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Finite Element Analysis


Modeling Issues and Ideas
Peter Budgell

E-mail Address: Please see my main page.


1998 & 2004 by Peter C. Budgell -- You are welcome to print and photocopy these pages.
These tips and comments are intended for user education purposes only. They are to be used at your own risk. The contents are based on my experience with
ANSYS 5.3 -- more recent versions may change things. The contents do not attempt to discuss all the concepts of the finite element method that are required to
obtain successful solutions. It is your responsibility to determine if you have sufficient knowlege and understanding of finite element theory to apply the software
appropriately. I have attempted to give accurate information, but cannot accept liability for any consequences or damages which may result from errors in this
discussion. Accordingly, I disclaim any liability for any damages including, but not limited to, injury to person or property, lost profit, data recovery charges, attorney's
fees, or any other costs or expenses.

Return to Main Page


FEA and Optimization Introduction Page A Quick Overview of FEA
ANSYS Tips Page My Collection of Tips on ANSYS Use.
Modeling issues include a host of topics. I will mention some that have been relevant to my experience. After
almost six years of continuous use of the ANSYS program, I continue to learn new features of the software,
discover more ways to represent or approximate features, and develop new ways to get useful output
information from the models.
Example of Approximation: I wrote a macro to give the surface area (one side) of a previously selected set of shell
elements. A force divided by this area can be applied as pressure over these shell elements, for smooth force application, if
the elements are flat. Writing the macro required a few lines of code that: determine the number of elements, get the first
element identity, create an array of correct size to hold data, put the areas of the elements into the array, sum the array entries,
report the result, and delete the variables and array. NOTE: The user must be careful to apply the pressure to the CORRECT
FACE of the set of shell elements. Force or pressure on a flat shell may require Large Displacement (geometrically nonlinear)
analysis.

CONTENTS:
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FEA is Approximate
Meshing
Shell versus Solid versus Beam Elements
Reduction of the model to a shell structure
Pressure on Shell Elements
Reflecting Part of a Model
Representation of Bolted Connections
Warning about Nodal Coupling
Development of geometry in which surfaces cut each other with shared lines
Application of boundary conditions
Application of loading
Pressure loading of a wall containing granular material
Deformation of thin flat panels by pressure loading
Use of Units
Buckling analysis and failure
Ramping Loads in ANSYS
Plotting results
Coping with Design Changes
Computer Aided Engineering Environment
FEA versus Hand Calculations
Choosing an Appropriate Shell Element
Using P-Elements
Harmonic Response
Failure Modes to Consider

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25. Stress Limits and Margin of Safety


26. Representation of a group of bolts (or rivets)
27. Adequate Computer Hardware for FEA

MODELING ISSUES that are faced include (but are by no means limited to):
FEA is Approximate. The first issue to understand in Finite Element Analysis is that it is fundamentally an
approximation. The underlying mathematical model may be an approximation of the real physical system (for
example, the Euler-Bernoulli beam ignoring shear deformation). The finite element itself approximates what
happens in its interior with interpolation formulas. The interior of a 2-D or 3-D finite element has been
mapped to the interior of an element with a perfect shape, so a severely distorted element can not deform in a
manner that has an accurate match to the real physical response. Integration over the body of the element is
often approximated by Gaussian Quadrature (depending on the element, an analytical integral can be either
impractical or exceedingly difficult -- I've done a few with the computer algebra system MACSYMA and the
number of terms can explode unless constants are extracted during the derivation and the integrand is kept
factored; some elements are said to be more accurate with numerical integration at a limited number of
points). The continuity of deformation between connected elements is interrupted at some level. Badly
shaped (by distortion, warping or extreme aspect ratio) elements can give less accurate results. Elements
approximate the local shape of the real body. Numerical analysis difficulties such as ill-conditioned matrices
may reduce the accuracy of calculated results. A linear analysis is an approximation of the real behavior. The
loading of the model is an approximation of what happens in the real world. The boundary conditions
approximate how the structure is supported by the outside world. The material properties assumed are
approximate. Flaws are not represented unless the analyst incorporates a model of a flaw. The overall
dimensions of the model approximate real structures that are manufactured within a tolerance. Many details
are idealized, simplified, or ignored. Element results may be reported at integration points or nodes, not
continuously evaluated with the interpolation functions over the whole element interior. Stress and strain
results are based on the derivatives of the displacement solution, amplifying the errors.
The result of an analysis contains the accumulated errors due to all of the contributing approximations. Good
analysis and interpretation of results requires knowing what is an acceptable approximation, development of a
complete list of what should be evaluated, appreciation of the need for margin of safety, and comprehension
of what remains unknown after an analysis.
Meshing. Production of a good quality mesh is a major topic. The mesh should be fine enough for good detail
where information is needed, but not too fine, or the analysis will require considerable time and space in the
computer. A mesh should have well-shaped elements -- only mild distortion and moderate aspect ratios. This
can require considerable user intervention, despite FEA software promotional claims of automatic good
meshing. The user should put considerable effort into the generation of well-shaped meshes. This will include
setting element densities, gradients in element size, concatenation of lines or areas to permit mapped meshing,
playing with automatic meshing controls, and re-meshing individual areas and volumes until the result looks
"just right".
In ANSYS, the command "LSEL,S,NDIV,,0" will select all the lines that have not had mesh density assigned.
This can help find missed lines when setting mesh densities manually.
On a curved surface, quadrilateral shell elements should not be generated with a warped form. (The theory
manual discusses shell element warping, but I suspect that the discussion is more relevant to element
deformation under load, than to the initial un-deformed element shape. ANSYS will give warnings if there is
more than very slight warping of the original un-deformed quad shell element shape.) Quad shell elements can
sometimes be fitted to a cylindrical curve so that they are rectangular in shape and not warped. On other
curved surfaces, finely meshed triangular 3-node or four-sided curved 8-node shell elements may be needed.
Mid-side node elements can follow complex curved surfaces, so if they are capable of any nonlinearity that

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will be needed, they may be acceptable and preferred. The 8-node Shell93 shell element of ANSYS has
mid-side nodes, follows curved surfaces, and supports nonlinearity.
Remember that most finite elements are stiffer than the real structure. For these elements, a coarse mesh
generally results in a structure that underpredicts deflection, and overpredicts buckling load and vibration
frequency. A coarse mesh is less sensitive to and "hides" stress concentrations. A fine mesh generally gives an
answer closer to the exact solution. A fine mesh also results in larger models, more data storage, and longer
model solution and display times.
Shell versus Solid versus Beam Elements. Ideally, structures would be represented for Finite Element
Analysis by solid elements, for this would eliminate the problem of positioning the mid-plane of shell
elements, exactly represent the sectional properties of components, and position welds in their design
location. Unfortunately, there would have to be several solid elements through the thickness of sheets of steel
or aluminum to capture local bending effects with any accuracy, and the other dimensions of the elements
would have to be kept small so that the aspect ratios of the elements were acceptable. Consequently, the
number of elements would be unbelievably large. It is not feasible to model many thin-wall structures with
solid elements.
Shell elements were originally developed to efficiently represent thin sheets or plates of steel or aluminum,
both flat and curved surfaces. They include out-of-plane bending effects in their fundamental formulation, as
well as transferring shear, tension, and compression in the plane. Developing an interface between a shell
portion and a solid element portion of a model has a difficulty: Most solid elements do not include rotational
degrees of freedom at the nodes, and this results in a rotational "joint" if shell elements are connected to a
solid. Even if a solid element with rotational degrees of freedom is used, the rotational stiffness at a solid's
edge node is not appropriate for connection to shell elements -- these solid elements were intended to be
connected to each other. In addition, high order solid elements like these are not usually capable of nonlinear
analysis. A modeling trick that is often used is to overlap one shell element with the first element in a solid,
and join the nodes in two locations in order to imply continuity of rotations, as well as deflections. This is not
a perfect fix. Rigid regions with node pairs (rigid links with CERIG) may be used to enforce connection,
although high local stresses will result. Some finite element software may have tools to address this problem.
Of course, beam elements are even simpler and more efficient, when structures employ beam-like details.
There are occasions in FEA work when structural beams (including I, wide-flange, channels and angles) will
be more fully represented as shells or solids, in order to examine in detail how they are behaving, or
interacting with the structure where they are connected to other parts. Structural steel tubing and rolled
sections can sometimes be simplified as beam elements. NOTE: Remember that when shapes are simplified as
beam elements, we lose the possibility of predicting flange buckling, web buckling, and concentrated stresses,
so caution must be used. Link elements will not show bending stress or Euler buckling of a link.
On the XANSYS listserver, I have seen the opinion that the ANSYS PCG solver is not significantly faster
than the frontal solver with shell elements, because of the great stiffness difference between in-plane
deflections of shell elements, and out-of-plane deflections. In the ANSYS manuals the PCG solver is not
recommended where significant numbers of coupled nodes (CP) and rigid regions (CERIG) have been
defined. Gap and contact elements may introduce the same problem. This has usually been my experience.
However, when modeling a perforated flat plate with shell elements that were roughly square, all about the
same shape and size, and as thick as they were wide, using about 200,000 degrees of freedom, I achieved
good convergence with the PCG solver. The frontal solver could not fit this problem into my computer
because of the size and large wavefront. Of course, you can speed up the "solution" of the PCG solver by
accepting a larger convergence error. You know you are having PCG convergence trouble when the
convergence error is not decreasing monotonically (when it goes up and down instead of dropping smoothly).
The PCG solver is not recommended for use with nonlinear solutions. One time I tried it I got a negative on
the diagonal, which would have resulted in bisection with the Frontal solver and adaptive time stepping, but

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crashed ANSYS with the PCG solver. However, for better behaved models, I have achieved apparently good
results with the PCG solver, with shell elements, in nonlinear Large Displacement runs.
Reduction of the model to a shell structure. Shell elements are appropriate for many steel structures, since
the plates of steel are thin in comparison with their other dimensions. (This applies to aluminum and other
materials, too.) The ideal position for the shell element is on the mid-plane position of the sheet of steel.
Consequently, a variety of approximations are needed to link parts of the model together, so that the surfaces
act as if they are welded together.
ANSYS supports shell elements for which the element thickness varies within the element. This could require
a REAL value for every element in order to input a different shell thickness at each node. Input from external
programs such as CAD packages sometimes generates such elements and information. User-written macros
are sometimes employed to generate elements with varying thickness, or to set up REAL values for existing
elements, with the thickness that is assigned being based on node position.
There is a helpful if less-than-ideal fix for the case when somewhat thick shells overlap each other, and are
welded together. Place the shell mid-surfaces correctly in space, and mesh them so that nodes where welds
are used are positioned directly "above" one another on the two surfaces. Join those nodes in pairs with rigid
regions (CERIG) or with massless high-stiffness beam elements. The beam elements have the advantage of
working properly in large displacement (geometrically nonlinear) solutions. The problem with this technique is
that it requires proper mesh control if the user wants to automate generation of the model, and it is tedious to
implement manually. In some cases it will be desired to place gap or surface contact elements (with the gap
set closed) between the nodes or elements in the interior of the pair of shells, requiring more work. The gap
elements keep their original orientation in a large displacement solution, so they will not be applicable in large
displacement analyses (unless you can live with the error), and surface contact elements will be needed.
Surface contact elements on shell elements must be applied to the correct face of the shell elements.
The following figure shows two areas that are offset with one above the other. Lines have been created so
that the CERIG command can be used to join them as if they were welded together. Mesh densities have been
set so that the rigid region pairs can be created.

The next figure shows the same two areas after meshing and the creation of the rigid region pairs with
CERIG. The shell elements have been plotted with the shell thickness shown, so that the positioning of the
nodes in the center of the shell elements is visible, and the touching of the plates is implied. Remember that
rigid regions only apply accurately with Small Displacement analysis.

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Automating the creation of these CERIG pairs could be done with a macro that:
1. Has the user identify the set of lines on one surface, and the set on the other surface.
2. Steps through the nodes on the first set of lines.
3. For each node on the first set of lines, uses a *GET command to select the closest node from the nodes
on the other set of lines.
4. Create a rigid region from the pair of nodes.
The macro would work as long as the nodes for the sets of lines are located "above" one another by
appropriate mesh control on the lines. A similar macro could join the node pairs with the massless high
stiffness beam elements mentioned. Alternatives to using a macro include applying the CEINTF or the EINTF
commands with appropriate tolerance values. The reader is cautioned that this technique tells us little about
the stresses in the weld, or about fatigue, crack growth and fracture. A prying load applied to the above
example could tear the weld apart if the weld was small in comparison to the shell thickness. The example
does not illustrate good design practice for handling certain loads. The FEA evaluation of loading of welds in
shell structure models is a whole separate topic.
Pressure on Shell Elements. In ANSYS, shell elements have two sides. These are known as the TOP and the
BOTTOM faces. They are also known as FACE 1 (the BOTTOM) and FACE 2 (the TOP). The nodes I,J,K,L
form a path around the element. If the "right hand rule" is used on this path, the fingers of the right hand
following the path, then the thumb points out of the TOP surface (FACE 2).
If positive (into the element) pressure is to be applied to FACE 2, a positive pressure vector points into FACE
2, the TOP. If positive pressure is to be applied to FACE 1, a positive pressure vector points into FACE 1, the
BOTTOM. Areas act similarly.
If a simple primitive solid (for example a cube) is created in ANSYS, it is bounded by areas. The areas will
have FACE 1 on the inside surface, while FACE 2 is on the outside of the solid. If the volume was deleted,
and the areas that bounded the solid were to be pressurized on the interior of the box that was formed, the
pressure should be applied to FACE 1 on all sides. In other models, where Boolean operations have been

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performed, the FACE 1 and FACE 2 orientations get very scrambled.

For the user to apply pressure, careful checking must be used to assure that the correct faces of shell element
have been pressurized. ANSYS can plot elements or areas for which the positive vector points out of the
screen (when coming out of FACE 2), or when it points into the screen. This lets the user plot only those
areas or elements for which the user sees FACE 2, or for which the user sees only FACE 1. This helps in
choosing whether to apply pressure to FACE 1 or FACE 2 when using picking to select areas or elements.
Alternatively, ANSYS 5.3 (and presumably later) plots shell elements with different colors for FACE1 and
FACE2 under PowerGraphics when the numbering options are set with "No Numbering" and with "Colors" or
"Colors and Numbers".
To add to the challenge, the direction of the
pressure arrows (choose arrows to be
shown to indicate pressures under the
SYMBOLS choice under PlotCtrls on the
Utility Menu) for areas may differ from the
direction of the arrows shown for the
elements attached to those areas,
depending on surfaces visible and sides to
which the pressure was applied. The arrow
plots for the elements are the ones to
believe. Pressures have to be transferred
from geometric entities to elements in order
for these plots to take place. You have to
activate plotting of arrows with the /PSF
command -- by default surface symbols are
used. ANSYS only plots pressure arrows on
shell elements when the arrows point into
the screen, so you have to look at a model
from all directions when inspecting a shell model. Have fun!
Final notes on pressures: ANSYS can include a gradient in the applied pressure to show the effect of, for
example, pressure increasing as a depth of water increases. "Suction" can also be applied by using a minus
sign. Remember that "suction" in physically realistic models cannnot be applied beyond the point at which a
liquid boils, or below zero absolute pressure. ANSYS, however, does not limit the negative pressure values
that a user enters. The hydrostatic pressure of oil floating on water might be modeled by setting the "zero"
position of the water pressure gradient above the position where the water starts, in order to include the
pressure of the oil. A variety of other tricks can be applied.
Reflecting Part of a Model. Where symmetry in the design exists, only a partial model need be built; the rest
can be created by reflecting (mirror imaging) the geometry. Where structure is repeated (e.g. a set of posts)
multiple copies can be made.
Reflection in ANSYS can be done across the XY, YZ, or ZX planes of any ACTIVE Cartesian coordinate
system. Since the active coordinate system can be any local system that the user has defined, any kind of
reflection in 3D Cartesian space can be accomplished.

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If the reflection included geometry, nodes, or elements that were on the XY, YZ, or ZX plane about which the
reflection took place, copies of those entities will overlay the original copy on the plane of reflection. Entity
appropriate merge (NUMMRG) commands will be needed to connect the original and reflected entities.
Warning: As discussed elsewhere, elements lying in the plane of reflection get copied with the node order
reversed, and will NOT merge with the element from which they were generated. These elements may have to
be deleted, depending on your intentions.
Representation of Bolted Connections. This non-trivial item can be tackled at a simplified level, or with
detailed 3-D representation. The simplest approximation is to represent the bolted (or riveted) connection of
overlapping shell structures by locating a node of each surface at the location of the bolt. The nodes have to
be located at the same X,Y,Z location in space. This means offsetting one or both shells from its nominal
position so that the nodes and shells can touch. One then uses nodal coupling (the CP command in ANSYS) to
tie the X, Y, and Z locations in space. It will generally be desirable to tie two of the three rotations as well.
The only rotation that is free is that about an axis perpendicular to the planes of elements (about the axis of
the bolt). When any rotations in a 3-D analysis are coupled (a result of the bolt clamping surfaces together)
the rotation coupling is generally valid only in a small displacement (geometrically linear) analysis. Large
displacement (geometrically nonlinear) analysis introduces an error based on the difference between
"sin(theta) and theta" (expressed in radians). If contact surfaces are added between the shells that are bolted
together, the coupling of rotation is not needed, but the solution becomes a nonlinear iterative process, taking
several times longer. NOTE: Contact surfaces on shell elements have to be defined carefully, so that the
correct surfaces (Face 1 or Face 2) of the shell elements are the ones in contact -- shell element orientation
may need to be doctored to get this to work.
Another bolt representation is to use a rigid region to link pairs of nodes. Rigid regions in ANSYS assume
small displacement (geometrically linear) analysis. The degree of freedom for rotation about the axis of the
bolt must be free at one end of the rigid region node pair, for bolt representation. This representation has the
advantage that the shells can be positioned properly in space. However, contact surfaces may become
desirable, depending on the dimensions of the clamped parts. The ANSYS rigid region (CERIG) couples
rotations about global axes, so the axis of the bolt would have to be along one of the global axes for the
rotational degree of freedom to be correct. The analyst may do better to use a very stiff beam element, with
incomplete nodal DOF coupling at one beam end and shell, and the other beam end attached to the other
shell; the rotational degree of freedom about the beam axis is free at the end with the nodal coupling. A beam
with arbitrary orientation may require the nodes at the coupled end to have their coordinate system rotated to
have the rotational degree of freedom oriented properly (I haven't tried this). The problem of contact surfaces
remains. It can be partially addressed by using gap elements at nearby nodes, for which the nodes of the two
shell surfaces must be aligned "above" one another, so the gap elements are perpendicular to the two shell
surfaces. Note: Gap elements keep their original orientation in a large displacement analysis, and will not be
applicable where there is significant rotation. Contact surfaces (with the gap closed) may be needed where
there will be large displacement. The previous warning about applying a contact surface to the correct side of
a shell element applies.
Note that nodal coupling acts in the coordinate system of the nodes coupled. The nodal coordinates systems
of the coupled nodes should, in general, be identical. The ability of nodal coupling to act in the nodal
coordinate system means that the user is not restricted to coupling in global coordinate system directions.
Two of the previous bolt representation methods (nodal coupling and rigid region CERIG) are missing the
possibility of representing bolt preload. Preload can be implied if a bolted connection is represented with a
link or beam element that is capable of "initial strain". In ANSYS these include: Link1 (2-D Spar), Beam3
(2-D Elastic Beam), Beam4 (3-D Elastic Beam), Link8 (3-D Spar), and Link10 (Tension or Compression Only
Spar). They must be squeezing surfaces together, which means that either nodal contact elements (gap
elements) or surface contact elements must be in use between separated shell element surfaces, or that
surface contact elements must be used on the interface between touching 3-D solid elements or touching shell

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element surfaces.
Other ways to represent bolt preload include:
1. Use all 3-D representations of bolts and parts, use contact elements, and apply a temperature difference
to the bolt to cause it to "shrink" an intended amount.
2. Use 3-D elements and contact surface elements, with an initial interference between bolt and parts,
such that the initial interference results in the intended preload.
Temperature setting, interference setting, and setting the "surface normal stiffness" value of surface contact
elements in ANSYS must be carefully done to result in the intended preload. Setting the surface normal
stiffness value appropriately is nontrivial. The intended preload must exist BEFORE the structure is loaded.
An iterative process may help, but be time-consuming. If the bolts are not overloaded when the structure is
loaded, the bolt preload will be nearly unchanged when the structure is loaded. Whether any gap or contact
element friction coefficient should be included in the model needs to be considered carefully for it can hide or
prevent shear loading on the bolts. For conservatism and safety, friction coefficients may need to be zero, so
that the bolts take all the load. When postprocessing, loading on bolts should be assessed using established
criteria.
My experience has been that if a full 3-D model of a bolted connection (bolt and materials represented with
3-D elements, and contact elements on the surfaces) starts out with the bolt loose and none of the contact
elements touching, convergence may be difficult when the solver begins work. Various analyst "cheats" may
help, such as moving the bolt or parts so that there is some contact, and/or using some very soft spring
stiffness combination elements to keep the model from "flying off into space", when the solver is working to
converge.
Warning about Nodal Coupling. Nodal coupling has its uses: one is a quick-and-dirty representation of a
bolted or riveted connection with shell elements (see above). More exotic applications can be invented. When
nodal coupling is used to represent a bolted connection of 3D shells, the nodes that are coupled must occupy
the same position in space. Otherwise, body rotation at that part of the structure will result in an artificial
mechanism acting on the structure. If the nodes were tied in the X,Y,Z directions, structure rotation would not
result in the necessary change in the relative X,Y,Z positions of the two nodes. High local stresses, and an
external couple would result if the coupled nodes were not located at the same position. This is not good!
Development of geometry in which surfaces cut each other with shared lines. The lines must be shared
between different areas if the finite elements are to act as if the surfaces are welded together, when meshing
takes place. Considerable care and checking is always necessary as a model is built, to see that connectedness
is complete. I can still make errors of this type, for they sneak in even when being careful.
Hopefully, a beginning ANSYS user will have had some training in the development of ANSYS solid
geometry within /PREP7. New revisions of ANSYS improve the capability of /PREP7, with not all
improvements being publicized. I lived with ANSYS 5.0 and 5.1, and much prefer the more recent ANSYS
versions. The solid modeling engine does not like singularities, e.g. you can't have a line that cuts half way
through an area, the way that you can cut half way into a sheet of paper with a pair of scissors. It is necessary
to cut an original area into two areas, in order to get a line that extends into the interior of the original area.
Recent ANSYS versions appear to be more tolerant of cusps and some other difficulties. Development of
complex structure solid-model geometry with /PREP7 calls on analyst creativity, intelligence, and puzzlesolving skills, as well as a good dose of patience. This tends not to be understood by those who have never
done the work.
ANSYS does not assign the attributes (REAL, MAT, TYPE, and ESYS) of a parent geometric entity (Line,
Area, or Volume) to the entities that are formed by a Boolean operation such as dividing the original entity

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into parts. I consider this unfortunate, since it increases the work required of the analyst who is developing
the model. It is an easy way to forget to assign attributes.
Application of boundary conditions. Structural FEA displacement boundary conditions are the limitations
on movement of the structure at places such as anchor locations. The boundary conditions in a finite element
model must limit translation or rotation in a manner appropriate to the case at hand. Boundary conditions can
be used to imply symmetric behavior in a structure that has symmetry, so that the model size can be halved,
quartered, or similarly reduced, if the loading of the structure is also symmetrical. Boundary conditions can
also be used to imply anti-symmetry, for example, where a warping displacement is applied to a symmetric
structure (envision twisting a shoebox about the long axis -- a quarter model could be sufficient).
There are occasions when a displacement boundary condition needs to be applied to a single node so that the
structure can rotate around the support point. This single node support, however, can result in a serious local
stress spike. Depending on the model, the elements where the single node support will be applied might be
artificially stiffened. Alternatively, if there is a surrounding "pad", an even pressure could be applied to the
pad, that generates a force equal to the reaction otherwise found at the constrained node. Two stress runs
could be used: (1) Run without the pressure on the "pad" and find the reaction at the constrained node. (2)
Take the reaction, spread it smoothly over the pad as a pressure, and run again. The reaction could be spread
over nearby nodes at stiffeners, instead of applied as a pressure, depending on the nature of the model and
structure. The goal here is to approximate reality in an acceptable way, while avoiding the time-consuming
use of contact and other non-linear elements. (Of course, in some cases, it will be necessary to exactly model
a support complete with many non-linear complexities.) NOTE: If you do this, the reaction forces will no
longer equal the previous applied load plus gravity load on the structure, because of the new load that has
been introduced.
Application of loading in a manner that is of satisfactory accuracy, without becoming overly complex. It
is often sufficient to apply forces directly to a small set of nodes. However, better representation of loading
can be needed to avoid local stress spikes in some analyses. As discussed above, application of pressure over
a region of elements, producing the desired force, can help avoid a local stress spike. Artificially stiffening a
local region where a point force is applied can help, if this is acceptable.
The load to consider may need to be increased because of the possibility of dynamic effects, if you are doing
only a static analysis. Your industry may have standards for this. Consider road vehicle design -- you wouldn't
want the tires to blow out from the increased force due to a vehicle roll-over. (If they did, how would you
prove that tire failure did not cause the accident?) This would call for the tires to stand at least twice the
"normal max rating" without immediate failure. I once sighted a non-professional driver pulling a simple
trailer grossly overloaded with crushed stone. It appeared that the wheel bearings failed before the tires let go
(there was a lot of smoke so it was hard to tell). Somebody did good tire design! (Some transportation
structures have to be limited in size under the knowlege that users will fill them to the maximum possible
volume, without regard to the density and total weight of the material loaded.)
For structures that do not have a severe weight penalty (e.g. those that do not have to fly), getting a
conservative result is often satisfactory. An analyst will develop a feel for this as the result of experience in a
particular industry. However, where there are high material costs, or large volumes manufactured, extra
modeling detail to reduce unjustified conservatism may be economically sound.
Pressure loading of a wall containing granular material is particularly challenging. Earth, sand, grain,
coal, or other granular material pressure is a civil engineering topic. Because of internal friction in the
material, the lateral pressure on walls is usually less than simple hydrostatic pressure would be for a liquid of
the same average density. For some dry materials, the pressure would be roughly 40 to 60 percent of
hydrostatic pressure (look up a proper value) on a vertical wall. The pressure loading varies with the depth of
the material, and varies if the slope of a wall changes (a horizontal surface could see hydrostatic pressure). On

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the other hand, in a long column filled with granular material, the pressure may be constant past a certain
depth -- this affects the function of an hourglass. The ANSYS Finite Element program is capable of applying a
pressure with a gradient, so pressure can ramp up smoothly as the depth increases. The pressure load must be
applied to the correct face of a shell finite element. Considerable FEA checking is needed to assure that the
whole structure model is properly loaded. Extra analyst work is needed to apply a series of gradient loads that
increase smoothly in intensity if curvature of a wall or container surface causes change of slope. The Rankine
formula describes granular material pressure on a vertical wall. Non-vertical sides might require the Coulomb
formula to give a higher accuracy representation of how non-vertical slope affects granular material pressure
on a wall (go visit a library, plus talk to a civil engineer). Take a look at EJGE/Magazine Feature for more
information.
After creating loads that represent a granular material in a container, under a 1.0 g vertical load, the vertical
component of the applied pressure should result in a total force that equals the weight of the granular
material. It may be desired to scale the granular material pressures so that the total vertical force component
under 1.0 g equals the weight of the contained material. This should be checked in reviewing the results of the
analysis.
A perfect FEA model of containers (bin, hopper, hold, box, trailer, etc.) loaded by granular material may be
impossible. The pressure required to push inward and deform a surface of a granular material is greater than
the load with which the granular material pushes outward. This is because of the internal friction in the
material. A finite element model of a loaded wall can include pressure on the inside surface that would result
from contained material. However, that pressure will not be adjusted according to whether the wall moves
inward, or expands outward, as the container deforms under various loads. Since an FEA analysis results in
deformation of the walls, exact representation of the pressure loading will be unachievable. I have not been
able to find an expert who would say that a granular material nonlinear solid element finite element model can
be included inside a shell structure container model in a successful manner, using contact elements on the
interface between the solid elements and shell elements (geotechnical engineers should know far more about
this than I do). Material properties such as Drucker-Prager are included in ANSYS and some other FEA
packages, but I don't know if they are applicable to this type of structure and granular material modeling.
ANSYS manuals discuss this material option briefly. An engineer often settles for a model and design thought
to be conservative or adequate, given industry experience. The worrying starts when a design departs
significantly from previous practice.
Deformation of thin flat panels by pressure loading causes the panels to curve. When flat panels are
loaded on one of their surfaces, the panels curve, then start to carry applied loading with membrane forces.
The only way in which this can be represented is to activate large displacement (geometrically nonlinear)
analysis. A rule of thumb is that membrane forces begin to be significant when the out-of-plane deflection
exceeds half the thickness of the panel. Nonlinear analysis requires considerable experience, because of the
difficulty in achieving converged solutions. Failure to use nonlinear analysis where it is appropriate can result
in considerable ignorance of the real structural mechanics involved. Nonlinear analysis becomes very time
consuming because of the iterative solutions needed. Fast computers are very desirable when doing this kind
of work with a large model. Failure to consider that significant out-of-plane deflection can result during
nonlinear analysis can, in some cases, lead to inadequate designs. In other cases, the curvature can lead to
significant increases in strength of the structure. The designer needs to be aware of the need to include
nonlinear effects in some work.
Use of Units. Vibration and transient analysis require that the mass of the structure be entered in units
consistent with the other units in the model. Some North American industries normally work in inchespounds-seconds. This requires that mass be represented as pounds/in/sec^2. Pounds here means "pounds
force", the force with which 1.0 g of gravity pulls on the mass. This means dividing the weight in "pounds
force", or the density in pounds/in^3, by the number 386.1 (more accurate than 32.2*12=386.4), which is the
acceleration due to gravity expressed in inches per second squared (in/sec^2). In consequence, when mass

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and mass density have been defined this way (the density of steel, which depends on the alloy, if given as
0.2836 lb/in^3 would be entered into ANSYS as 0.0007345) it is necessary to enter 1.0 g of gravity as 386.1
in/sec^2 to let ANSYS apply the correct force due to gravity on the structure. Loads will be entered in
pounds. Pressures and stresses will be referred to as pounds per square inch. ANSYS refers to these units as
"BIN" (see the /UNITS command for "British system using inches", noting that the /UNITS command is for
annotation of the database, and has no effect on the analysis or data).
In the metric world, fundamental units are meters-kilograms-seconds. However, in engineering work, analysts
often use millimeters-kilograms-seconds. Forces are expressed in Newtons (1 Newton accelerates 1 kilogram
at 1 meter per second squared). Pressure is Newtons per square meter (1 Newton/Meter^2 = 1 Pascal). A
pressure of 1 Newton per square millimeter is referred to as 1 megapascal. When working in millimeterskilograms-seconds, it is common to refer to pressures, stresses, and Young's modulus in megapascals or
kilopascals. Acceleration due to gravity is 9.807 meters/sec^2, or 9807 mm/sec^2.
ANSYS does not care what units are used, nor does it issue warnings. The analyst must be consistent in the
set of units in one model, to avoid errors. Getting the mass and mass density into the correct units is
particularly important if any form of vibration, transient, or transient heat transfer work will be done. Tip:
Check the values for typical materials in the ANSYS material library as a guide, even if you do not use these
exact materials. A comparison will indicate if your values are in the right range. The ANSYS materials library
includes material values in various systems of units. Many design codes will, for example, give densities in
lb/in^3, where pounds is actually the weight expressed as "pounds force". This Imperial value cannot be used
directly for vibration and transient work, and must be converted. (When I try to explain this to non-North
American people, and even recent Canadian graduates, they think the whole Imperial units business is insane
-- I can't blame them.)
The usual question on Imperial units is, "Why can't I enter density for steel as 0.2836 and 1.0 g of gravity as
1.0 ?" The answer is, "This would work for gravity loading on a structure, but if you ever do vibration or
transient analysis on the same model in the future, your answer will be garbage." My own policy is to always
use the "correct" units, similar to those that the ANSYS material library supplies for the BIN system, in case
vibration or other work is done in future.
If densities have been entered "correctly" in Imperial units (e.g. 0.2836/386.1=0.0007345 for steel), then
when ANSYS reports the "mass" of the model during the SOLVE process, that mass will have to be multiplied
by "g" (386.1 in this example) to recover the weight of the model in "pounds force".
Buckling analysis and failure can be pursued in two ways: Linear eigenvalue buckling, and geometrically
nonlinear (Large Displacement) buckling analysis. Eigenvalue buckling (also known as Euler buckling or
classical buckling) will be sufficient for some structures, but much greater detail about stress amplification
and margin of safety can be found with geometrically nonlinear analysis. Note that margin of safety is not a
simple concept in a nonlinear analysis. The margin of safety will be based on the difference between the
intended design load and either the load that reaches failure conditions or the load that exceeds allowables set
by design codes. The relationship between loading and consequent stress and deflection cannot be
extrapolated linearly when a nonlinear analysis is used, or when it is needed. Design codes may address this
concept with reference to combined compression and bending of beams, but many codes were written before
the availability of nonlinear finite element analysis, so the analyst will need to comprehend the intent of the
design code and interpret it, if this is permissible.
A difficulty here is to establish what level of loading has reached "failure" conditions. If the structure starts to
buckle in a Large Displacement analysis, solution convergence will become slow, as the load is ramped up.
The fact that the FEA solution stops converging at some level does not guarantee that the failure load has
been reached -- it could be just a numerical analysis difficulty. The Arc-length method is useful here, since it
will follow the load up and back down as the load/deflection curve first rises and then falls. An advantage to

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Large Displacement, Plastic material property analysis is that the failure can be followed in detail (if the
model is small, or the computer is very fast). Defining margin of safety still requires a human decision as to
what load "reaches" unacceptable stress and deflection, before complete collapse happens. Simply basing
margin of safety on the highest load reached in a plastic, Large Deflection, Arc-length analysis would not
satisfy the rules in most design codes, and usually not make good engineering sense.
A problem with eigenvalue analysis of some structures is that localized "popping" of panels or other
components happens long before the whole structure begins to fail via buckling induced deformation. The
problem with geometrically nonlinear analysis of the same structure and loading is that convergence troubles
may make analysis exceedingly difficult and/or time consuming. This is particularly true when applied force is
ramped up. Convergence of applied displacement is more successful in nonlinear studies, but applied
displacement is not the most common way in which loads are analyzed. A possible advantage of a
geometrically nonlinear Large Displacement run is that if convergence of the model is achieved, it may
sometimes be shown that the structure will handle a load considerably greater than the first several eigenvalue
buckling loads, without exceeding yield, or allowable stress, or undergoing deflection significant enough to
merit concern. A geometrically nonlinear analysis with loads that exceed the eigenvalue buckling level should
have loading ramped up, with substep information saved in fine detail. The substep results should be
examined carefully to see whether sudden changes in the stress or deflection patterns develop. With a shell
model, this should be done for both mid-plane and surface (use Powergraphics) stresses and for deflection
plots. The ability of the ANSYS program to generate an animation file from the set of substep results is
helpful here. Deflection can be set 1:1 or exaggerated using the /DSCALE command.
Ramping Loads in ANSYS. Loads are ramped up if the appropriate settings are used for time stepping. The
fun starts when the user tries to ramp the loads back down (as when wanting to find the permanent
deformation that results from plastic deformation). If the loads are deleted, there is nothing to ramp down to,
the force drops immediately to zero, and convergence may be a problem. One solution is to reduce forces and
pressures to an extremely small number. Another problem is that if the loading has been applied to geometric
entities, it cannot be scaled down directly, for ANSYS lacks commands to do this.
An unsatisfactory but adequate fix is to transfer the loading to the nodes and elements, then delete the
relationship between geometric entities using the MODMSH,DETA command from /PREP7 (Warning: make
sure your model is saved before doing this -- MODMSH ruins the connection between your geometry and
your FEA mesh), then scale down the loading on the nodes and elements. If you merely scale down the
loading on the nodes and elements, it will be replaced by the loading on the geometric entities when the
SOLVE command is executed.
A more satisfactory way to ramp loads that were originally applied to geometric entities will be to write and
read load step files. The full loading on the geometric entities can be transferred to the elements, then a load
step file written. The load step file includes pressures on elements, not information about loading on
geometric entities. Then, the loading on geometric entities can be deleted. Next, the load step file can be read,
bringing back in the pressures on the elements. Finally, that loading can be scaled down to an extremely small
number. This method works in general for keeping the loading that geometric entities transferred to elements
and nodes, while discarding the original assignment of loading to geometry, and so can be quite convenient.
Plotting results can show the stresses in the structure with colored contour maps. Plotting with stresses
averaged at nodes (PLNSOL) results in smoother cleaner contours that are easier to study, and that tend to
average out stress fluctuations due to local variations in element shape. However, such plots have the
disadvantage that they average stresses at shell intersections (at corners, "Tee" intersections, thickness
discontinuities, and material changes, for example). This results in considerable loss of information, and
masking of high stress areas in some models. Either element stress plots with no nodal averaging must be used
when this matters (PLESOL), or element selection must be limited to continuous panels of material, so that
the averaging is not performed where it is not appropriate. This is a very common error in the reporting of

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results from shell models (and solid models with material type changes). I have seen stresses hidden that
would cause fatigue troubles, because of nodal stress averaging with shell FEA models. In addition, fatiguecausing stresses often need to be shown at shell surfaces, not just at the mid-plane, so both mid-plane and
surface stress plotting will often be required for complete model evaluation. In a complex model, components
may need to be examined from a number of viewing angles, and with cutting planes, in order to inspect the
stresses everywhere.
ANSYS has introduced its "Powergraphics" setting that can show VISIBLE SURFACE shell stresses with
discontinuity at intersections, and changes in REAL and MATerial (see the AVRES command). However, a
user often wants stress at the shell mid-plane. ANSYS keeps track of the surface stresses in its database, and
calculates the mid-plane average when needed. I have written a macro that will move the mid-plane stress for
each node of each shell element, element-by-element, to the top and bottom surfaces, so that the
Powergraphics setting can show mid-plane shell stress with discontinuities and intersections. The problem
with the macro is that it executes VERY slowly -- it was about two seconds per SHELL 63 element on a
Pentium-Pro 180 under Windows NT in a 70,000 DOF model, taking 7 hours to process one load case.
Surrounding macro executable lines with /NOPR and /GOPR speeded up the process by roughly a factor of 3.
The database is permanently modified by this macro, so the analysis results database must be stored on disk
BEFORE this macro is used. It must be used with caution.
The ANSYS contour map colors can be customized. I set them to shades of gray when I want to plot to a
black-and-white laser printer (directly from ANSYS, not the DISPLAY program). The contour levels can be
set automated to be evenly applied (default), or can be set by the user. I sometimes set all levels but the "red"
contour to be evenly spread out up to the material yield, or the allowable stress, and let red color the region
above. I wrote a macro to automate this, using the *GET command to find the max and min stresses, in order
to calculate the custom levels. The macro has to be re-applied every time stresses are plotted for new
elements, or for a different stress plot type. The automatic contour level mode should be returned to when
done.
Shell mid-plane stresses are often preferred for review of structures. There are also good reasons to review
shell surface stresses. They include checks on: direct shell bending, torque causing torsion stress in open
sections, plastic hinge development and the onset of plastic failure, local stress concentrations, locations for
possible fatigue or fracture, non-linear buckling, stresses from design errors or modeling errors, and prying
loads. Torsion on an open section can cause substantial shell surface stresses at shell intersections such as
corners -- an invitation to fatigue failure, fracture, or possible structure collapse. This phenomenon will be
completely overlooked if only mid-plane stresses are plotted.
In limited testing I did, ANSYS gave me surprisingly good values for surface stress caused by torque applied
to open sections modeled with shell elements. (I created equivalent solid models with a few solid elements
through the wall thickness for the comparison runs that gave the "real" answer.) Mid-plane stress plots don't
hint that torsional load is causing high shell stress on the surfaces of open sections. I wouldn't extrapolate my
test result to any structure, but it suggests that shell surface stress plots will help to detect a class of design
problems (shortcomings) that mid-plane stress plots will miss. ANSYS PowerGraphics plotting helps
considerably.
Coping with Design Changes. A fun topic! The analyst must be able to modify existing models. The ability
to do this can be enhanced if the model has been planned for later modification (see parametric design
comments below). The commands that move keypoints can help a little... the keypoint moves will destroy
curved lines, and only work if affected areas are not severely distorted, and topology does not try to change.
KEEPING THE GEOMETRY on which the mesh was based is an important part of being able to do
significant future modifications of models. It is easier to move a set of nodes than a set of keypoints, so under
rare circumstances the elimination of geometry may be desired (nodes cannot be moved while they attached
to underlying geometry; see the MODMSH command but do not use it without knowing exactly what you are

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doing). However, any substantial model changes become very difficult when only elements and nodes are
available.
Computer Aided Engineering Environment. I often develop finite element models the "hard" way:
Generate all the geometry from scratch in the pre-processor of ANSYS. For existing designs, I may get copies
of a few dozen drawings, sometimes scaling dimensions off the drawings (I did say finite element analysis is
approximate) when the dimensions are not explicit on the drawings (I don't like this). I adjust the position of
parts in space to achieve a good mid-plane representation of steel sheets for shell element development.
Adjustments and modeling tricks are used to approximate some connections of thick parts and of bolted parts.
For a complex model it can become very time consuming to modify a model's fundamental dimensions after
model development has progressed significantly. This makes exploration of cost-saving alternatives difficult
on a tight time schedule (what other kind of time schedule is there?), even though significant money might be
at stake. Significant money is involved with expensive structures, weight penalties, high-volume production,
and with failures.
There exist CAD systems that can link the 3-dimensional CAD model to a complex shell finite element model
(e.g. Pro/Engineer and SDRC IDEAS, probably others as progress is made). The CAD models can be
parametrically defined so that overall dimensions can be updated quickly with all associated part and
assembly prints, and the bill of materials being automatically updated, as well as the finite element model.
This can make exploration of design alternatives much more sophisticated. Otherwise, the analyst may be
limited to exploring shell thickness alternatives, and development of ANSYS models parametrically, so that
the ANSYS log files can be re-run with different fundamental dimensions. Such a finite element model
"program" requires careful planning and experience.
FEA versus Hand Calculations. This issue comes up when a new design needs to be configured. The "first
cut" at a design must start with the invention of a configuration that supports the applied loads, and carries
these loads to the support points of a structure. A variety of loads usually need to be supported, and structural
details must be present that will handle each kind of load in a manner that is acceptable for the type of
structure being considered (e.g. welded steel structures, bolted, pipes and pressure vessels, and others). The
initial layout of the components of the structure, and the initial sizing of the parts has to begin with manual
calculations.
Several concerns arise in the initial configuration, such as:
Adequate section properties and crossectional area to handle applied loading.
The presence of bracing and stiffeners that prevent structure instability.
Sufficient wall and beam thickness and stiffening to avoid detrimental buckling of local regions.
Avoidance of unacceptable stress concentrations by methods such as stiffeners, shapes, finishing, or
other details.
Adequate weld and bolt size to handle all applied loads.
Design for manufacturing.
Development of geometry that respects dimensional constraints on the overall structure.
Minimizing cost: material cost, uncut raw material size, material availability, fabrication expense,
delivery dates and penalties, and risk.
Use of standard thicknesses, hot rolled sections, bolt sizes, available maximum dimensions, and
affordable material choices.
Discussions with suppliers regarding not just supply and cost, but possible cost-saving customization of
the scope of supplied material and parts. Remember that suppliers are familiar with the practices of
others, including your competitors -- they can be a valuable resource to a designer (and to a job-hunter,
so treat them well, but don't give away secrets).
Given an initial structural concept, an FEA model can be created. If the model is only of moderate

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complexity, the geometry for the FEA model can be created parametrically, so that the log file can be reused
in the future to regenerate the design with different dimensional values. This will require that there be no
changes in the topology of the structure (e.g. varying the number of stiffeners, or shortening a part until it no
longer meets another part) or else the parametric approach must include means to accommodate these
changes. If the model is complex, it may not be feasible to create the geometry parametrically, and the finite
element model will be created with exact dimensions entered numerically. During the finite element analyses
that follow, the thicknesses of shells or beams can be varied in order to investigate the possibility of weight
savings and cost reduction. The FEA package can be used to investigate stress, deflection, buckling, vibration,
and nonlinear effects if these matter. Properly interpreted results will show where the structure is
overdesigned, underdesigned, or if it has significant inadequate design details (e.g. complete lack of stiffeners
where they are needed) and needs modification. Design sensitivity can be assessed with respect to variations
in some dimensions. Optimization may be possible if time and sufficient skill are available.
Given modern CAD software, a parametric model can be built in the CAD system. An FEA model can be
derived from the CAD model such that updating the CAD model leads to updating of the FEA model. This
makes the modify-and-assess design loop much more effective and can lead to significant cost savings.
Progress with development and deployment of these CAD systems continues.
Choosing an Appropriate Shell Element. There are several shell elements types available under ANSYS.
The usual workhorse shell element is Shell63, a 4-node shell element. This element supports large
displacement, but not plastic material properties. (If plastic material properties have been entered, they will be
ignored by Shell63.) If your element type 1 was Shell63, you can directly enter (by hand) a command like
"ET,1,181" to convert the elements to Shell181, which has plastic capability. You may want to modify the
KEYOPT values after this command. Note that the effect of stress stiffening is activated with shell elements
like Shell63 by adjusting one of the KEYOPT values for this element. Other 4-node elements that are capable
of plasticity include Shell43, Shell143, and Shell181.
I have recently found Shell93, an 8-node shell element, to give satisfactory results for a problem I ran. This
element is capable of plasticity (ANSYS manuals note that lower order elements (4-node in this case) may be
preferred for nonlinear and plastic analysis), in addition to large displacement, so it gives "one size fits all"
service. The advantage to this element is that mesh density does not have to be as great, and it follows curved
surfaces very well, since it is a curved element. (4-node shell elements are flat, and any significant warping of
their shape during meshing will cause the FEA program to complain, and presumably give degraded results.)
Some user work is required with mid-side node elements, because they do not want to curve too much.
Meshing an area fillet has to be carefully controlled. To change a model with 4-node elements, to 8-node
elements with mid-side nodes, the usual thing to do would be to clear elements and re-mesh, after possibly
modifying mesh density. Stress stiffening is activated for Shell93 in the Solution part of ANSYS, not by setting
a KEYOPT value as with Shell63.
Using P-Elements. The use of P-elements can reduce the effort required to mesh models. The user is
cautioned that the P-elements do not support large displacement or plasticity.
Harmonic Response. This is what ANSYS calls Steady State Frequency Response to constant harmonic input
(an input forcing frequency that is sinusoidal steady state). There are three ways available in ANSYS: full,
reduced, and modal. A damping ratio can be input using the DMPRAT command. The output is complex
numbers that imply amplitude and phase. The phase differs from the phase of the input if the input is not at an
eigenfrequency. Only the reduced and modal methods can handle stress stiffening. The /POST26 Time
History postprocessor can plot amplitude for a node versus frequency (see the PLCPLX key value); the
/POST1 postprocessor can use the SET command to load either the Real or the Imaginary component, but not
both. The manuals say that the /POST26 postprocessor can do things with the components. As with all
vibration and transient analyses, the units of mass must be input appropriately.

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Failure Modes to Consider. Textbooks are written on this topic. There are many things an analyst may
overlook. Just a few of the many things to think and worry about include:
1. Static loads lead to stresses exceeding yield (or allowable stress) over a significant region. Dynamic
loads exceed anything considered in load factors for static loading.
2. Loads on bolts, rivets, spot welds, plug welds, stitch welds, fillet welds, bevel welds, full-penetration
welds, adhesives, nails, tie-rods, links, or other connection devices are too high. Prying loads are not
considered or properly assessed, and are too high. Moments tear a bolt circle apart because it was
represented as a pinned (one bolt) joint. Compression of tie-rods or links reaches buckling levels (FEA
will not detect this for link elements).
3. Loads on bolt holes are too high. Bolt holes weaken a section.
4. Strains reach fracture levels in brittle materials.
5. Surface strains cause damage to protective coatings.
6. Deformations cause lock-up of parts that should slide or rotate.
7. Buckling of components leads to local damage, or to progressive collapse.
8. Buckling of the full structure is reached.
9. Combined bending and compression leads to excessive stress and failure.
10. Fatigue failure and/or sudden fracture is reached. If the FEA model ignores stress concentrations, and
representation of details where trouble can occur, fatigue or fracture may never have been properly
assessed. If cracks grow without detection, sudden fracture conditions may be reached. Growing cracks
need to be of a detectable size without causing sudden fracture. (The capacity of a crack to cause
sudden fracture in a structure increases with the size of the crack and with the stress level, and depends
on the properties of the material. Remember that when materials are welded together there is an
implicit crack formed except where good-quality full-penetration welds are used.) To paraphrase a
writer whose name I unfortunately can't recall, "A tolerable crack size needs to be large enough that it
can be detected by a tired inspector on a Friday afternoon a half hour before quitting time." To keep a
crack of detectable size from causing sudden fracture, the material choice, allowable stress, allowable
load, and inspection frequency can be affected, in addition to other design details.
11. Vibration frequencies are located where applied loading causes damage through large amplitude
response.
12. Margins of safety are not high enough to deal with material variability, work quality variation, and
unknown or unexpected loading.
13. Buckling and high deflection or stress are not assessed with Large Displacement analysis, when it was
needed.
14. Stresses that exceed yield over regions of "questionable" size are accepted, rather than checked with a
model that includes material plasticity (within design rules and "good practice").
15. The structure is destroyed by flow induced vibration, flutter damage, or high-intensity sound or noise.
16. Shipping, handling and erection loads are not considered, or are underestimated. Some structures need
extra stiffening and protection from impact loads, bending or torsion during shipping and handling.
Please send me your favorites, to add to this list of failure modes, as they relate to inadequacies
and oversights in FEA.
Stress Limits and Margin of Safety. Two possible approaches to margin of safety are: (1) Amplify the
loading, e.g. to twice the maximum static applied load (or far more with many civil engineering and other
structures), and use the lesser of material yield or a fraction of ultimate tensile stress as the allowable limit, or,
(2) Use the maximum static applied load, and the lesser of a fraction of material yield or a smaller fraction of
ultimate tensile stress. The approach will depend on the industry and the codes followed; some industries may
differ. Other factors may bear, e.g. stress allowables may be reduced by temperature and by high temperature
creep considerations. Other considerations will be different allowables for thermal stresses, "secondary
displacement-driven" stresses, and checks on vibration characteristics, buckling, fatigue, etc.

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I noticed some recent discussion on ASME changes in the fraction of ultimate tensile stress (UTS) to be
applied to some pressure vessel materials (some carbon and low alloy steels below creep temperatures in
Section VIII, Div.1). The UTS fraction settings were said to put some ASME regulated designs at a
competitive disadvantage on the world market. Steel producers note that the quality and uniformity of their
steel is much better than two or three decades ago. Still, I have seen new steel plate that had laminar cracks
more than a foot in size (roughly half a meter), and a spring that had a crack along the length of the wire from
which it was produced. QC checking and conservative designs will not go away any time soon.
In discussing nonlinear material properties in these web pages, I am usually referring to checking for structure
failure when loading leads to stresses that exceed material yield over regions of questionable size. This will
usually NOT be strictly according to the rules laid out in design codes, but is added as a check that the intent
of codes and safety needs are considered under severe or unusual loading, or under loading that is important
but not included in codes. Some design codes have rules for "elastic-plastic" analysis, or for "fully plastic"
analysis, which would have to be studied and applied during design and analysis.
Representation of a group of bolts (or rivets). A single bolt might be represented in an FEA model as
preventing motion in the X, Y, and Z directions, as well as rotations, except rotation about the axis of the bolt.
Contact elements may be wanted between the layers that are bolted together, at the expense of much slower
solution. Friction with these contact elements might or might not be considered, depending on whether bolt
preload or initial interference was included, and on whether it was acceptable to let friction carry any of the
"in-plane" load -- it may be important or necessary (per codes or for safety) to let the bolts carry all the
"in-plane" load, setting the contact element friction coefficient to zero. Because of looseness of fit,
tolerancing of bolt diameter, and of hole position, diameter and alignment, not all bolts will act simultaneously
when a real structure is loaded up. This would be true of structural tension, compression, and shear forces that
produce shear forces in the bolts, and of moment applied to a "bolt circle." It may be decided in FEA to
represent all bolts as being "tight" for the purpose of analysis. Note, this can introduce a problem: In the FEA
model, the structural members undergo strain when they carry loads. Where members are bolted together, the
overall structural strain will create high local forces as the bolts try to make one bolted member's strain match
the other bolted member's strain. This makes the FEA report very high forces on the individual bolts, much of
which may not be due to load path forces being transferred through the bolts.
I can't think of a simple way out of this dilemma. Your firm or industry may have "standard" ways of dealing
with this analysis. It might be decided to average the reported forces acting on the full group of bolts for
tension forces, and to use the standard analytical approaches to force on a group of bolts, and to a bolt circle
with net moment on the group of bolts. If there is no significant load path force in one direction, some of the
bolts could be modeled as "loose" in this direction. An alternative, possibly conservative, approach would be
to consider a minimum number of bolts and directions of bolt action, to be acting to resist forces and
moments, although this could result in FEA reporting overloaded bolts and high local stresses if the bolts are
on the primary load path. (Usually, all the bolts should be "tight" in the direction in which they pull the joined
materials together (the bolt axis direction).) The load on this reduced number of bolts could be considered to
be spread over the group of bolts, and analyzed manually. In general, the user will want to consult codes and
standards used in the appropriate industry, understand the concepts used in bolting, and discuss with people
with expertise. It wouldn't hurt to review standard textbooks. Remember to avoid significant prying loads on
bolts, rivets, welds, and other fasteners.
The presence of a bolt or group of bolts means that the crossectional area of the bolted materials is reduced
by the presence of the bolt holes. If the holes are not represented in the finite element model, the analyst
needs to do extra work to examine the stress in the zone of the bolt holes, using codes, standards, and good
judgment to find the allowable net stress, bearing force, and total force in that zone.
Adequate Computer Hardware for FEA. I once heard of a product failing when highly loaded. An FEA
analyst had limited modeling to a coarse FEA mesh with small-displacement elastic analysis, and plotted

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nodal averaged stresses, on an underpowered older computer. Proper computer equipment, some staff
training, a finer mesh, nonlinear analysis (large displacement and material plasticity), and more thorough
post-processing of results (PowerGraphics plots of shell element midplane and surface stresses) could have
detected a structural weakness. Prevention would have been easier than modification. Such is life.
In an ideal world, adequate computer hardware would only rarely be an FEA modeling issue. A company may
save thousands of dollars by using inadequate FEA hardware, and lose significantly more as a result.
Computer hardware affects the mesh density possible in FEA models, the time to develop FEA models, to run
solutions, and to save, process, review, and plot the results. Time saved by using better hardware makes it
possible to use better resolution in a model when it matters, to take analyst "short cuts" that save model
development time but increase computational expense, to check for errors, to check effects such as large
displacement buckling and plastic deformation, to check unusual loadings, and to vary a design in attempts to
reduce weight and costs. Convincing management of this can be another matter. A few thousand dollars not
spent on computing hardware is a visible "saving". X million dollars in design errors that could be prevented
remain hypothetical until they happen. Y million dollars in cost reductions also remain only a daydream if not
proven in a non-rigged demonstration. In practice, funding for the computer hardware is often set by people
who are either unfamiliar with FEA and engineering, or who have noticed that the analysis detail sometimes
expands to fill the available computing capacity. (How's that for a euphemism?) When analysts living with
deadlines spend an unacceptable amount of time waiting on computer hardware while performing FEA work,
significant differences of opinion about computer hardware can develop between analysts and management.
Analysts have been known to change employers over this issue.
Given the price of the ANSYS software, a computer costing only a fraction of the software cost can do a very
substantial amount of analysis work given present (2004) hardware costs. In the Windows XP world, a few
thousand U.S. dollars will purchase a computer with large RAM (2 GB or 4 GB), large hard drive (60 Gig or
more), fast processor (2.4 or more GHz), cheap laser printer, colored ink-jet printer, 17" or larger monitor,
graphics card with 32 Mbytes or more of RAM, and an adequate backup device -- a CD or DVD burner is
often employed. A budget of several thousand dollars will allow a PC with a 2 CPU motherboard, 4 GB
RAM, change the hard drive to a fast version of SCSI, monitor to a 21" CRT or a 19" to 21" LCD, and
graphics card to an ANSYS tested powerful OpenGL card. Large budgets take the purchaser into the world of
very fast Windows or UNIX machines with 64-bit operating systems and multiple processors. (My comments
here will gradually become out of date.)
Hard drives have become very cheap. In FEA work, a hard drive should be able to store a significant amount
of work-in-progress and recent completed work, with additional capacity to handle ANSYS solver temporary
files for large models, including substantial results file storage. I can't say it with authority, but I have the
impression that a SCSI hard drive will transfer information with less interruption of operation of the computer,
for disk-intensive aspects of FEA work (e.g. working from an input file, and using the frontal solver on very
large jobs). I have heard that having two SCSI drives, one for the operating system including the virtual
memory swap file, and one for the model being run, can improve some FEA operations. I suspect that the
money could be better spent on a larger RAM or dual-processor machine.
RAM is currently very cheap. A large RAM will permit larger models to be run with the SPARSE and PCG
solvers in ANSYS; for this reason some companies have PC machines with 2 GB or 4 GB of RAM -- this will
depend on your work. Models too large for a 32-bit operating system with the any solver will require a move
to a 64-bit operating system and RAM larger than 4 GBytes. A large RAM will help your solutions work
quietly in the background, with little swap file disk thrashing. Your ANSYS vendor can probably advise on
high-end equipment.
FEA work is one of the numerically intensive applications that justifies the extra expense of a very fast
processor. The availability of drivers for your operating system should also be checked before the purchase of
extras.

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I have found both 17" and 21" monitors to be sufficient for FEA modeling. Make sure that the cheapest
monitor purchased supports at least refresh rates of 70 Hz or higher at resolutions of 1024 x 768 pixels or
higher. Make sure that the graphics card matches or exceeds the monitor's resolution and refresh rates. A CRT
monitor refresh rate lower than 70 Hz will cause the eye to perceive flicker of the image, and cause eye
strain. Informed people prefer 75 Hz or more. Many PC computers are delivered running their monitors at a
refresh rate of 60 Hz, and have to be properly set up by the end user. (I've known people who went to the
optometrist because the computer screen was bothering their eyes. All that was wrong was that the refresh
rate was at 60 Hz. The optometrist didn't know about this phenomenon or its fix.) I currently use a 17" LCD
monitor at 1280 x 1024, so the refresh rate is not relevant for static images (60 Hz works with this LCD
monitor and this display device does not flicker), but if using a CRT monitor, I would prefer that it be set to
1280 x 1024 pixels running at 85 Hz. A new monitor should support a resolution of at least 1280 x 1024
pixels at 75 Hz or higher, as should any decent modern graphics card. Today's graphics cards are cheap
enough that this resolution should be supported with 24-bit color. The OpenGL cards that ANSYS suggests
should result in much faster model graphics display. With large models, this should be a helpful investment.
Printers can be relatively inexpensive, although you can run up fairly high bills for colored ink if you generate
large numbers of plots. A laser printer can be a fast inexpensive way to get black-and-white listings and plots
during FEA work and report writing. I keep both a gray-scaled and a colored ANSYS color map on my
toolbar to move quickly between black-and-white and color. A substantial amount of work can be done
cheaply with gray-scaled plot prints, prior to developing a final report with color images. A color ink-jet
printer is the least expensive way to get helpful colored plots. If a larger budget is available, consider an
ink-jet that generates 11" x 17" plots, or a colored laser printer for high-volume high-priced work. In some
companies the speed-up in analysis work will pay for the equipment in short order.
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FEA and Optimization Introduction Page
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1998 by Peter C. Budgell -- You are welcome to print and photocopy these pages (don't plagiarize or sell the contents).

E-mail Address: Please see my main page.


October 22, 1998; minor update in January 2004.
Link to: The ANSYS Home Page at www.ansys.com
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