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How an Excel Spreadsheet Can Drive Finite Element Analysis of Product Designs

FEA with Excel
October 23, 2014 By: Eric Stamper

Companies designing products that need continuous design modification for different applications, improvements, or clients' specific needs (just to name a few) can benefit tremendously from implementing a standard process. This process often includes the use of Finite Element Analyses (FEA).  However, the product designer may not necessarily be familiar with simulation, or the FEA needs are always similar and can benefit from automation.  A great way to meet these challenges is to use a spreadsheet to “drive” the design process.  Microsoft EXCEL is a program that most everyone knows how to use. CAE Associates has helped many customers by implementing EXCEL into their design process as a gateway to simulation, similar to the case outlined below.

The EXCEL interface is used to set up the design inputs, drive the finite element analysis and retrieve the results for viewing. The user selects their design inputs from inside the spreadsheet and the finite element software works its magic"behind the scenes". No knowledge of FEA is required, but even experts can use this process to obtain quick customized results from the analysis for use in design.

Let's say, for example, you're new to a company that designs light bulbs and they already have this EXCEL/FEA process in place. You need to make some changes to an existing design, and an important result you're interested in is the temperature profile in this filament.

It's going to be very easy for you to make design changes in the EXCEL sheet shown below and obtain the answer, even if you know nothing about finite element simulation, or have not been trained on the software used by your new company:

The buttons in EXCEL take all the design inputs, using embedded Visual Basic scripts, and, in this case,  ANSYS APDL macros (the programming language used to run this finite element software) to run the design and analysis process.

Another benefit is that the EXCEL sheet can be used to force users to follow a quality assurance (QA) process where design inputs are controlled and results are checked against specific criteria.

Once the analysis is complete, the scripts export the desired FEA results (in this case filament temperature vs. time) and plot the data in EXCEL. This makes it very easy for everyone involved - from the engineer, to his/her manager, to the director of engineering to review the critical results in a easy to read format.  Multiple design iterations can be performed and stored on additional spreadsheet tabs recording all the design data to suit their needs. Has anyone had any experience with this process?  Let me know in the comments!