Finite element analysis: the key to saving time, costs, and getting to market faster

“Finite element analysis enables us to shift the costs in the product cycle. The traditional peak at the end is moved to the beginning when more time is invested into the 3D CAD model and simulated analysis," explained Shigeaki “Steve” Kinoshita, the FEA Simulation Applications Engineer at Sydney based CADspace.

"Once the product has been verified, the appropriate tooling and manufacturing can be setup. The great thing about this, and the reason why FEA reduces costs, is that the peak costs of 3D design and analysis are dramatically less than the peak costs at the manufacturing end.

“If you are not going to rely on finite element analysis to test your design, the alternative is to make physical versions of every configuration until you get it right. Some companies produce prototypes on their CNC machines and 3D printing has made this process easier. However, the process can still be costly and time-consuming relative to utilizing CAD and FEA. 

"Furthermore, FEA gives greater insight into the behavior of the product such as the various stress components experienced by the product. This insight empowers the product designer and engineer with tools to improve the design in the early stages. Although able to be used for testing, with standalone prototypes you may not be able to assess such parameters as easily.”

Kinoshita explained the tradition of relying on manual calculations and sound engineering is still essential and cannever be forgone. However, the market is demanding more innovative products, some of which are complex to solve manually. 

In such situations, FEA comes in very handy. If multiple test runs are required, analysis using manual calculations can be time consuming. Running a parametric study through SolidWorks Simulation would be a more efficient process.

Kinoshita, who used FEA to conduct parametric studies for his PhD studies, said another benefit of FEA is that it enables the product designer and engineer to test a product design’s integrity. 

Using SolidWorks Simulation, the virtual 3D model can be subjected to extreme operating environments until it “breaks”. Fine tuning of a design can be conducted within Simulation, reducing production and testing of prototypes. 

Trial and error in physical testing can lead to huge waste, he added.

As described above, with the traditional design-to-manufacture cycle costs can ‘blow out’ in the latter stages if flaws in the product design are not identified and resolved in the early stages of the cycle. Tooling and CNC machining are high cost processes. If a conceptual part has to be changed numerous times those costs keep increasing.

“Outside of the research and development phase, I believe there is another benefit that SolidWorks Simulation offers to engineers: that is when they have to present their concepts to non-engineering stakeholders such as to corporate executives, investors or marketing and sales personnel," said Kinoshita. 

"FEA is a highly visual tool and it can be used to prove the design, demonstrate its performance capabilities and verify the integrity of the product design to people who need more evidence than a standalone physical model."

At the end of the day, FEA is only as good as the person using it and Steve believes it is imperative to get professional training and to acquire experience with the tool.

“It’s no different to the first time you used SolidWorks CAD. In order to get the most out of it you were trained," said Kinoshita. 

"Practice and usage than adds and hones the skills. SolidWorks Simulation is a highly complex computer simulation. At CADspace, we will train people how to setup and analyse a FEA model using Solidworks Simulation. 

"Conversion of real life problem to a FEA model requires understanding of the problem, knowledge of FEA and engineering judgment. The inputs will dictate your outputs. When used properly FEA has incredible benefits." 

He added that validation of a FEA model is an important process in conducting simulation analysis.

“Validation of the model makes you more confident in your outputs," he explained. 

"I tell everyone to validate their FEA model if possible. For example, it might require starting out with an experiment with a parameter at one extreme then another experiment with a parameter at the opposing extreme. 

"You can then conduct finite element analysis within that parametric range and, having determined your boundaries, you can go on to test other configurations of the model in the same range. 

"With experience and knowledge, analysis outside this range can be conducted. Example of a validation may include comparison of strain results with field results obtained using strain gauges. Alternatively, you might determine a rather standard outcome using both computer and manual calculations and when they match you can then go to the FEAfor more complex calculations. 

"This should give confidence with the workings of the FEA package. Once you have determined your process the application becomes a powerful tool." 

Combination field/test data with simulation is a very good practice and makes FEA a suitable and power tool in the design analysis. The model can be validated against strain gauge results and the FEA model used to obtain greater insight into the behaviour of the product. 

This includes finding regions of high mechanical or thermal stress. The design can then be adjusted accordingly to meet the requirement such as thickening its walls to increase its robustness. 

SolidWorks Simulation is a proven product around the world. It is already helping companies become more innovative, improve product quality and evaluate performance in a quicker and far more cost effective manner. T

The fact that it is integrated into SolidWorks CAD means you achieve a more efficient work flow which will save time and cost.

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