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The Importance of Customizing Your FEA Software

April 1, 2016 By: James Kosloski

The best FEA software codes (such as ANSYS) are extremely powerful general purpose codes. But, because they have such a broad range of capabilities, performing tasks specific to your particular analysis may not be as straightforward as you would like. This is where customization comes in. Just like no two people have their iPhones set up the same way, you can be much more efficient in your day-to-day analysis work by customizing the software to fit your particular needs.

Of course, there are many levels of customization. One of simplest forms of customizing your analyses is to create scripts or macros for commonly executed procedures.  Some codes, such as ANSYS MAPDL, let you record a log file that can be used as the starting point for a macro. Usually, one performs the desired tasks once, then edits the log file to refine the task possibly by adding a loop to repeat the task multiple times. CAE Associates has a suite of macros for ANSYS MAPDL that we have developed over the years that are available for download.

The next level of customization involves modifying the graphical user interface (GUI) to better suit your needs. Sometimes, this can be accomplished using simple filtering provided by the software. More complicated modifications involve programming new GUI features in the language used by the software. Examples of GUI programming languages include UIDL and Tcl/Tk for ANSYS MAPDL and XML and Python for ANSYS Workbench.  Using XML and Python to customize the ANSYS Workbench interface is done by creating an extension using ACT (Advanced Customization Toolkit).  ACT basically allows you to create apps for ANSYS Workbench, just like you install apps to customize your iPhone. (CAE Associates has a number of ACT Apps available for download in our Resource Library.) For example, CAEA has developed an ACT App that lets you obtain the volume averaged stress in a particular region.  This  could be done manually by writing a script or by exporting the stress and volume for each element to Excel and performing the operations there, but having a customized feature makes this procedure painless. Check out this app here.

The final level of customization is where we actually modify inner workings of the code. Many finite element codes provide set of user customizable routines that can be recompiled and linked with the code to modify or extend the existing capabilities of the code. In, ANSYS these routines are known as UPFs (user Programmable Features).  Examples of UPFs include USERMAT which is a routine, in which the user can define their own material constitutive law, USERLD to define your own loads, and USERELEM which allows you to define your own element.  CAE Associates has extensive experience in developing user programmable features.  Some examples include Automated Crack Extension Modeling and Bone Remodeling Predictions using ANSYS.

I hope that you are taking advantage of customizations when using your finite element software, and would love to hear how you are doing so!