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 ElementShell Element
Relatively ShortRelatively 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

SpecificationsSOLID ElementShell Element
Mesh typeSolid MeshShell Mesh
Element size37.455 mm37.455 mm
Tolerance1.87275 mm1.87275 mm
Mesh qualityHighHigh
Total nodes3648610644
Total elements174924824
Time to complete mesh7 sec2 sec

Solution Time

SpecificationsSOLID ElementShell Element
Total DOF10970464248
Time to complete mesh1 min 26 sec29 sec

Result Deviation

SpecificationsSOLID ElementShell Element
Max Displacement25.472 mm29.112 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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