Define Your FEA Software Requirements

Narrow down your software selection with these tips.

Tony AbbeyEditor’s Note: Tony Abbey teaches live NAFEMS FEA classes in the U.S., Europe and Asia. He also teaches NAFEMS e-learning classes globally. Contact [email protected] for details.

A finite element analysis (FEA) software purchase requires many considerations. I will assume you have taken the first step and selected your vendor. The next step is to consider a shopping list of solution technologies that are needed for your work.

Traditionally, linear statics, normal modes and buckling were considered quite sufficient for many analysts. However, hardware and software improvements have enabled more advanced analysis solutions at a reasonable cost. For example, the convenience of using contacts in assemblies has driven up nonlinear analysis usage. Other advanced options have become a lot friendlier to use.

Building an FEA Requirements List

What technology is needed to carry out your specific simulation tasks? Unfortunately, if you are moving into new technology, you may not know what is needed and should seek advice on selecting the right options.

Most FEA vendor sites present a list of features and options. Some cross-refer to industry sectors, but it is difficult to generalize which solutions will be critical. A site-based build-it-yourself application would be ideal, similar to those that hardware vendors provide (to customize your own list from a series of logical questions).

FEA vendors can be very helpful—but get technical help—don’t rely on the salesperson. They probably have little knowledge of FEA and are motivated, quite rightly, to make a sale. A good software vendor should have high-quality pre-sales engineers. These teams know the software strengths and limitations, and have experience with industry applications. You can also contact others working in a similar field, use the engineering forums or appropriate LinkedIn groups. If you are a member of ASME, AIAA, NAFEMS or similar organizations, then solicit advice. Make your request clear—type of simulation, industry sector, general workflow—to focus guidance. You will get a lot of feedback and perhaps an even split between five- and one-star reviews. However, concentrate on the technology area to use.

Ideally, define benchmark simulations that exercise the range of technologies you need—this is a very useful learning curve. However, these are resource hungry exercises and you or the vendor may not have the time or staff to do this.

Matching the List to the Product

Assuming you’ve assembled a short list of requirements, next is the tricky part. How does this match the breakdown of features you can purchase? The definition of a product range is different across FEA vendors. Premium, Professional and Enterprise or similar labels are common to differentiate packages. It is not clear from this what the scope is; a full comparative feature table is rare.

You may anticipate a progression from basic to advanced functionality within packages. Traditionally, a basic package included linear static and thermal, normal modes and linear buckling. Non-linear (material, geometric, contact) and dynamic response (transient, frequency response, random, shock) was included in the advanced packages. Additional modules would cover super elements, acoustics, advanced composite failure and more.

A review of vendor sites today shows interesting variations. One “basic” package includes nonlinear contact (which is attractive) and segregates material and geometric nonlinearity to an advanced package. Another variation only promotes material non-linearity to an advanced package (which is even more attractive). Most vendors include normal modes analysis in a basic package, but confusingly some call this frequency analysis. This should not be confused with frequency response analysis—which is an advanced option. Basic composite analysis is promoted to an advanced option in one case.

Buying Confidence is Key

It can be expensive to over- or under-define requirements. I bought a CAD-embedded FEA solution from a well-known reseller earlier this year and the salesman assured me all features were included. Well, I got full the CAD features, but no FEA non-linear, dynamic response or composites. It now gathers dust.

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About the Author

Tony Abbey's avatar
Tony Abbey

Tony Abbey is a consultant analyst with his own company, FETraining. He also works as training manager for NAFEMS, responsible for developing and implementing training classes, including e-learning classes. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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