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How To Manage Finite Element Analysis

By now, most engineering companies have acknowledged that product simulation in one form or another provides benefits in regard to correction of failure, robustness of design, cost of product or process, and product insight. Although many companies have realized some or all of these benefits, individual companies have experienced an uneven spectrum of them. Some research may make it apparent that the perceived benefits accorded to some companies are only a fraction of those anticipated. In a survey done in 2001, with results discussed at the NAFEMS World Congress in Lake Como, Italy, that year, it was apparent that many companies a have limited understanding of the possibilities for implementing simulation in the design process.  In the ensuing years, this has not changed dramatically.

Finite Element Analysis in Product Design

It is now widely understood that product simulation, and Finite Element Analysis (FEA) in particular, is a tool for use during the design process, rather than a tool for use in checking the suitability of a near-final design. There is, however, a growing concern that users with sub-par skills and/or engineering know-how now are armed with a tool that could either lengthen the design process by facilitating erroneous design decisions or, what is worse, lead a manufacturer to commit to products that are less optimized or less safe than anticipated. Software vendors are doing their jobs by adding more functionality in increasingly user-friendly interfaces with better, albeit varied, Computer-Aided Design (CAD) integration.

In the face of this dramatic rise in functionality, managers at many companies are finding themselves with the opportunity to use simulation for advanced analysis, but with less and less grasp of its capabilities and limitations. The engineering content—the purpose of the simulation task in the first place—is often overshadowed by the glut of information pouring out of these faster, “more intuitive” systems. The NAFEMS book Management of FEA: Guidelines to Best Practice   reminds us that impressive FE models buy a user very little if the meaning of the data is unclear or the task does not lead to improved design.

Oftentimes, very simple models, bearing little resemblance to the final CAD model, can provide more insight in a shorter period of time than can a more complex and highly detailed solution. Less qualified users performing more complex analyses may cause a regression, rather than an improvement, in effectiveness.

What differentiates a company that gets maximum benefit from product simulation from one that does not? How can a manager know where his team stands in utilization effectiveness? Amazingly, while the short answer to this is simple, the implementation of that answer is complex— thus justifying the rest of this book and the time needed to read it. This booklet seeks to explain issues that may arise from introducing FEA into the design process, how they might turn into bad—if not dangerous— “best practices,” and how these issues might be resolved.

This is a guide to managing FEA technology, not an introduction to the technology itself. This statement alone begs the question: Does this technology require management, or, like other engineering tools, does it sit in the product engineer’s toolbox alongside the dial caliper and spreadsheet, with a similar lack of appreciation?

The next few chapters make the case for an active management role in the challenging task of product simulation. With “mainstream analysis” growing in popularity, the complexities of the technology now require active management, unlike in the past when it was used in a more limited fashion. After making the case for active management, this booklet covers various aspects of simulation implementation and reviews means to control and optimize the effectiveness of each of these aspects.

The final chapters discuss and summarize philosophy of management in an era when computer simulation of product performance is increasingly the norm versus the exception. The changing role of engineering management in a world of rapid product development may be beyond the scope of this book, but at a minimum the reader will be left with food for thought.

Document Details

AuthorAdams. V
AudiencesAnalyst Manager
Date 1st January 2006


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