Courtroom FEA: Does FEA apply to my case?

Many attorneys hire metallurgists to study failures across many industries. Similarly, finite element analysis is regularly applied to a vast array of products. As discussed in previous issues of Courtroom FEA, FEA applies when something bending or breaking is an issue.

The following collage presents some of the industries that FEA is applied to. The blue text lists some of the products the author has experience with (collage available at

FEA is a fairly recent discipline which allows the numerical solution of governing physical equations over complicated geometric domains. The method is regularly applied to the structural analysis of designs with complex geometries.

The part being analyzed is divided into many small regions called "finite elements". The physical behavior within each element is understood in concise mathematical terms. Assemblage of all elements' behavior produces a large matrix equation, which is solved for the quantity of interest, e.g. the deformation due to a maximum loading condition. Additional quantities, such as stresses, are then computed.

Commercial FEA packages are usually used, to insulate the user from the substantial programming required to perform even a simple analysis. Still, obtaining accurate results from any package requires an experienced analyst. FEA can, and will, deliver incorrect results to the inexperienced user, who will then make important design decisions based on this false information.

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