Improving Mesh Generation in Finite Element Analysis for functional morphology approaches

The work “Improving Mesh Generation in Finite Element Analysis for functional morphology approaches” by J. Marcé-Nogué, J. Fortuny, LL. GIl and M. Sánchez has been presented in the XI Encuentro para Jóvenes Investigadores en Paleontologia (EJIP) done in Atarfe (Spain).

The application of computational simulation techniques in the study of the palaeontology remained unexplored until the late 90′s due to the complexity of the biological geometry and its high computational cost. Fortunately, the rapidly falling prices of computers and the exponential increase in its computational capacity during the last years facilitated the use of techniques from the computational mechanics. Finite Element Analysis (FEA) or Multibody Dynamics Analysis (MDA) can estimate the performance of biological structures such as skulls and soft tissues. Palaeontologists also found in the non-invasive techniques, such as computed tomography (CT) or laser, a useful tool to generate accurate three-dimensional images of living structures in a Reverse Engineering process, enabling the possibility of apply these computational techniques at present (See Rayfield, E. J. 2007. Finite Element Analysis and Understanding the Biomechanics and Evolution of Living and Fossil Organisms.Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 35(1), 541–576 for a review).

Finite Element Analysis (FEA) is a powerful tool for functional morphology purposes because reconstructs stress, strain and deformation in the biological structure analysed. The accuracy of the final results depends on the mesh generation and the quality of this mesh because the mesh is the set of points distributed in the calculation field to obtain the numerical solution of the system of partial differential equations which are defined in the biological structure. This is especially important in vertebrates as they present a complex biological structure’s geometry and in consequence, mesh generation should be done with a consistent criterion. Nevertheless, this question has not been widely discussed in the palaeontological and biological literature.

The aim of this work is to discuss the different and most challenging ways to create and optimize a mesh with a consistent criterion. It is done as a previous step to analyse biological and paleontological structures and to recommend how to generate a good quality mesh without exceeding the threshold of the computer capacities as well as other suggestions to improve the mesh generation among other interesting recommendations and discussions overall this topic. For our purposes, we analysed the mesh obtained from a vertebrate skull, as this type of biological structure is specially complex and irregular. In concrete, we used the skull of a Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus).

FEA has useful tools for biologists and palaeontologists. Biological structures (from extant and extinct organism) can be the case of study and could be especially useful for palaeontologists to analyse extant outgroups of the fossil taxon of interest to establish palaeobiological inferences.


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