Solid element or Shell element?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions when using SOLIDWORKS Simulation in FEA analysis work. This article provides comparison on some of the key specifications of SOLIDWORKS Simulation.

We will look at a case study and investigate the differences in Solid and Shell element based on below expect.

  1. Preparation times
  2. Meshing and Solution times
  3. Result deviation


Preparation times

SOLID Element Shell Element
Relatively Short Relatively Long
–       Simulation can start without much model preparation –       Model preparations require; converting model to shell element.
–       Fixture, contact and loading can be assigned on ANY model entities (faces, edges or vertexs). –       Fixture, contact and loading can be assigned to model entities of assigned shell (Faces, edges or vertexs) ONLY.

Meshing Time

Specifications SOLID Element Shell Element
Mesh type Solid Mesh Shell Mesh
Element size 37.455 mm 37.455 mm
Tolerance 1.87275 mm 1.87275 mm
Mesh quality High High
Total nodes 36486 10644
Total elements 17492 4824
Time to complete mesh 7 sec 2 sec

Solution Time

Specifications SOLID Element Shell Element
Total DOF 109704 64248
Time to complete mesh 1 min 26 sec 29 sec

Result Deviation

Specifications SOLID Element Shell Element
Max Displacement 25.472 mm 29.112 mm


Comparing from the 3 expects of preparation, computation and result, there are pros and cons with SOLID and SHELL element approach.

SOLID element approach have shorter setup time as there is not much model preparation works involve and you can readily assign the constraint and contact sets directly on the model without the concern of “Model unstable” error message during computation. In this case, more computer resources are required from the indicator of higher number of DOF and calculation time.

On the other hand, Shell element approach might require a longer setup time as converting of solid entities into surface shell entities actions required. SOLIDWORKS introduce “Shell Manager” feature to help in speeding up the shell assignment task. Constrain and contact sets can only assigned to shell entities. User might find this time consuming when the assembly models become complicated. However, the calculation time is relatively faster while maintaining a certain tolerance in the result difference.

In short.

If you have adequate computer resources, relatively low iteration of changes in your model design, opt for SOLID element approach.

If you have limited computer resources, relatively high iteration of changes in your model design, opt for SHELL element approach, as in long term, you can benefits from having a large set of results data from a wide range of model design parameter changes in the shortest time.

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