoreticalbasisfortheFEMisdiscussed,
withemphasisonthebasicmethodologies,assumptions,andadvantages(and
limitations)ofthemethod.Next,thebasicstepsthatmustbeperformedinanyFEM
analysisareillustrated(usinganexamplefromsolidmechanics),andFEMexamples
areprovidedforproblemsfromotherengineeringdisciplines.
ToaidthereaderinselectingaFEMsoftwarepackage,abriefsurveyofcurrently
availableFEMsoftwareispresented,togetherwithadiscussionofalternative
analysistechniquesthatmightbeconsideredinlieuoftheFEM.Finally,weexamine
futuretrendsintheFEM.
ReferencesareprovidedforthosedesiringfurtherinformationontheFEM(including
selectedInternetreferences.)

Contents
Introduction to the Finite Element Method (FEM)
Steps in Using the FEM (an Example from Solid
Mechanics)
Examples
Commercial FEM Software
Competing Technologies
Future Trends
Internet Resources
References

Finite Element Method Defined


Manyproblemsinengineeringandappliedscienceare
governedbydifferentialorintegralequations.
Thesolutionstotheseequationswouldprovideanexact,
closedformsolutiontotheparticularproblembeing
studied.
However,complexitiesinthegeometry,propertiesandin
theboundaryconditionsthatareseeninmostrealworld
problemsusuallymeansthatanexactsolutioncannotbe
obtainedorobtainedinareasonableamountoftime.

Finite Element Method Defined (cont.)

Currentproductdesigncycletimesimplythatengineers
mustobtaindesignsolutionsinashortamountoftime.
Theyarecontenttoobtainapproximatesolutionsthatcan
bereadilyobtainedinareasonabletimeframe,andwith
reasonableeffort.TheFEMisonesuchapproximate
solutiontechnique.
TheFEMisanumericalprocedureforobtaining
approximatesolutionstomanyoftheproblemsencountered
inengineeringanalysis.

Finite Element Method Defined (cont.)


IntheFEM,acomplexregiondefiningacontinuumis
discretizedintosimplegeometricshapescalledelements.
Thepropertiesandthegoverningrelationshipsareassumed
overtheseelementsandexpressedmathematicallyintermsof
unknownvaluesatspecificpointsintheelementscallednodes.
Anassemblyprocessisusedtolinktheindividualelements
tothegivensystem.Whentheeffectsofloadsandboundary
conditionsareconsidered,asetoflinearornonlinearalgebraic
equationsisusuallyobtained.
Solutionoftheseequationsgivestheapproximatebehaviorof
thecontinuumorsystem.

Finite Element Method Defined


(cont.)
Thecontinuumhasaninfinitenumberofdegreesoffreedom
(DOF),whilethediscretizedmodelhasafinitenumberof
DOF.Thisistheoriginofthename,finiteelementmethod.

Thenumberofequationsisusuallyratherlargeformostreal
worldapplicationsoftheFEM,andrequiresthecomputational
powerofthedigitalcomputer.TheFEMhaslittlepractical
valueifthedigitalcomputerwerenotavailable.
Advancesinandreadyavailabilityofcomputersandsoftware
hasbroughttheFEMwithinreachofengineersworkingin
smallindustries,andevenstudents.

Finite Element Method Defined


(cont.)

Two features of the finite element method are worth noting.


The piecewise approximation of the physical field
(continuum) on finite elements provides good precision even
with simple approximating functions. Simply increasing the
number of elements can achieve increasing precision.
The locality of the approximation leads to sparse equation
systems for a discretized problem. This helps to ease the
solution of problems having very large numbers of nodal
unknowns. It is not uncommon today to solve systems
containing a million primary unknowns.

Origins of the Finite Element


Method

ItisdifficulttodocumenttheexactoriginoftheFEM,becausethe
basicconceptshaveevolvedoveraperiodof150ormoreyears.
ThetermfiniteelementwasfirstcoinedbyCloughin1960.Inthe
early1960s,engineersusedthemethodforapproximatesolutionof
problemsinstressanalysis,fluidflow,heattransfer,andother
areas.
ThefirstbookontheFEMbyZienkiewiczandChungwas
publishedin1967.
Inthelate1960sandearly1970s,theFEMwasappliedtoawide
varietyofengineeringproblems.

Origins of the Finite Element Method


(cont.)

The1970smarkedadvancesinmathematicaltreatments,including
thedevelopmentofnewelements,andconvergencestudies.
MostcommercialFEMsoftwarepackagesoriginatedinthe1970s
(ABAQUS,ADINA,ANSYS,MARK,PAFEC)and1980s
(FENRIS,LARSTRAN80,SESAM80.)
TheFEMisoneofthemostimportantdevelopmentsin
computationalmethodstooccurinthe20thcentury.Injustafew
decades,themethodhasevolvedfromonewithapplicationsin
structuralengineeringtoawidelyutilizedandrichlyvaried
computationalapproachformanyscientificandtechnologicalareas.

How can the FEM Help the Design Engineer?


TheFEMoffersmanyimportantadvantagestothedesignengineer:
Easilyappliedtocomplex,irregularshapedobjectscomposed
ofseveraldifferentmaterialsandhavingcomplexboundary
conditions.
Applicabletosteadystate,timedependentandeigenvalue
problems.
Applicabletolinearandnonlinearproblems.
Onemethodcansolveawidevarietyofproblems,including
problemsinsolidmechanics,fluidmechanics,chemical
reactions,electromagnetics,biomechanics,heattransferand
acoustics,tonameafew.

How can the FEM Help the Design Engineer?


(cont.)
GeneralpurposeFEMsoftwarepackagesareavailableat
reasonablecost,andcanbereadilyexecutedon
microcomputers,includingworkstationsandPCs.
TheFEMcanbecoupledtoCADprogramstofacilitatesolid
modelingandmeshgeneration.
ManyFEMsoftwarepackagesfeatureGUIinterfaces,auto
meshers,andsophisticatedpostprocessorsandgraphicstospeed
theanalysisandmakepreandpostprocessingmoreuser
friendly.

How can the FEM Help the Design Organization?


SimulationusingtheFEMalsooffersimportantbusinessadvantagesto
thedesignorganization:
Reducedtestingandredesigncoststherebyshorteningtheproduct
developmenttime.
Identifyissuesindesignsbeforetoolingiscommitted.
Refinecomponentsbeforedependenciestoothercomponents
prohibitchanges.
Optimizeperformancebeforeprototyping.
Discoverdesignproblemsbeforelitigation.
Allowmoretimefordesignerstouseengineeringjudgement,and
lesstimeturningthecrank.

Theoretical Basis: Formulating Element


Equations
Several approaches can be used to transform the physical
formulation of a problem to its finite element discrete analogue.
If the physical formulation of the problem is described as a
differential equation, then the most popular solution method is
the Method of Weighted Residuals.
If the physical problem can be formulated as the minimization
of a functional, then the Variational Formulation is usually
used.

Theoretical Basis: MWR


One family of methods used to numerically solve differential equations
are called the methods of weighted residuals (MWR).
In the MWR, an approximate solution is substituted into the differential
equation. Since the approximate solution does not identically satisfy the
equation, a residual, or error term, results.
Consider a differential equation
Dy(x) + Q = 0
(1)
Suppose that y = h(x) is an approximate solution to (1). Substitution then
gives Dh(x) + Q = R, where R is a nonzero residual. The MWR then
requires that
Wi(x)R(x) = 0

(2)

where Wi(x) are the weighting functions. The number of weighting


functions equals the number of unknown coefficients in the approximate
solution.

Theoretical Basis: Galerkins Method


There are several choices for the weighting functions, Wi.
In the Galerkins method, the weighting functions are the same
functions that were used in the approximating equation.
The Galerkins method yields the same results as the variational
method when applied to differential equations that are self-adjoint.
The MWR is therefore an integral solution method.
Many readers may find it unusual to see a numerical solution that
is based on an integral formulation.

Theoretical Basis: Variational Method


The variational method involves the integral of a function that
produces a number. Each new function produces a new
number.
The function that produces the lowest number has the
additional property of satisfying a specific differential equation.

Consider the integral


D/2 y(x) - Qy]dx = 0.

(1)

The numerical value of can be calculated given a specific


equation y = f(x). Variational calculus shows that the
particular equation y = g(x) which yields the lowest numerical
value for is the solution to the differential equation
Dy(x) + Q = 0.

(2)

Theoretical Basis: Variational Method (cont.)


In solid mechanics, the so-called Rayeigh-Ritz technique
uses the Theorem of Minimum Potential Energy (with the
potential energy being the functional, ) to develop the
element equations.
The trial solution that gives the minimum value of is the
approximate solution.
In other specialty areas, a variational principle can usually be
found.

Sources of Error in the FEM


The three main sources of error in a typical FEM solution are
discretization errors, formulation errors and numerical errors.
Discretization error results from transforming the physical system
(continuum) into a finite element model, and can be related to
modeling the boundary shape, the boundary conditions, etc.

Discretizationerrorduetopoorgeometry
representation.

Discretizationerroreffectivelyeliminated.

Sources of Error in the FEM (cont.)


Formulation error results from the use of elements that don't precisely
describe the behavior of the physical problem.
Elements which are used to model physical problems for which they are not
suited are sometimes referred to as ill-conditioned or mathematically
unsuitable elements.
For example a particular finite element might be formulated on the assumption
that displacements vary in a linear manner over the domain. Such an element
will produce no formulation error when it is used to model a linearly varying
physical problem (linear varying displacement field in this example), but would
create a significant formulation error if it used to represent a quadratic or cubic
varying displacement field.

Sources of Error in the FEM (cont.)


Numerical error occurs as a result of numerical calculation
procedures, and includes truncation errors and round off
errors.
Numerical error is therefore a problem mainly concerning
the FEM vendors and developers.
The user can also contribute to the numerical accuracy,
for example, by specifying a physical quantity, say Youngs
modulus, E, to an inadequate number of decimal places.

Advantages of the Finite Element Method


Can readily handle complex geometry:
The heart and power of the FEM.
Can handle complex analysis types:
Vibration
Transients
Nonlinear
Heat transfer
Fluids
Can handle complex loading:
Node-based loading (point loads).
Element-based loading (pressure, thermal, inertial
forces).
Time or frequency dependent loading.
Can handle complex restraints:
Indeterminate structures can be analyzed.

Advantages of the Finite Element Method (cont.)


Can handle bodies comprised of nonhomogeneous materials:
Every element in the model could be assigned a different set of
material properties.
Can handle bodies comprised of nonisotropic materials:
Orthotropic
Anisotropic
Special material effects are handled:
Temperature dependent properties.
Plasticity
Creep
Swelling
Special geometric effects can be modeled:
Large displacements.
Large rotations.
Contact (gap) condition.

Disadvantages of the Finite Element Method


A specific numerical result is obtained for a specific problem. A
general closed-form solution, which would permit one to examine
system response to changes in various parameters, is not produced.
The FEM is applied to an approximation of the mathematical model
of a system (the source of so-called inherited errors.)
Experience and judgment are needed in order to construct a good
finite element model.
A powerful computer and reliable FEM software are essential.
Input and output data may be large and tedious to prepare and
interpret.

Disadvantages of the Finite Element Method


(cont.)

Numerical problems:
Computers only carry a finite number of significant digits.
Round off and error accumulation.
Can help the situation by not attaching stiff (small) elements
to flexible (large) elements.
Susceptible to user-introduced modeling errors:
Poor choice of element types.
Distorted elements.
Geometry not adequately modeled.
Certain effects not automatically included:
Buckling
Large deflections and rotations.
Material nonlinearities .
Other nonlinearities.