June 26, 2011
June 26, 2011
June 29, 2011
22.83.1 - 22.83.14
A Philosophy of Integrating FEA Practice Throughout the Undergraduate CE/ME CurriculumProfessional-quality software for Finite Element Analysis is now routinely bundled with solidmodeling tools, and formerly-complex tasks have been streamlined into a few standard mousepicks (with options to refine as desired). Therefore novices can potentially begin modeling andrunning with just a few minutes of instruction. This raises the question of how such a powerfultool should be used in the undergraduate engineering curriculum, where it may both bolster thelearning process, and develop competence in a valuable professional skill.The idea of integrating professional software into most of the mechanics-based classes raisesperennial questions about engineering, and about learning. We first present a philosophy thatacknowledges and addresses matters such as ‘principles vs. tools’, ‘conceptual framework vs.numerical results’, modeling skills, critical thinking (garbage detection), and ‘analysis vs.synthesis’. Part of the reasoning is based on analogies with well-accepted traditional curriculumcontents. A literature review coherently connects previous justifications for FEA integration.Secondly, we enumerate and discuss the kinds of intellectual foundations and skills that appear tobe important for successful use of FEA, not only for determining specific results, but forinterpreting them within a framework of evolving sophistication. This includes an appreciationof linearity, the mechanics of single or multiple load paths, the tensorial nature of stress, themechanics of long uniform members, the great importance of connections and boundaryconditions, local mesh refinement for convergence, and the interpretation of stress results forductile collapse, fatigue initiation, or brittle failure. Especially, the entire iterative endeavor ofmodeling a complex situation simply in order to approximate the information of interest, shouldbe presented in a way that encourages critical exploration, once students are less stymied byhand-calculation difficulties.Lastly, some specific FEA exercises and lesson contents are described, to suggest ways that thissophisticated modern tool can be integrated into the education of future engineers. Suchexercises have so far been used on the SolidWorks Simulation platform, in classes ranging fromIntroduction to Engineering, up through Advanced Strength of Materials. Informal studentfeedback was always enthusiastic.Based on the author’s two decades of industrial experience, we assert that the powerfulcapabilities of modern FEA can be exploited effectively only by those who develop significantmodeling skills and an appropriate critical perspective – both well-accepted aims in engineeringpedagogy. We also recognize synergy in using FEA to teach many Mechanics topics, wheresuperior mathematical facility need not be the sole gateway to achieving superior understandingor doing competent calculations. For these and other reasons, we argue that it is a good time tointegrate FEA into any level of class where it can be applied.
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