Finite Element Analysis or FEA as most people call it is a great way to determine if your designed model will hold up to forces it might be subjected to in the real world. Validating your design before real world testing is crucial in today’s society to save time and money. FEA Simulation is a great tool but not everyone has access to Simulation. What if I told you that if you have SOLIDWORKS, then you already have access to Simulation? Included in every seat of SOLIDWORKS is a product called SimulationXpress.
SimXpress is considered a “lite” version of Simulation, meaning it has some of the basic capabilities of the powerful Simulation software. SimXpress can run static studies on parts only, but static studies are the most common study type so it is not much of a drawback. Trust me, this is enough to get your feet wet in FEA Simulation. I was always afraid of FEA Simulation like most people but hopefully after seeing how easy SimXpress is to get results you might actually want to use it and not be scared.
The SimXpress tool can be found under Tools>Xpress Products or on the Evaluate Tab within the Command Manager. If it is your first time using the SimXpress tool you will be prompted to enter a product code which can be found in one of my earlier blogs.
The SimXpress tool is an interactive guide found within the Task Pane. This means that it leads you through the Simulation setup procedures and the steps to take in order to run your study. Selecting “Next” will get us started in the Simulation process, let’s get started.
Within the interactive guide shown below you can see there is some steps outlined with numbered steps before we can “Run” the study. Being that these steps are numbered it makes it easy to not miss a step in the Simulation process before running a bad study and getting undesirable results. We must setup our part with fixtures and loads as well as applying a material before the study can be run.
When selecting to “Add a fixture” we are allowed to specify geometry that will be fixed. Within the Simulation package there are advanced fixtures to choose from but in SimXpress our only option is the standard fixed geometry. In this instance I specified the internal faces that will attach the handwheel to a hub/shaft of some sort. You can check it out below!
When applying loads you have two options; Force or Pressure. In this case I applied a load on the face in a single direction that would attach the “Suicide Spinner” to the handwheel in real life. On a side note I did not know those little handles that people always attached to wheels were called “Suicide Spinners”, but you learn something new every day.
After applying your load/s you will then specify the material. One thing that is great about SimXpress and SOLIDWORKS Simulation is that if you already specified a material in SOLIDWORKS it will carry into SimXpress and Traditional Simulation. If you did not previously specify a material the same material dialog will pop-up like selecting a material in Core SOLIDWORKS. At this point it is time to run our study. This is the point where I usually get excited about running my study because the pretty colors are coming up next!
In a traditional Simulation study mesh parameters will need to be specified before running but within SimXpress the mesh parameters are pre-determined. There is no mesh control or settings within SimXpress which makes it easier for the end user but the results will not be as good as having refined mesh like within Simulation. The results will not be bad in any way but will be more accurate with a higher mesh density that can be adjusted in the Simulation package.
After running the study you will be asked if the part deformed as expected, this is just to verify that the correct loads and fixtures were placed on the model. The deformation is exaggerated so that you can see what is going on so don’t be scared if it’s deforming a lot. Selecting on “Yes, continue” will take you to the pretty colors!
This is the coolest part of the Simulation in my mind. Looking at the stresses found within the model are so neat. Enough of me drooling over the colors and let me show you the results. So the results we have are the traditional von Mises stress and displacement plots. This will show you the maximum stress of the model to see if it’s more than the Yield strength of the material and its maximum displacement. The Factor of Safety (FOS) legend can be changed in the dialog to show the FOS below a certain value, the default value is 1 for obvious reasons. I don’t want to talk about how to interpret the results but if you want to know how to accurately read results check out Franco’s blog post found here.
Once you are done viewing the results you can animate the deformation and even generate a report of the Simulation Study. The report shows all fixtures, loads, results and even more information within a word file.
Last but not least is the SimXpress Optimization tool. Within the SimXpress Optimization tool you can specify a variable, constraints and goals so that SOLIDWORKS can run Simulations to determine the optimal value for the dimension or variable. SimXpress only allows one variable per optimization whereas Simulation can account for more. This functionality can give you the optimal value for a specific dimension that will best suit the loads it will be subjected to. This is awesome when it comes to a design because instead of guessing and checking the values you can get the best value at the very beginning. Check out below to see what the initial interface looks like.
I hope this opened your eyes to FEA Simulation and just how easy it is to run a study in order to validate your design. Since SimXpress comes with every seat of SOLIDWORKS there is no excuse to not use it. Better designs make better products faster and SimXpress can help in the design process so don’t be afraid of FEA Simulation anymore!
To get a closer look at SimXpress, check out this Lunch & Learn: