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Computational Analysis and Optimization of


Torsional Stiffness of a Formula-SAE Chassis

2014-01-0355
Published 04/01/2014

Atishay Jain

Mahindra 2 Wheelers, Ltd.


CITATION: Jain, A., "Computational Analysis and Optimization of Torsional Stiffness of a Formula-SAE Chassis," SAE
Technical Paper 2014-01-0355, 2014, doi:10.4271/2014-01-0355.
Copyright 2014 SAE International

Abstract
One of the key aspects of designing a race car chassis is
Torsion Stiffness (Roll stiffness). Designers strive to develop a
chassis design with a high value of roll stiffness to counter the
forces applied by the suspension during cornering while keeping
the weight as low as possible. CAD and static analysis
techniques are instrumental for virtual testing and validation in
the initial stages of a project prior to experimental testing. This
paper intends to encapsulate elementary analysis skills and their
application in designing and developing tubular frame structures
for amateur racing vehicles and simultaneously focusing on
reducing the time for the design and development process.
The objective of this paper is to calculate, analyze and optimize
the torsion stiffness of a Formula SAE/ Formula Student
chassis using an analysis model developed and optimized for
quicker design iterations and to compare different design
proposals based on certain key parameters in the nascent
stage of project development.
This paper extensively uses Finite Element Model (FEM)
techniques to execute static structural analysis and modal
analysis, and suggests various approaches that can be
adopted post analysis to help in deriving alterations in space
frame geometry directed towards augmenting torsional
stiffness value for a particular load case and thus, optimize
one's design.

Introduction
Formula Student/ Formula SAE are a series of international
student engineering competitions. Student teams from around
the world from different leading universities design, build, test,
and race a small-scale formula style racing car. All cars are
required to follow the provided rules and guidelines meant for
safety and uniform design evaluation.

It is imperative for a chassis designer to balance different


aspects of the vehicle while adhering to design governing
constraints such as, center of gravity, engine orientation,
exhaust manifold clearance, intake manifold clearance,
suspension component mounting, drive train, driver safety and
many more.
Taking into consideration these prerequisite constraints, a
chassis designer may come up with quite a number of
iterations of chassis designs. Finally the question arises before
the designer which design is the best? There are a number of
parameters against which a chassis can be evaluated, few
being, weight, manufacturability, torsional stiffness, and
torsional stiffness to weight ratio. Experimental evaluation of
the mentioned parameters can be a costly and a time
consuming scenario, especially for student design team, where
the budget and time constraints are always stringent and
experimental analysis will require life size prototypes,
manufacturing these prototypes will be detrimental to the team
budget. Further, the experimental setup required for such
evaluations is never a standard one.
The challenges mentioned above hints a designer to adopt
FEA techniques to compute approximate values of the
governing parameters and draw a comparison between the
design iterations. Using various analysis results the designer
can identify the scope of improvement in one design and induct
maximum feasible mitigations in the next iteration of design
and development process.
Torsional stiffness and weight are the two very important
measurable aspects to any race car. Thus, the aim of this
paper is to draw a comparison of the given design iterations
and arrive at a design of which the trade-off between high
torsional stiffness and low weight is balanced to achieve high
vehicle performance across the various competition events.

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Load Cases of Chassis


In order to ensure that the chassis performs satisfactorily for an
FSAE race car, it must be designed after an extensive analysis
has been performed. Thus, it becomes imperative to know
about loads that the chassis must withstand during the
operation of the race car. In the design and analysis of the
chassis for FSAE application, there are generally four types of
static load cases. These load cases are:

Vertical Bending
This load case arises from supporting the weight of all
components of the race car. Among them, more dominant ones
are driver, engine and differential system. The frame is
assumed to act as a beam simply supported on four wheels
(Figure 3), which tend to produce reactions vertically upward at
the axles. Under dynamic conditions, the magnitudes of these
weights can be several times higher than those at static
conditions, due to acceleration/deceleration.

Lateral Bending
This load case (Figure 1) is developed when the race car
navigates a corner at high speeds. Lateral bending deformation
occurs mainly due to the centrifugal forces caused during
cornering and wind forces to some extent. Magnitudes of these
forces depend on the speed of the race car, the radius of the
corner and the degree of the road banking. Lateral forces act
along the length of chassis and is resisted by axles, tires and
frame members directly connected to the suspension. Stresses
in these members can be several time higher than those in
members of other areas of the chassis.

Figure 3. Vertical Bending in a chassis

Longitudinal Torsion
Thought of as a torsion spring connecting the two ends where
suspension loads act. The resistance to torsional deformation
is called as torsional stiffness, expressed in Nm/degree (in SI
units). Torsional rigidity is the primary parameter for
determination of frame performance of cars.

Figure 1. Lateral bending in a chassis

Horizontal Lozenging
When there is non-uniformity in traction, horizontal lozenging
load case is encountered (Figure 2). This deformation is
caused by forward and backward forces applied at diagonally
opposite wheels. Instances of such conditions may be forces
applied due to vertical variations in the pavement or the
reaction from the road driving the car forward. These forces
tend to distort the frame into a parallelogram shape. The
magnitude of these loads changes with the operating mode of
the car. Similar as the load case of lateral bending, this load
case is vital for areas of the chassis which are directly
connected to the suspension.

Figure 2. Horizontal Lozenging in a chassis

Figure 4. Longitudinal Torsion in a chassis

Torsional Stiffness
Structural stiffness has a huge impact on the performance and
safety of the race car. Since the chassis functions as a structure
that houses various vehicle systems, it ensures the stability of
the chassis for these systems to perform consistently. From the
safety point of view, it ensures that the chassis is sufficiently
stiff to provide the survival space needed for the driver when
accidents occur. Statistically, a chassis that has high structural
stiffness almost always has high structural strength. There are
two main classes of stiffness, namely structural torsional
stiffness and structural bending stiffness. The structural
torsional stiffness of the chassis is highly significant because it
affects the ability of the suspension to tune the race car's
handling characteristic for high performance.
It is generally thought that if torsional and vertical bending
stiffness is satisfactory, then the chassis structure is expected
to perform well. But torsional stiffness is awarded more
weightage as the total cornering traction is the function of
lateral weight transfers.

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The structural torsional stiffness of the chassis is commonly


defined by how much it distorts when it is loaded in pure
torsion and is usually expressed in Nm/degree of rotation.
The formula for a shaft constrained at one end and an applied
torque T at the other, with denoting the resultant twist of the
shaft is expressed as:

(1)

This simple formula relates this angle of twist to the applied


torque, where

Figure 5. Chassis twist angle and vertical displacement

Torque Calculations
The chassis was assumed to be rotating about the symmetrical
longitudinal axis. Figure 6 below shows a simplified
representation of the connection between point C and D
which represent the points on which the two known loads (of
equal magnitude but opposite in direction) are applied. The
torque on the chassis or around the axis of rotation is defined
by equation below:

J= polar moment of inertia,


G= shear modulus of the material, and
l= length of the shaft.
This equation can then be rearranged to express torsional
stiffness i.e. T/

(3)
(2)

This expression displays that torsional stiffness in proportional


to both the polar moment inertia and material shear modulus,
whilst being inversely proportional to the length.
Though the steps for maximizing torsional stiffness of a chassis
seem simple enough, a car designer encounters conflicting
results when she tries to pursue them. While length
specifications are governed by rules, increasingly strong
materials bring with them other undesirable properties such as
brittleness and low machinability. An increase in the third
attribute, the polar moment of inertia, demands additional
material that increases the weight, which must otherwise be
minimized for better performance. Hence a chassis design is at
best, a tradeoff between many factors. This finally becomes a
problem of optimization rather than maximization which can be
solved iteratively, through computer simulation till a satisfactory
result is obtained.
The method for measuring the chassis twist angle due to the
subjected force was done by measuring the deflections at
inboard wishbone mounting points. The reason for this is that
at these points the twist angle is the very deformation that is
being designed against. Due to the inherent symmetry of the
chassis, the vertical displacement of the corner nodes was use
to derive the suspension point relative twist angle, the figure 5
illustrates how these displacements were used to calculate
angle of twist .

Figure 6. torque representation during torsion in a chassis

Natural Frequencies and Modes of Vibration


The chassis, as with any structure, has an infinite number of
resonant frequencies. A resonant frequency, also known as
natural frequency, is a preferred frequency of vibration, and
results when the inertial and stiffness forces cancel. The lone
factor controlling the amplitude of vibration in resonance is
damping. For each of the infinite natural frequencies of vibration
which exist, a different shape that the chassis will deform to
during vibration also exists. The deformed shapes that chassis
will vibrate are also known as modes of vibration. Of the infinite
modes of vibration that exist on the frame structure, only the
lowest frequencies are of interest. The low modes of vibration
maximize the kinetic energy and minimize the strain energy
while the high modes act in an opposite manner. This means
that the soft and stiff parts of the chassis will be apparent in the
low and high modes of vibrations respectively.

Chassis Design
The chassis models used for this paper are designed in
accordance with Formula Student/FSAE guidelines 2012. The
vehicle frame is required to meet certain criteria for driver
safety and hazard prevention measures in the event of critical
circumstances during the use of vehicle. Further, a chassis has
to take in to account several other factors in addition to the

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safety guidelines, likeability to accommodate tallest and


shortest driver, sufficient clearance for routing exhaust
manifold. Some of these criterions are discussed as follows:

95th Percentile Male Clearance


When seated normally and restrained by the Driver's Restraint
System, the helmet of a 95th percentile male (anthropometrical
data) and all of the team's drivers must:

Figure 9. Template clearance for rearward main hoop bracings used

Be no further rearwards than the rear surface of the main


hoop if the main hoop bracing extends forwards. (Figure10).
[1]

Fig. 7. Percy- 95th percentile Male with helmet


Figure 10. Template clearance forward main hoop bracings used

Be a minimum of 50.8 mm (2 inches) from the straight line


drawn from the top of the main hoop to the top of the front
hoop. (Figure 8)

Intake Manifold Clearance (Vehicle Envelope)


All parts of the engine air and fuel control systems (including
the throttle or carburetor, and the complete air intake system,
including the air cleaner and any air boxes) must lie within the
surface defined by the top of the roll bar and the outside edge
of the four tires. The design of main roll hoop of the chassis
plays a crucial role in determining this envelope. [1]

Figure 8. Template clearance

Be a minimum of 50.8 mm (2 inches) from the straight line


drawn from the top of the main hoop to the lower end of the
main hoop bracing if the bracing extends rearwards. (Figure 9)

Figure 11. Surface envelope for rollover safety

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Cockpit Size
In order to ensure that the opening giving access to the cockpit
is of adequate size, a template shown in Figure 12 will be
inserted into the cockpit opening. It will be held horizontally and
inserted vertically until it has passed below the top bar of the
Side Impact Structure. [1]

Basic theme of FEA is to make calculations at only limited


(finite) number of points and then interpolate the results for
entire domain. Any continuous object has infinite degrees of
freedom and it is not possible to solve the problem in this
format. Finite element model reduces the degrees of freedom
from infinite to finite with the help of discretization i.e. meshing
(nodes and elements). All calculations are made at limited
number of points known as nodes. Entities joining nodes and
forming a specific shape such as quadrilateral or triangular, etc.
are known as elements. To get value to variable (say
displacement) anywhere between the calculation points,
interpolation function is used. [2]
While the process of solving Finite Element problems is a
science, creating the models is quite an art. There are many
types of elements possible for representing a structure and
every choice the analyst makes can affect the results. The
number, orientation and size of elements as well as loads and
boundary conditions are all critical to obtaining meaningful
values of chassis stiffness. [3]

Figure 12. Cockpit opening template

Exhaust Clearance
It is ideal to plan for the requisite allowances between frame
members and heating exhaust elements, which is required to
route the exhaust manifold to avoid any damage during
operation and achieve an optimal design.

Minimum Material Requirements


For ensuring safety constraints in frame design SAE has the
following minimum material requirements [1]:
Table 1. Specifications for chassis members

For our analysis we re-modeled the chassis designs under


consideration as a wireframe in ANSYS Mechanical APDL
(ANSYS Release 14), in the form of axial lines, arcs and
key-points. First step was to plot the key points, following which
a wireframe was formed by creating line using them to
complete the geometric analogy of the frame. As mentioned
earlier the choice of elements, and type of meshing can
affected the results of the analysis. Thus, one must be
extremely cautious and careful while creating the FEA model of
a geometry as complex as a racing vehicle frame.
After thorough analysis and study we were able to conclude
that 2-D shell elements were most ideal in terms of the level of
accuracy that could be achieved in the analysis. Due to the
complex geometry of the frame, time involved in creating a
FEA model per iteration and number of the iterations required
to be performed in a project for refining a chassis design, it was
practical to use 1-D beam element for modeling the frame.
In ANSYS Release 14 we had a choice of elements BEAM189
(3 node) or BEAM188 (2 node). After researching and studying
the reports and blogs of experienced ANSYS users, we
selected BEAM189 over BEAM188 because it was noted that,
in general the former always gives better results. BEAM 188 is
preferred when you want to model stiffeners along with shell
elements (181, 43 ), the 188 provides the required
compatibility, but in our case it was redundant.

FEA Model
To determine the torsional stiffness of a vehicle frame under
scrutiny before fabrication a FEA model can be constructed to
calculate the stiffness and strength. In FEA method the object
to be analyzed is broken into a large number of basic
elements, and creating a stiffness matrix models how these
elements interact with each other.

The assumption made in using beam elements is that the


welded tubes have stiffness in bending and torsion. If a truss or
link element were used, the assumption being made would be
the connections do not offer substantial resistance to bending
or torsion. By examining various FSAE frames, we can see that
while they are usually reasonably well triangulated, if some
bending was not being resisted, some parts of many frames
would become mechanisms and deflect substantially. [3]

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In few related papers and on FSAE forums it is advocated to


replicate a real roll scenario to determine roll/torsional stiffness,
i.e. model all the suspension components and apply loads at
tire contact patches or at hub center. Initially being the first
thought it turned out to be an extremely tedious task, as the
time involved in just creating such a complex model would take
no less than 200-300 hours, i.e. by the hands of a professional
CAE Engineer. Moreover, the validation of the FEA model and
results of this complex simulation would be another herculean
task (especially for students at undergraduate level) and still
may come out to be inaccurate and rife with uncertainties and
imperfections.
In order to make the analysis relatively simpler and practically
manageable (considering that many FSAE teams have a
majority of undergraduate student members), it was decided to
use only the chassis model for determining the torsional
stiffness, as it would be critical in reducing design iteration time
and make the analysis model more convenient and adaptable
for undergraduate students.

Beam Section
In order to have a fine mesh on critical surfaces of the beam/
pipe for higher accuracy in using FE methodology the number
of circumferential divisions was taken 12 in the beam section
attributes. The space frame is constructed of pipes of different
thickness as per requirements of strengths and safety;
similarly, meshing attributes for these pipes of different
thickness consist of separate section profiles which are applied
in accordance with their thickness.

For the following analyses, all degrees of freedom of the rear


all rear in-board wishbone mounting points have been
restricted and equal and opposite loads have been applied at
the front in board points (refer figure 14).

Figure 14. Applied Loads on meshed Beam model

Another thing to be considered when modeling just the frame is


the problem of representing the engine and stressed skins. For
the engine, the first step is to locate a node at each position
where the engine is mounted to the chassis. Since the engine
can be considered to be a member of very high stiffness, to
model the physical load effects of the engine, in this analysis,
the degrees of freedom of the engine mounts have been
coupled (figure 15). Coupling the degrees of freedom of the
engine mounts could be interpreted as points on an object of
very high stiffness. Alternative techniques such as replacing
the engine with a solid Aluminum block may or may not create
the same effect depending on the interaction of the aluminum
block with the engine mounts.

Figure 13. Mesh view of beam section

Boundary Conditions
Boundary conditions though take least time but are the most
important step in FEA. Application of boundary conditions is a
tricky subject and is based on pure engineering judgment and
common sense.

Figure 15. Coupling of degrees of freedom of nodes representing


engine mounting points

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Analysis Model
Structural Analysis
The analysis environment is static structural linear elastic in
ANSYS Mechanical APDL. Since the calculated value of
torsional stiffness obtained using FE methodology will vary
depending on the boundary conditions and loads applied. For
the purpose of comparison of successive design iterations we
have kept identical boundary conditions throughout the
analysis. Without common boundary conditions and load cases
torsional stiffness values would vary and a comparison would
be absurd and meaningless.

Chassis Iteration Case 1: CHS_1

Description
This nascent design (figure 16) was prepared by incorporating
suggestions from judges on the evaluation of our last event's
car. The car was made more driver friendly by focusing on
driver seating angles, head restraint, pedal position and
steering comfort. Centre of gravity was lowered by orienting the
engine at the lowest possible position, while considering
appropriate clearances for exhaust routing and fuel tank. The
triangulation of inboard suspension points was improved.
Superficially, the chassis dimensions and suspension geometry
was retained from the earlier design.
Weight: 34.93 Kg
Length: 2297 mm
Material: AISI 1020
Load: 50.325 Nm
Torsional Stiffness: 1578.654 Nm/degree

Figure 17. Von Mises stress plot for CHS _1

Analysis and Interpretation


After carefully studying the Von-Mises stress plot (figure 17)
and Deformed Shape animation, target areas can be identified
and counter measures can be taken to lower stress
concentrations and deflection values. In this analysis, high
stress concentrations were noticed at engine middle mounts
and members of the middle chassis above side impact
structure. Further, it was construed that there was an untapped
potential in the rear chassis to make it possibly more compact.
Shortening the chassis would increase the torsional stiffness
and may also lead to reduction in weight.

Figure 16. Different views of CHS_1

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Chassis Iteration Case 2: CHS_2

Weight: 32.18 Kg
Length: 2057 mm
Material: AISI 1020
Loads: 50.325 Nm
Torsional Stiffness: 1811.57 Nm/degree

Figure 19. CHS _2 Von Mises stress plot

Analysis and Interpretation


The effort in remodeling of the rear and decreasing the length
paid off, weight was considerably reduced and vital increase in
torsional stiffness was noted (figure 19). The success deemed
was partial, as it was difficult to accommodate the mounting of
the components for the desired suspension geometry. Further,
the manufacturing of the chassis also posed difficulty due to
the complex design of the rear, particularly modified to reduce
the length. Indications were clear on the need for a much more
simplified space-frame design.

Chassis Iteration Case 3: CHS_3

Figure 18. Different views of CHS_2

Description
Front and middle chassis design was retained and inboard
suspension mounting points remodeled to minimize the length
of rear chassis. Better triangulation and considerable
reductions in weight achieved (figure 18).

Fig. 20. Different views of CHS_3

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Figure 21. CHS _3 Von Mises stress plot

Analysis and Interpretation


The decision to simplify the space frame design and add new
members proved to be gratifying and spot on towards
aggrandizing torsional stiffness and easing manufacturability.
Moreover, reduction in weight was also noted. It was observed
from stress plots that the concentration of stress was reduced
and more uniformly distributed.

Fig. 20. (cont.) Different views of CHS_3

Description
Modifications were again made in the rear and the design was
simplified, this time coherent with the manufacturability of the
structure as well. In addition, in the front part of the chassis, a
new member was added to connect the inboard suspension
mounting points (figure 20). The decision to add the new
member was taken by thorough study of the deformed shape
animation. The modifications though eased the
manufacturability but added two new members and marginally
increased he length of the chassis too.
Weight: 31.53 Kg

Figure 22. CHS_3 Deformed Shape

Length: 2130 mm

Further, examining and comparing the values of various


recorded variables of the chassis design models (Table 2,
Figure 23, 24, 25), such as twisting angle (angle of deflection),
chassis weight, it can be clearly noted that chassis design
CHS_3 is a superior one.

Material: AISI 1020


Loads: 50.325 Nm
Torsional Stiffness: 1857.24 Nm/degree

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Table 2. Structural Analysis Result Summary

Figure 25. Stiffness to weight ratio comparison

Modal Analysis
A beam mesh of the chassis model was used for analysis of:
mode shape and corresponding natural frequency, or modal
analysis. Following meshing and defining on the order of eight
to ten deformation plots, the study was created and run for
interpretation of results. It may be anticipated that torsion
would be listed in the first couple modes of vibration; however,
it was seen the seventh. No loads or restraints were applied;
therefore the first six modes are translation and rotation or rigid
body modes. The structure has 6 degrees of freedom,
describing 3 translational and 3 rotational rigid body modes,
with are assigned values of 0Hz. Of interest for analysis, are
the seventh, eighth and ninth modes of vibration or first,
second, and third elastic modes of vibration. Further, since for
a rigid body has first 6 natural frequencies as 0 Hz, it can be
used as a test to check if an FEA model is constructed
correctly rigid body. If the first 6 natural frequencies are 0 Hz,
then it can be correctly assumed that the FEA model has been
constructed properly as a rigid body.
Figure 23. Weight comparison

The lower elastic modes of vibration result in lower natural


frequencies. This means the first elastic mode of vibration
demonstrates the shape that the chassis is most susceptible to
deform because it has a lower natural frequency and hence,
lower stiffness. Therefore it is desired to have a chassis with a
relatively high natural frequency in the first elastic mode of
vibration. It is worth considering not only first elastic mode of
vibration, but several others because of cancellation effects
from damping that could occur from the suspension dampers
and soft engine mount damping materials.
In the conducted modal analysis of the three chassis models
CHS_1, CHS_2 and CHS_3, the results (Table 3) are coherent
with that of the Structural analysis results (Table 2), and it can
be again said that CHS_3 is a better design.
Figure 24. Torsional Stiffness comparison

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Table 3. Natural Frequencies of Vibration

vibration. Further, a parallel of torsional stiffness was drawn


with other design governing parameters, namely,
manufacturability and weight.
In modal analyses, concepts of natural frequencies of vibration
and natural frequencies of a rigid body were discussed. Further
discussion was made on the use of modal analyses for testing
the correctness of an FEA model of a rigid body and study of
elastic modes of vibration to identify areas susceptible to
deformation. It was concluded that a high frequency value of
first elastic mode of vibration is desirable as it is directly
proportional to torsional stiffness.
The final recalibrated chassis design, CHS_3 had maximum
value of torsional stiffness, lowest weight and highest torsional
stiffness - weight ratio. This design iteration can be used to
manufacture a prototype and validate FEA results through
experimental testing. The FEA analyses formulated in this
paper are instrumental for an FSAE team to reduce
experimental costs and project development time. Both of
which are valuable resources for any research oriented project.

References
1. FSAE rule book 2013.
2. Gokhale Nitin S, Practical finite elemental analysis book,
Finite To Infinite India, ISBN: 978-81-906195-0-9.

Summary Results and Conclusion


In the structural analysis of chassis design iterations, torsional
stiffness and natural frequencies were predicted using FEA
techniques and optimized in three design iterations. Results
from modal analysis and, structural analysis and study of
deformed shape animation were used to identify areas of
potential improvements. Design improvements, coherent with
analyses interpretations were made in Chassis design iteration
models, and were successful in culminating a high value of
torsional stiffness and also reduced appreciable amount of
weight (3.4 Kg).
The relevance of torsional stiffness in chassis design and
vehicle performance was discussed. In addition, the various
constraints and challenges in design of an FSAE chassis were
identified. For the calculation of torsional stiffness we
formulated and discussed an FEA model and a unique set of
boundary conditions. Study was done on the various analysis
parameters that affect torsional stiffness such as length of the
chassis, stress distribution and, natural frequencies of

3. Riley, W. and George, A., Design, Analysis and Testing of a


Formula SAE Car Chassis, SAE Technical Paper 2002-013300, 2002, doi:10.4271/2002-01-3300.

Contact information
Mr. Atishay Jain
Mobile No: +91-9673759590
JAIN.ATISHAY@mahindra.com
mail.atishay@yahoo.com

Definitions/Abbreviations
CAD - Computer Aided Design
FEM - Finite Element Method
CAE - Computer aided engineering
Von Mises stress - It is a stress widely used by designers to
check whether their design will withstand given load condition
Stiffness matrix - In the finite element method for the
numerical solution of elliptic partial differential equations, the
stiffness matrix represents the system of linear equations that
must be solved in order to ascertain an approximate solution to
the differential equation.

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paper.
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http://papers.sae.org/2014-01-0355