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Incorporating Expectation Failures In An Undergraduate Finite Element Course

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Mechanics of Materials

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.730.1 - 13.730.14



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Paper Authors


Vince Prantil Milwaukee School of Engineering

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Vince Prantil is an Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Dr. Prantil received his BS, MS, and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University. His research interests lie in micro-structural material modeling, finite element and numerical analysis. He was a senior staff member at Sandia National Laboratories California in the Applied Mechanics and Materials Modeling departments for eleven years. He joined the mechanical engineering faculty at MSOE in September 2000.

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William Howard East Carolina University

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Ed Howard is an Assistant Professor in the College of Technology and Computer Science’s Department of Engineering at East Carolina University. He holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering and an M.S. in Engineering Mechanics from Virginia Tech, and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Marquette University. He has 14 years of industrial experience, mostly in the design and analysis of composite structures.

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

Manuscript Submission for the 2008 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition June 22-25, 2008 Pittsburgh, PA

Incorporating Expectation Failures in an Undergraduate Finite Element Course

Vincent C. Prantil Milwaukee School of Engineering

William E. Howard East Carolina University


In teaching an introduction to the finite element method at the undergraduate level, a prudent mix of theory and applications is often sought. At the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), the four year course of study culminates in the seniors addressing most aspects of the design process in the context of a year long capstone design project. In many cases, students use finite element analysis to perform parameter studies on potential designs to size parts, and weed out less desirable design scenarios. In this paper, we discuss common pitfalls encountered by many finite element analysts, in particular students encountering the method for the first time. We present two very simple problems in beam bending that distinguish the students’ knowledge of theoretical mechanics, the numerical method and approximations particular to the finite element method itself. We also present efforts to incorporate experimental laboratories in which analyses are coupled with the experiments to address how students’ interpretations of numerical results can be led astray and what can be done to allay such tendencies. Challenges in presenting the necessary mix of theory and applications in the context of a 10 week course are discussed. We also discuss a proposal for a follow-on course addressing such advanced topics as three-dimensional applications, transient and nonlinear analyses, and thermal analysis.


In many undergraduate engineering curricula, a first course in finite element analysis is required [1]. The focus of such a class is often an overview of the procedural aspects of the method and development of the finite element theory for a variety of relatively simple one and two-dimensional element formulations. This is necessarily coupled with performing finite element analysis on relatively simple, linear, static boundary value problems. More and more often, these courses have exposed students to the use of commercial finite element software for solving these same boundary value problems. At the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), the undergraduate curriculum culminates in a senior-level capstone design experience wherein students integrate their accumulated learning with design intent foremost in mind. While all students have been exposed to the

Prantil, V., & Howard, W. (2008, June), Incorporating Expectation Failures In An Undergraduate Finite Element Course Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4492

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