Introduction to miniFEA and its use in class

What is the CMU Mini-FEA Program?

The CMU Mini-FEA Program is a very simple Finite Element Analysis (FEA) program that: (1) helps students learn Strength of Materials (SOM) and (2) exposes students to FEA. The program is simple to learn and use, because it solves a small class of problems: planar loading of isotropic, elastic, rectangular bodies with elements of uniform size and shape.

What does the CMU Mini-FEA Program do for students?

The program helps students learn strength of materials by (1) clearly animating the deformation, and (2) providing an alternative context in which to formulate axial, shear and bending problems and use key variables – displacements, forces, strains, and stresses. The program accustoms students to the basic steps that an engineer follows when using any commercial FEA program. The program does not teach the underlying numerical method behind FEA.

How do I use this with my class?

You can offer students homework assignments that require the program. These assignments are very specific and clear. Students write up their solutions, including numerical results, manual calculations, and commentary, on well-organized solution sheets. The solution sheets are also easy to grade. Solutions to these problems can be provided to instructors. Students can also explore the program on their own.

You can also use the program in lecture (if you have a computer and projection system). To help, we have compiled a set of Predefined Load Cases. Clicking on any one of the Predefined Load Cases runs the CMU Mini-FEA Program and sets up the chosen problem immediately. The instructor only needs to click Solve and then discusses key features of the problem and solution with students. This may be convenient for instructors who want to illustrate certain ideas quickly in lecture and don’t want to take away lecture time setting up such problems.