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Finite element analysis

Finite element analysis (FEA) is the virtual modeling and simulation of products and assemblies for structural, acoustic, electromagnetic or thermal performance. FEA is the practical application of the finite element method (FEM).

What is finite element analysis?

Finite element analysis is the modeling of products and systems in a virtual environment to find and solve potential (or existing) product performance issues. FEA is the practical application of the FEM, which is used by engineers and scientists to mathematically model and numerically solve complex structural, acoustic, electromagnetic, thermal, fluid and multiphysics problems. FEA software can be utilized in a wide range of industries but is most commonly used in the aeronautical, automotive, electronics, industrial machinery, marine and consumer product industries.

A finite element (FE) model comprises a system of points called "nodes," which form the shape of the design. Connected to these nodes are the finite elements that form the finite element mesh and contain the material and structural properties of the model, defining how it will react to certain conditions. The density of the finite element mesh may vary throughout the material, depending on the anticipated change in stress levels of a particular area. Regions that experience big changes in stress usually require a higher mesh density than those that experience little or no stress variation. Points of interest may include fracture points of previously tested material, fillets, corners, complex detail and high-stress areas.

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Rotating machine structural simulation visual from the Simcenter 3D software.

Uncover the benefits

FEA is a well-established methodology often used to replace or supplement experimental and analytical methods to aid the engineering design and analysis of everyday products. Compared to prototyping and experiments, FEA-based simulations offer the following benefits.

Increase performance

Finite element analysis allows you to rapidly analyze and explore the engineering possibilities for increased product performance.

Time reduction

Finite element analysis helps you bring optimized product designs to market faster than a build-and-test method.

Cost reduction

By leveraging finite element analysis, you can significantly reduce your product development cost compared to traditional physical prototype-based testing processes.

Steps in the FEA simulation process

No matter the software used, most FEA simulations follow these generalized steps.

3D model of a car frame with heat mapping visual from Simcenter 3D software.


The pre-processing stage involves editing the geometry and preparing it for simulation. In a process referred to as meshing, a pre-processing tool converts the design geometry into small finite elements before applying material properties, loads, constraints and simulation parameters.

The CFD simulation software begins iteratively solving the discretized equations using the CFD solver.


The FEA simulation software begins iteratively solving the discretized equations using the solver. This step can require significant time or computing resources. For complex simulations, more enterprises are turning to cloud computing as a cost-effective solution to this issue.

Linear analysis of a mechanical structure visual from Simcenter 3D software.


Once the solving is complete, the next step is to analyze and visualize the results of the simulation qualitatively and quantitatively using reports, monitors, plots, 2D/3D images and animations. Verification and validation of the results are also included in this stage.

Types of FEA analysis

1D analysis (beam models)
1D analysis refers to applying models created solely by 1-dimensional elements comprised of only two nodes, such as beam elements. 1D analysis can be good at looking at early-stage analysis of structures that are typically complicated to model, such as a car body or airframe. The 1D beam model can help engineers rapidly assess body dynamics before the full geometry is ready for deeper-level analysis.

2D analysis (shell models)
Engineers mesh the geometry with 2-dimensional elements such as a quad or triangle element for thin-walled bodies, like parts made from sheet metal. Element properties then define the thickness of the shell element that the solver will use to calculate stress, strains and other results. FEA preprocessors have rapid meshing algorithms that help engineers create a shell mesh on geometry.

3D analysis (solid models)
For solid, chunky geometry, like an engine block, engineers use solid 3-dimensional elements to represent the geometry. Tetra, pyramid and hex elements are created throughout the solid body. FEA preprocessors have the tools engineers need to create solid mesh models.

Multiphysics FEA
Modern FEA is more than just simulating a single physics domain individually. Today, FEA has become much more multidisciplinary by enabling engineers to couple different physics together, such as fluid-structure interaction (FSI), thermal-mechanical simulation, multibody dynamics with structural FE-based flexible bodies, electromechanical-thermal and more. Multiphysics simulation is of fundamental importance in increasingly complex products requiring holistic cross-domain engineering to achieve maximum performance.

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Simcenter 3D software visuals representing a simulation model of a tractor design.

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Frequently asked questions

Is finite element analysis accurate?

Finite element analysis (FEA) has been successfully used for product engineering for decades. Along with that, high-fidelity modeling approaches and more pragmatic ones were continuously developed, which let you obtain sufficiently accurate results faster.

Today, engineers can and must choose the level of accuracy that best fits their needs to answer engineering questions with minimum computational effort. The level of accuracy ranges from high-fidelity modeling techniques that enable the prediction of real behavior within a few percent or even less to quick methods that enable quick trend predictions.

Today, certification and verification processes for FEA simulation tools are well established. They will remain a critical ingredient to the progress of FEA, its reliability and trust in digital twins and its establishment in novel areas. While predictive simulation will continuously reduce the need for expensive measurements and prototyping, it will continue to require rigorous FE methods and best practices validation through experiments. 

Is it hard to learn FEA?

Learning FEA requires time, dedication, thorough study and practice. It is critical to understand the underlying fundamental physics of your domain, grasp numerical methods and their limitations and practice the hands-on usage of the actual FEA software tool. Thanks to automation, increasing computing power and ever-continuous improvement of user interfaces in modern FEA software, the barriers to high-fidelity FEA will further decrease across all user levels - shifting the scope to exploring results and making simulation-based decisions. It is also critical to understand the fundamental physical dynamics that are taking place to judge the results and make meaningful engineering decisions based on FEA results.

What are the applications for FEA?

FEA software is used in a wide range of engineering applications whenever there is a need to understand or predict mechanical physics and its effect on the design of a product or system. In industrial product design, finite element analysis has progressed to simulating the multiphysics behavior in complex geometries, enabling companies to fully understand and optimize their product design virtually before building a prototype.

Industries where finite element analysis is widely used include:

  • Aerospace
  • Automotive
  • Consumer products
  • Marine (ship design, propulsion systems and engine design)
  • Electronics
  • Energy (nuclear, oil & gas and power generation)
  • Building services
  • Life sciences
  • Turbomachinery
  • Sports
  • Other general applications involving structures, vibrations, electromagnetics, sound, heat and fluid flow

What is FEM analysis?

The finite element method means the same thing as finite element analysis. The main difference is that FEM refers more specifically to the mathematical method. But many people use the terms FEM and FEA interchangeably.

Sometimes engineers use FEM is also used to refer to the finite element model, which primarily means the meshed (1D, 2D or 3D) model, which can also include loads and constraints.

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