FEM and Scientific Visualisation as Tools in Furniture Design
In the design process, knowledge of structural mechanics is often reduced to its use in determining whether the object that has been designed is sufficiently strong. Strength testing indicates this directly on a yes or no basis, whereas computations are able to quantify the degree of strength. Understanding the interplay between load, form and material which structural mechanics are able to provide can be of considerable far-reaching importance, both at an early conceptual design stage and during development of parts and details. Designing can be improved by use of analyses concerned with such things as favourable load distributions within the material and movements of the object being perceived as pleasant. The manner in which knowledge of structural mechanics can support the professional dialogue between the designer and the engineer at early stages of the design process was investigated in two case studies, both of them dealing with the process of furniture design. One concerns an investigation of how knowledge of structural mechanics can contribute at a sketching stage to the designing of a shell-shaped chair. The other concerns the redesigning and improvement of an existing armchair design. Computer tools based on the Finite Element Method (FEM) were used for performing structural analyses in both studies. The need of establishing a common language for professional dialogue between the designer and the engineer is emphasized. Visualisation both of the proposed structural model and of the results of structural analyses is of crucial importance here. Both custom-made and commercial tools for visualisation were employed. With use of tools both for calculation and for visualisation, different design ideas could be tested virtually, the designer being influenced in various respects by the insights concerning structural behaviour that were acquired.
Finite Element Method