Finite element analysis (FEA) is a computerized method for predicting how a real world object will react to forces, heat, vibration, etc., in terms of whether it will break, wear out, or work the way it was designed. It is called analysis, but in the product design cycle it is used to predict what is going to happen when the product is used.

The finite element method works by breaking a real object down into a large number (1,000s to 100,000s) of elements, such as little cubes. The behavior of each little element, which is regular in shape, is readily predicted by set mathematical equations. The computer then adds up all of the individual behaviors to predict the behavior of the actual object.

The finite in finite element analysis comes from the idea that there are a finite number of elements in a finite element model. Previously, engineers employed integral and differential calculus, which breaks objects down into an infinite number of elements.

The finite element method is employed to predict the behavior of things with respect to virtually all physical phenomena:

Mechanical stress (stress analysis)

Mechanical vibration

Heat transfer (conduction, convection and radiation)

Fluid flow (Both liquids and gaseous fluids)

Various electrical and magnetic phenomena

Acoustics

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