Building a hydraulic system is expensive and time-consuming. In addition, your hydraulic system will play a vital role in your operation and the way in which it performs may have far-reaching effects on the overall success of your organisation. For this reason, the worst time to learn about deficiencies in your hydraulic system design is when the system is already in operation. It is far better to simulate and analyse the performance of the system beforehand and make adjustments to the design ahead of time.
Luckily the modern age has given us many tools that allow engineers to model hydraulic systems and simulate them in operation. One of these tools is Finite Element Analysis (FEA) software. When used correctly, this tool can predict the stresses placed on individual components, and the wear patterns that can be expected in the real world. Allowing engineers to adjust designs accordingly to improve performance, increase the lifespan of the component, and reduce the amount of maintenance required.
What is Finite Element Analysis (FEA)?
Finite element analysis (FEA) is a software modeling process to simulate how a component or system reacts in the real world. It works by plotting an object (like a machine component) on a model using thousands of little cubes, with mathematical values that relate to the material’s properties in real life.
A computer can then use these values to calculate forces and provide accurate data in relation to:
and other physical effects.
In the hands of a skilled engineer, FEA can predict the durability and performance of a particular design - showing weak spots and high-stress areas, which could contribute to wear or chance of failure. The simulation models can be changed, modified, and adapted to suit the various known or anticipated operating conditions, and solutions can be optimised.
In the context of hydraulic system design, the improvements can be dramatic. In certain cases, this kind of analysis has allowed Berendsen to re-engineer components for customers and solve long-standing technical issues that have plagued operations for years.
Limitations of FEA software
Used effectively, the power of accurate analysis cannot be overstated. However, the danger with regard to FEA software modelling is relying on incomplete or inaccurate data that leads to incorrect predictive results. FEA is an extremely potent engineering design utility, but it is only as good as the information it receives. Which means inexperienced engineers working on false assumptions will produce models that look great on the computer screen, but bear little resemblance to what is actually going on in the real world.
This is where experience comes into play. No amount of high tech software can replace a skilled, knowledgeable engineer who understands the forces at play across a multitude of hydraulic systems. It is this real-world knowledge that not only allows the engineer to manipulate the software in a more accurate way to produce simulations that more accurately model the behaviour of systems in real life - but also to identify anomalies in the FEA modelling that may indicate an incorrect assumption made at setup or problems with the data used to create the model.
The final word: FEA is a powerful tool in the right hands
While FEA systems produce impressive data and fancy pictures, they are only as good as the data that is used to create them. It’s the user’s responsibility to ensure that results are valid. Used without care, the solution could be very misleading, despite the impressive-looking visuals. The bottom line is that while technological tools are important, they do not diminish the value of a reputable engineering team who know how to get the most out of the software. In fact, experience is now more important than ever.