Prerequisites for studying FEA
To design stuff with FEA you will need engineering design skills. But what are those skiils, and what else will you need? Let's check!5 October 2021
I’m sure that you know just as well as I do, that engineering software is getting easier and easier to use each year. This is great, but I’m afraid that it might come at an unexpected price. I will try to explain what I mean, using fruits and spaceships!
I remember times where there was no internet around at all (at least here). I have been using DOS, programmed in Turbo Pascal, and did the first drawings in Paint. My first PC had 40Mb of a hard drive and a few kB of RAM. I can honestly say I have used a lot of different software solutions, and I saw how they developed. Boy, that sounds as if I met Seneca somewhere along the road, but I’m only 33 (!).
Maybe you have started some years earlier or later than me, but I’m sure you will agree that software is easier and easier to use. Not so long ago using FEA required a Ph.D. and serious programming skills. Now a reasonably intelligent teenager would be able to model something and perform an analysis (especially with all present “wizards”). I’m not sure I would believe in the outcomes… but the teenager would!
The software is so simple to use now, that the analogy I often use makes more and more sense.
Imagine that we would produce a keyboard with 3 buttons: apple, strawberry, and banana. Then we could assign the following functions to the buttons:
In such a case, we would not need engineers, but monkeys. After all, it’s relatively easy to train a monkey to first press the button with an apple, then with a strawberry, and then with a banana.
In the world of “the best software that is always right,” there is only one way to make a mistake… and that is to press apple, apple, banana.
Luckily, things are not as simple (at least not yet!), but I think we can already observe the degradation of engineering skills everywhere.
Everything is getting easier for the end-user… but is it getting easier in general? I would say no, simply because it’s hard to negotiate with physics. Furthermore, we are designing more and more complicated stuff! This means that it is reasonable to assume, that things are getting more complicated not easier.
Think about it this way. When I define nonlinear analysis there are a lot of parameters I have to take into account. I need to choose analysis steering, pick proper parameters, etc. All in all, it takes good 15 minutes, and I draw upon few years of experience to do that.
But if there is a nice shiny button of “do a nonlinear analysis” in your software? Then it is enough to press it, nothing more really. Who then decides on the choices I am making when defining such analysis? It seems the software does… but based on what really? Who made those decisions and in what case?
When you know enough, you can actually look that up in the software manual. You can also try to influence the choices somehow, maybe search for a “manual mode” etc. But what if you don’t know enough? Then you simply acknowledge that the solution is there, and you hope (which in time changes into a belief) that the outcome is correct.
The same problem is present at Universities. It is actually hard to convince someone to learn about the static or strength of materials. Students know that all the knowledge is “hidden” in one “analyze” button, so there is no “real” need to know that in their opinion! Not to mention, that this is tempting for teachers as well… why to explain everything when you can just say “analyze”.
This leads to a situation when we know less and less while believing more and more in the analysis outcomes.
I never was a fan of science-fiction (fantasy for life!), but the world of Warhammer 40k caught my attention. In that “universe”, humanity managed to create incredibly advanced technology. Technology that allowed for the creation of self-repairing spaceships etc. After millennia have passed… no one actually remembers how to do those anymore, but it’s kind of ok since they still have the “old ones”! In that “extreme” future ships are operated by techno-priests who enter the ship to “talk to the spirit of the machine” and perform some rituals. Then the ship carries their people where they wish.
This is a very nice picture, but isn’t it also a warning? Are we aiming into a realm, where lucky few techno-priests of engineering will understand what is going on? And the rest will only try not to press apple, apple, and banana out of sequence?
This is, of course, an extreme claim, but even today I see that software “take away” from people the ability to understand things on a deeper level. This has many faces:
This all pushes us more and more toward the dreaded apple, apple, banana dilemmas. I have witness discussions among professionals about so basic problems that it was disheartening. Of course, nothing will happen in a day, but I’m afraid that process is well underway right now.
I’m all for software development, but the way engineers start to treat software worries me. More and more we are getting into the “buttons with fruits” zone. To fight this trend I have launched this blog. I wish to show everyone the complex beauty of engineering!
Here I will not only share my knowledge but also help you gain more skills and advance your career. I also want to help you draw more satisfaction from your job at the same time! I strongly feel that when you understand more, you can do more, and also you feel more fulfilled with your job. Engineers now have a lot of problems with this I think!
Let’s try not to reduce ourselves to monkeys while changing engineering into a religion govern by selected few priests of engineering! If you want to join the crusade, spread the word – this will mean a lot to me 🙂
Also, I would love to know if you feel the same way about this matter. Just leave your comment below.
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