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The Art of Idealization in Finite Element Analysis

In Finite Element Analysis, idealization is the art of reducing a real structure into an assembly of individual elements. In simple words, the process involves taking a single CAD produced geometric model and getting it completely meshed. The method depends upon a set of unique elements expected to represent the real structure. Every element has its own structural response. The representation can be a primitive 1D rod or it could also be a sophisticated 3D element. 3D idealization has some fundamental weaknesses. Since it is a discrete representation, there is a reliance on the accuracy of the element. One might argue that we could simply put in a sufficient level of accuracy and sufficient numbers to the CAD geometry, but the CAD geometry might not be an adequate representation and could be incapable of supporting elements that simulate the response of the structure in the best manner. So, unless we make use of unfeasibly large numbers, the elements might not be adequate.


In static analysis, when an external load is applied to a structure, it develops internal load paths to transfer it to the ground or an adjacent structure. The load path can be a bit tough to understand. The internal load path is affected by the number and type of elements. Making poor choices may result in a behavior different from what it is in the actual structure.


The future of FE modelling depends on how careful we are with these factors. We’ll need to look for the local stress hotspots and have an explanation for how the stresses got there and how the design can be improved. This would be a challenging task. A good 3D idealization would help us explain the existence of these load paths better.


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