What are FEA Simulations? Why and who should use them?

You might have seen some engineers and designers share some colored pictures or animations of 3D models with a legend on the side. Most likely, those are simulations done with 3D CAD simulation software. Common simulation software include SOLIDWORKS Simulation and Ansys. So, what is a simulation, why use it, who uses it, and how to use it? If you are wondering about any of those questions, this article is for you.

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Stress distribution analysis using SOLIDWORKS FEA Static Analysis Tool.

What is a Computerized Simulation?

3D CAD design software like SOLIDWORKS and others are becoming quite common at the moment. Designers have used those software to build virtual prototypes of their ideas and innovations. In a 3D CAD design software, designers could virtually build the shape and all measurements of their designs. The next step would be to visually test the design and find out how it behaves using virtual tools (i.e., without building a physical prototype). This is where simulation tools come into play. In a nutshell, a simulation aims to predict the behavior of a certain design using computerized models. The theory behind most simulation software is Finite Elements Analysis (FEA). This includes software like SOLIDWORKS Simulation and Ansys.

Why Should You Use Simulations?

One of the main positives of simulation is knowing how a specific design behaves while still being in the virtual environment, i.e., virtual testing. Testing a product for safety and reliability is essential to any sound product development cycle, regardless of what the product is. You do not want to be that person who would design a product that breaks from first use. Simulation tools can prevent that and add much more value to your development cycle in the processes. Here are three major benefits of using simulation:    

  1. Simulation tools can help you validate your designs for safety and reliability before making physical prototypes. This could save you lots of time and money as you will be less likely to prototype a design that is destined to fail.
  2. They can speed up your product development cycle. With simulation, you will be able to test many different variations of your design in no time. This will enable you to go through many different design cycles very quickly.
  3. They can help you design better and more optimized products. When you can simulate designs in the virtual space, you will have more freedom to make many changes to your design and test them without worrying about the cost of physical prototyping. This ends up resulting in an overall better and more optimized design.

Do Simulations Replace the Need for Physical Prototypes?

Simulations do not replace actual physical prototyping. However, they can tremendously speed up your design cycle and get you better products at a much lower cost. Compared to physical prototyping, simulation has notable advantages like lower cost, more control of the testing environment, and quick repeatability. A common practice is to start with simulations then build physical prototypes of more refined designs that virtually went through many simulation and analysis cycles.  

Who Should You Use Simulation?

If you are involved in designing or manufacturing any physical product, then simulation tools will have lots of value-added to you. The tools for simulations are continuously becoming more affordable, available, and easier to use. Thus, if you are not using any simulation tool now, it is highly likely that you will use them in the near future, especially that the value they provide is becoming more apparent.    

What are the Different Types of Simulation?

At the moment, there are many different types of simulations available and practiced. The most common and basic type is Static Analysis (Static Equilibrium Simulation). Static analysis relates to bodies that are in equilibrium. Other major types of simulations include the following:  

  • Thermal analysis
  • Fluid analysis
  • Linear and nonlinear dynamic analysis

Many of the software packages will also cater to more types of simulations like Frequency, Buckling, Fatigue, Drop test analysis, and more. As time goes by and more development occurs in the field, we can expect to see more types of analysis. For now, all the mentioned types of analysis are available in a standard and common software like SOLIDWORKS Simulation.

What Does it Take to Learn how to Use a Simulation Tool Like SOLIDWORKS Simulation?

As simulation tools get more developed over time, they also tend to become more friendly to use. Once you get yourself a strong foundation, researching and using niche/advanced tools within simulation will quite easy. Suppose you are looking to get started and build yourself a strong foundation in SOLIDWORKS Simulation tools. In that case, you can check out our SOLIDWORKS Simulation Associate Course, which can build you a strong foundation in simulation.