Educational Challenges in Computer-based Finite Element Analysis and Design of structures
Computer simulations and computational methods, such as the Finite Element Analysis (FEA) have become essential methodologies in science and engineering during the last decades, in a wide variety of academic fields. Six decades after the invention of the digital computer, advanced FE simulations are used to enhance and leapfrog theoretical and experimental progress, at different levels of complexity. Particularly in Civil and Structural Engineering, significant research work has been made lately on the development of FE simulation codes, methodologies and validation techniques for understanding the behavior of large and complex structures such as buildings, bridges, dams, offshore structures and others. These efforts are aimed at designing structures that are resilient to natural excitations (wind loads, earthquakes, floods) as well as human-made threats (impact, fire, explosion and others). The skill set required to master advanced FEA is inherently interdisciplinary, requiring in-depth knowledge of advanced mathematics, numerical methods and their computational implementation, as well as engineering sciences. In this paper, we focus on the importance of sound and profound engineering education and knowledge about the theory behind the Finite Element Method to obtain correct and reliable analysis results for designing real-world structures. We highlight common mistakes made by structural engineers while simulating complex structures and the risk of structural damage because of humanmade mistakes or errors in the model assumptions. The event of the collapse and eventual sinking of a concrete offshore platform in the North Sea is presented as a case study where a serious error in the finite element analysis played a crucial role leading to structural failure and collapse.