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How to became a FEA Engineer

Updated: Mar 13

How to became a FEA Engineer | Mechanical Career Guide

Introduction to FEA Engineering

Finite element analysis (FEA) is a computer simulation technique used by engineers to model, design and analyze products under different conditions. FEA works by breaking down a complex system or assembly into smaller, simpler pieces called elements. Mathematical equations help predict how these elements will react under various loads or constraints. The results of FEA simulations show potential failures, stresses, deformations and other performance factors.

FEA is an extremely important tool in engineering design and product development. It allows engineers to simulate real-world scenarios on computer models before physical prototyping. This enables rapid iterations and optimization, reducing development costs and time to market. FEA is used across industries including automotive, aerospace, biomedical, civil engineering and more. Applications range from modeling an airplane wing under turbulence to simulating the forces on a prosthetic hip joint.

This career guide provides expert advice on starting a career in FEA engineering. It covers the necessary education, skills and experience required to become a successful FEA engineer. You'll learn how to gain proficiency in leading FEA software, build your theoretical knowledge, obtain practical experience, stay current with industry trends and develop a competitive salary and career growth path. Whether you are a student exploring careers or a professional looking to transition into FEA, this guide has helpful tips and insights. Let's begin!

Educational Requirements

To become an FEA engineer, you need a strong educational foundation in engineering principles and analysis methods. The most common path is to earn at least a bachelor's degree in mechanical, civil, or aerospace engineering. However, a degree in any engineering field that emphasizes mechanics, thermodynamics, statics, and mathematics can provide the fundamentals to start a career in FEA.

Some of the key undergraduate courses to take include:

  • Statics and dynamics

  • Strength of materials

  • Material science

  • Thermodynamics

  • Calculus and linear algebra

  • Numerical analysis and computational methods

  • Introduction to finite element analysis

While not always required, a master's degree or PhD in mechanical, civil, or aerospace engineering can be beneficial for advancing to more complex FEA roles. At the graduate level, you can take more specialized FEA coursework and gain advanced knowledge in continuum mechanics, composite materials, structural dynamics, computational fluid dynamics, and mathematical modeling.

Pursuing graduate education allows you to deepen your FEA skills and theoretical understanding. This can qualify you for senior-level engineering or research positions focusing on developing innovative FEA and simulation techniques.

2. Gain Proficiency in FEA Software

Finite element analysis relies heavily on specialized engineering software tools. To become an effective FEA engineer, you need to build expertise in the leading industry-standard programs.

The three most widely used FEA software packages are:

  • ANSYS - The market leader in FEA software. ANSYS offers a complete workflow for structural, fluid, and electromagnetic simulation. It has an extensive element library and robust pre/post-processing capabilities. Many engineering companies rely on ANSYS for product design and optimization.

  • Abaqus - A powerful FEA tool often used in academia and research. It offers advanced simulation functionality including nonlinear studies and multi-physics capabilities. Abaqus is commonly used in the automotive and aerospace sectors.

  • COMSOL Multiphysics - Specializes in coupled physics and multi-discipline simulations. Its graphical user interface makes setting up models more intuitive. COMSOL is popular for modeling electromechanical, RF, and microfluidic systems.

The best way to build proficiency is through hands-on practice. Many undergraduate engineering programs offer courses in FEA tools like ANSYS as part of the curriculum. Students use the software to analyze static structures, dynamics, heat transfer, fluid flow, and other physics.

For those who want to expand their skills, there are also short training courses and workshops focused specifically on learning FEA software. Local community colleges or online learning platforms like LinkedIn Learning offer classes at various skill levels. Attending an ANSYS or Abaqus training event is another great option. With regular practice to reinforce concepts, you will quickly ramp up your ability to leverage these powerful FEA programs.

Building Strong Theoretical Knowledge

To become an expert FEA engineer, it's crucial to build a strong foundation in the theoretical principles behind finite element analysis. This includes gaining an in-depth understanding of topics like:

  • Continuum Mechanics - The mathematical study of how solid and fluid materials behave and deform under various forces and displacements. Having a solid grasp of concepts like stress, strain, elasticity, plasticity, and material constitutive laws is essential.

  • Structural Analysis - The theoretical determination of stresses, strains, and deflections in structures when subjected to forces like tension, compression, torsion, and shear. FEA relies heavily on foundational structural analysis methods like calculating bending moments, shear forces, and deflections.

  • Numerical Methods - Approaches like the finite difference method and finite volume method to numerically solve differential equations. FEA uses the numerical finite element method to subdivide a large system into discrete, interconnected elements.

  • Foundations of FEA - Key concepts like discretizing geometries into elements, formulating element stiffness matrices, applying loads and boundary conditions, assembling the global stiffness matrix, and solving for unknown displacements and stresses. Thoroughly understanding the theoretical basis of the FEA process from start to finish.

Spending time studying textbooks and reference manuals on these underlying theories will pay dividends. While FEA software handles much of the complex calculations in practice, knowing what’s happening under the hood allows for proper application of FEA and accurate interpretation of results. With a rock-solid theoretical foundation, FEA engineers can feel confident tackling the most challenging real-world analysis problems.

Gaining Hands-On Experience

The best way to become proficient as an FEA engineer is to gain practical, hands-on experience applying finite element analysis to solve real-world engineering problems. There are a few key ways to get this vital experience:

  • Complete internships or entry-level engineering jobs at companies that utilize FEA. Look for opportunities at product design, manufacturing, aerospace, automotive, or engineering consulting firms. Even if your role is not specifically for an "FEA engineer," being exposed to the technology and collaborating with experienced FEA engineers at a company is invaluable.

  • Apply FEA software and methods to analyze and optimize product designs. Work on engineering teams that are designing new products or improving existing ones. Volunteer to take the lead on FEA testing and analysis portions of these projects. The more designs you can analyze with FEA, the more proficient you will become.

  • Conduct FEA on pro-bono projects or your own designs. Don't wait for a job to start gaining experience. Identify a personal project, open source design, or volunteer engineering effort where you can utilize FEA. Being able to showcase FEA project examples in your portfolio is impressive.

  • Enter industry FEA modeling competitions. Some software vendors and engineering associations hold FEA modeling contests. Competing helps you rapidly gain new skills and provides networking opportunities.

The key is to get as much hands-on FEA experience as possible. Employers want engineers who have successfully applied FEA to improve real products or processes, not just academic expertise. Seek out opportunities, both on the job and independently, to analyze designs, validate models, interpret results, and make engineering recommendations based on your FEA work.

Staying Current with Advances in FEA

As an FEA engineer, it's crucial to continuously expand your skills and stay up-to-date with the latest analysis methods and software tools. Here are some ways to stay current in the field:

  • - Attend conferences and events focused on FEA. Major conferences like ABAQUS Users Conference, Ansys Events, and COMSOL Conference are great for learning about new developments directly from experts. Look for regional FEA-focused events as well.

  • Take part in webinars and online training courses. Many software providers like Ansys and MSC Software offer free webinars and low-cost online courses to learn the newest features and applications. These are very accessible ways to build your skills.

  • Read FEA journals and publications. Journals like the International Journal for Numerical Methods in Engineering publish the latest peer-reviewed research in FEA. Reading papers will help you understand cutting edge analysis techniques.

  • Learn new FEA software tools and versions. As key FEA software releases new versions, take time to learn the new capabilities through training courses. Learning additional tools like Abaqus, LS-Dyna or Optistruct can make you better rounded.

  • Join online FEA groups and forums. Groups on LinkedIn and forums like FEA Forums or Eng-Tips allow you to participate in discussions and ask questions about the latest developments and challenges. The community aspect helps stay up-to-date.

  • Consider a certification. Certifications like the Six Sigma Green Belt for Design Engineers help validate your FEA knowledge is current. Some software providers offer certifications too.

By regularly participating in these types of activities, an FEA engineer can feel confident their skills are staying relevant to meet the analysis needs of the future. The field evolves quickly, so an ongoing commitment to continuing education is key.

Networking and Connecting with Other FEA Professionals

Networking and building connections is a critical part of advancing your career as an FEA engineer. Here are some of the best ways to connect with other professionals in your field:

  • Attend industry events and conferences. Major events like the International Association for Computational Mechanics (IACM) Congress, AMD Accelerated Datacenter Conference, and more offer opportunities to meet and learn from other FEA experts. Conferences allow you to discover the latest research and applications.

  • Join FEA-focused professional organizations. Organizations like the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), and the Computational Fluid Dynamics Society of Canada provide forums to exchange ideas and access shared resources. Most hold annual conferences and local events.

  • Participate in online groups and forums. FEA Central, Eng-Tips Forums, and LinkedIn groups connect you with professionals worldwide. Share your insights, pose questions, and learn new techniques by interacting with your peers. Moderated forums often feature discussions on industry news and best practices.

  • Follow top leaders and innovators on social media. On Twitter and LinkedIn, connect with FEA engineers at leading companies, researchers pushing boundaries, and thought leaders driving the profession forward. Their posts provide a window into developments and opportunities.

  • Build local connections in your workplace. Chat with FEA team members and colleagues over coffee or lunch. Swap experiences, seek mentoring, and explore potential collaborations. A strong internal network leads to more impactful contributions

Complementary Skills for FEA Engineers

As an FEA engineer, having strong technical skills in finite element analysis and simulation software is crucial. However, you can make yourself more well-rounded and boost your career potential by developing expertise in complementary areas as well.

Programming Skills

Gaining proficiency in programming languages like Python, C++, MATLAB, and Fortran can be highly beneficial for FEA engineers. The ability to automate simulations, analyze large datasets, and customize analysis workflows requires coding knowledge. Whether you're an entry-level engineer or seasoned expert, programming skills allow you to work more efficiently and tackle new challenges.

CAD Skills

Most finite element analysis relies on 3D CAD models as the basis for simulations. By improving your CAD abilities, you can have more control over the model setup process and ensure higher quality results. Skills in CAD software like SolidWorks, CATIA, NX, and Creo give you the flexibility to prepare geometry for different types of FEA.

Project Management

As you advance in your FEA engineering career, project management responsibilities are likely to increase. Experience managing teams, tracking budgets/timelines, overseeing deliverables, and coordinating with clients can make you a well-rounded candidate for leadership roles. Get exposure to project management wherever possible.

Expand Your Skillset

Pursuing expertise beyond just FEA, like the examples above, increases your versatility as an engineer. A broader skillset allows you to take on new challenges, adapt to changes in the industry, and open up additional career paths in management, research or consulting. Being a lifelong learner is key for any technology role.

Salary and Job Outlook for FEA Engineers

The salary potential for a career as an FEA engineer is quite promising. According to self-reported salary data on Glassdoor, the average base pay for an FEA engineer in the United States is approximately $83,000 per year. However, salaries can vary significantly based on factors like geographic location, years of experience, level of education, specific industry, and the hiring company.

For example, an entry-level FEA engineer just starting out with a bachelor's degree may earn around $60,000 - $70,000, while more experienced FEA engineers with 5-10 years under their belt can make $90,000 - $120,000 on average. Those working in major metropolitan areas and tech hubs will also tend to be on the higher end. Leadership or principal FEA engineer roles at top engineering firms can potentially pay $130,000 or more.

Some industries that tend to pay FEA engineers the highest salaries include automotive, aerospace, medical devices, energy, and electronics. Companies specializing in engineering consulting and FEA services also offer very competitive compensation.

Overall the job outlook for FEA engineers also looks positive, as their niche simulation and analysis skills are in high demand across many industries like manufacturing, construction, oil and gas, and more. There is strong demand for engineers with expertise in finite element analysis as companies aim to simulate and optimize product designs digitally.

Career Growth and Responsibilities

As an FEA engineer, you'll have opportunities to advance your career into more senior roles and responsibilities over time. Here are some of the key growth opportunities and day-to-day responsibilities you can expect in this profession:

Advancement Opportunities

  • Lead FEA Engineer - Oversee junior FEA engineers and take responsibility for the most complex simulations and analyses. Requires 5+ years experience.

  • Engineering Manager - Manage a team of FEA engineers and interface with other departments. Requires 7-10 years of experience.

  • Director of CAE - Oversee all simulation groups including FEA at a company. Requires 10+ years of experience.

  • FEA Consultant - Provide FEA services and expertise as an independent consultant. Requires 5+ years experience.

  • FEA Instructor - Teach FEA software, theory, and applications at a college or university. Requires a PhD.

Day-to-Day Responsibilities

  • Set up FEA models and assign appropriate material properties, loads, and constraints.

  • Run simulations using FEA software like ANSYS, Abaqus, or COMSOL.

  • Analyze results of FEA runs, and interpret stresses, deformations, and thermal outputs.

  • Make recommendations to design teams based on FEA findings to improve product performance.

  • Document all simulation assumptions, approaches, and results.

  • Continue expanding FEA skills and knowledge of best practices.

  • Attend design reviews and collaborate closely with engineering teams.

As an FEA engineer, you'll get the chance to work on impactful projects and continuously grow your expertise. It's a rewarding career combining complex simulations, problem-solving, and engineering collaboration.


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