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Postedby:TonyAbbey inSimulate January1,2014

ByTonyAbbey

EditorsNote:TonyAbbeyteachesliveNAFEMSFEAclassesintheUS,EuropeandAsia.Healsoteaches
NAFEMSelearningclassesglobally.Contacttony.abbey@nafems.orgfordetails.
Inthefiniteelementanalysis(FEA)process,checkingisdoneateverystage.Beforetheanalysiseven
starts,weneedtogetallourmaterialdata,dimensions,masses,loadingdefinitionsandotherdataclearly
organized.

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Fig.1:Goodandpoorqualitymeshes.

Obtainingaccurateandvalidateddatacantakeasurprisinglylongtime.Starttheprojectreportearly,and
includethisinformationasitbecomesavailable.Ihavewrittenreportsatthelastminute,andfoundthe
wrongmaterialpropertiesusedinthemodel.Thereisnochoice,then,buttoreruntheanalysiswitha
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Fig.2:Elementaspectratiocheckplots.

Inthepreprocessingstage,wemeshthemodel.Weapplyloadsandboundaryconditions,material
properties,etc.Wecandomanycheckshere.Thefirstcheckduringmeshingistoassesselementquality
distortedelementshapesareourbiggestenemy.
Whatdowemeanbyquality,andwhyisthisimportant?Inthecalculationoftheoverallstructural
stiffness,eachelementisevaluatednumerically.Theaccuracyoftheelementstiffnessandhence,the
accuracyofthewholemodeldependsonhowwellthiselementevaluationiscarriedout.
GoodandpoorqualitymeshesareshowninFig.1.Wecanseebyeyethatonemeshisinferior,but
applyingmoreformalcheckingisbetterpractice.Fig.2showsatypicalcheckingelementcriterionplot
(usingaspectratio),highlightingthepoormesh.
Alargenumberofelementcheckingformatsareavailable.Oneofthebestcatchallmethodsiselement
aspectratio.Ifthisissettoahighnumber,suchas10,itwilltrapalloftherogueelementsthatareoften
createdinamesh.Thisincludesslivertypeelementshapes,orcollapsedelements,wherethemesherhas
becomeconfusedbypoorgeometryortoleranceerrors.Fig.3showsatypicalaspectratiodefinitionof
longestovershortestlength.Awordofcautionhere:Thepreprocessordefinitionmaybedifferentfromthe

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solverdefinition,whichistheimportantversion.
GeneralPerformance
Oncewehaveremovedobviouslybadelements,wecancheckthegeneralperformanceofthemesher.
Manymeshersareabletoshowmeshqualityinteractively.Thisisextremelyuseful,asithelpsguideus
towardimprovementsinthemesh.Ifwearemeshing3Delements,itisimportantthatwearecheckingthe
shapeofelementsintheinteriorofthegeometry.Fig.4showsatypicalcasewherethemeshlooksfineon
theoutside,butisverypoorinside.Splittingthemeshapartvisuallyistheonlywaytoseethis.

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Fig.3:Typicalaspectratiodefinitionofa3Dtetrahedralelement.

Somemeshersenhanceourabilitytocheckinsidethemeshbyprovidingasliderbartocontrolwhich
elementswesee.Settinganaspectratiovaluewillonlyshowelementsthatareabovethatthreshold.Fig.5
showsatypicalexample.Groupingorcolorcodingtheseelementsareanotherpowerfultooltohelpus
identifyandimprovethemesh.
JacobianCalculations
PerhapsthemostpowerfulelementcheckingformatistheJacobian.Unfortunately,itisalsothemost
difficulttointerpretandexpensivetocalculate.EachelementformsaJacobianmatrixduringtheevaluation
ofitsstiffnessmatrix.Thisis,therefore,adirectrepresentationofhownumericallyaccuratetheelementis.
Allgeometricfactorsplayapartinthis.Withalargemodel,thecostofemulatingtheJacobiancalculations
inthepreprocessorcanbecomeprohibitive.

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Fig.4:Smoothexternalmeshhidespoorinternalmesh.Splitlineisshown.

Itisimportanttounderstandthatthisisanemulation,nottheactualsolvercalculation.Youmayfind
controlssuchasapproximateoraccuratecalculationoptions.Theevaluationmayjustusefacesof3D
elements.Itisimportanttoexperimentwithcontrolledmeshdistortionstoevaluateforyourselfjusthow
effectivetheapproximatecalculationsarecomparedtotheresultantanalyticalvalues.

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Fig.5:Highestcriteriasetontheleft,lowestontheright.

Thefundamentalquestionis:WhatisagoodJacobianvalue?Unfortunately,itisnotpossibletodefinethat
inageneralsense.Thevalueisdefinition,elementtype,dimensionalandsolverspecific.Thebestway
toapproachthis,then,istoexperimentandcalibratemeshdistortionsyourself,tobuildagoodbaseline.
Fig.6showsatypicalstudy.
ModelCracks
Cracksinameshoccurwhereadjacentelementsarenotproperlyconnected.Reasonsincludedifferences
betweentolerancesintheCADmodelandFEAmodels,andmismatchedelementmeshdensitiesbetween
adjacentsurfacesorvolumes.Mostmesherswillrefusetocollapseanelement,soawkwardjunctionsof
elementshapesmayresistattemptstojoinupnodesthatareveryclosetoeachother.

Fig.6:Afamilyofprogressivelydistortedtetrahedralelements,withJacobianchecks.

Itisimportanttopreviewcracksasthemeshingoccurs.Mostmesheswillallowsnappingbetweenfree
edgeorfreefaceviewandnormalview.Fig.7showsatypicalmeshwithavarietyofcracksthatneedto
befixed.
ElementNormals
Each2Delement(orfaceina3Delement)hasanormalorperpendiculardirection.Theelementnormalis
usedtodefineseveralimportantcharacteristicsintheanalysis.Themostobviousisthedirectiontoapplya
pressureloadina2Delement.

Fig.7:Fullmeshviewandfreeedgehiddenlineview,showingcracks.

Atypicalconventionusesthepressuredirectionrunningintotheelement,againsttheelementnormal.This
isshowninFig.8.Theresultantnormalforeachgeometryfaceissomewhatarbitrarywhenmeshingthe
typicalcomplex2Dgeometryfoundinacomponent.Ifwewanttoapplyconsistentpressureloading,itis
importanttocheckthesenseofthenormalandhence,thepressureloadandifnecessary,reversethe
sense.Wecanplottheelementnormalasavector,butforacomplexmodel,thisendsuplooking
somewhatlikeaporcupine!

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Abetterwayistopaintthebackfacesofelementswithadistinctcolor.ThisisshowninFig.8,where
pressureloadingisclearlyshowntobeinerrorandthecorrectioncanbemade.
Theotherimportantuseofanelementnormalina2Delementistodefinethetopandbottomsurfaces.A
bendingmomentappliedtotheelementwillresultintensionandcompressionsurfacestresses.Consistent
elementnormalsarerequiredtogetthecorrectpostprocessingstressdistributions.

Fig.8:Elementnormalwithbackfacespaintedred.Noticetheerrorsinpressureloaddirections.

Finally,elementnormalsarealsousedtodefineoffsets,andstackingorientationincompositelayups.
Mixingupnormalswillcauserandomerrorsinallofthese.
LoadBalance
Itisimportanttomakesurethatwehavetheloadingdefinedcorrectly.Someloadingformsare
straightforward,withjustafewisolatedloads.However,theloadingcangetquitecomplexwithdistributed
pressureloading,bodyinertialoading,etc.Inallcases,wewanttocheckthemagnitudeandresultantline
ofactionoftheloadingagainstourspecification.Wecancheckvisually,usingthepreprocessorgraphicsto
makesurethedistributionoftheloadingiscorrect.
Manypreprocessorsprovidealoadbalancechecktooltomakesurethatwehavecalibratedtheload
properly.Forexample,inaccuraciesbetweengeometricareaorvolumeandsubsequentmeshareaand
volumewillcauseloadingerrors.Wecanadjusttheloadingtomatchthespecification.Thedefinitivecheck
onloadbalancewilloccurafterthesolution,andwewilllookatthatlater.
BoundaryConditions
Settingupthecorrectboundaryconditionsisalsovitalforsuccessfulanalysis.Again,thesecanbevery
simple,orcomplexwithlocalcoordinatesystemsandspecificdegreesoffreedom(DOF)components
defined.Throughout2014inDE,wewilllookatvariousadvancedchecksusingsupplementaryanalyses,
productionanalysisandpostprocessing.

Fig.9:Constraintisappliedinthewrongcoordinatesysteminthelowermodel.

Inthepreprocessor,wecanfocusonthegraphicalrepresentationoftheconstraints.Itisagoodideato
thoroughlyreviewtheconstraintsatthisstagetomakesurethatnothinghasbeenmissedorappliedin
error.Whenusingautomatedsetupoptionssuchassymmetry,Istronglyrecommenddoublecheckingthat
youunderstandandagreewithhowtheseoptionshavebeensetup.Similarly,localcoordinatesystemsare
verypowerfultodescriberealisticconstraintsystems,buttheyarealsoveryerrorprone,asshowninFig.
9.
Physical,MaterialandMassProperties

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Checkingphysicalproperties,suchasshellelementthicknessandbeamcrosssectionsandmaterial
operatives,islargelyamatterofhousekeeping.Butagain,weusuallyhaveafullsetofgraphicaland
tabularoptionsinthepreprocessortohelpushere.Colorcodedmeshplotsofpropertyandmaterial
distributionareanextremelyusefulcheckingoptionandalsogoodpracticetoincludeinthereport.
Beamandshellelementidealizationfeatures,suchascrosssectionvisualization,orientationvectorsand
offsetscanbecheckedvisuallyinthepreprocessor.Thisisextremelypowerfulspareathoughtfor
engineersof20yearsagowhowouldbestaringatascreenfulloflines,tryingtochecktheseaspects.I
alwaysworriedaboutFridayafternoonmodels,wherehumannaturemeantthattheerrorlevelwas
probablyquitehigh!

Ifweareusingmassinananalysis,forstaticinertialoadingordynamicanalysis,itisvitalthatwecheck
themassdistribution.Again,mostpreprocessorshavegreattoolstohelpuscheckthisoutbeforewe
committoananalysis.Mostcomponentswillhavemasspropertiesstatedinthespecification,andwecan
checkagainstthese.
Itisimportanttoincludethemassmomentsofinertiaaswellasthemass.Ifweareusinglumpedmass
idealizationsforcomponents,thisbecomesveryimportant.Acommonerroristojustincludethe
translationalmass.
Thephysicalanalogyisalargeblockofsteelonice,whichresistsapushatitscentergravity.However,if
wepushonanedge,itwillspinrapidly,asithasnorotationalinertiaresistance.
InFEA,thereisalotofcheckingtodo!However,ifaconsistentandrigorousapproachistaken,itwill
improvethelikelihoodofcreatingaccuratemodelsandwillalsogivecheckersandreviewersagreatdeal
ofconfidence.
TonyAbbeyisaconsultantanalystwithhisowncompany,FETraining.Healsoworksastrainingmanager
forNAFEMS,responsiblefordevelopingandimplementingtrainingclasses,includingawiderangeofe
learningclasses.SendemailaboutthisarticletoDEEditors@deskeng.com.

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TonyAbbeyisaconsultantanalystwithhisowncompany,FETraining.Healsoworksastraining
managerforNAFEMS,responsiblefordevelopingandimplementingtrainingclasses,includinge
learningclasses.SendemailaboutthisarticletoDEEditors@deskeng.com.

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