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Teaching Finite Element Analysis To Second Year Students

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



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Page Numbers

6.944.1 - 6.944.6

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Marshall Coyle

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Christal Keel

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

Session 2793

Teaching Finite Element Analysis to Second Year Students Marshall F. Coyle, Ph.D., P.E., Christal G. Keel Pennsylvania State University – York


Finite element analysis (FEA) is a powerful analytical tool used to evaluate structural, dynamic, thermal, fluid, and electrical engineering problems. In the past, only specialists with access to mainframes conducted finite element analyses due to the massive processing power required. However, the recent advances in microcomputer technology allow this processing capability to be available to virtually anyone. Engineering students can now solve complex problems that would not be feasible or practical to solve by hand at a much earlier point in the curriculum. Still, a person using FEA software who does not have a clear understanding of the basic engineering concepts could obtain erroneous solutions, leading to a detrimental outcome. This paper discusses the justification for offering FEA to second year students, as opposed to the current fourth-year placement we see most often. Included are examples of exercises that will attempt to reinforce to the student the importance of rigorous attention to the fundamental engineering concepts crucial to any analysis.

I. Introduction

Finite element analysis software allows us to simulate the performance of a structure or component. Analyses can be conducted on structures of practically any geometry, with countless degrees of freedom.[1,2,3] Because of the recent advances in the user interface of many FEA packages, it is now practical for students with only a basic knowledge of FEA and the principles of mechanics to conduct complex analyses.[2] The availability of tutorials, workbooks, and online support contribute to a user-friendly environment for the student. [4,5]

Until now, most introductory courses in finite elements have been offered to engineering students in the fourth year of study, with more advanced theory or application being reserved for graduate programs. However, some engineering professors believe that the time has come to introduce this technology much earlier in the curriculum. In the beginning, care must be taken to ensure that the student has a firm understanding of Statics and Strength of Materials. Using finite element analysis as a tool, teachers can enhance the comprehension of these courses, as well as stress proper planning of a problem and setting reasonable expectations as to the outcome.[2] Seeing the physical representation of these basic theories can lead to an increased appreciation for the student of forces, boundary conditions, and the significance of material properties.[6] Applying a finite element analysis to a common truss problem, for example, can help the student visualize the analysis in a way previously not possible, as well as demonstrate the importance of

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Coyle, M., & Keel, C. (2001, June), Teaching Finite Element Analysis To Second Year Students Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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