Dominique Madier is a senior aerospace consultant with more than 25 years of experience and advanced knowledge in Finite Element Analysis of static and dynamic problems for linear and nonlinear structural mechanics behaviours.
He has been involved in various projects for aerospace companies in Europe and in North America: e.g., Airbus, Dassault Aviation, Hispano- Suiza [now Safran], Bell Helicopter Textron Canada, Bombardier Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney Canada, Beta Technologies, and their subcontractors, for the sizing of metallic and composite structures such as fuselages, wings, empennages, nacelles, engine pylons, helicopter airframes, and systems.
He earned a master’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Paul Sabatier University, Toulouse, France. He is now working as a freelance engineer in Montreal, Canada. He is the director of FEA Academy, a company offering consulting in FEA for structural analysis as well as FEA online courses to students and engineers. He is the author of the book “Practical Finite Element Analysis for Mechanical Engineers”, a book about the practical aspect of finite element analysis for solid mechanics and structural engineers. He also offers online FEA courses and webinars to help students and engineers learn the practical aspects of FEA.
Hey Dominique - Who are You? 📝
I am an Aerospace Engineer specialising in stress analysis and numerical simulation using the finite element method.
I have been involved in various aerospace projects for 25 years, first in Europe and now in North America as a consultant.
I started my career in Europe, but 17 years ago, I immigrated to Canada as a freelance engineer in numerical simulation applied to structural analysis.
I had the chance to be involved in very stimulating projects that brought me a lot of satisfaction. I am fortunate because my journey in the aerospace industry as a consultant in FEA is still very active.
I am conducting an FEA analysis to solve static and dynamic problems for linear and nonlinear structural behaviours on metallic and composite aerospace structures.
Five years ago, on top of my consulting activities in FEA, I started an academy dedicated to FEA learning. I decided to create this academy because, while practising as an FEA engineer, I noticed that many engineers had learned FEA from a software point of view. They skipped the first stages, which consisted of learning the basic FEM theory and proper modelling techniques. Such an approach is problematic because many FEA analysts make incorrect assumptions and generate flawed analyses simply because they are unaware of basic FEA rules.
So, now I share my time between my consulting work in FEA and FEA training for students and engineers. Both activities are very complementary and feed each other.
Why Engineering? ⚙️
I became hooked on science and technology at school at an early age. Very early on, it was apparent to me that I would pursue a career in science and technology, especially in the domain of aerospace. However, I did not go to study mechanics and aerospace engineering immediately when it came time to go to university. Indeed, I was so passionate about mathematics and fundamental physics that I devoted my first two years of university to studying in these fields: advanced mathematics, classical physics, solid mechanics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, quantum physics, and relativity.
I have fond memories of those first two years at university, but my passion for aerospace still resonated deeply within me; therefore, after graduating in mathematics and physics, I listened to my heart and went to pursue a master’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering in Toulouse, one of the leading cities in this field in Europe.
Like most students in mechanical engineering, I learned the basis of the finite element method. However, I was intrigued by Finite Element Analysis (FEA) from the very beginning. I immediately understood that it was a very powerful tool that was about to undergo rapid sensational growth. I had such a passion for FEA that I decided to specialise in the field, and, thanks to several internships in the aerospace industry, I was able to do so.
Your First Job 💼
Immediately after graduating, in 1998, I was involved as a structural engineer in highly stimulating aerospace assignments with European companies. My first job was for Airbus France on the A340-500 & A340-600 programs as a stress engineer. We were a group of young engineers with no experience who learned our job with experienced engineers.
However, at that time, in the FEA field, it was challenging to find mentors to rely on and learn from. Obviously, in 1998, the internet was not developed as it is today. As a result, I had to learn on my own, by experiencing the FEA concepts one by one, step by step. The process was rather tedious and challenging initially, but it also allowed me to understand the discipline in depth.
About Your Research 🧑🔬
In structural engineering, stress analyses are based on equations of the classical methods such as the Strength of Materials and the Theory of Elasticity.
These analyses can be performed only for relatively simple geometries and loading conditions. However, real-world problems involve cases with complex shapes, boundary conditions, and material behaviours. These real cases cannot be solved using classical analytical closed-form methods, so numerical methods have been developed to solve the more complex problems. A numerical method is an approximate computer method for solving a mathematical problem which often has no analytical solution.
Among the numerical methods used to solve complex problems, the finite element method is, by far, the best approach in terms of accuracy and computation time to solve solid mechanics and structural issues.
The Finite Element Method is also known as the matrix method of structural analysis because it employs matrix algebra to solve systems of simultaneous equations. The Finite Element Method is widely used to solve complex problems that cannot be solved using classical methods like hand calculation.
FEA is based on the idea that if you divide a structure into multiple elements, the behaviour of an individual component will provide a good approximation of local behaviours (stress and strain). Thus, the global assembly of such components will reflect the behaviour of the actual structure. While you may not be able to determine how a complex structural piece will behave, you can figure out how a simple piece will behave. Therefore, if you assemble enough of these simple pieces, you can determine how a complex structural piece will behave. It is a perfect application of the divide-and-conquer paradigm.
With the finite element method, a continuous system is idealised by a discrete system called the mesh. The structural problem with an infinite number of degrees of freedom (continuous system governed by Partial Differential Equations) is converted into a problem with a finite number of degrees of freedom (discrete system governed by Matrix Equations), which makes the problem solvable by a computer.
The first step of the FEA process consists of creating a computer model of the geometry of the real object, which is to be analysed. Next, the analysed part is segmented into a huge number of individual elements (usually hundreds of thousands) with basic shapes such as squares or cubes. Material properties are assigned to each element and this model is subjected to various conditions, such as external forces, moments, pressure, or temperature.
Mathematical equations predict the behaviour of each of the elements, and, using computational methods, all of these behaviours are combined. This combination permits us to predict the overall behaviour of the analysed part.
During a structural simulation, the Finite Element Method permits the engineers to compute the stiffness and the strength of the analysed structure, allowing the visualisation of the displacements and the distribution of the stresses and strains inside the structure. It is used to solve problems in engineering.
Finite element analysis is now used routinely to solve problems in many areas: structural analysis, thermal analysis, vibration analysis, metal forming, crash, dynamic analysis, and more.
The versatility of the method has made FEA an essential tool for the design of many products. Nowadays, you cannot imagine designing a new product without using FEA. Its capabilities are such that it is widely used in many industries: aerospace, automotive, rail, shipbuilding, consumer products, machinery, medical, heavy equipment...
Finite element analysis proved its versatility and reliability over the past 50 years in the development of a multitude of products. Currently, with the development of High Processing Computing (HPC) and the progress of computing capabilities, FEA has established itself as an essential tool in the design and production of innovative, highly efficient, and more reliable products.
Day-to-Day Work ✍️
On a daily basis, my work consists of developing finite element analysis to support the design of aerospace structures.
The finite element models I develop are used to analyse the structural strength of aerospace structures made of aluminium and composite structures (carbon fibre-reinforced material).
These FEMs are used to perform stress analysis such as strength analysis, buckling analysis, modal analysis, weight optimisation, fatigue analysis, frequency response analysis...
These FEMs are able to capture linear and nonlinear behaviours for all the flying, ground and landing conditions that an aircraft can see during its entire life.
The stress analyses permit to guide the design teams to the best concepts. They also permit the building of the certification documentation that the authorities will use to issue the certificates of navigability.
Building FEMs in order to simulate the behaviours of an aerospace structure is very satisfying and permits interaction with many disciplines: design, test, loads and dynamics, material and process, flight science, and manufacturing...
Another part of my work is to prepare courses and webinars in order to help students and engineers learn FEA through FEA Academy. This part of my work is also very interesting because I do not interact only with people from the aerospace industry. Indeed, many people from other industries are taking my courses. So, they ask me their questions related to specific problems they have in FEA, and it permits me to see different applications of FEA outside of the aerospace field.
Hard- and Soft Skills Vital In Your Job 🎯
To be an engineer and especially a simulation engineer, you first need to have computer skills. Indeed, in this discipline, it is vital to use computers and related technology. By using computers, I don't mean only using word processing software, accessing the internet, managing files, or creating presentations. Still, I mean being able to access databases, use and create spreadsheets, and even code.
I learned coding at an early stage, and I find this skill fundamental for a simulation engineer because it permits me to automate tasks and then speed up the work significantly. Also, coding permits the removal of the potential sources of errors that come with repetitive tasks. When I know that I will have to do a task more than one time, I prefer to spend time coding it and then running the script when I have to redo the task. Every time, it saves a significant amount of time, and it makes the work more fun because I prefer to use my brain to code a script rather than doing the same task again and again.
Regarding soft skills, I would say communication skills, adaptability, problem-solving, and organisation.
Communication is very important for a simulation engineer because he needs to interact with many other disciplines in order to capture all the desired effects of the simulations.
Adaptability is also an essential skill because simulation is an evolving discipline where software and computer technology are constantly changing.
Problem-solving is an evident skill that an engineer needs to master since it is the very essence of engineering.
And finally, organization because simulations are used to predict the behaviour of very complex systems. So, building a simulation of a complex system requires being precise and meticulous, and the simulation engineer needs to follow the best practices. To achieve that, the engineer must plan the work before starting the modelling process.
Is Passion a Prerequisite for Success? 🔥
You probably know this quote which says, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life". I took the advice at face value and applied it. Simulation is a discipline in which mathematics, physics, engineering, and computer science meet. I have always been deeply interested in these four disciplines, so when I discovered Finite Element Analysis (FEA), I could only be captivated.
Being able to make predictions with a mathematical model before a product has been built, influencing the design of this product to meet requirements, and then verifying afterward that it behaves as we predicted is something very satisfying.
What also motivates me a lot to do FEA is the fact that it is an evolving discipline which is applied to many domains. When you work as an FEA analyst, you know that you will learn new things every day. Moreover, each analysis is different from the previous ones (although there are some similarities between some). Each study has its characteristics, which the analyst must adapt to and face to solve a specific problem. I like to say that doing FEA is like playing chess: you must anticipate problems, predict behaviour, and adapt your strategy. Maybe it is the reason why I love playing chess.
All this makes simulation an extremely motivating field. I can say that I do FEA out of passion.
That said, I don't think passion is a prerequisite for career success. We all know very talented people who are successful in their careers without being fundamentally passionate about what they do.
I think that self-discipline is the most crucial attribute for career success. Self-discipline helps us stay focused on reaching a goal, gives us the courage to try solving complex tasks, and allows us to overcome obstacles and discomfort as we push ourselves to new heights.
What are Your Greatest Career Strengths? 💪
For me, the best successful strategic plan is to have a goal list because it keeps me focused on the behaviours and tasks needed to achieve what I want.
I don't think I am the kind of person who tries to use their strengths or try to improve their weak points. I firmly believe that personal improvement should remain something natural. For sure, we all use our strengths in what we do daily, but I don't think that's the only factor that influences our success.
In my case, it is more based on discipline and fulfilling the objectives that I have set for myself. I just try to ensure I do the things on my list without failing. However, I also think this list needs to be realistic; otherwise, achieving the goals could not be possible, and this could become a source of demotivation.
I would, therefore, say that my greatest strength lies in my ability to stay focused on a subject for an extended period. It significantly influenced my career and got me where I am now. I have this ability to monopolise my energy and my brain capacity for a long time until I have fulfilled the goals I have set for myself.
When Was the Time When You Turned a Threat Into an Opportunity? ⚠️
Indeed, life comprises all kinds of obstacles that we can, if we want, turn to our advantage.
This is the story of the publication of my first book.
In July 2016, while I was an FEA freelancer in the aerospace industry, I started to write the manuscript of my book in my free time. The work was progressing well but not that fast. Then, in October 2017, I had a serious accident. I crashed my aircraft in a forest owing to an engine failure at a low altitude. It was a serious accident, and given the statistics for such an accident under the circumstances I should have died that day. I still broke my two legs. My left femur was broken in two, and my right tibia was crushed into nine pieces.
The injuries were severe, and then I had to spend 6 months in the hospital and rehabilitation centre to learn to walk again. Don't worry; today, I'm fine and have no side effects from this accident.
Thus, I had a lot of time in front of me since I could not go to work (remote work did not yet exist at that time). I asked my wife to bring me my laptop to the hospital, and I passed my time by writing. Then, when I returned home, I continued to write. From the end of 2017 to the end of 2019, I must have spent most of my free time on the manuscript.
So, this accident was the catalyst that allowed me to fully immerse myself in writing the manuscript. Having so much time allowed me to focus and put my brain into creative mode. If I hadn't had that time, I would have taken much longer to write this book.
We cannot control the external factors in our lives, but we can take advantage of all the situations and all the opportunities that come our way. Whatever external factor is at play, our actions and decisions shape our future.
What's More Important – Education or Skills & Experience? 🧠
In my case, it is clearly about my skills and experiences.
You know, when you graduate in mechanical engineering, all graduates have learned the same things in all universities worldwide. So, I don't think education is a differentiating factor. We have all seen brilliant students failing in the professional world.
When I started in the aerospace industry, my head was full of mathematical, scientific, and technological concepts, but I had no idea how to apply them.
It is the experience and practice of the profession that allowed me to develop my skills. Trial and error are the best playgrounds to perfect our learning and ensure that we are building solid foundations on which our experiences will be built.
For sure, a solid academic education is essential. Without it, we could not develop our skills and experiences since education plays a vital role to build solid foundations. However, after a certain number of years, education loses its importance in the face of the skills and experiences we have acquired over time.
In summary, I would say that at the beginning of a career, education is more valuable, but with time, skills and experiences are more useful.
Daily Habits ✔️
Reading and writing.
I am reading because it is my primary source of learning. Books, newspapers, magazines, online articles... when adequately selected, contain a considerable amount of information that we can use to improve ourselves.
Reading is also an excellent way to escape and feed my brain with concepts and ideas unrelated to my work. That's why I like to read science fiction novels.
I usually read two books simultaneously, and I devote time to reading each evening. I alternate the evenings between a novel and a book on scientific and technical subjects.
Writing because it is a great way to avoid overthinking. Writing also lets me classify my thoughts and plan the FEA Academy work. Sometimes, it is a complete article for my blog. Sometimes, it is simply some notes with ideas or concepts that I plan to present during a webinar, a LinkedIn post, a video, or a course. Like reading, writing is part of my daily habits. I see writing as an investment because what we write always ends up being useful to us one day to carry out a project or to help someone to carry out one.
Where Do You See Your Industry Going in the Future? 🧪
First, it is important to mention that the simulation industry is very well established in many areas of development of all products that engineers around the world design. Nowadays, it is impossible to think of developing a single product without the help of simulation.
There are many axes of development in simulation which are in progress, and that gives simulation a status of "cutting edge" technology:
- First, there is multiphysics simulation, which allows us to solve problems involving various physics fields and interactions and where they can be considered together to achieve more accurate engineering predictions.
- Secondly, there is the meshless technology. The recent developments carried out by the simulation software companies around this technology, particularly the Element Free Galerkin (EFG) method, seem promising. Considering the great players developing things around this approach, I strongly believe something great will emerge soon.
- Finally, the digital twin concept places simulation at the heart of a virtual representation that serves as the real-time digital counterpart of a physical object or process.
Also, it is clear that Artificial Intelligence, Data Driven Models, and Machine Learning are the last advanced technologies that will shape future simulation processes.
To answer your question about the market presence of simulation 5 years from now, the evolving nature of simulation means that these lines of development are making simulation more and more critical for the development of new products. Simulation will be even more present in the development process of everyday life products. Simulation is necessary to ensure that we develop more sustainable products with a better ecological footprint.
So, as simulation engineers, this is very exciting because we have to adapt to these novelties and always learn new things. This is also what makes this discipline so captivating.
Top 3 Pieces of Advice to Juniors 💁
- Focus on the long term
- Acquire new skills with enthusiasm
- Don't be afraid to make mistakes
To all aspiring engineers, I advise them to focus on the long term because it takes time to become a sound engineer. There is a lot of knowledge and different concepts to be learned in engineering. Each of them must be taken one by one and experienced to understand all the details and to be able to apply them properly. Becoming an engineer should be seen as a marathon instead of a sprint.
During this long learning process, an aspiring engineer should acquire new skills with enthusiasm, focus on the details, and, above all should, learn from mistakes (it is good to make mistakes; we usually know a lot from them). All engineers should embrace change and stay flexible.
Finally, an engineer should stay optimistic because engineering is often about problem-solving.
But one thing is certain: if you choose an engineering career, you will be able to be involved in a vast variety of different projects and meet specialists from all over the world because engineering is everywhere and will never stop expanding its scope.
Most significant Success Factor on Your Journey 🚀
For me, there is not one single factor that contributes to the success of a project. It is instead a set of necessary factors. In my case, I would say that the main factors that allow me to achieve my goals are:
- A methodical approach
- Proper planning
- Learning and using the best practices
- Working with committed people
For success, the choice of a suitable methodology is crucial. This ensures that my process is straightforward, reliable, and efficient. It is really important to understand and agree on investing time to define a clear project objective to make progress and achieve the goals.
It is a common mistake to hurry to the project execution stage and not take sufficient time for planning. I like to invest enough time in complete scheduling before jumping into a project.
Learning and Using the Best Practices:
The wheel does not need to be reinvented. Engineering itself is a challenge. That's why knowing and using the best practices whenever possible is so important. Instead of building everything from the ground up, we should draw from the experience of past successes and adapt proven strategies to an individual case. This allows us to concentrate our energy on project elements that will make all the difference.
Working with Committed People:
In many projects, we need the help of different people with different skills. All stakeholders involved in the project must be committed to the group, share similar project visions, and strive to achieve overall success. Any strategy and plan can fall apart without the right team.
What Inspired You to Become an Engineer? 🧑🔬
I didn't want to become an engineer. I knew that I would not become an accountant or a salesman because I loved science and technology so much.
However, one certainty I had very early on was that I wanted to work in aerospace. So, I directed my choice of studies towards science and aerospace to do everything possible to give me the chance to succeed in this field.
When I decided to do my master's degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering, I lived in France, and I did everything possible to do my master's at a university in Toulouse because it is one of the leading cities in this field in Europe.
So, my inspiration was strongly motivated by the history of aviation I read when I was younger. These readings have given me the desire to participate in projects that would allow me to be involved in the design of aircraft.
Some aircrafts I've worked on, and I am still working on, will continue to fly long after I'm out of business.
How Do You Stay Up-to-Date With the Latest Trends 📈
The most effective way to stay updated with the latest developments in our area of expertise is to be involved in advanced projects.
In this way, first, you are in contact with people who are more experienced but less experienced than you.
The most experienced people allow you to learn new things and advance your knowledge. The less experienced people will seek your help, and by transferring your knowledge to these people, you will sharpen and perfect your knowledge. This is the "Richard Feynman learning technique," and it works no matter the subject: information is learned when you can explain it and use it in various situations.
I have been doing numerical simulations using the finite element method for 25 years, and I have been teaching it for ten years. I learned a lot more about finite elements in my last ten years of teaching than in the first 15 years when I was a simple user. But I know that by continuing education, I will learn even more over the next 20 years.
Another way to stay updated with the latest development is to attend seminars and webinars.
Most Rewarding Thing About Your Work 🏆
You know, working in the development of aerospace products has the advantage that one day you see your product flying.
When you have contributed for several years to the design of the aircraft, and when in the end you see the prototype successfully flying. Then, the first production aircraft is delivered to a customer, and you get tremendous satisfaction and an immense feeling of good work accomplished.
It is also the case in many other fields, but contributing to the design of a product as complex as an aircraft is highly satisfying to an engineer.
Another aspect of my job that is rewarding is more related to my training activities. Indeed, when I see students or engineers progressing in this discipline, that is, FEA, when they contact me again to share with me how I have helped and influenced them positively, I find it very rewarding. It always motivates me to give even more to the FEA community, to help them learn this wonderful discipline of numerical simulation.
Work-Life Balance? ⚖️
I think the critical point to improving work-life balance is to learn to say “No”. It is the most complex soft skills but an important part of setting boundaries.
For that, I always try to weigh the urgent and the important to prioritise my weeks. A very excellent tool I recently discovered is the “Eisenhower Decision Matrix”. It is amazing how this straightforward graphic permits us to classify the tasks in the correct category: Do, Plan, Delegate, Drop. I strongly recommend everyone to try this tool. You need a piece of paper and a pencil.
Also, I realised that a way to achieve a sense of work-life balance is to let go of perfectionism. Perfectionism may bring success when we are a student or at the beginning of our careers, but the stress it causes accumulates over time.
I think it’s important to recognise that life isn’t always easy. Everyone struggles, and you will not always get it “right.” Recognising this truth allows us to create a shift toward a more compassionate growth and learning approach to work and life. This can help to support a sense of balance.
One Science Concept That Engineers Commonly Misunderstand? 🤔
Engineers struggle to understand the scientific concepts related to Quantum Physics.
I studied Quantum Physics early at university before going into the mechanical engineering domain.
I have maintained a deep interest in this field and often read books and articles on the subject.
However, the fundamental concepts of quantum physics are very different from those on which the classical mechanics that occur at our engineering scales are based.
To understand the details of quantum physics, you have to forget the classical concepts and put your brain in another way of thinking.
During my many discussions with fellow engineers about quantum physics, I have noticed that engineers have a lot of difficulty getting rid of classical concepts and thinking in quantum terms.
An engineer often tries to transpose classical concepts into the quantum world. But that doesn't work because the quantum world is governed by its paradigms.
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Keep engineering in mind! ❤️