FINIE ELEMENT METHODS FOR M.TEH STUDENT

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FINIE ELEMENT METHODS FOR M.TEH STUDENT

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Introduction.

3.1 GENERAL

In the last few decades, revolution in the computer technology has led to development of

numerous computational techniques for solving many engineering problems. As mathematical

modelling became an integral part of analysis of engineering problems, a variety of numerical

methods such as finite difference method (FDM), finite element method (FEM), finite volume

method (FVM) and boundary element method (BEM) have been developed. Each of these

methods has its own merits and demerits depending on the problem to be solved. Out of the

available numerical techniques, FEM is one of the most flexible and versatile method for solving

engineering problems.

FEM is used widely for solving engineering problems in solid mechanics, heat transfer,

structural mechanics, aerospace, automobiles, biomechanics, fluid mechanics, etc. Development

of FEM for solution of practical engineering problems began with the advent of the digital

computers. FEM envisions the solution process as built up of many small interconnected sub-

regions or elements and gives a piecewise approximation to the problem concerned. Hence, most

engineering problems, which can be considered to be in a continuum, can be solved using FEM

by the piecewise approximation.

WHAT IS FEM?

In the most numerical methods, the unknown state variables are solved at a discrete number of points in

the problem domain considered to obtain approximate solutions. Process of dividing the problem domain

into an equivalent system of smaller domains or units and selecting a discrete number of points is called

discretization. Once a problem domain is discretized, solution can be obtained for each of the smaller

domains or units considered. Finally, such domain wise solutions can be combined together to obtain

solution for the entire domain. Hence, the solution is obtained from the approach known as ‘going from

part to whole’. Through this approach, analysis is simplified even though large amount of data may have

to be handled. Basic idea of FEM is developed from the above principle. Discrete points considered in the

domain are called nodes and the smaller domains or units considered are called elements. Elements and

nodes together constitute the mesh. Fineness of the mesh increases accuracy of the solution but at the cost

of computation time. On the other hand, the number of unknown parameters at each node, determines the

degrees of freedom.

FEM offers a way to solve wide variety of complex continuum problems by sub-dividing them into a

series of simpler interrelated problems. Essentially, it provides a consistent technique for modelling whole

system as assemblages of discrete parts or finite elements. The whole system may be a body of matter or a

region of space in which some phenomenon of interest is occurring. The degrees of freedom to which the

assemblage of elements represents the whole system usually depend on the number, size and type of

elements chosen for the representation. Sometimes it is possible to choose elements in such a way that

they lead to exact representation. However, this occurs in some special cases only. Most often, the choice

of an element is a matter of engineering judgment based on accumulated experience.

Fundamental idea of discretization in the finite element method stems from the physical procedures used

in the network analysis or framed structures. An engineering problem may be solved in one-dimensional,

two-dimensional or three-dimensional. Accordingly, the FEM discretization can also be in one-

dimensional, two-dimensional or three-dimensional Finite Element Method with Applications in

Engineering

38

as shown in Figs. 3.1, 3.2 and 3.3. In mathematical modelling, the problem to be solved can be generally

represented by mathematical equations. As FEM includes discretization of the domain into elements, the

finite element solution gives a piecewise approximation to the governing mathematical equations.

3.3 HOW DOES FEM WORK?

In engineering problems of continuum in nature, the field variable (such as displacement, potential,

pressure, velocity and temperature) possesses infinitely many values because it is a continuous function of

generic point in the body or solution domain. Hence, the problem becomes one with an infinite number of

unknowns. The discretization procedure reduces the problem to one of a finite number of unknowns by

dividing the solution domain into elements. Then the unknown field variable is expressed in terms of

assumed approximating functions within each element. Approximating functions (or interpolating

functions) are defined in terms of values of the field variables at specified nodes or nodal points. Nodes

usually lie on the element boundaries (boundary nodes) where adjacent elements are considered to be

connected or inside the element as interior nodes.

Behavior of the concerned field variable is defined by the nodal values of the field variable and the

interpolation functions for the element within the elements. The nodal values of the field variable become

the new unknowns for the finite element representation of the problem. Once the nodal unknowns are

obtained, the interpolation functions define the field variable throughout the assemblage of elements of

the problem. Thus, solutions are formulated for individual elements before putting them together to

represent the entire problem. Nature of the solution and degree of accuracy depend on the size and

number of elements and the kind of interpolation function used. The interpolation functions are chosen

such that the field variable or its derivatives are continuous across adjoining element boundaries.

For example, Figure 3.1 shows the FEM discretization for an axially loaded bar member, which is

considered as a one-dimensional problem. The physical system includes the bar subjected to an axial load

g(x) and the problem to be solved is to determine the displacement u = u(x). The problem can be

mathematically represented by the following equation:

where AE represents the axial rigidity of the bar assumed to be constant. To obtain a solution using FEM,

the bar considered is discretized into elements using connecting nodes as shown in Figure 3.1.

Figure 3.1 Finite element discretization of a bar in one dimensional domain

Here, the unknown variable is the displacement u. The unknown variable is approximated by a set of

piecewise continuous functions (referred to as interpolation or shape function) assembled over the

elements at the nodes. Then the equations governing the behavior of the system are derived by assembling

the equations formulated for all the elements. Finally, the response of the system (here the bar deflection)

is obtained by solving the approximated system of equations. Finite Element Method with Applications in

Engineering

39

Consider another example of a two-dimensional steady flow through a homogeneous isotropic earth dam

resting on an impermeable formation. The problem domain and FEM discretization is shown in Figure

3.2. The physical problem includes the ‘potential’ distribution in the domain of the dam due to the

differential heads at upstream and downstream and determination of the free surface position in the dam.

The upstream head value is known as h1(=10 m) and the downstream head value is known as h2 (=2 m).

The problem can be mathematically represented by the Laplace equation as

where h(x,y) is the head or ‘potential’. To get a solution, initially a free surface is assumed and the dam

domain including the free surface considered is discretized into triangular elements using connecting

nodes as shown in Figure 3.2. Here, the unknown variable is the head or ‘potential’ (h) at various nodes.

The unknown variable h is approximated by the two-dimensional interpolation or shape functions

assembled over the triangular elements at the nodes. Then, the equations governing the behavior of the

problem are derived by assembling the equations formulated for all the triangular elements. Finally, the

‘potential’ is obtained by solving the approximated system of equations after introducing the upstream

and downstream head values. As the location of free surface is not known a priori for this problem, the

final solution is obtained through an iterative procedure which is discussed later in the book.

For demonstration purpose, consider a problem dealing with steady-state three-dimensional heat

conduction in an isotropic homogeneous plate. The problem domain and three-dimensional FEM

discretization are shown in Figure 3.3. The domain is discretized using prism elements. The physical

problem includes the ‘temperature’ distribution in the plate due to the differential temperature from left to

right, with values T1 and T2. The problem can be represented mathematically by the Poisson equation as

Figure 3.2 Earth dam discretization using two-dimensional finite elements Finite Element Method with

Applications in Engineering

40

Figure 3.3 Three-dimensional finite element discretization of a plate with prism elements

where T is the temperature, k is the thermal conductivity and Q is the heat source or sink. The domain is

discretized into prism elements using connecting nodes to obtain solution as shown in Figure 3.3. Here,

the unknown variable is the temperature at various nodes. The unknown variable ‘temperature’ is

approximated by the three-dimensional interpolation or shape functions assembled over the prism

elements at the nodes. Then, the equations governing the behavior of the problem are derived by

assembling equations formulated for all the prism elements of the problem. Finally, the ‘temperature’

distribution is obtained by solving the approximated system of equations after introducing the boundary

conditions.

Above mentioned problems indicate a broad perspective of working of FEM in the one-dimensional, two-

dimensional and three-dimensional problems. Further chapters will explain in detail how FEM is used in

the solution of engineering problems.

3.4 A BRIEF HISTORY OF FEM

Basic idea of FEM originated from analysis procedure used in framed structures like trusses, aircraft

structural analysis and flow network analysis. For the origin and development of FEM, there are different

perspectives from the viewpoint of a mathematician, a physicist and an engineer. From the

mathematician's perspective, solutions to boundary value problems of continuum mechanics were sought

by finding approximate upper and lower bounds for eigenvalues. The physicists were trying to solve

continuum mechanics problems by means of piecewise approximating functions. The engineers were

investigating methodologies for the solution of complex aero-elasticity problems such as stiffness of shell

type structures reinforced with ribs.

In the 1930s, when civil engineers dealt with truss analysis, they identified the solution procedure by

solving the component stresses and deflections as well as the overall strength of the system. They

recognized the truss as an assembly of members of rods whose force deflection characteristics can be

easily obtained. By combining these individual characteristics using laws of equilibrium and solving the

resulting system of equations, the unknown forces and deflections for the overall truss were obtained.

Efforts of mathematicians, physicists and engineers finally resulted in the development of basic ideas of

finite element method in 1940s.

Hrenikoff (1941) proposed the ‘frame work method’ for the solution of elasticity problems. On the other

hand, Courant (1943) presented an assemblage of piecewise polynomial interpolation over triangular

elements and the principle of minimum potential energy to solve torsion problems. Some mathematical

aspects related to eigenvalues were Finite Element Method with Applications in Engineering

41

developed for boundary value problems by Poyla (1954), Hersch (1955) and Weinberger (1958).

Foundation of finite element was laid by Argyris in 1955 through his book on ‘Energy Theorems and

Structural Analysis’. Turner et al. (1956) developed the stiffness matrices for truss, beam and other

elements for engineering analysis of structures.

For the first time in 1960, the terminology ‘Finite Element Method’ was used by Clough (1960) in his

paper on plane elasticity. In 1960s, a large number of papers appeared related to the applications and

developments of the finite element method. Engineers applied FEM for stress analysis, fluid flow

problems and heat transfer. A number of international conferences related to FEM were organized and the

method got established. The first book on FEM was published by Zienkiewicz and Cheung in 1967. With

the advent of digital computers and finding the suitability of FEM in fast computing for many engineering

problems, the method became very popular among scientists, engineers and mathematicians. By now, a

large number of research papers, proceedings of international conferences and short-term courses and

books have been published on the subject of FEM. Many software packages are also available to deal

with various types of engineering problems. As a result, FEM is the most acceptable and well-established

numerical method in engineering sciences.

3.5 FEM APPLICATIONS

FEM is now applicable to a wide range of engineering problems. Majority of applications of FEM are in

the realm of solid mechanics and fluid mechanics. In the last two decades, FEM has also been used in

electrical and electromagnetic problems as well as in bioengineering problems. Categories of problems

that can be solved using FEM can be divided into equilibrium, eigenvalue and transient problems. The

equilibrium problems are generally steady-state problems such as determination of stress and

displacement in solid mechanics-related problems, determination of temperature distribution in thermal

problems, estimation of potential, velocity and pressure in fluid mechanics problems. The eigenvalue

problems are also steady state in nature but include estimation of vibration and natural frequencies in

solids and fluids. In the transient problems, FEM is used in propagation problems of continuum

mechanics with respect to time. A brief description of the applications of FEM in various engineering

fields is given below.

Structural mechanics and aerospace engineering: FEM applications in equilibrium conditions include

analysis of beams, plates, shell structures, stress and torsion analysis of various structures. On the other

hand, eigenvalue analyses include stability of structures, viscoelastic damping, vibrations and natural

frequency analysis of structures. The transient or propagation analysis using FEM includes dynamic

response of structures to periodic loads, viscoelastic and thermo-elastic problems and stress wave

propagation.

Geotechnical engineering: FEM applications include stress analysis, slope stability analysis, soil

structure interactions, seepage of fluids in soils and rocks, analysis of dams, tunnels, bore holes,

propagation of stress waves and dynamic soil structure interaction.

Fluid mechanics, hydraulic and water resources engineering: FEM applications include solutions of

potential and viscous flow of fluids, steady and transient seepage in aquifers and porous media,

movement of fluids in containers, external and internal flow analysis, seiche of lakes, ocean and harbors,

salinity and pollution studies in surface and sub-surface water problems, sediment transport analysis and

water distribution networks.

Mechanical engineering: In mechanical engineering, FEM applications include steady and transient

thermal analysis in solids and fluids, stress analysis in solids, automotive design and analysis and

manufacturing process simulation. Finite Element Method with Applications in Engineering

42

Nuclear engineering: FEM applications include steady and dynamic analysis of reactor containment

structures, thermo-viscoelastic analysis of reactor components, steady and transient temperature-

distribution analysis of reactors and related structures.

Electrical and electronics engineering: FEM applications include electrical network analysis,

electromagnetics, insulation design analysis in high-voltage equipment’s, thermo-sonic wire bond

analysis, dynamic analysis of motors, molding process analysis in encapsulation of integrated circuits and

heat analysis in electrical and electronic equipment.

Metallurgical, chemical and environmental engineering: In metallurgical engineering, FEM is used for

the metallurgical process simulation, molding and casting. In chemical engineering, FEM can be used in

the simulation of chemical processes, transport processes (including advection and diffusion) and

chemical reaction simulations. FEM is used in environmental engineering widely in the areas of surface

and sub-surface pollutant transport modelling, air pollution modelling, land-fill analysis and

environmental process simulation.

Meteorology and bioengineering: In the recent times, FEM is used in climate predictions, monsoon

prediction and wind predictions. FEM is also used in bioengineering for the simulation of various human

organs, blood circulation prediction and even total synthesis of human body.

3.6 MERITS AND DEMERITS OF FEM

As discussed above, FEM can be applied to almost all branches of engineering. The fact that FEM can be

used to solve a particular problem does not mean that it is the most ideal solution technique. To solve a

given problem, often several attractive numerical techniques are available. Each method has its own

merits and demerits. Depending on the problem, ‘the best’ method should be chosen by comparing the

merits and demerits of the method. Here, the merits and demerits of FEM are discussed.

Merits of FEM

Compared to other numerical methods some of the merits of FEM are as follows.

Modelling of complex geometries and irregular shapes are easier as varieties of finite elements are

available for discretization of domain.

Boundary conditions can be easily incorporated in FEM.

Different types of material properties can be easily accommodated in modelling from element to element

or even within an element.

Problems with heterogeneity, anisotropy, nonlinearity and time-dependency can be easily dealt with.

The systematic generality of FEM procedure makes it a powerful and versatile tool for a wide range of

problems.

FEM is simple, compact and result-oriented and hence widely popular among engineering community.

FEM can be easily coupled with computer-aided design (CAD) programs in various streams of

engineering.

An FEM model can be developed at different levels and it is possible to interpret the method in physical

terms. Finite Element Method with Applications in Engineering

43

In FEM, it is relatively easy to control the accuracy by refining the mesh or using higher order elements.,

Availability of large number of computer software packages and literature makes FEM a versatile and

powerful numerical method.

Demerits of FEM

Some demerits of FEM are as follows.

Closed-form expressions in terms of problem parameters are not available in FEM. Numerical solution is

obtained at one time for a specific problem case only. Hence, unlike analytical solutions, there is no

advantage of flexibility and generalization.

Large amount of data is required as input for the mesh used in terms of nodal connectivity and other

parameters depending on the problem.

Generally, voluminous output data must be analyzed and interpreted.

Experience, good engineering judgment and understanding of the physical problems are required in FEM

modelling. Poor selection of element type or discretization may lead to faulty results.

3.7 CLOSING REMARKS

In this chapter, the finite element method is introduced. The basic idea in FEM ‘going from part to whole’

of the problem concerned is explained. Various aspects of FEM discretization are elaborated. Domain can

be discretized in one-, two- or three-dimensions. Various aspects of working of FEM in one-dimension,

two-dimensions and three-dimensions are explained with example problems. Further, history of FEM is

briefly reviewed by mentioning the important developments. FEM is now used in almost all branches of

engineering. The important applications of FEM in different branches of engineering are further described

briefly. As a numerical method, FEM has its own merits and demerits, which are briefly outlined. Various

FEM principles, methodologies and applications are elaborated in subsequent chapters.

EXERCISE PROBLEMS

With the help of appropriate domain discretization, governing equations and boundary conditions, explain

the one-dimensional application of FEM in heat conduction through cylindrical bar of 5 m length and 5

cm diameter. Use linear line elements for discretization.

With the help of appropriate domain discretization, governing equations and boundary conditions, explain

the two-dimensional application of FEM for deformation and stress distribution in a cantilever bar of 1 m

and 10 cm and 2 cm thickness and a load of 1 KN at the free end. Use triangular elements for

discretization.

With the help of appropriate domain discretization, governing equations and boundary conditions, explain

the three-dimensional application of FEM for potential flow in a cubic cavity of size 1 m. Use linear

prism elements.

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