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Using Structural Distillation In The Avoidance Of Analysis Paralysis

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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

Improving Mechanics & Structural Modeling Courses

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1357.1 - 13.1357.10



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Paper Authors

author page

Andrew Foley U.S. Coast Guard Academy

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

Emphasizing structural distillation for the avoidance of ‘analysis paralysis’. Introduction

ABET requires student engineers to have the ‘ability to design and conduct experiments and to analyze and to interpret data using modern engineering tools’. This along with industry demands means that the student engineer is now expected to be competent in at least one CAD package and perhaps one finite element stress or fluid analysis package. Exposure of undergraduate engineers to powerful analysis packages however, can in many cases be compared to viewing the dessert tray before the main course arrives, it can ruin the meal. As such running through pre-defined engineering analysis examples and seeing the capabilities of the packages leaves the novice convinced that the use of such software is indeed far superior to any ‘hand calculation’ technique, and as such is the only way to undertake any future analysis work. The reality however, quite often means that when future work arrives the novice falls into one of the following ‘traps’. First, the geometry and application of the part, assembly or system is so unlike any modeled before that the user does not know where to start. (E.g. How to mesh, how to apply loads, restraints etc.) A state of ‘analysis paralysis’ has occurred. Secondly, in spite of the first trap and because of inevitable work pressure, an analysis is undertaken which, with the aid of new ‘user friendly’ application software allows the user to ‘muddle’ his or her way through the numerous menu options. The software then obligingly produces the high quality presentation ‘results’ that can, without an inside understanding of the problem, appear very believable. The ‘gaffer dazzler’ (Slang for boss impressing picture !) is born and the old adage of ‘garbage in, garbage out’ has re-appeared in its new visually more impressive form. The suggestions discussed in this paper, describe teaching techniques used at the author’s institute, that continually stress structural distillation, sketching, estimation, experimentation and the central importance of approximate hand calculations as an essential part of the design process. Examples of some of the work undertaken at the author’s institution during an introductory design course are used to show how powerful analytical packages can ultimately be used with confidence rather than blind faith.

A concern about the use of ‘modern’ analysis software..

Foley (2007) discusses the ‘big picture’ aspects of launching into a design sequence, emphasizing that design is just one of a number of options open to the engineer. It is invariably expensive, time consuming and requires the largest commitment of all the solution methods available. This paper assumes therefore that the preliminary ‘situation appraisal’ work has been completed and a design process has been decided as the best way forward. The focus in this paper is to help students avoid some of the unique ‘computing’ pitfalls that have availed the modern engineer. Unlike politics where simple problems are often needlessly overcomplicated, engineers generally pride themselves in taking complicated problems and reducing them to their simplest constituent parts before analyzing and producing solutions that can then be extrapolated with minimum modification to produce viable solutions to the original more

Foley, A. (2008, June), Using Structural Distillation In The Avoidance Of Analysis Paralysis Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3272

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