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8 minutes read
6 November 2017

Few thoughts on FEA projects

8 minutes read

This is a very special day for me, as I just launched my first paid online course on Enterfea. It took me more than half a year to make it, so naturally, I started reflecting on that process. I realized that there are a LOT of similarities between making something like an online course and an FEA project so I figured I will share those. I think that at least some of those thoughts will be useful for you : )

Multiply by 2 and add 10%

This is something that I actually do, but I confess I usually don’t calculate the percentage accurately : )

Whenever I’m starting an FEA project I try to think how much time it will take me to finish it. Of course at the beginning, I was purely guessing, but after some time I got a certain “sense of time”. When I do an estimate I usually add around 100% of the time for unforeseen problems. It is incredible, how often you find unforeseen issues on your way!

I’m not talking only about the analysis that cannot converge etc. I’m also talking about sick kids, broken computers, and all other random issues.

It seems that usually people greatly overestimate what they can do, so increasing the time you give yourself to finish an FEA project might save you some sleep at nights to come.

When I was planning the course I estimated that I need 4 months to do it… and somehow I did not multiply the time by 2! I was thinking that “it’s just writing and recording… what can go wrong”! I have spent on the course a total of 9 months. That includes the last 6 weeks when the course was ready, but I had to install a payment gateway!

Plan to do less!

This is a big one. I often say that it would be great to have a model of the entire universe. Then you could just press calculate and obtain all the answers to all questions! Sadly such an approach is not very practical and I’m super guilty of that.

Whenever I start an FEA project I tend to geek out about what I can do. You know the usual “nonlinear this, complex that” approach.

Truth be told things shouldn’t be made so complex when they don’t have to be. It will hurt the overall state of things.

Don’t do the most sophisticated analysis. Instead try to divide a big problem into smaller chunks. Chunks you will be able to solve separately. This will save you a lot of time and frustration.

Again – I knew that from (painful) experience. Yet I have decided to take a course on FEA rather than a course on one aspect of FEA like “boundary conditions”. It took me forever to finish this huge project! I managed to finish it thanks to friends’ support that cheered me on. If I would decide to make few smaller courses at the start it would be a much better experience.

Things are more complicated than they seem

Starting an FEA project is always fun. You get to think about how to solve this particular problem, and what to do. You will also try to simplify the problem as much as possible – which is great. However, during the design, you will often notice that things are more complicated than you assumed.

Many times I have found something “funny” in results and spent a lot of time to understand it. This usually led to me learning something new – which is great. I think the lesson here is:

Don’t take anything for granted. Weird things happening during analysis should taunt you to learn about them. It is truly amazing how much we can all learn if we stay curious!

The same goes for making the course. I had to shoot, edit and produce videos which apparently is a great skill (I already used it with my daughter for her school project). I also had to learn how to build websites better which I’m sure will be handy. All in all, I thought that I will do a course and… that will be all. But instead, I found a LOT of incredible activities that I had to learn… and I’m happy that I know them now!

Plan ahead

When I start to do an FEA analysis I usually try to make a list of things I want to analyze. This is a great help in estimating the task I’m out to do, but it also nicely organizes the project itself. Recently I don’t do it as often as I should, so this is advice that I should take first!

When you make a list of things you will have to do, you simply won’t forget about something. This is especially important in complex problems. Sometimes in a stroke of genius, you simply see that there is an issue you must check as well. Always write this down, as otherwise, you might forget it!

FEA project - do a checklist!

When you have a list of things that you need to do, it’s easier to do them. Also you will be able to better “connect” the similar tasks, and you won’t end up redoing something that you previously finished.

The same goes for most things I guess. I’m certain it works with the course. I made a list of things I needed to do and simply started crossing things off. I had to redo the list a few times, but still, it was a great help.

You can benefit from this also on another level. I try to keep my notes – this way when I will have a similar task to do, I already have everything planned. I can also add to those old lists or even redo them to build on my own experience!

Do what you love

Both in FEA and in teaching I got lucky. I love what I do. Writing this blog, doing designs and courses… I think I was simply made to do them!

If that was not the case, I wouldn’t be here today. There are a lot of hardships on any road you choose. Loving what you do simply makes it bearable.

However, I don’t think I was always loving this. I think that at the start I simply went after what I was good at, as most people do. But since I was developing all the time, doing more and more challenging things I kind of grew into loving what I do.

Loving what you do from the start may not be required. Just don’t give up and develop your skills. Them better you will be at something the more you will love to do it.

I think that apart from friends’ encouragement the fact that I love to teach was the only thing that kept me going. I simply enjoy writing and helping others, which meant it wasn’t such a big sacrifice to do it each night. Without this feeling, I don’t think I would have finished…

It may take several tries…

To this day I encounter “random mistakes” from time to time. In fact, I’ve learned that most likely I will need to run an analysis a few times before I get it right.

There are many reasons for that. The more elegant are convergence issues, unforeseen model behavior, or model that simply need strengthening/revision.

But I would lie if those are the only ones! There are of course the more ugly ones as well. You know those mistakes no one ever talks about. Things like “oh, I forgot to apply self-weight…” or “why on earth I did not support it here…” or even “why I did support it here”.

Whatever case may be, it is quite probable that you will have to solve the FEA project several times before you will get it right. Just be prepared for it, and don’t give up. The answer is there, and you will find it eventually : )

The same goes for course creation. I had to redo several things as I went further. New ideas appeared, or I was simply tired and I was not happy with the results of my work from few previous days. The most fun, however, is to watch those mistakes on video 🙂

Last few words

It’s great to sit and reflect on things like that in your favorite restaurant with a cup of tea (too late for coffee for me today…). I hope you did find something useful here. Let me know if you like more broad posts like this one in the comments below.

Have a great day!

Ł

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Author: Łukasz Skotny Ph.D.

I have over 10 years of practical FEA experience (I'm running my own Engineering Consultancy), and I've been an academic teacher for a decade. Here, I gladly share my engineering knowledge through courses, and on the blog!

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Comments (8)

santiago - 2020-06-19 03:47:21

DEAR L,
Reading your blog is like talking with a good teacher and an old friends.thank you for sharing your all!

Reply
Łukasz Skotny Ph.D. - 2020-06-19 06:08:26

Thank you Santiago!

Your comment means a lot for me!

All the best!
Ł

Reply
navab - 2017-11-14 19:24:14

hi, i realy enjoy your article and i'll share it, beacuse i do undrestand you.
i enjoy of learning and teachin, and of course i love FEM❤️ too.

Reply
Łukasz Skotny Ph.D. - 2017-11-14 20:15:39

Hey Navab!

I'm really glad that you like it :)

All the best!
Ł

Reply
Neeba - 2017-11-10 16:37:19

Haha, you have a knack for writing and explaining things in such a fun way.
Love the fact you shared your failed attempts to record the video. So encouraging especially for those who need to keep persevering to get there.

Reply
Łukasz Skotny Ph.D. - 2017-11-10 18:23:14

Hey!

I'm really glad that you like it. I do my best to show how I got there - you know, this is a long way and everyone makes mistakes. I'm sure I did a lot myself. This is also why I'm running this place - so people can feel vulnerable and simply ask about stuff. It's much better this way that to learn about failures the hard way!

All the best!
Ł

Reply
Natalia - 2017-11-07 10:33:37

Nice article)

Reply
Łukasz Skotny Ph.D. - 2017-11-07 11:00:05

Thank you, Natalia!

I'm very happy that you like it :)

All the best
Ł

Reply

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