Article by Rod Mackay updated November 23, 2017


In its simplest terms, design analysis is a powerful software technology for simulating physical behavior on the computer. Will it break? Will it deform? Will it get too hot? These are the types of questions for which design analysis provides accurate answers. Instead of building a prototype and developing elaborate testing regimens to analyze the physical behavior of a product, engineers can elicit this information quickly and accurately on the computer. Because design analysis can minimize or even eliminate the need for physical prototyping and testing, the technology has gone mainstream in the manufacturing world over the past decade as a valuable product development tool and has become omnipresent in almost all fields of engineering.

Design Analysis

Design Analysis

Finite Element Analysis (FEA)

Design Analysis employs the finite element analysis (FEA) method to simulate physical behavior of a product design. The FEA process consists of subdividing all systems into individual components or “elements” whose behavior is easily understood and then reconstructing the original system from these components. This is a natural way of performing analysis in engineering and even in other analytical fields, such as economics. For example, a control arm on a car suspension is one continuous shape. An analysis application will test the control arm by dividing the geometry into ‘elements,’ analyzing them, then simulating what happens between the elements. The application displays the results as colour-coded 3D images, red usually denoting an area of failure, and blue denoting areas that maintain their integrity under the load applied.

Design Analysis can be applied to just about anything

Engineers analyze just about every type of product development and research effort imaginable. Analyzing machine designsinjection molded plasticscooling systemsproducts that emit electromagnetic fields, and systems that are influenced by fluid dynamics are just some examples of how companies leverage design analysis.

In the field of mechanical engineering, design analysis can solve a wide range of product development problems. Engineers can use design analysis to predict the physical behavior of just about any part or assembly under any loading conditions: from a simple beam under a bending load to car crash simulations and vibration analysis of aircraft. The true power of design analysis is the ability to perform any of these types of studies accurately without building a single thing. All that is needed is a CAD model.

Stress Analysis

The most common design analysis application in the field of mechanical engineering is stress analysis. Engineers study the stresses (both structural and thermal) on a part to determine whether it will fail or not and whether design modifications are necessary to overcome potential problems. Design analysis can be used in a wide variety of fields, here are just a few examples:

  • Determine the potential for deformation of parts
  • Measure resonant frequencies and modes of vibration of parts and assemblies
  • Calculate dynamic and seismic responses
  • Determine Contact stresses
  • Provide temperature distribution.
  • Analyze fluid flow, whether it be a gas or liquid in a pipeline, the mixture of air and fuel in an engine intake manifold, or molten plastic filling up a mold.

Motion Analysis & Electromagnetics

Besides working very closely with CAD packages, commercial design analysis applications also interface with increasingly popular programs for motion analysis to create complete virtual analysis and test systems. In other engineering disciplines, design analysis is used to study electromagnetic fields, soil mechanics, groundwater flow, bone growth, etc.

SOLIDWORKS Simulation Software for Design Analysis

With powerful and intuitive SOLIDWORKS® Simulation solutions, product engineers can virtually test new ideas, quickly and efficiently evaluate performanceimprove quality, and get the knowledge for product innovation.

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Rod Mackay

Rod has been using 3D CAD software for over 25 years and has trained thousands of designers to use their CAD systems more effectively. Rod is the Javelin Webmaster and is based in Ottawa, ON., Canada.