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Finite element analysis in Formula 1 - A free university course from iTunes with great F1 detail

Published by Mr. C

FEA in Formula 1 - stress and load mesh modelling at its very best.
FEA in Formula 1 - stress and load mesh modelling at its very best.

The Open University offers distance learning for undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications. To support courses, a number of educational resources are made available for free via Apple's iTunesU mobile learning solution. This month an engineering and technology podcast relating to Formula 1 has become available.

The course in question is the catchily titled T884 - An Introduction to Finite Element Analysis which relates to a computational modelling and analysis technique known as Finite Element Analysis, or FEA to its friends. FEA is used by F1 teams in a number of design areas in order to optimise the performance of various elements of a racing car, thus the OU descended on the Red Bull Racing factory in Milton Keynes to help explain how these techniques enable them to reach the front of the grid.

Whilst this iTunesU content is primarily offered as supplemental learning material, the course does amount to 17 videos. Included is insight from Lewis Butler who's the senior structural analyst for the team and who offers a detailed look into how a part such as a wheel hub might first be modelled virtually, in order to predict weaknesses or suggest improvements in the design before manufacture.

Much of the footage appears to have been filmed in the teams factory, and a real chassis is used to demonstrate the finer points of the talk, although the sight of Michelin tyres belies its true age. The short video's are provided in both low and high resolution format, and are backed up by PDF transcripts.

I will admit to being considerably out of my depth 10 minutes into the course, but you will get some fantastic insight into what goes on behind the scenes of a Formula 1 team, and you likely won't be so quick to judge a team the next time a loose wheel comes flying from its hub in Hungary.

Computer Aided Design at this level is an incredibly complex subject to cover, but the series is well produced and presented. That a Formula 1 team can see the benefit in putting effort into such a programme speaks volumes and Red Bull should be congratulated for making a largely inaccessible topic more available.

If you haven't taken a look at iTunesU before, it's a recommended destination, and there's no place better to start than the free Finite Element Analysis course from Red Bull and the Open University.