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Are you buying FEA for the Pretty Pictures?


Solid Edge Simulation
I saw a couple posts this week on the growing trend of CAD designers using FEA tools (BTW, this post has a lot of links so check them out).   Roopinder Tara  just sat through the lastest of many FEA presentations and followed up with a blog post on “Practicing FEA without a License” (Ralph Grabowski republished it here). Interestingly, I had a talk with a professor a couple years ago about the possibility of such a thing when FEA got started.  Of course, we know now, this never happened and we are all free to do as much FEA as we want -- for better or for worse.

Jeff Mirisola then followed up with what I thought was a pretty good response to Roopinder's  post showing that many of these demos are focused on showing what the tool can do and how easy it is to use. They don’t always go into explain why the results are what they are.

Now I don’t think the number of people buying FEA based on just how easy it is to generate the pretty contour plots is that high but you do have to look deeper when buying FEA.  For example, in Solid Edge Simulation, we use NX Nastran and it has an option to check the quality of the mesh. If you have badly deformed elements, it returns an error. For resellers, it can be a problem because a competitor might mesh and solve a problem when we return an error.  So, do you look at the reseller and say “hey, the competition can solve this, why can’t you?”  or do you say “Wow, that is great you check for bad meshes”?  (BTW, you can override this switch but we ship with it on by default).

At Siemens PLM we have the phrase “We never let a customer fail” and in my mind that means I have to provide honest information about the usefulness and limitations of our tools. Part of that means telling you that YOU DO NEED TRAINING in understanding the results. You can’t go into too many details on a blog but here is a post I did on  “Implementing FEA at your company”.

I wrote another post called “CAD Humor – how Teens are like FEA models" which shows some of the difficulty in doing FEA.   The end point was that while these tools are getting easier, cheaper, faster and more valuable to companies, it’s important we learn how to use and understand what these tools and models are telling us.

P.S.  If you are wanting to learn more about how FEA works, check out NAFEMS or, if your company offers FEA training yourself,  leave a URL below.

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I would hope that people aren't buying FEA software because of the pretty charts...oooh, look at the all the pretty colors...

I'm pretty comfortable setting up basic studies, and complex ones if someone better versed gives me the necessary input, but I would never assume to be able to decipher the results. While anyone can learn to use the software, it really takes the right schooling/training/knowledge to fully understand what all those colors are telling you. That last part is something that needs to be figured in before making your FEA purchase. Well, unless you just want cool looking pictures and charts.
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I wrote a Finite Element Analysis Course to help people understand FEA results and how to check them with hand calculations.