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SOLIDWORKS Simulation – Comparison between Solid

and Beam Type Elements


Overview
This case study compares SOLIDWORKS Simulation results on a model as analyzed by beam and
solid element types. Beam-type elements are defined be a single line representing the path of a
beam with the cross sectional moment of inertia applied only as a theoretical calculation along
that path. Solid-type elements, in this case, are tetrahedrons that generate in place of all modeled
geometry acting as a 1:1 representation. Beam-type elements offer a speed improvement over
solid-type elements but are often questioned for accuracy.

Setup
The setup is a 10 mm diameter body with uniform circular cross section fixed on one end. On the
othe end it is loaded with 100 N as cantilever beam. Data was collected for lengths between 20
mm and 400 mm (length-to-span ratios between 2:1 and 40:1). From these studies maximum
displacement and maximum stress values were collected for comparison to analytical equations
for cantilever beams. Mesh element sizes used for the solid studies is set to 1.33 mm for all solid-
element studies.

Figure 1: Fixture and load setup on the test body.

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This case study used the following analytical equations.

Maximum Deflection: Maximum Stress:

Where: F = Applied Force = 100 N


L = Beam Length = variable
E = Modulus of Elasticity = 2.1*1011 N/m2
I = Cross section Moment of Inertia = 4.9087*10-10 m
r = Cross sectional radius = 5 mm

Results
The results of the FEA testing and analytical calculations are shown below.
Deflection
Beam Length (mm) Analytical (mm) Beam (mm) % error Solid (mm) % error
15 0.0011 0.0014 20.51% 0.0006 -94.09%
20 0.0026 0.0030 12.69% 0.0030 15.13%
30 0.0087 0.0093 6.07% 0.0094 6.89%
40 0.0207 0.0215 3.52% 0.0215 3.65%
50 0.0404 0.0414 2.27% 0.0413 2.18%
60 0.0698 0.0710 1.58% 0.0708 1.36%
70 0.1109 0.1122 1.15% 0.1119 0.88%
80 0.1656 0.1671 0.92% 0.1666 0.62%
90 0.2357 0.2374 0.70% 0.2367 0.41%
100 0.3234 0.3252 0.57% 0.3242 0.26%
120 0.5588 0.5610 0.40% 0.5594 0.11%
140 0.8873 0.8899 0.29% 0.8875 0.02%
160 1.3245 1.3280 0.26% 1.3240 -0.04%
180 1.8858 1.8890 0.17% 1.8850 -0.05%
200 2.5869 2.5910 0.16% 2.5850 -0.07%

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Stress
Beam Length (mm) Analytical (MPa) Beam (MPa) % error Solid (MPa) % error
15 15.28 15.28 0.01% 11.71 -30.48%
20 20.37 20.37 -0.01% 18.98 -7.33%
30 30.56 30.56 0.01% 28.54 -7.07%
40 40.74 40.74 -0.01% 40.36 -0.95%
50 50.93 50.93 0.00% 50.12 -1.62%
60 61.12 61.12 0.01% 59.83 -2.15%
70 71.30 71.3 0.00% 67 -6.42%
80 81.49 81.49 0.00% 76.45 -6.59%
90 91.67 91.67 0.00% 90.17 -1.67%
100 101.86 101.9 0.04% 100.3 -1.55%
120 122.23 122.2 -0.03% 116.4 -5.01%
140 142.60 142.6 0.00% 140.7 -1.35%
160 162.97 163 0.02% 156.9 -3.87%
180 183.35 183.3 -0.03% 180.9 -1.35%
200 203.72 203.7 -0.01% 197.4 -3.20%

The beam-element deflection results agree with the analytical solution within 5% for length-span
ratios greater than 4:1 and accurate within 1% for ratios greater than 8:1. The solid-element
deflection results would agree with the beam deflection results.

The beam-element stress results are identical to the analytical solution (within < 0.5%) for all
tested model lengths. The solid-element stress results vary largely across the range of results but
remaining within 8% of the analytical solution.

Lastly, the solve time for the beam-element studies were < 0.01 seconds while the solid-element
studies solved in 10 seconds.

Conclusion
Beam elements have dubious accuracy for deflection below length-span ratios of 8:1. For stress
calculations beam stresses use the analytical calculation for stress so the results would be the
same. Solid elements show similar accuracies to beams for deflections but higher errors for
stresses. Reduced the solid-element mesh size would compensate for this error. Solids can be
trusted for length-span ratios of less than 8:1 where beam calculations and the analytical
equations become invalid.

Beam elements, in this case, solve ~1000 times faster than solid elements. For larger more
complex beam structures, the inaccuracies from beam elements are offset by reduced design cycle
and solve time.

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