What Happened to FEA?

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)

Thinking back on my experiences on the Helical Gear Rating Committee, I am a bit shocked at what hasn’t happened. As AGMA 218 was being finalized in 1979 there was an extended discussion of where the committee should next put its efforts. The esteemed members were tired from years of negotiating on the landmark document but hardly short of ideas for improvement.

The committee is still hard at work and many of the topics being improved were on the list developed long ago. The standard remains the best place to go for design methodology and is truly useable by the individual engineer or design team without expensive investment in third party software.

Software is helpful in reducing design time and manpower requirements. But as one of our commentators recently pointed out, it is dangerous to put high tech software in the hands of inexperienced engineers. Unless you know what is going on inside that “black box” you can risk your entire project by not verifying the results by other familiar and trusted methods.

This has turned out to be the stumbling block to some of the things on that 1979 “Wish List.” We had every confidence back then that our rating methods would be forever transformed by Finite Element Analysis. FEA was viewed as an inevitable technology that would quickly obsolete our computer aided calculations and replace them with beautiful and easy to understand colored renderings.

Like you, I enjoy seeing those beautiful pictures in technical papers and magazines. I don’t fully trust them yet and don’t see any chance that they will supplant current calculation methods. For now I’ll class FEA of gears with the Jetson’s flying cars: possible for some people in some circumstances but not likely to solve rush hour traffic any time soon.

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