What is Finite Element Analysis, or FEA?
Also called numerical analysis, FEA simulates a physical phenomenon, structure, or system using the Finite Element Method, or FEM.
Mathematical equations are applied to allow a computer model to evolve with some variable, like a force, displacement or temperature. FEA is central to any complex mechanical engineering challenge. The basic premise is simple; we break up the design into small discreet chunks or finite elements, then we apply a mathematical condition that captures the behaviour we want to study, then join the elements together to see how the whole structure responds.
Simply put, FEA allows engineers — and their clients! — to try out complicated machines, devices, tools, and components without actually making them. Mathematical computer simulations save time and money and ensure a quality product.
As one of a few engineering companies in the Atlantic region that does FEA, other engineering teams look to Enginuity to fill this gap. It’s real “engineering for engineers”.
How is FEA used?
To test ideas and optimize designs, engineers use FEA to keep the construction of physical prototypes to a minimum and run virtual experiments.
“FEA is a tool. You have to understand how to use it, make the correct assumptions, and know its limitations,” says Enginuity’s Senior Mechanical Engineer Louis-Phillipe Manuge. “You use it gain insight into real systems without building them. It’s like building in a sandbox – you can poke and prod these systems without spending a lot of money and taking a lot of risk.”
What can FEA do for my project?
FEA adds value at various stages in the engineering development process. If you are curious, please see our unique Design Control Process.
“I think everyone should use it,” says Manuge. “FEA adds value, de-risks R & D, and shines a light on the budget of any project.”
Investing in a little bit of simulation before building an expensive prototype establishes a valuable starting point for initial characteristics: Is the product the right size? What are the best materials? How will the item hold up under adverse conditions? What is the ideal balance between longevity and cost?
Or say you already have a prototype and you need to find out how something like buckling or extreme heat might affect it. Does the thought of destroying your beautiful machine break your heart? Simulation to the rescue!
FEA also relies on validation. Using front-end calculations to tell you where your project is going to land, then validating those findings with an actual prototype. In high-stakes scenarios where safety is a primary consideration, after design and FEM we like to build and instrument that device, load it, and record performance data. Matching the FEA model data with real data gives us critical insight and allows us to perfect the prototype.
Another important bonus: It makes regulators happy to see both hand calculations and FEA verification in agreement, even if the equipment you’re making is fairly simple.
When it comes to FEA, the earlier the better but better late than never.
FEA adds value to every step of the mechanical engineering process. Ultimately, it means we can develop lighter, cheaper, and safer designs with confidence, drawing on the broad experience and strong technical expertise we have in-house.