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Finite element analysis is a computer-based numerical method used to design and check structures.

Finite element analysis aims to simulate material
behaviour in a detailed way, rather than ensuring conservative and approximate
design solutions are reached. This means that often, it can come up with more
efficient designs for concrete structures.

It works by modelling a structural element as being made up of many small, equally sized and spaced elements of the same shape. The shapes can take the form of plates, rods, blocks, bricks etc. Each of the elements interacts with the adjoining elements and has an associated material property.

Boundary conditions such as forces and constraints are input into the program. Once all of the initial conditions have been programmed, a computer can process how all of the elements interact with each other and come up with an approximation of an element’s behaviour in reality.

The cost of this procedure is a key factor when deciding if this method will be used. In very large structures or ones repeatedly built the design cost is often offset by the saving of materials due to the more efficient design. Finite Element Analysis can be done on existing structures too, possibly resulting in the prevention of unnecessary demolition.

https://smartech.gatech.edu/bitstream/handle/1853/7188/deaton_james_b_200508_mast.pdf - paper on the development of a different FE modelling technique.