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FE Modeler Part 1: Translating Meshes with ANSYS FE Modeler


Posted on November 2, 2010 by Eric Miller

Ever get thrown an old NASTRAN model or been asked to convert your model into ABAQUS? Did you spend hours scouring the internet for a free
translator? Did you know that ANSYS software came with a translator for FLUENT, CFX, ABAQUS, NASTRAN , STL files and a host of other formats?
Well it does and it comes free with most products. It is one of the least known jewels in the ANSYS product family.

FE Modeler is a module developed to handle some of the mesh based capabilities found in Mechanical APDL that dont really fit into the paradigm of what
is now called ANSYS Mechanical. Over the years it has grown to be a very useful tool for translating models, reviewing meshes, morphing meshes, and
even converting meshes into geometry that can be re-meshed. In this article we will talk about the translators and quality tools and will address the
morphing and geometry-from-mesh tools once R13 comes out in November.
The first thing to know is how to get to this useful tool. On the workbench page, it is in Toolbox under Component Systems with the name Finite Element
Modeler. Figure 1 shows where it is located.

Figure 1: Location of FE Modeler Tool

There are a couple of ways to use the tool. The first is to drag it onto a mesh that already exists in your project. This is the best way to proceed if you
meshed with Workbench meshing or a system that uses Workbench Meshing (Mechanical, FLUENT, CFX, etc). You can also connect it to the Setup
block on an ANSYS Mechanical system. You can of course connect to an FE Modeler system by right clicking on a mesh and choosing Transfer Too
New -> Finite Element Modeler Figure 2 shows some examples of what it looks like once you have connected.

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Figure 2: Connecting to a Workbench Mesh or Model

If you are not starting with a Workbench related mesh or model, you can still use the tool. This is the most common method for reading in NASTRAN or
ABAQUS meshes. Simply drag and drop the Finite Element Modeler System to a blank spot on the Project Schematic. Once there you can specify your
input file in one of two ways: double-click on the Model (brute force, take charge, throw caution to the wind approach) or right click on the Model and
choose Add Input Mesh (take your time, make sure it is right, no risks approach). And yes, it says Add because you can specify multiple meshes, an
added bonus. Figure 3 shows an example of what this will look like.

Figure 3: Stand Alone FE Modeler Systems

When you are in the browser dialog you can see the various formats that are supported (Figure 4). These are also summarized in Table 1:

Figure 4: Input Options

Table 1: Supported Input File Summary

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ABAQUS (*.inp)

MAPDL (*.cdb)

CFX (*.def, *.res)

NASTRAN (*.bdf, *.dat, *.nas)

ANSYS WB Meshes (*.cmdb, *.meshdat)

Mechanical (*.dsdb, *.mechdat)

Fluent (*.msh,*.cas)

STL (*.stl)

ICEM CFD (*.uns)

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Fluent (*.msh,*.cas)

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STL (*.stl)

ICEM CFD (*.uns)

Now you have a mesh defined. The next step is to read it in to FE Modeler. You can do this by double clicking on the model or RMB->Edit. The program
will now read in your file, and display a nice animated spinning gear to keep you occupied. The numbers in feedback in the Import Summary (the default
view) also update as the file is read.Once in FE Modeler you will see a pretty standard layout for a Workbench application. The tree on the left, Details
view on the lower left, and a graphics window. To start with Import Summary will be selected in the tree and a description of what was read in is shown.
There is a lot of useful information in this view. Take some time to look at each table and see if it makes sense. Probably the most important table is
Table 4. It shows feedback from the import. If the reader ran into any entities it didnt recognize or any lines it could not read, you will see feedback
here. This is important because there often are not one-to-one mappings between programs so some entities will not read in. You will be able to see
those in this table. Figure 5 shows the output from reading in a basic test model from a NASTRAN file.

Figure 5: Typical Feedback from Input

Now, if you want to see your model, you can click on other branches in the tree. The Element Types allows you to view by element topology and Bodies
will show the contents of a given file. You can also interrogate the mesh, selecting nodes, external faces, or elements and viewing their position. Take a
look at the icon bar, it is pretty standard for Workbench and everything is self explanatory. You can see mesh metrics by choosing Insert from the menu
and then picking Mesh Metrics. Once it is in the tree, click on it and change the options in the details view. Figure 6 shows the test model and some
quality metrics.

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Figure 6: Mesh Metrics

The last step is the best part, writing out in the new format that you want. Find the Target System drop down at the top of the icon bar, and choose
from Mechanical APDL, ABAQUS, NASTRAN, and STL. Then select Generate Data in the model tree and the program will create an output file in the
format you want. This can take a while for a large model.

Figure 7: ABAQUS Output

If you are an expert in the program you are writing to, you can check this file out and see what is in there. If you like what you see, or dont care and just
want your output file, click on the Write Solver File button on the top icon bar. Specify a file name, and you are done.
There is one last important thing to mention. If you want to control your import a little, go back to the project page and click on the model. RMB and
choose Manage Input Meshes. This will then bring up the outline for the schematic and you will be able to set options for each file you specified for input.
(Figure 8) For most files the only things you can change are units, how to group bodies and how to number things.

Figure 8: Options for Inputting of Files

Nothing too complicated, it does what it does and it does it fast. To learn more play with it and read the help. We hope you find this hidden tool as useful
as we have in the past.

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FE Modeler Part 2: Converting a Mesh to Geometry


Posted on January 26, 2011 by Eric Miller

One of the Holy Grails of simulation is the ability to take a Finite Element
mesh and convert it into geometry that you can then use to create a new mesh
or import it into a CAD system as CAD geometry. What most users do not
know is that ANSYS, Inc. has a product that can do this - FE Modeler. With
the addition of a very affordable Mesh Morpher License users have access to a
straightforward process to convert a mesh into geometry.
People usually want to do such a conversion for one of two reasons. The first is the legacy mesh. They
have a FEA mesh from the past that has no geometry associated with it and they want to make a new mesh
or use it to create a mesh around it for CFD. This can also be an STL file from somewhere. The second is
that they want to do an analysis or get a CAD part of a part that is distorted in some way by a load. They may
want to do a metal forming simulation and get the final shape for their assembly model or they may need to
do a flow analysis on a piece of geometry that gets highly distorted.

The Basics:
If you have ever tried to take a mesh to geometry yourself using other tools or a
CAD tool, you know it is very hard to do unless you are working with a part
made out of nothing but flat planes. This is because the way a tool like this
must work is to:
1. Take a 3D FEA model and finds only external faces.
2. Find edges between faces that can be considered an edge. This is done by looking at the angle between
the normals of the faces and if they are above a certain criteria, they are tagged as an edge.
3. Gather the edges into loops and find all the element faces enclosed by those loops.
4. Fit a cylinder, plane, cone, or NURB surface to the faces and bound them with the edge loops.
If you have a simple, blocky part where all the faces meet at right angles, no problem. But add a few fillets
and boom, the tools can never sort out the loops. So what to do?
You need to help the algorithm out by splitting up your faces into components (or Named Selections in
Workbench speak) and make sure that those components define a chunk of external element faces that are
fairly easy for the program to work with. Figures 1-4 show this for some simple blocks.
Block 1 has right angle corners so the algorithm makes quick work of it and finds six surface and 12 edges.
Unfortunately, real parts rarely have all right angles.
Block 2 has fillets and a fine enough mesh such that the algorithm cant find any edges. It tries to turn the
entire outer surface of the mesh into one big surface, and fails. No closed loops, bummer.
Block 3 is the same as 2, except that the top surface patch is defined by a nodal component. This gives the
algorithm enough information to create two loops and therefore a valid solid. But maybe not what you want
because the larger surface kind of wraps around most of the block, and when you try to turn that into a
Parasolid it usually fails, as shown in Figure 4.
The 4th block has a component defined for each surface in the original CAD model. The algorithm loves this

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and makes each patch into a nice surface that then converts to usable CAD geometry. This is fairly easy1/15/2016
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The 4th block has a component defined for each surface in the original CAD model. The algorithm loves this
and makes each patch into a nice surface that then converts to usable CAD geometry. This is fairly easy (if a
bit tedious) to do if you are starting with CAD geometry, meshing it, and using the deformed shape to create
a new mesh. But if you have just a mesh you will need to be a bit of a Mechanical APDL selection guru to
make it happen, but more on that below.

Figure 1: Mesh from *.CDB File

Figure 2: Nodal Components

Figure 3: Surfaces After Detection

Figure 4: CAD Surfaces

The Process:
To illustrate the process, we will assume we have a real world problem: You have a piece of tubing as shown
in Figure 5 that you want to install into place, but to do so you really have to distort it (Figure 6 is the stress
analysis results in the installed shape). As you can see, there is significant ovalization and you need to figure

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out what the flow will be in this distorted shape.

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in Figure 5 that you want to install into place, but to do so you really have to distort it (Figure 6 is the stress
analysis results in the installed shape). As you can see, there is significant ovalization and you need to figure
out what the flow will be in this distorted shape.

Figure 5: CAD Geometry

Figure 6: Installed Shape

Figure 7: Project Schematic of Stress and Fluid Runs


So the first step is really in the CAD area. You need to use ANSYS DesignModeler to split your geometry up
into surfaces that can be easily found and refit by FE Modeler. One thing that always helps is to split any
cylinders in half. Break up long, nasty surfaces and merge together any small and complex ones. You can
create your components (Named Selections) here or in ANSYS Mechanical, your call. But either way every
surface that is not a plane needs to be given an individual name. If your CAD systems supports it, you can
do it in the CAD system as well before you slice and prep in ANSYS DesignModeler.
While I was writing this article Matt Sutton was doing Part 3 of his Mechanical Scripting HOWTO. I
asked him if he could make an example script that would automatically create a Named Selection for
each surface in a part. You can find it here:
http://www.padtinc.com/blog/post/2011/01/05/An-ANSYS-Mechanical-Scripting-Example.aspx
If you have complex geometry, this script is highly recommended.

Next, move into ANSYS mechanical and set up your analysis like you normally would. If you didnt bring over
Named Selections, define them now. Now you need to insert a simple code snippet into the Solution Branch
with two commands:
upcoord, 1
cdwrite

Figure 8: Command Snippet

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Figure 8: Command Snippet

The UPCOORD command tells MAPDL to take the current solution (by default the last load step. If you want
a different point in the solution, you need to add a SET command first) and move the nodes to the deflected
shape that has been calculated. After this command your nodes are in your deformed shape. The CDWRITE
command simply writes the model to a text file, and because your nodes are in the deflected position, that file
will contain your distorted geometry. Run your analysis and when it is done, the snippet is executed and the
*.cdb file is written. If you already have a solution and do not want to rerun, just go into ANSYS MAPDL and
type the commands into /POST1.
Now that you have the distorted mesh, you need to get it into FE modeler. Create a new standalone FE
Modeler system and RMB on Model and choose Add Input Mesh Your *.cdb file is going to be in your
project directory in the dp0/sys/Mech directory (of course, this assumes that you only have the one model in
your project. Use the appropriate dp* and sys* to identify your file if you are using something other than the
first model in your project).
If you are not using SI units you will need to set the properties for the FE Modeler system and for the file in
the Project Schematic or things will get all messed up. To do this RMB on the Model cell and choose
properties. Set the units for FE Modeler here. Then RMB again on the cell and choose Manage Input
Meshes. This shows the file in the outline view and when you click on it, you can change the Unit System
property.

Figure 8.5: Setting Units on FE Modeler and on your input mesh file
Launch FE modeler and make sure your mesh came in without any problems. Check the Bodies and the
Element types, etc Then look at your components in the tree. Note that it not only captured the surface
components you defined, any nodal constraint or load that you defined will show up as well. You may need to
delete some components. You can also use the selection capabilities in FE Modeler to make new
components.
Once you are happy with that, it is time to let the program find faces. Select Geometry Synthesis in the tree
and then in the Details make sure that Use Node Components is set to Yes! This is very important and the
most common mistake users make.

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Figure 9: Nodal Components in FE Modeler


Now click on the Initial Geometry icon and it will go do its thing.
If you get bad surfaces, you need to go back and add more components and break things up a bit. but if it
works you should see a solid of your part. You are not done yet. These are not CAD surfaces but rather
faceted (a bunch of triangles) surfaces.

Figure 10: Deformed Faceted Surface


Select Initial Geometry in the tree and you should see a Convert to Parasolid icon on the ribbon bar. Click
that and it will use the Parasolid modeling kernal to try and fit your surfaces. This can take a while on a
complex part. If you split things up well enough and your mesh was fine enough, you should now have a
surface model of your geometry!

Figure 11: Parasolid Surface Geometry in FE Modeler


If you geometry is simple, it will even sew it into a solid. But if the little icon next to your part in the tree is a
surface and not a block, you still need to sew things together. Do this by choosing the Add a Sew Tool icon

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or RMB-> Add a Sew Tool. Select the surfaces you want to sew, using the tree being the easiest way to

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select all of them. Then hit the generate button and see what you get. If it does not make a solid, make the

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surface and not a block, you still need to sew things together. Do this by choosing the Add a Sew Tool icon
or RMB-> Add a Sew Tool. Select the surfaces you want to sew, using the tree being the easiest way to
select all of them. Then hit the generate button and see what you get. If it does not make a solid, make the
tolerance number a bit bigger. If that still does not work, you may need to export the surfaces to a CAD tool
with good surfacing and sew it there.
To export your distorted geometry, select Parasolid Geometry in the tree and choose Export to a Parasolid
File or RMB-> Export to a Parasolid File.
You have done it, you have real CAD geometry of your deformed shape!

Figure 12: The Holy Grail: You Distorted Geometry in Your CAD System
Getting the distorted shape into CAD is pretty critical, at least now your drawings are realistic instead of some
guess at the installed shape. But if you need to do more analysis, that proceeds like any other simulation.
You read in your CAD geometry (CAD geometry you made from distorted nodes, yea, that is what Im talking
about! Hoooo haaaa!) and set it up for your analysis and run it. In our example we took the Parasolid file into
DM and created a fluid volume inside the pipe (which is way easy to do in DM) and then did a CFD run.

All in ANSYS products, all within the Workbench Environment.

Starting with a Legacy Mesh or STL file:


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Starting with a Legacy Mesh or STL file:


The reason why the above method worked so well is that we had original CAD geometry that we could make
components for. When you start with just a legacy mesh without components you need to get in there an
make nodal components on the surface. FE Modeler has some basic node picking capabilities that you can
use, but for real parts you really need to get into ANSYS Mechanical APDL and use the following method:
A. Use ESURF with MESH200 elements to create a surface mesh from your solid mesh.
B. Delete the solid mesh
C. Use picking, selection commands and such to break those elements into surfaceable chunks.
D. When you have things split up fairly well, CDWRITE to make a CDB file for FE Modeler.
This can be pretty tedious, but a bit of up-front work will result in nicer surfaces, or determine if you even get a
solid model.

Comments:
The guts of this product have been around for many release with a couple of different names, Paramesh
being the most common. At R13 we have really found that it is robust and usable for simple to moderately
complex geometry. The key are the nodal components. Set those up right and it should work out.
We have also found that working with a refined mesh is much better than a coarse one. So if you are
running an analysis to get a distorted shape, you may want more refinement than the analysis actually
requires, in order to get good surfaces for a distorted solid model.
It should be noted, that although this is a pretty amazing tool, it can not do miracles. Really complex,
distorted or coarse meshes just will not work. But do not give up. Get what surface you can into your CAD
system and patch it up there.
You can download the project that has the blocks and the distorted tube and
take a look at this yourself, or try it with your own geometry. You will need to
ask your ANSYS sales professional for a temp key of ANSYS Mesh Morpher to
use this tool. Play with it, get a feel for it.
So, next time your boss says Bring me. a CAD file of a Deflected Shrubbery! you know what to do.
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FE Modeler Part 3: Morphing Meshes


Posted on February 23, 2011 by Eric Miller

In the first two parts of this series we talked about how to use FE Modeler to
translate meshes and how to create geometry from meshes. The third big
thing that this tool does is allow you to morph a mesh to a new shape.
There are a few less important things that FE Modeler does, and we will
cover those in the last article of this series.
First, lets take a good long look at the picture to the left. Mesh morphing is
nothing like what the image shows, but it is pretty creepy to look at so I thought Id throw it up there.
Mesh morphing in FE Modeler works by taking the faceted surface geometry you can create, covered in the
previous article, and allowing the user to apply transformations or a projection to that geometry. You would
use this if you want to change your geometry while keeping the same basic mesh. This is because when you
are doing optimization or parametric study and changing the CAD geometry, you force a remesh every time
and sometimes the change in mesh is large enough to effect your study. You would also need to use this
method if all you had was an FE mesh.

Basic Process
Lets start with a very simple example to show how it is done.
Figure 1 shows a piece of example geometry. It has some nice features that we will do more complex
morphs on.

Figure 1: Simple Example Geometry, Itching to be Morphed


To start off we do the same geometry (covered in detail in Part 2 of this series):
1. Read in geometry
2. Select Geometry Synthesis in the tree and make sure Use Node components is Yes
3. Click on the Initial Geometry Icon
4. If everything works you should have a solid that you can now work with
Now you need to define how you want to modify the faceted geometry. Do this by selecting Initial Geometry
in the tree and then clicking on the New Target Configuration Icon. See Figure 2.

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Figure 2: Creating the Target Configuration


When you do this the program will go out and configure some things internally and then add two new things
to the tree: 1) a Target Configuration that is a child of Initial Geometry and 2) a Parameterized configuration
branch. Figure 3 shows the result in the tree.

Figure 3: Model Tree After Creation of Target Configuration


So, at this point you might be trying to figure out why there are branches and children where they are. The
way I think about it is that the Geometry Synthesis listing is not a branch and is not a child of something. It is
its own tree So everything on the first level under it, its children, are different things you can do with
Geometry Synthesis: Find skins, define working Geometry, Set up mesh Morphing (Initial Geometry), and
view what the current mesh looks like based on the current parameters (Parameterized Configuration). I feel
that the Initial Geometry branch is mislabeled and should say Mesh Morphing, but it is too late to change the
name now.
Back to morphing meshes The way you specify what you want morphed is to define Design Points that
have some sort of translation or projection. Then you specify how far to translate with a parameter that you
control in the Project Schematic. For our first run through, we are going to offset a surface.
Do this by clicking on Design Point and then on the Transformation Icon and Select Face Offset (or RMB
>Insert->Face Offset) and fill out the details view. For this example I used the end face and set the
maximum offset value to 30 mm. Note, even though it doesnt say it in the GUI, the help points out that you
should put in your maximum value that you might use. the program then scales from the original to this
value as you change the offset parameter. Figure 4 shows the setup for this example.

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Figure 4: Specifying the Face Offset, Before Generation


Click on Generate the Design Point to see what the offset looks like:

Figure 5: The Offset Face after Generation


Here is where it gets a little tricky. All you did was define a potential geometry change. That change is not
applied to the model until you actually set parameters and apply them. And, the parameter is controlled at
the Project Schematic level, not within FE Modeler. The value you put in under Design Point, that is simply a
maximum value that the program uses to figure out how to do the Morphing. The actual morphing uses the
parameter as defined in the Project Schematic.
To see this click on Parameterized Configuration and you will see that there is 1 parameter, it is called
Mesh.Morpher.1, and its value is 0. (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Configuration Information after Offset is Defined

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Figure 6: Configuration Information after Offset is Defined


Therefore, your next step is to go to the project schematic and change the offset value to some new value you
want to morph the mesh to (remember, the value we put in for the Design Point is our guess at the maximum
value, we can use any value we want for the parameter value). To change the value in the Project Schematic,
bring up the schematic and click on the parameter bar. You should now see the parameter in the Outline
view. For this example, I changed it to 17.354. Now exit back to the parameter manager and click on Update
Project. Go back to your FE Modeler window, click on Parameterized Mesh, and you should see the
morphed mesh:

Figure 7: Morphed Mesh


Figure 8 shows an animation from an offset of 0 to 30:

Figure 8: Mesh Morphing from an Offset of 0mm to 30mm


To get the mesh out and usable in your model you have one more step. If you click on Write Solver File now
you will get your original geometry. You need to click on Parameterized Mesh then click on the Update FE
Modeler Mesh icon. Now set your Target System and chose Write Solver file. Or, if you are staying in
workbench, drag a new system onto the Model in the Project Schematic. The cool thing about this is that
you now have a parametric model that is linked to an analysis in Workbench. It is therefore easy to do design
studies, optimization, and the rest of the cool things Workbench is great at, and without CAD geometry!
Figure 9 shows an example of using the mesh for a modal analysis.

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Figure 9: Using the Morphed Mesh in a Modal Analysis

Getting More Complicated


Although the process is the same, you can get a lot more complicated. The program allows for five different
translations, offsets or projections, and some of them have multiple options within. They are all kind of self
explanatory.

Figure 10: Morphing Options


Here is the description from the help as a reference:

Translation (of vertices, edges, surfaces, or parts): A translation is given in the global Cartesian coordinate system or by the definition of a
translation vector between two points.
Rotation (of vertices, edges, surfaces, or parts): You must define a rotation axis between two points or a point and a vector and then give a
rotation angle in degrees or radians.
Face (Surface) Offset a Face Offset can be:
Uniform Enter a negative or positive Offset Value to move the face inward or outward.
Non Uniform Enter a negative or positive Offset Value to move the face inward or outward. With this transformation, you can offset a
surface with a nonlinear curve. In addition, a Non Uniform surface offset includes the following options:
Distance to the edges Define the distance from the edges to the maximum displacement of the transformed face.
Function type Select a function type based on the shape you want to obtain, options include: Linear, Double Tangent, Lineartangent, Tangent-linear.
Immobile edges By default, all of the edges for the target surface are selected. You can de-select edges if desired.
Edge Offset: An offset of one edge along a face by a specified distance; always with a given sign depending on the edge normal.
Projection: a projection of a face, an edge, or a vertex onto a face, edge, or vertex or a group of faces or a group of edges. The Projection
transformation works in tandem with the Working Geometries feature. Using an imported Working Geometry, you can project the entities of
a Target Configuration onto the entities of the imported (Working) geometry.

For this example I added a rotation for the block sticking up, a translation for the top circle face of the
cylinder, and an edge offset for the lower right edge. the result is shown in Figure 11.

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Figure 11: Part with Offset, Rotation, Translation and Edge Offset Applied. Overlaid on Original Mesh

Figure 12: Part with Offset, Rotation, Translation and Edge Offset Applied. Labeled.

Figure 13: Animation of Morphing


Whew, that is a lot of material, and we are out of time to get this article back. Look for a Part 3.5 in the near
future filling in some missing pieces and a few more examples.
If you want to try this yourself, ask you sales professional for temp Key of the ANSYS Mesh Morpher. And as
always, start simple and work your way to more complex parts.

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