
W H I T E PA P E R
Meshing  Understanding the
Technology Inside Design Analysis
SolidWorks Corporation
C O N T E N T S
Introduction 1
Mathematics of finite
element analysis 1
CAD import 2
FE guidelines for
meshing 23
Mesh generation 3
Meshing in
COSMOSWorks 46
Mesh types in
COSMOSWorks 69
Conclusion 9
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Numerical simulation methods such as finite element analysis have become
quite popular in the industry today. Integration between a solid modeling
package and a finite element simulation tool has helped many designers
achieve faster simulated results with much less effort. Of course, design
analysis results should always be verified using independent testing and
calculations; for example, strain measurement using a strain gauge provides
important data to back up the finite element results.
Mathematics of finite element analysis
The finite element method works on the basis of discretization of the actual
geometry into small portions called finite elements. These finite elements are
joined together by shared nodes, also termed element connectivity. The
elements and nodes jointly are known as the mesh.
Reallife structures are quite complex and hence a closedform solution may
not be available to get the displacement or stress in the structure. However,
each finite element can be quite well represented by a simple linear or
quadratic displacement field, and hence the distribution over the whole
structure can be approximated by the connected representation of many
finite elements.
The unknowns for each element are the displacement at the nodes; each
element shares at least one node with its neighboring element. The equations
formed and the solution obtained must satisfy the physical condition that any
nodal displacement must also be the same for these neighboring elements.
This condition is called compatibility and is one of the fundamental
requirements for a valid design analysis. Many such equations for finite
elements of the particular structure are defined and then solved
simultaneously to get the solution to the entire structure.
I N T R O D U C T I O N
Design optimization can
increase the value of a product
by improving its performance
within its operating
environment.
Figure 1
Finite elements
of a motor
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CAD import
Since time and energy has already been spent to create a CAD model, it
makes sense to use the same model for the finite element analysis. Some
CAD packages and design analysis programs are integrated together
(SolidWorks and COSMOSWorks are one of the integrateddesign analysis
packages), a fact which can simplify the process. In general, communication
between CAD and analysis packages has become easier in recent years due
to efforts from software companies toward better import functions and
standardization of the file types (e.g. IGES, SAT,PARASOLID or STEP).
In traditional modeling techniques, the model is imported or created in the
design analysis preprocessor program. design analysis analysis is then
performed on these models after applying proper material properties, loads
and boundary conditions. Any change in the geometry of the model requires
all of the above steps to be performed again, which may be both costly and
timeinefficient. Sometimes a difference in the tolerance used by the CAD
modeler versus that of the preprocessor can cause geometric problems as
well. Although some analysts still generate their models from scratch in the
finite element preprocessor, these issues are resolved when using an integrated
CAD/design analysis tool.
FE guidelines for meshing
Geometry
Most of the time, CAD models contain many fine features that can be omitted
for a finite element analysis. Features located away from load paths may be
less significant as they may have lower stresses and therefore less effect on
the other areas. Features in the regions of interest and directly in the load
path should be modeled as accurately as possible.
Finite element types
There are various types of elements available. However, 1D, 2D and 3D
elements will be discussed here.
Onedimensional elements
This type of element does not sustain bending. Rigid bars and trusses are
examples of a 1D element. Beam elements can sustain bending as well as
axial loads; they can be used to model beamlike parts of a structure but
cannot represent local stress effects.
C A D I M P O R T / F E G U I D E L I N E S F O R M E S H I N G
If the design engineer can refine
his problem definition to a single
objective  or one objective at a
time  the optimization process
becomes easier.
Figure 2
CAD geometry of a connector
Figure 3
Mesh from CAD geometry
Twodimensional elements for 2D analysis
Twodimensional elements include planestrain, planestress and
axisymmetric elements. TRIANG and QUAD are two examples of 2D
lement types.
Shell elements are the 2D elements used for modeling 3D curved structures.
Shell elements are categorized as thin and thick shell elements. Thin shell
elements do not model throughthickness shear, i.e. there is no variation in
membrane stress through the thickness. However, they are suitable for
modeling most shell structures. Thick shell elements can represent through
thickness shear and should be used where this effect may be significant.
Threedimensional elements
These types of elements are used for modeling 3D geometry and are the
most widely used element type. Tetrahedron and brick elements are 3D
element types.
Mesh generation
A structure can be either manually meshed or automeshed. Normally
manual meshing is used for generating brick or hexahedron (hex) elements.
Automesh is used for automatic tetrahedron (tetra) meshgeneration for the
3D solid model. Tetra elements are the only type which can be successfully
and reliably generated by the automeshers. The difficulties encountered in
generating the automesh for brick and hex elements are mostly the
complexity of geometry of the structure itself. Since tetra elements using
automeshers can be very fast with much less user intervention, this
approach has become quite popular in today's finite element analyses. The
table below shows some of the advantages of an automesh compared to that
of a manual mesh.
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M E S H G E N E R AT I O N
If the engineer selects too many
variables, or too few, the
effectiveness of the analysis can
be hampered.
Automesh Manual mesh (Parametric mesh)
Much quicker for very complicated shapes. Can be timeconsuming for complicated
models and sometimes may not be able
to mesh at all.
The model can be geometrically accurate with More difficult to ensure model is
appropriate mesh size. geometrically accurate.
Modifications to the design can be carried out Modifications to design have to be created
in the CAD package, provided that integration within the preprocessor (which may have
between the CAD and design analysis tools exists. limited geometry manipulation capability),
or a new, revised model from CAD
program should be used.
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M E S H I N G I N C O S M O S W O R K S
Meshing in COSMOSWorks
Meshing in COSMOSWorks generates 3D tetrahedral solid elements and 2D
triangular shell elements. You can mix the two types of elements in studies
created with the mixed mesh type. Shell elements are naturally suitable for
modeling thin parts (e.g., sheet metals).
Global mesh settings
Meshing is a very crucial step in design analysis. The automatic mesher in
COSMOSWorks generates a mesh based on defining a global element size,
tolerance, and local mesh control specifications. Mesh control lets you specify
different sizes of elements for components, faces, edges, and vertices.
The mesh shown in Fig 5 is based on a global mesh size of 0.08 inches and
0.004 inches tolerance, without any mesh controls applied to the part.
COSMOSWorks estimates a global element size for the model taking into
consideration its volume, surface area, and other geometric details. The default
value of the tolerance is 5% of the global mesh size used. The global mesh size
can be controlled using the slide bar or typing in the value in the first box, as
shown in Fig. 4.
The size of the generated mesh (number of nodes and elements) depends on
the geometry and dimensions of the model, element size, mesh tolerance,
mesh control, and contact specifications. In the early stages of design analysis
where approximate results may suffice, you can specify a larger element size
for a faster solution. For a more accurate solution, a smaller element size may
be required.
The two most frequently used
methods of shape optimization
are gradient search and design
of experiments (DoE).
Figure 4
Global mesh settings
Figure 5
Tetra mesh for bolt flange
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M E S H I N G I N C O S M O S W O R K S
Applying mesh control
Mesh control refers to specifying different element sizes at different regions
in the model. A smaller element size in a particular region improves the
accuracy of results in that region. You can specify mesh control at vertices,
edges, faces, and components. To access the Mesh Control PropertyManager,
rightclick the Mesh icon and select Apply Control.
Mesh control parameters are:
Element size (e) for the specified entities [units of length]
Element growth ratio (r)
Number of layers of elements (n)
Assuming that the element size used for meshing an entity is (e), the average
element size in layers radiating from the entity will be: e, e*r, e*r2, e*r3, ....,
e*rn. If the calculated average element size of a layer exceeds (E), where (E)
is the Global Size, the program uses (E) instead. If the specified number of
layers (n) is too small for a smooth transition, the program adds more layers
automatically. The mesh radiates from vertices to edges, from edges to faces,
from faces to components, and from a component to connected components.
When specifying component mesh control, you can specify a uniform element
size for the selected components, or you can use a relative size that is
interpreted based on individual components.
The relative size interpolates a different element size for each selected
component based on the selected position on the slider. The left end of the
slider corresponds to the default global element size of the assembly (G). The
right end of the slider is different for different components. For each
component, it corresponds to the default element size if the component is
meshed independently as a part (Ci). Using (Ci) to mesh a component
generates 4000 to 6000 elements in most cases.
Sensitivity studies can point the
engineer to the most significant
parameters as well as the range
of values having the most impact
on the objective.
Figure 6
Mesh control
dialog box
Figure 7
Meshed bolt flange
with mesh controls
on the surfaces
The engineer who undertakes
optimization will get the best
value out of the technology by
performing optimization in the
early stages of the design
process.
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M E S H T Y P E S I N C O S M O S W O R K S
The program calculates the element size (Ei) for component i from the
equation:
Ei = G  (GCi) f
Where (f) refers to the selected position on the slider with f = 0 at the left end
and 1.0 at the right end. This equation calculates smaller element sizes for
smaller components as (G) is always greater than (Ci).
Mesh types in COSMOSWorks
Solid meshing
In meshing a part or an assembly with solid elements, COSMOSWorks
generates one of the following types of elements based on the active mesh
options:
Draft quality mesh. The automatic mesher generates linear tetrahedral
solid elements.
High quality mesh. The automatic mesher generates parabolic
tetrahedral solid elements.
Linear elements are also called firstorder, or lowerorder elements.
Parabolic elements are also called secondorder, or higherorder elements.
A linear tetrahedral element is defined by four cornernodes connected by
six straight edges. A parabolic tetrahedral element is defined by four corner
nodes, six midside nodes, and six edges. The following figures show
schematic drawings of linear and parabolic tetrahedral solid elements.
Figure 8
Mesh control options
for component
Figure 9
Linear solid element
Figure 10
Parabolic solid element
In general, for the same mesh density (number of elements), parabolic
elements yield better results than linear elements because: 1) they
represent curved boundaries more accurately, and 2) they produce better
mathematical approximations. However, parabolic elements require greater
computational resources than linear elements.
For structural problems, each node in a solid element has three degrees of
freedom that represent the translations in three orthogonal directions.
COSMOSWorks uses the X, Y, and Z directions of the global Cartesian
coordinate system in formulating the problem.
For thermal problems, each node has one degree of freedom which is the
temperature.
Shell meshing
When using shell elements, COSMOSWorks generates one of the following
types of elements depending on the active settings in the Mesh Options
dialog box:
Draft quality mesh. The automatic mesher generates linear triangular
shell elements.
High quality mesh. The automatic mesher generates parabolic
triangular shell elements.
A linear triangular shell element is defined by three cornernodes connected
by three straight edges. A parabolic triangular element is defined by three
cornernodes, three midside nodes, and three parabolic edges. For studies
created with the Shell mesh using midsurface option, the thickness of the
elements is automatically extracted from the geometry of the model. Shell
elements are 2D elements capable of resisting membrane and bending loads.
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M E S H T Y P E S I N C O S M O S W O R K S
Engineers planning to use
optimization as a tool for
improving designs and products
need to clear their minds of any
preconceived ideas of what
constitutes "optimal."
Figure 11
Solid mesh for Bevel
gear assembly
Figure 12
Linear solid element
Figure 13
Parabolic solid element
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M E S H T Y P E S I N C O S M O S W O R K S
For structural studies, each node in shell elements has six degrees of
freedom; three translations and three rotations. The translational
degrees of freedom are motions in the global X, Y, and Z directions. The
rotational degrees of freedom are rotations about the global X, Y, and
Z axes.
For thermal problems, each node has one degree of freedom which is
the temperature.
COSMOSWorks offers two options when creating a shell study.
Shell mesh using midsurfaces. Use this option for sheet metals
and simple thin solid parts with one material. During meshing,
COSMOSWorks creates shell elements based on midsurfaces.
The thickness of elements is calculated automatically based on
surface pairs. This option is not available for assemblies and
surface models and can fail to generate the proper mesh for
complex parts and parts with intersections. View the mesh and see
if it represents the actual model before proceeding with the
solution.
Shell mesh using surfaces. This option gives you full control on
what faces or surfaces to mesh and what thickness and material
to use for each face or surface. It is available for solid parts,
assemblies, and surface models. Shell elements are placed such
that the associated face or surface is located at the middle of the
element across the thickness.
They achieved a 40% to 50%
weight reduction on each of three
projects and were able to
correlate the predicted response
to physical testing.
Figure 14
Shell mesh for a Glider
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C O N C L U S I O N
Mixed Meshing (Solids and Shells together)
Mixed meshing refers to meshing solids with tetrahedral elements and
faces of solids or references surfaces with shell elements in the same
study. The mesh type must be set to mixed mesh when creating the
study to enable this feature. Use this option if your model includes
bulky as well as thin objects.
Meshing an assembly
All the meshing features discussed above apply for assemblies as well.
The assembly can be meshed with either all solids (Tetra elements), all
shells or mixed elements (solids and shells). The components in an
assembly can be treated as bonded or unbounded. Unbounded behavior
of the components in an assembly is modeled using gap/contact
conditions. The components of the meshed assembly shown below are
assumed to be bonded.
Conclusion
Discretization of the structure is thus the primary step for the Finite
Element Analysis. The accuracy of the analysis depends on the quality
of the mesh and the mesh density. Coarse mesh is sufficient in the
areas of fairly constant stress. However, finer mesh is required in
regions of high stress gradient. COSMOSWorks gives the user the
flexibility of having different mesh density by using manual mesh
controls or through automated HAdaptive and PAdaptive technique.
The size of the problem (number of dof to be solved) depends of the
availability of the computer resources. Thus, diligently selecting the
particular element type for the given analysis will make the
computation much faster and accurate. COSMOSWorks gives the user
an option to select various element types depending on the structure
being analyzed.
They achieved a 40% to 50%
weight reduction on each of three
projects and were able to
correlate the predicted response
to physical testing.
Figure 15
Two solid bodies
Figure 16
Mixed Mesh (Tetra and Shell)
Figure 17
Gear assembly
Figure 18
Meshed gear assembly
SolidWorks Corporation
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Analysis Corporation. All other company and product names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.
2006 Structural Research and Analysis Corporation. All rights reserved.
COSMOS
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