CALFEM as a Tool for Teaching University Mechanics

Matti Ristinmaa, Göran Sandberg, Karl-Gunnar Olsson


Classical mechanics benefits greatly from the ability to demonstrate many concepts experimentally. However, modern mechanics relies more and more on new analysis methods such as the finite element method. In the teaching of mechanics these methods should be introduced, but the desire to experiment and build should be retained as a core issue.

One tool for tackling this topic is given by CALFEM1. CALFEM is an acronym for Computer Aided Learning of the Finite Element Method. It is a tool developed for teaching the finite element method but it is also used in research as well as engineering design.

The aim of CALFEM has been to provide a transparent link, such that the student can fully appreciate the intimate relationship between the mathematical models of a phenomenon, the finite element method and its computer implementation. This knowledge is not obtained by operation of commercial finite element programs. The pedagogical aspect of CALFEM has been part of the design from the beginning. In research, CALFEM has proven to be an efficient link
between ideas and implemented solutions.

CALFEM runs as a toolbox to MATLAB2 and provides all of the necessary tools for finite element calculations. The program has been carefully documented in an extensive manual that consists of a reference and a user's manual. The introduction and usage of CALFEM are strengthened by the close connection to teaching materials such as textbooks and exercises. The effectiveness of the system relies upon the widespread use of MATLAB at Lund University. The implementation of a web-based CALFEM has increased the availability of the package and allows for feedback and distribution of updates and additional material.

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