Finite element analysis is a computer-based numerical method for solving engineering problems in bodies of user-defined geometry. This article introduces the important issues of finite elements (especially accuracy and efficiency) in a nonacademic manner. It describes the Rayleigh-Ritz procedure for solving structural problems based on the principle of virtual work. The article discusses continuum elements, such as hexahedra, pentahedra, tetrahedra, quadrilaterals, and triangles, commonly used in three- or two-dimensional domains. It discusses structural elements such as beam element, plate element, shell element, and elbow element. The article presents three examples to illustrate the types of problems that can be addressed and decisions that must be made when using finite element analysis.
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