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A Project Based Introduction To The Finite Element Method

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.50.1 - 5.50.9



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Steven M. Miner

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Richard E. Link

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2520

A Project-Based Introduction to the Finite Element Method

S.M. Miner, R.E. Link United States Naval Academy


All mechanical engineering majors at the Naval Academy are required to take a course in Com- puter Aided Design during their senior year. The underlying philosophy of the course is to intro- duce students to computer based solution techniques that are currently used in engineering practice. To emphasize the utility of the computer the problems selected for solution are ones that would be difficult to solve by hand. In particular, students are introduced to the finite element method through a project requiring the design of a bracket that must meet size, load, and deflec- tion requirements. In addition, the strength to weight ratio of the bracket is to be optimized. The students are given a brief introduction to the fundamentals of the finite element method, including basic theory and practical guidelines for modeling. Then design teams are formed to design and build the brackets. The brackets are tested to check the performance against the design require- ments, to compare the teams predicted results to actual performance, and to see which team achieves the highest strength to weight ratio. The IDEAS software package is used to generate the geometry of the bracket and to perform the finite element analysis. Design teams have developed brackets with strength to weight ratios of 6000 and have been able to predict failure loads to with 10% of the measured value. This project-based approach to the finite element method gives the students an appreciation for how powerful the method can be in performing structural analysis.

I. Introduction

The past twenty years has seen a rapid advancement in the capability of computer-aided design tools. Commercial software packages are readily available to assist with all phases of the design process from ideation through synthesis and analysis, detail design and testing to prototype and production. Computer-aided design tools have become an essential part of the modern design and manufacturing environment and engineering curricula has evolved to include instruction in this field. Virtually all engineering schools include instruction in computer-aided design to some extent. Design software has become so powerful that a novice can conduct sophisticated analyses without knowing very much about the details or limitations of the analysis process.

While it is important for engineering schools to educate students about the use of computer-aided design tools, they must also ensure that the students have a basic understanding of the underlying principles upon which these computer programs are based. Striking a balance between teaching the fundamentals and giving the students hands-on experience with the technology continues to be a challenge. The real benefit in introducing the students to the technology is the ability to solve more interesting, physically realistic problems in a short amount of time.

All Mechanical Engineering students at the Naval Academy are required to take a course in com- puter-aided design in the fall semester of their senior year. Roughly one quarter of the course is

Miner, S. M., & Link, R. E. (2000, June), A Project Based Introduction To The Finite Element Method Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8643

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