Choosing FEA software and good options you want to have in it!

A few days ago Josh sent me an email with a question about choosing FEA software. And I realized I’ve never actually written about it. Time to fix it I guess : )

But since I’m experimenting with videos (let me know what you think!) I’ve made this one about it:

There are different “kinds” of software!

Before we start with selecting I need to address something many people are unaware of.

If you would like to solve beam models (and a bit of shell, but rather on a basic level) then I would recommend that you use a “beam” FEA software.

I’m completely aware that all FEA packages have beams (or at least far majority of them). But this is not what you are searching. You see in beams post-processing is rather time-consuming. You get all the code requirements (like EN 1993-1-1) that dictate when something is ok and when it is not.

Usually, those code-checks require calculations based on internal forces, model geometry etc. Those, however, are not “FEA calculations” but rather “code calculations”. You know rules like: “if this beam has such high bending moment and is so long and… then it will fail due to lateral torsional buckling”.

Thing is that most “common” FEA packages don’t have code checks integrated. I’m using Femap, and designing a simple frame here would be a nightmare! This is why a subset of software was created that simply have all the code checks automated. So you are using FEA to do static design in them and then implemented code checks to see if all is ok.

If you are using beam models mostly those programs are for you, and I will refer to them as “civil engineering” since most codes for beams are civil : )

If you want to solve shell and solid models, then you should use “general purpose” FEA!

This is the easier part. Those programs are called “general purpose” as you can do much more with them… but they are not so “focused” on beams so they don’t have codes implemented. A good trade-off I would say!

This is also a reason why I use 2 different FEA packages at my office all the time!

Popular software choices

Civil engineering (aka “beam”) software:

  • RFEM (Dlubal)
  • Robot (Autodesk)
  • Sofistik
  • SAP 2000

Of course, there are many more, but those are the ones I would consider popular. Funny thing is that what is popular strongly depend on the region you are in. So there is a good chance you have your own favorite “market leaders” in soft where you are : )

I’m using RFEM for 10+ years now, and I’m really satisfied in case you were wondering : )

General purpose FEA software:

  • Femap (NX Nastran)
  • Autodesk Nastran
  • Patran
  • Abaqus
  • Ansys
  • Comsol

The above list shows more or less the most common ones. It’s funny that first 3 are “Nastrans” that originated from NASA but were divided among 3 different companies (and then sold and re-sold several times). I would say that “Nastrans”, Abaqus and Ansys are the “main 3” of FEA world. I’m using NX Nastran with Femap.

Choosing FEA software guide

Selecting FEA package is a tricky thing. This is because most of them are pretty expensive (some even insanely O.o).

I would advise you to go to Linkedin and find 300 people that work in your industry. Then politely ask them what software do they use for FEA in their company. I would ask people that work in the country/region you want to work in, as those things change across the globe.

When you will know their answers it should be easy to select the most popular solution – buy that!

Note, that this isn’t a recipe for buying the best software at the best price. But, you will use and own the “most popular soft” everyone is using. This will make it much easier for you to cooperate with others, and to get jobs for you (or to find a job).

Just be aware that the most expensive packages have an incredible amount of options. After all, you are paying for those! If you are not sure if you can use (or even need) many of them, maybe a cheaper soft will be ok as well. Just remember that you will learn in time, and sooner or later (hopefully) you will need those more advanced options as well!

Changing software

Assuming that you want to buy a cheaper soft first (which in many cases is a reasonable approach!) at some point you will most likely upgrade it to a better one. This is absolutely doable and I’ve done it in the past.

Remember that the most important things “sit in your head”. The fact that you are good in FEA does not come from clicking speed in any given software. It’s the understanding how things work!

This means that when you will switch to another soft, you will already know what you are searching for. You will know that you need to use a nonlinear support, for instance. Then the problem is only to find an icon that generates it! You will be surprised how much faster this goes than learning what is a nonlinear support in the first place!

Of course, there is a price! When you use the software you learn shortcuts and you work faster in this soft. When you will change to another FEA package you kind of “loose” that (not to mention all of the scripts you wrote!). You won’t be as proficient in your work as you were… it will take some time to get there again.

This is, however, a small price to pay, for all the new possibilities when you need them!

Important software parameters

Depending on the industry you work in, if you want a “beam FEA” soft I would make sure that it calculates steel, concrete, wood, and glass. Even if you don’t plan to design some of them at the start – maybe later a chance will appear?

On the “technical side” what I would like to have in a “beam” soft is:

Good things to have in “civil engineering” software:

  • Linear / Nonlinear geometry
  • Linear buckling
  • Codes of choice integrated
  • Can calculate plates
  • (maybe nonlinear material for plates)
  • User friendly

From the above, if you will work in steel first 3 is a must-have for me. In concrete, I would definitely want plates and even nonlinear material (for cracked concrete deflections etc.). To be fair RFEM has it all, and I really like it, even as I don’t calculate concrete all that often. This is because you can use plates and nonlinear material in steel as well. For instance, you can solve details like that:

This is actually a good way to start your “more serious” FEA adventure – something worth considering!

When it comes to general-purpose FEA, giving advice is much more difficult. This is because I don’t know what you want to do, and I actually have experience in one field. So if you don’t want to do steel, maybe ask around for useful things – I’m sure there are nice people out there that will be willing to help you.

For me, as someone who works in structural steel and deals with stability the list would be:

Good things to have in “general purpose” FEA:

  • Linear / Nonlinear solver:
    • Nonlinear geometry
    • Nonlinear material
    • Contacts
  • Arc-Length method (for complex stability)
  • Implicit / Explicit solver

Most likely you don’t need implicit/explicit solver at the beginning. But it’s good to know that your soft can have it! This way you won’t have to change software later when you will need this solver!

Last few lines

Wow… that was a long write :p

Anyway, I hope this will help you in choosing FEA software. If you will learn (or already know) what software is popular in your industry/region please let me know. I will try to make a list so all people can see it!

In the meantime, thank you for reading this!

Want to learn FEA?

This is great – I have prepared a free online course for you! Just subscribe below to get it : )

Free FEA essentials course!


27 Comments

  1. Augusto Soave March 20, 2018 at 10:31 am - Reply

    Nice! Very interesting post.
    In my job and college we use Ansys (SP, Brazil)

    • Łukasz Skotny March 20, 2018 at 11:00 am - Reply

      Hey Augusto!

      Nice! Do you like Ansys? I mean this is one of the “big 3” I have never even seen O.o

      All the best
      Ł

      • Augusto Soave March 20, 2018 at 2:30 pm - Reply

        I like Ansys, in fact I only used Ansys for professional/research analysis. I have never seen Nastran…only videos =(

        Why have not you ever seen Ansys? I’m shocked about you don’t use or have seen it, here in my region Ansys is very very very popular.

        When a have some time, I will try Nastran!

        • Łukasz Skotny March 20, 2018 at 3:54 pm - Reply

          Hey!

          Well, I used Abaqus for my Ph.D. thesis, and then for commercial purpose, I went with Nastran (it’s much cheaper than Ansys and Abaqus, at least it was then). I know Ansys is popular. It is used here as well… it just so happens that my “FEA Friends” use Nastran as I do… so I never actually seen Ansys in action : )

          Nastran is ok I guess… for my purposes it most likely does just as much as Ansys or Abaqus : )

          Thanks for dropping your 2 cents 🙂

          All the best
          Ł

  2. Josh March 20, 2018 at 7:42 pm - Reply

    Great post and thanks for the reply! I look forward to seeing more content! I use FEMAP at my job by the way. However, ANSYS does seem to be pretty popular here in the USA. Hypermesh is a very powerful pre-processing tool that I have used and really like. Check it out if you get a chance.

    • Łukasz Skotny March 21, 2018 at 4:01 am - Reply

      Hey Josh!

      Ansys is indeed popular. I’ve heard about the Hypermesh – but if I understood correctly this is only the processing part – you need to have an “external” solver right?

      Thank you for dropping in 🙂

      All the best
      Ł

  3. Marek March 21, 2018 at 8:38 am - Reply

    I found this article very interesting to read as it highlights important aspects of choosing the correct and most suitable software for the specific application. For almost three years, I have been using Femap with NX Nastran as the main FEA program. I work in the space sector where basic static linear and more advanced dynamic analyses are the main simulations that I perform on a regular basis. From the beginning of next month, I have to switch into Simcenter 3D (former NX CAE). I found this comparison very useful:

    http://www.learningfea.com/2017/06/femap-vs-nx-advanced-simulation-simcenter/

    As it can be seen, functionalities like “0D/1D/2D Meshing” and “Programming/ Scripting” are poorer in case of Simcentre 3D, what is not desirable in my sector.

    Did you have any previous experience with this software? If yes, what are your general feelings about that?

    P.S.

    I have recently had to select the right workstation for the purpose of FE simulations. I had some problems to find clear and comprehensive article about this topic. The most useful information I found in these two articles:

    http://www.develop3d.com/workstations/workstations-for-simulation-fea-Ansys-Mechanical-17.0

    http://www.digitaleng.news/de/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Intel_Dell_Siemens_DE_Benchmarking_5.pdf

    I think that it can be challenging for the engineers who have limited resources for this purpose. Maybe it would be a good idea to take this subject up in one of your future articles? 🙂

    • Łukasz Skotny March 21, 2018 at 1:46 pm - Reply

      Hey Marek!

      Hardware stuff for FEA is indeed a great topic. I will try to take my swing at it sometime. but sadly this is not exactly my field of expertise. I’m more a “put as much RAM there as possible with the fastest SSD available” sort of guy 😛

      Still, this is something worth learning and I did some research back in a day when I was buying my laptop for “FEA fun”. We will see how it goes!

      Thanks for suggesting it!

      As for Simcenter sadly I have no experience here. This is the “expensive” “corporation” soft from my perspective and in my small operation, Femap just does everything I need… I will ask around for opinions – maybe I will find someone using this soft – If I do I will share their feedback here!

      All the best
      Ł

  4. Josh March 21, 2018 at 10:58 am - Reply

    That’s right. Hypermesh does not have a solver. As far as I know, it only does pre-processing. But you can get some really good-looking meshes with it.

    • Łukasz Skotny March 21, 2018 at 1:42 pm - Reply

      I’m pretty certain it can do meshing well if it is more or less the only thing it does. After all, that is the “selling point” of the soft right?

      Thing is I would rather do stuff in one software, so I’m more familiar with the environment, so having pre-processor separately isn’t exactly my thing.

      However if you have a huge company and there are several people that only do input files then this can work of course : )

  5. Miguel March 21, 2018 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Hi Łukasz,
    Nice video. Thanks for your valuable stuff. I am a mechanical engineer using ANSYS and I think I did not quite understand your comment at the end of the video when you say it “breaks your heart the hard post-processing work that can be done in 4 clicks with other softwares”. Could you explain what do you exactly mean and why?

    Thanks again. BR

    • Łukasz Skotny March 21, 2018 at 1:40 pm - Reply

      Hey Miguel!

      Of course and with pleasure!

      I will go with a simple explanation so I will use a simply supported beam as an example.

      Basically, FEA will give you a bending moment in the beam (easy). But it doesn’t say about beam capacity. Sure you can check stress, but you won’t be able to predict lateral torsional buckling which is incredibly important in most beams (and reduces capacity even by 80% in extreme cases). So you want to to a linear buckling analysis… which already assumes you have a 7th degree of freedom implemented (not a big assumption in the big FEA package I would say). But… LBA will only give you a critical bending moment… this has nothing to do with beam capacity! So… you need to implement imperfections (in this case one “obvious” set will be sufficient) and run a nonlinear analysis… finally you have the capacity.

      But imagine you have 100 beams… so many imperfections to do, issues with nonlinear analysis etc.

      While there are codes that simply tell you how to calculate a reduction factor for capacity. You can, of course, do that by hand, but “civil engineering’ FEA soft has this automated. You define buckling lengths for the beam and click calculate… and you get capacity ratio automatically in a single linear analysis run!

      This is what I meant with 4 clicks. This gets even more important the bigger model you have!

      If you have any more questions please let me know!

      All the best
      Ł

  6. Michał March 21, 2018 at 10:35 pm - Reply

    Witam.

    Panie Łukaszu, świetny post! Co Pan myśli o AxisVM? Jak według Pańskiej oceny wypada w porównaniu do RFEMa?

    Pozdrawiam serdecznie.

    • Łukasz Skotny March 22, 2018 at 4:34 am - Reply

      Cześć!

      Gdzieś już o tym pisałem… wybacz że brutalnie przekleję starą odpowiedź (to trochę pisania):

      Natomiast nigdy nie widziałem ani nie słyszałem o tym AXISVM więc nie bardzo umiem coś na ten temat powiedzieć. Byłem na ich stronie – super źle to nie wygląda, ale podejrzewam że na żadnej stronie rzecz “nie wygląda źle”. Ostatecznie po to mają tą stronę.

      Powstrzymuję się by Cię nie namawiać na RFEM (naprawdę go lubię) i mam propozycję. Jestem pewien że każdy z tych softów ma jakąś wersję testową. Ściągnij obie i po prostu policz kilka prostych rzeczy z dziedzin którymi się zajmujesz. Zobaczysz jak Ci to działa, który interface bardziej Ci się podoba itp.

      Wydaje mi się że na jakimś poziomie to kwestia osobistych preferencji : )

      Powodzenia w sprawdzaniu – jeśli będziesz miał jeszcze jakieś pytania pisz śmiało!
      Ł

      EDIT: Jeszcze jedna myśl. Popytaj klientów / firmy z którymi pracujesz jakiego softu używają. Jeśli RFEM i ten AXIS będą Ci się wydawały bardzo podobne wybież ten którego używają inni… ułatwi Ci to współpracę z nimi : ) Z jednej strony nie zdecydowałbym się na “kijowy program” tylko dlatego że wszyscy go używają… s drugiej bycie jedynym użytkownikiem super softu też nie do konca jest wypas… ot kolejna rzecz którą warto przemyśleć.

      Można to pociągnąć dalej – jeśli pracujesz międzynarodowo (albo planujesz zacząć) sprawdzenie jaki soft działa na rynku danego kraju to dobry ruch. Wiem np. ze RFEM popularny jest w Niemczech, więc jak kiedyś robiłem jakieś tam obliczenia to nie miałem prolemu by wysłać model, czy “przepchnąć” rozwiązanie. Jest to niewątpliwie jakaś zaleta, jeśli myślisz o działaniach za granicą.

      EDIT 2: Zamykając okienko z AXIS zauważyłem że wszystkie powierzchnie mają meshowane TRI a nie QUAD (trójkątami a nie kwadratami). Jeśli AXIS ma tylko mesher do trójkątów a myślisz o liczeniu płyt itp. to trochę lipa…

  7. Grzegorz March 22, 2018 at 6:58 am - Reply

    Cześć!

    Ostatnio wpadła mi w ręce wersja testowa programu IDEA Statica. Na pierwszy rzut oka wydaje się dość potężnym narzędziem do projektowania skomplikowanych połączeń.
    Zetknąłeś się może z tym programem?

    Pozdrawiam

    • Łukasz Skotny March 22, 2018 at 7:53 am - Reply

      Cześć,

      Osobiśnie się nie zetnkąłem ale kilku kolegów go używa/używało. Od nich słyszałem że jest sporo błędów – czasem wychodzą siły śrub przy środniku mniejsze niż te w śrubach dalej od środnika, zmiana długości belki dochodzącej do połączenia zmienia jego sztywność (O.o) itp.

      Myślę że to program z przyszłością jeśli go dobrze rozwiną, ale na razie sam nie wiem. Proponowałem im kiedyś że zrobię im mesem benchmarki ale nie chcieli, a na każde pytanie znajomych helpdesk odpowiadał że mają książkę z przykładami i tam wszystko działa…

      … pomysł na proram super, ale jeszcze mają nad czym pracować. Niemniej taki produkt jest potrzebny, a oni są już na rynku – wydaje mi się więc że może im się to ładnie udać za te parę lat 🙂

      Pozdr
      Ł

  8. jeremy theler March 22, 2018 at 9:47 am - Reply

    Hey Łukasz! What about web-based platforms running in the cloud directly in your browser? I know one, it can be found at http://www.caeplex.com 🙂

  9. Vrushang Patel March 24, 2018 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    Hi there,
    Company in which I am working as CAE engineer uses Ansys , Hypermesh , Abaqus, MSC Nastran and Ideas for FEA.

    • Łukasz Skotny March 24, 2018 at 7:42 pm - Reply

      Hey!

      O.o

      I mean… you use all that soft within one company simultaneously? Wow… that has to be a huge office I guess…
      Do you often exchange data between software?

      It seems like a great learning opportunity anyway 🙂

      All the best!
      Ł

  10. Dan April 6, 2018 at 10:23 am - Reply

    Cześć,

    W Gdańsku większość biur mostowych czy eksperckich używa Sofistika. Ja z kolei RFEM jako program do obliczeń wybrałem sobie podczas pisania pracy inżynierskiej. Mimo, że nie robiłem tam żadnych skomplikowanych rzeczy to dobrze wspominam przyjazny i intuicyjny interfejs, prostotę wymiarowania wg EC3 oraz bardzo sprawny support 🙂

    Pozdrawiam

    • Łukasz Skotny April 6, 2018 at 10:33 am - Reply

      Sofistik ma naprawdę fajny “ekspercki marketing”. Skoro wszyscy eksperci używają Sofistika, a ja jestem ekspertem, to kupię sobie sofistika. To coś jak liczenie doktoratu w Abaqusie który jest bardzo popularny na uczelniach.

      Sam z Sofi mam niewielkie doświadczenie, choć kolega z katedry ciągle mnie namawia 🙂 Ostatecznie wolę jednak Femapa… jakoś tak lepiej mi się pracuje. Tutaj oczywiście zależy to jednak mocno od tego co się w pracy robi 🙂

      Pozdr
      Ł

  11. barmin April 9, 2018 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    Kolejna łapka dla RFEMa.
    Chyba lepiej mieć dobry soft do zastosowań okołobudowlanych i drugi, do takiego MESu pełną gębą 🙂

    Co do oprogramowania, to na PK też króluje Robot a później ABAQUS i niektórzy nieprzychylnie patrzą na “nowości”, moim zdaniem niesłusznie ( a póżniej w pracy też to samo, no bo znam…)

    • Łukasz Skotny April 10, 2018 at 7:30 am - Reply

      Fakt – ja też używam dwóch softów – to kosmicznie przyspiesza robotę 🙂

      Robot i Abaqus to taki “Polski standard”. Wydaje mi się że trochę szkoda, ale co zrobić :/
      Może tak: Abaqusa do nauki to jeszcze rozumiem bo ma super możliwości i wszystko (choć naukowcy nie mają komercyjnych licencji co znacznie utrudnia robienie czegoś sensownego), ale Robot…

      Pozdr
      Ł

      • barmin April 16, 2018 at 10:02 am - Reply

        Szkoda, że na uczelniach nie cisną w stronę takich rozwiązań jak Salome czy inne open-source softy (przecież tak lubią programować i w ogóle 😉 ).

        Z dwojga złego, chyba i tak wolę robota na PK niż pakiet ABC na PŚl 😀

        • Łukasz Skotny April 16, 2018 at 10:06 am - Reply

          Hej!

          Nie no ABC jest już kompletnie wypas 😛

          Wydaje mi się że problem z Salome jest taki że chyba nie ma wersji PL… no i jak to przepchnąć na Polskiej uczelni… zaraz znalazłby się ktoś kto niezdał bo nie zna języka… i zaczeły by się jaja 🙂

          Poza tym pracownicy musieliby to chociaż z grubsza ogarniać nie?

          pozdr
          Ł

          • barmin April 16, 2018 at 10:53 am

            No przecież naukowcy, nie? Kto, jak nie Wy 😀

          • Łukasz Skotny April 16, 2018 at 4:41 pm

            🙂

Leave A Comment