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Introduction to Finite Element Method and

applications
Pietro Crespi
What is the Finite Element Method?

Finite Element Method (FEM) is a numerical procedure for the solution (in an
approximate way) of various types of problems:
• structural
• thermodynamic
• fluid-dynamic
• electromagnetic
It is often used when it is not possible to find an exact solution or when the exact
solution is too complex.

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Finite Elements in structures

The following Finite Elements (FE) can be used in structural problems:


• One-dimensional

• Two-dimensional

• Three-dimensional

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Steps of the modeling process

1. Subdivision of the structure in various FEs (mesh generation);


2. Modeling of the displacement fields for each FE;
3. Stiffness matrix and equivalent nodal loads vector generation for each FE;
4. Composition of the single contribution of all the FEs (assembling process);
5. Application of the boundary conditions;
6. Solution of the system of linear equilibrium equations;
7. Displacements and stresses determination by means of the back substitution
process.

For instance, the particular case of beam FE will be described in the following.

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Subdivision of the structure in FEs

The frame structure is subdivided in Finite Elements (beam elements).

The subdivision in FE is called mesh generation.

Each single FE is a subdomain of the problem.

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Modeling of the displacement fields

Beam finite element according to the Euler-Bernoulli’s theory:


Hp: a plain cross section perpendicular to the longitudinal axis remains plain and
perpendicular during the deflection of the beam.
 No shear deformation considered;
 Rotation = first derivative of displacement  (x) = v’(x)

Deflected shape
2D problem
2 nodes FE
2 3 d.o.f. per node
v1 1 v(x) v2

u( x )
sx      Nx   u
u1 u(x) u2

L v( x )

Modeling of the displacement fields by means of the shape functions N(x):


the displacement fields inside the element are described as a function of the nodal
displacements.
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Modeling of the displacement fields

Modeling of the displacement fields: sx   Nx   u

Nodal displacements vector: uT  u1 v 1 1 u2 v2 2 

Shape functions matrix:


N1 x  0 0 N4 x  0 0 
Nx    
 0 N2 x  N3 x  0 N5 x  N6 x 
where:

N1 x   1  N4 x  
x x
L L
2 3 2 3
x x x x
N2 x   1  3   2  N5 x   3   2 
L  L  L  L 

x2 x3 x2 x3
N3 x   x  2  2 N6 x     2
L L L L

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Modeling of the deformation fields

The deformation fields inside the FE can be evaluated from the hypothesis
made on the displacement fields:
 u( x ) 
εx      Bx   u
v ( x )

N1 x  0 0 N4 x  0 0 
Bx    
       
Compatibility matrix:
 0 N
2
 x N
3
 x 0 N
5
 x N
6
 x 

REMARKS:
1. Shape functions N(x) must be selected in order to guarantee the
possibility to reproduce rigid motions and constant strains;
2. The presented shape functions allow to obtain the exact solution of
beam problems without distributed loads applied along the
longitudinal axis (see elastic curve theory).

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Principle of virtual work

For a single FE structure, under the following hypothesis:


 Linear elasticity;
 Uniaxial bending.

The strain (internal) energy U can be expressed as follows:

U   EA ux  dx   EIv x  dx


1 L 2 1 L 2

2 0 2 0

The potential energy of the applied loads V can be expressed as follows:


L

0 0
L
 
V   px   ux dx   qx   v x dx  i Q xi  ux i   Q yi  v x i 

The equilibrium of the structure can be imposed by writing the virtual work
principle or, equivalently, the minimum of the total potential energy for every
possible compatible variation of the displacement field.

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Principle of virtual work

Total potential energy: E=U+V  minimum: E = 0

ux   EA  ux dx   v x   EI  v x dx


L L
0 0
Virtual
  ux   px dx   v x   qx dx 
L L
work
0 0 principle

 i ux i   Q xi  v x i   Q yi  0   u, v, u, v 

The stiffness matrix k of the FE comes from the elastic strain energy:

ux   EA  ux dx   v x   EI  v x dx 


L L
 0 0

 L T EA 0  
 u    B x   
 T
  Bx dx   u Reduction of the

0
 0 EI  d.o.f. of the structure

k: stiffness matrix of the FE


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Stiffness matrix of the beam FE

Stiffness matrix of the beam FE according to the Euler-Bernoulli’s theory:

 EA EA 
 L 0 0  0 0 
L
 12EI 6EI 12EI 6EI 
The j-th column of
the stiffness
 0 0  3  matrix represents
 L3 L2 L 
2
L the loads
 0 6EI 4EI
0  2
6EI 2EI  generated on the
 L2 L L L  nodes by the j-th
k  displacement
EA EA
 0 0 0 0  assumed equal to
1, while all the
 L L  other
 0 12EI
 3
6EI
 2 0
12EI 6EI 
 2 displacements are
 L L L 3
L  set to 0.
 6EI 2EI 6EI 4EI 
 0 0  2 
 L2 L L L 

Stiffness matrix k is always symmetric and positive definite.

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Equivalent nodal loads of the beam FE

Equivalent nodal loads vector f caused by distributed loads (equivalent in


terms of virtual work) of the beam FE, according to the Euler-Bernoulli’s theory:

ux   px dx   v x   qx dx 


L L

0 0

 L T px  
 u    N x   
Reduction of the
 T
  dx 
qx 
d.o.f. of the structure
 
0

f: equivalent nodal loads vector of the FE.

The equivalent nodal loads f can be evaluated by integration for a given function
of the applied distributed loads.
px   p  cos t. q=cost

qx   q  cos t.
 pL qL qL2 pL qL qL2 
f  T
 
2 2 12 2 2 12 
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Rotation of the local reference system

All the above defined quantities (stiffness, equivalent nodal load,…) with respect
to the local reference system of the FE must be expressed in the global
reference system.
 2=q6

q5 v2

u2 u  T U
y
1=q3 q4
T: rotation matrix of the FE.

q2 v1  cos b sin b 0 0 0 0
u1 b  sin b cos b 0 0 0 0

 0 0 1 0 0 0
x T 
 0 0 0 cos b sin b 0
u = nodal displacements vector in the local
reference system
 0 0 0  sin b cos b 0
 
U = nodal displacements vector in the global
reference system
 0 0 0 0 0 1

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Rotation of the local reference system

The stiffness matrix of the FE can be converted from the local reference system
to the global reference system by means of the rotation matrix.

 
δuT  k  u  δUT  T T  k  T  U  δUT  k e  U

ke: stiffness matrix of the FE in the global reference system.

The equivalent nodal loads of the FE can be converted from the local reference
system to the global reference system by means of the rotation matrix.

 
δuT  f  δUT  T T  f  δUT  f e

fe: equivalent nodal loads of the FE in the global reference system.

u = nodal displacements vector in the local reference system


U = nodal displacements vector in the global reference system

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Assembling

For a structure made of various beams, the total


potential energy of the structure is the sum of the
total potential energies of the single elements.
After the transformation of all the quantities of all the
FE in the global reference system, the minimum of
the total potential energy can be written as follows:

 δU  
Ne
e 1
eT
 k e  Ue  δUeT  f e  Q e  0 δUeT

Qe: concentrated loads on the nodes


in the global reference system.

The assembling process is performed by means of the stiffness additive method.


The stiffness matrix of the whole structure is obtained by summation of the
contribution of each d.o.f., element by element.
With similar reasoning, the equivalent nodal loads vector can be evaluated too.
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Assembling

At the end of the assembling process, the minimum


of the total potential energy can be written as follows:

δUT  K  U  δUT  F  0 δUT


where:
 K: stiffness matrix of the whole structure in the global
reference system;
 U: nodal displacements vector of the whole structure
in the global reference system;
 F: equivalent nodal loads vector of the whole
structure in the global reference system.

Owing to the arbitrariness of the virtual nodal displacements U, the minimum of
the total potential energy implies the following system of linear equilibrium
equations:
K U  F

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Assembling

Example on how the assembling process works in the case of a structure made of
two beam FEs.
q3 q6 q9
q2 q5 q8

q4 q7
 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 0   q1  P1 
    
 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 0  q2  P2 
 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 0  q3  P3 
     
 1 1 1 1 2 1 2 1 2 2 2 2  q4  P4 
    
1 1 1 1 2 1 2 1 2 2 2 2   q5   P5 
     
 1 1 1 1 2 1 2 1 2 2 2 2  q6 P
   6
 0 0 0 2 2 2 2 2 2  q7  P7 
     
 0 0 0 2 2 2 2 2 2  q8  P8 
 2  q9  P9 
 0 0 0 2 2 2 2 2
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Boundary conditions and elastic springs

If happens that det(K) = 0 it means that the structure is statically impossible (rigid
motions are allowed to the structure).
In order to apply the boundary conditions to the structure, the out of diagonal
coefficients and the load can be assigned to zero for the relevant d.o.f.

* * * 0 *   q1   * 
* * * 0  
 *  q2   * 
   
* * * 0 *   q3    * 
 
0 0 0 1 0 q4  0
   
 * * * 0 
*  q5   * 

Nonzero settlement of supports can also be considered with more complex


techniques by modifying the system of equilibrium equations.

Elastic springs can also be treated by adding their stiffness to the diagonal
coefficient of the assembled stiffness matrix corresponding to the d.o.f. along
which the spring is applied.

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Solution of the equilibrium equations and back-
substitution

If the structure is statically determined or redundant the system of equilibrium


equations can be solved.
All the local fields (displacements, deformations, stresses,…) can be calculated
after the solution of the system of equilibrium equations KU = F.
 nodal displacements in the global reference system Ue of a generic element
can be determined from the overall displacement vector U;
 nodal displacements in the local reference system u of a generic element can
be determined (u = TU) from the global ones Ue;
~
 Internal actions can be determined by the equation: f  k u  f

FINAL REMARKS
Compatibility is satisfied everywhere but the equilibrium is imposed only in the
nodes of the discretized mesh of the structure.
The solution of the equilibrium equations is not the correct solution of the problem
because not all the points of the structure are in equilibrium. The degree of
accuracy of the solution strongly depend on the discretization process.
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Example: simply supported beam

Problem: simply supported beam already studied with the elastic curve theory
Data:
 Free span: L = 4.00 m
 Rectangular cross section: 20×45 cm
 Wood material: E = 15000 MPa, u = 8 MPa
 Uniformly distributed load: q = 27 kN/m

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Example: simply supported beam

Results: Bending moment My

Theoretical value from analytical solution:

ql   27kN / m  4m  54kNm


1 2 1
My,max 
2

8 8

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Example: simply supported beam

Results: Mid span vertical displacement f

Theoretical value from analytical solution:


5  27Nmm  4000mm 
4
5ql4
fmax    3.95mm
384EI 384  15000MPa  1518750000 mm 4

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Example: simply supported beam

Results: Mid span vertical displacement f

By dividing the former FE into 2 FE, with a node


in the mid-span position, it can be found:

Theoretical value from analytical solution:


5  27Nmm  4000mm 
4
5ql4
fmax    3.95mm
384EI 384  15000MPa  1518750000 mm 4

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Homework: beam with linearly distributed load

Problem:
For the structure sketched in the following picture, it is requested to:
 Solve the structure in an analytical way by means of the elastic curve theory by
determining at least:
 the unknown redundant reaction X (supposed as the couple reaction in B);
 the shear and bending internal actions diagrams;
 the deflection in the mid span point.
 Model the beam in the FEM software and solve it. Finally, compare the numerical
results with the analytical ones.

P.S.: Span, geometry of the cross section and material of the beam are free.
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Example 2: simply supported truss

Problem: simply supported truss with wood beam and steel pipe and strands

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Example 2: simply supported truss

Geometry:

Laminated wood beam Vertical pipe Inclined strands


Section 18×33 cm Section 88.3/6.3 mm Couple of Ø22 wires
A = 594 cm2 A = 16.35 cm2 A = 7.55 cm2
I = 53905 cm4 I = 140.20 cm4 I = 4.53 cm4
E = 11000 MPa E = 206000 MPa E = 206000 MPa

Pretensioning of strands will be modelled by a fictitious thermal variation of DT = -91°C

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Example 2: simply supported truss

Geometry of the model:

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Example 2: simply supported truss

1st stage: Self weight - displacements

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Example 2: simply supported truss

1st stage: Self weight – axial load

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Example 2: simply supported truss

1st stage: Self weight – bending moment

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Example 2: simply supported truss

2nd stage: Self weight + pretensioning – displacements

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Example 2: simply supported truss

2nd stage: Self weight + pretensioning – axial load

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Example 2: simply supported truss

2nd stage: Self weight + pretensioning – bending moment

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Example 2: simply supported truss

3rd stage: Self weight + pretensioning + applied loads – displacements

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Example 2: simply supported truss

3rd stage: Self weight + pretensioning + applied loads – axial load

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Example 2: simply supported truss

3rd stage: Self weight + pretensioning + applied loads – bending moment

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Example 2: simply supported truss

Comparison of the results evolution: displacements, bending moment


displ. (node 6)
20 -50
displ. (node 4)
M (node 6)
15 M (node 4) -40

Bending moment [kNm]


Displacements [mm]
10 -30

5 -20

0 -10
1st stage 2nd stage 3rd stage

-5 0

-10 10

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