The finite element method is a powerful numerical tool for
analyzing mechanical components and systems. The representation of a component
or system mathematically with finite elements generally involves a
discretization of the structure into many small pieces, e.g. small brick-like
elements (hence the name of the method). The solution to the equations that
govern the behavior of the structure is approximated on each and every brick.
The collective effect of all the bricks is taken into account during a step that
synthesizes the solutions for each brick into one solution valid for the entire
structure. This global solution represents the solution to the equations that
govern the structure's behavior.
(reference: Dr. Zee)
The finite element method provides a tool to predict and evaluate component response, elastic or non-linear plastic, subjected to thermal and structural loads. Thermal analyses may include convection, conduction, and radiation heat transfer, as well as various thermal transients and thermal shocks. Structural analyses may include all types of constant or cyclic loads, mechanical or thermal, along with non-linearities, such as opening/closing of contact surfaces, friction, and non-linear material behavior. Finite element analysis can be used during a failure study in such ways as:
Predicting the response of an existing component or assembly to stress
Assessment of remaining life of a component or assembly
Determining the failure mode of a failed component or assembly, e.g. fatigue, creep, and buckling.
Designing of a new component or assembly as a part of recommendations for remediation of the problem