FEA Taught the Industry Way

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Department of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology


Finite Element Analysis (FEA) can be taught as theoretical, application oriented, or preferably as a combination of these. It is beneficial to include a laboratory component dedicated to the application of FEA principles while becoming familiar with the user interface of typical FEA software. This is especially true for an engineering technology curriculum that requires graduates to be familiar with the modern tools used in industry, but is common in engineering curriculum as well. The unique topics examined in this paper are the methods used to teach FEA to develop skills for accurate analysis, physical testing of parts, and reporting results in a format required by industry professionals.

Common modeling errors are another area of focus with FEA, where element selection can greatly affect the outcome of the analysis. Too often, a new analyst will apply meshes to the model without understanding why proper element selection is important. With FE software being easier to use, more and more people will use default elements without understanding how the element behaves. Proper element selection can make a model solve quickly and with a higher degree of accuracy. Improper element selection can affect the solution time and final results.

Reporting FEA results can be taken quite literally by students as merely listing Max Stress and Max Deflection, rather than communicating results as required in industry. Faculty with industry experience at Meritor Simulation and Development Engineering and Great Lakes Sound and Vibration have developed lab reporting requirements that parallel what industry customers require. This paper will detail the requirements and suggest methods used to develop meaningful post processed plots to best visualize results.

The additional laboratory requirement with this particular FEA course requires students to perform some hands-on testing using strain gauge testing for validation of results. The methodology used is to triangulate results from manual calculations, FEA results and physical measurements. A three-point test stand is used to collect data from machined beams of differing cross sections, (I_Beams, C_Beams, Rectangular Beams, Solid and Hollow Beams) that have strain gauges applied. The beam deflection and load applied is also collected in the analysis to make comparisons to the FEA results and manual calculations. Methods of constraining objects in FEA software can result in high stress concentrations that can be explained during this laboratory exercise.

Finally, one could say that skills for accurate analysis only come with many years of experience, although there are teaching methods that help develop a mindset for students. We all have heard of “junk in = junk out” which is a very true saying, but students need to understand what is junk. The theoretical understanding of restricting a body from rigid body motion, which is one of the most common errors in FEA solutions, to the collection of force data used for accurate load applications will be discussed. The assessment results from student self-reflection survey of the industry relevant requirements of this FEA course will be presented along with industry partner feedback.

Publication Title

2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access