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Finite Element Analysis


Finite element analysis (FEA) is an engineering tool used in performing analyses such as calculating stresses or deformations in complex structures under load. FEA utilizes a computer solid model of a design or component, which is stressed in a way that could be expected in reality, resulting in a stress scheme of the material which is a result of the input state. FEA uses what is known as finite element modeling (FEM). FEM is a numerical technique using many simple element equations over small domains, named finite elements, to approximate the solution of a complex equation over a larger domain. The finite element method is a numerical technique for finding approximate solutions to boundary value problems. The boundary conditions as well as the geometry of the specimen being analyzed are the critical inputs for a FEA problem. Computer calculations are performed over many small subdomains to determine the overall reaction to the given boundary conditions. This analysis is useful for new product design, as well as when improving or determining the expected behavior of current items.

Finite element analysis uses a complex system of points called nodes, which make a grid called a mesh across the surface of the computer model of the specimen being analyzed. In other words, FEA, as applied in engineering, uses mesh generation techniques for physical systems, dividing a complex structure into smaller elements. This mesh is programmed to contain the material and structural properties, which determine how the material will react to any given loading conditions. The accuracy of the analysis depends on the density of the nodes throughout the region under study. Often times, regions which will be receiving large amounts of stress have a higher node density than the areas which will experience little stress. Also, points of interest such as fillets, corners, areas of high detail, or areas known to fail, often have a high node density. The higher the node density, the more accurate the results of the analysis, but a balance must be found so that a solution can be obtaining using the computing power which is available. FEA provides detailed visualization of the structure showing the meshes, as well as the stress and deformation distributions throughout the domain.

A mesh is created for the solid model of a fixture which is to undergo FEA.

A graphic representing the anticipated deformation of the fixture (exaggerated for ease of visualization)
at one of its natural frequencies. (4th mode - 118.99 Hz)

Finite element analysis has become a great alternative to actually building prototypes and testing them in the laboratory. It allows equipment design to be fully developed and optimized prior to the manufacturing stage, thereby saving significant production costs. Potential failure due to stresses as well as problem areas within a specimen can be predicted with a great deal of accuracy, allowing designers to see the flaws or concerns within their designs. The finite element method of product design and testing is far superior to the manufacturing costs which would accrue if each sample was individually built and tested. Aero Nav Laboratories has finite element analysis capabilities that could potentially lower the cost of your design process drastically.

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