FEM Results - Courtesy: Lukasz Skotny (Enterfea)
FEM Results - Courtesy: Lukasz Skotny (Enterfea)

Gain serious practical FEA skills, and understand how FEA really works… without boring theory and math! Overcome the steep learning curve in FEA within weeks not years!

Bio 🌱

Łukasz Skotny is an entrepreneur and engineer with a passion for Finite Element Analysis (FEA). In 2007,  right after graduating from university, he founded his own engineering company, Enterfea and as workaholic as he was, started a Ph.D. program in parallel.

When a few years in, Łukasz developed a strong interest in Finite Element Analysis (FEA), he made the decision to focus his career on it and ever since, has been doing designs based on FEA.

Along the way, Łukasz also worked on sharing his knowledge through blogs about FEA, built two online courses, and developed additional resources for engineers who want to improve their FEA skills.

Currently, Łukasz is working on his Nonlinear FEA newsletter which  you can sign up for here: https://enterfea.com/nonlinear-newsletter/?src=jof

The Nonlinear FEA Masterclass👇

All you need to know, to:

  • Perform Structural Nonlinear FEA Analysis on an Expert-Level
  • Deeply Understand FEA, and have Confidence in Your Outcomes
  • Avoid Costly and Stressful Mistakes

Q&A 🗣️

About Lukasz 📝

I’m an engineer, a business owner and a blogger. I founded my “dream company” Enterfea, and we simply sit in the office doing difficult FEA calculations most of the time.

Thanks to my wonderful team, I have some time to write blog posts, or do other FEA-related things online. Initially, this was just a hobby, but in time this part of my work developed into a business of its own (mostly selling online courses), and right now, I can honestly say that I’m a part-time blogger. I’m also father to 4 wonderful kids, and with my lovely wife we do our best not to get crazy on a day-to-day.

Funny enough, 10 years ago my life was similar, yet less complex. I had my Ph.D. already, and I was working in my company. But I was not blogging back then (I started 7 years ago), and the idea of blogging most likely would make me laugh! Plus, I had 2 kids back then. I get a feeling that things back then were easier to comprehend. I’m just not sure if I felt it!

Why Engineering? ️⚙️

If you would catch me on a corridor of my primary school when I was in upper classes (when I was 13-14 years old) and ask me what I would do in life... I would tell you straight to your face that I will do a Ph.D. and start a company.

I was raised as an entrepreneur and engineer (my father also has a Ph.D. in engineering and a big engineering company), so the decision was obvious.

However, this doesn’t mean that I walked a straight path. Initially my company mostly did “typical structural steel stuff”, as I studied civil engineering. If not for the fact, that my Ph.D. required FEA analysis (and I hated it back then!) I would be doing structural steel until now, I’m sure. But Ph.D. changed everything…

... after 1-2 years of trial and error I finally managed to converge my first nonlinear analysis, and I was hooked! I was not sure if I could make a career out of it, but it turns out that I could. And I haven’t regret that at all.

When you have your own business it’s a bit easier to “steer” your career. I just wanted to do FEA and took every FEA job that I could... and slowly my company started to be recognized by good work that we do, so it grew. Not much “magic” in this, mostly patience and grit.

Also, I actually had a job. At the last year of university, I worked in an architectural office as a civil engineer designer. It lasted only a few months, and I started my own company after I finished Uni, but I was an employee once!

About Your Research 🧑‍🔬

I would actually treat Nonlinear FEA design as an “industry of sorts”. Mostly, because it’s applicable in a myriad of different industries.

Whenever you encounter a difficult design problem in engineering, you don’t have that many options to solve it really. You can hope that there is a “closed form” math solution to your problem (but it’s incredibly unlikely) and even if you are lucky, you will have to simplify your real problem almost to beyond recognition. You could also do prototypes and test them, but this is a costly affair... or you can do Nonlinear FEA.

So, the approach to design that I offer shines when you need to accurately solve difficult problems. Be it a rocket, pressure vessel or a piece of medical device Nonlinear FEA will help you there, on a fraction of cost of prototyping and testing (and much faster).

Day-to-Day Work ✍️

At this stage, I mostly do “business stuff” in my company and I check each report my employees do (and consult them on any challenges in projects if needed). I like this I guess, but I also miss times when I simply could do the meshes and run analysis (while reading books as they computed!).

When I did FEA actively, I think I liked meshing the most. When you know what you are doing it’s a nice semi-manual job that allows for a good audiobook or a podcast.

But what I love about my work, is that I get to talk with so many interesting people! Eiter Customers we did a project for (I try to schedule a meeting to explain what we did, what the outcomes were, and answer questions when we submit our report). But also, my online work means that I do have office hours every 2 weeks where I meet my online students to discuss whatever will come to our minds (and the projects that they do). This is such a cool thing to do – I really, really enjoy it!

Hard- and Soft Skills Vital In Your Job 🎯

Hard skills are not surprising: you should be good at engineering and understand how things *really work*. You don’t really need the complex mathematics for it, just a physical understanding of a phenomenon you wish to analyze.

Knowing design codes is a huge asset, but I’m not sure if that is a “big skill” really. It just takes to read them and understand them, really.

You should also be excellent at Nonlinear FEA (duh!). To me this comes with awesome report writing skills, although this may arguable be a soft skill.

With soft skills this is another challenge. Especially since engineers are usually famous for lack of those. I also thing that those are different for me (company owner) and my employees. As a business owner the range of required soft skills is pretty big. You should be “good” with people, and genuinely interested in them. You should be able to communicate well, and “think on the spot”, as sometimes you really need to figure out a solution during a conversation. It’s super important to maintain relationships with folks, and simply be friendly and easy going. Sure, you should be professional, but not in a “grim” or “royal” way, but rather with an easy-going smile.

When it comes to employees, it’s important to know your limits. To be able to communicate when you don’t know how to do stuff, and not be afraid to ask for help. And, to simply be a human being. You will work in a team, and an urge to kill everybody else won’t serve you well in a long run!

Is Passion a Prerequisite for Success? 🔥

I’m a raised workaholic (unless you will claim that waking up at 4.30 am to read FEA books are normal). For most of my life doing stuff was never my problem – I was extremely effective, motivated, and diligent. It’s the resting that was my weak spot! After 4 years of therapy, it gets better though. What I want to say is, that my opinion on the matter is so skewed, that I wouldn’t advise anybody to consider what I write here.

With as much objectivity as I can master (with the above in mind) I think it’s good to be passionate about what you are doing. But do not wait for the passion to just hit you... I really hated FEA when I started. Ph.D. kind of “forced” me to do it. And it took me 1-2 years of learning to actually get hooked (on the first real successes, as small as they were).

I think that it’s the mastery, not the passion that you are after. If you became really, really good at something, that mastery will make you like what you are doing, at least this is how it worked for me!

So nowadays, I can openly say that I love FEA, and I’m passionate about sharing my knowledge as well. But there was no love for FEA when I started, none at all!

What are Your Greatest Career Strengths? 💪

Modesty aside (ha!) I’m a very good engineer. I just “understand stuff” in a deep level. I don’t know why this is, but I may have Aspergers, so that would help a lot. I get obsessed with things that fascinate me, and engineering was always fascinating!

Funny enough, I think that working on my soft skills at some point really helped as well, but this is perhaps in part because I run my own business.

As for working on weaknesses I would definitely emphasize my strengths. The talents each of us have are unique, and if we happen to have a talent that is “in demand” (like engineering geekery) than showing that to the world seems to be to be the best idea. Working on weaknesses in the best outcome would make you mediocre at whatever weakness you happen to have. That said I was bad at soft skills, and working on those was super important, so perhaps it depends on what kind of weaknesses do you have?

My weakness example would be, that I’m a blogger, who is dyslectic! In short, my handwriting is unreadable, and I make millions of spelling mistakes. If you would read my blog, you will find a lot of spelling mistakes I’m sure... but this is not why it’s so popular (I hope!).

Instead of fighting with this, I just installed a spellchecker (this isn’t as robust a solution as you would think when you spell as bad as I do!) and I focused on learning how to sketch, as my articles require nice drawings. I think that now many folks will recognize my sketching style, and they like my way of explaining stuff... I rarely get complaints that my spelling is terrible (even though... it really is!).

Not to sound pessimistic, I love being dyslectic! It makes my brain work a bit different, and it’s easier for me to look at a problem from all angles thanks to this. I take this skill over spelling any day!

Time When You Turned a Threat Into an Opportunity? ⚠️

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve faced so many threats. I mean, I could juggle words, and say that each difficult design that we do it “a threat” and doing them pushes us forward etc. But I don’t see projects (even difficult) like that.

Engineering design company is a rather simple business to run. I don’t think I will encounter serious threats in the years to come, but who knows... time will tell.

What's More Important – Education or Skills & Experience? 🧠

I would not divide those two really. My education allowed me to teach others at University... and that teaching meant, that I had plenty of time to understand it all! And this understanding translates into skills.

It’s easy to say now, after 15 years, that it’s my skills and experience that are more important, and of course they serve me well. But without the education and knowledge gained there, that experience would be quite shallow. You need to understand stuff (and I mean, really understand it!) to go “deep” and gain the most from the experience. Experiencing stuff alone doesn’t really produce “experience”. It’s the understanding the thing you experience that’s needed I think.

Of course, having good skills and experience gives me a chance to solve problems on the fly. This is a very valuable asset when I talk with Customers, as I usually ask deep questions nobody else is asking... showing how deeply I understand the problem my Customer has. It’s hard to measure how important that is for business, but I would bet it’s not without influence on what kinds of projects do we get.

How Much Time Do You Spend on a Problem Before Dropping it? 🚫

I rarely encounter problems I don’t know how to solve “instantly”. I don’t mean producing the answer of course but knowing the road to the answer that I’m certain that will lead to success. This means, that I rarely spend much time on each problem, as it’s “solvable” for me, and the rest is just “doing what needs to be done” (this is my employees’ part, that I supervise).

If I find a problem I can’t solve, I usually get fascinated by it, and I can easily spend 2 weeks researching something just to see how to do it. This is how I build my skills in the long run. Of course this happens every now and then.

Perhaps, if we would encounter a wicked analysis that does not want to converge for 3 weeks straight despite my best efforts... and it would not be a super important thing for a project, maybe I would ditch it if I could solve the problem in a different way. But realistically, I’m not sure if I had to make such a choice in years... so I’m not 100% certain how I would behave.

Daily Habits ✔️

My habits changed throughout my career at least a dozen times. As I wrote I woke up at 4.30 to read FEA books, then I meditated and exercised at home, to finally wake up kids to school and start my day. I think that this lasted for 1-2 years, when I was hyped with self-development and “working on myself”.

Now, I feel I’m way more flexible during work. This is the only time that I “own”, since with 4 kids at home, I don’t get much control over afternoons and evenings.

So, I hired a personal trainer and I go to a nearby gym twice a week for a workout during working hours. I also go to therapy twice a week as well (also in working hours). Also, I have a friend I talk with every week online (also at work).

On a good weekend (3 out of 5 maybe) I would plan the next week with tasks that have to be done. Every quarter (+/- one month) I have a quarterly summary/planning session.

I also have some family related habits, like reading bedtime stories, etc.

I’ve been in search for a “perfect” habit scheme for a long time (as a kid in love with self-dev). But when I started therapy, I realized that I don’t need a perfect plan. Funny enough, I used to do a yearly planning for many years... just to forget about it on February and realized that while I forgot about all of that, I still did all the plan and more by the years end.

I guess that the only thing that matters to me, is that I have an old school paper calendar. I note all the things I must remember... so I don’t have to remember them. This works really well for me, and I guess this helps with overwhelm a bit. The rest is cool, but I’m not sure if doing all those “planning” things really helped me with achieving goals – maybe it did.

Where Do You See Your Industry Going in the Future? 🧪

I’ve been in this industry for 15 years now (more or less). I think that not much have changed since then when it comes to “work”. What I like is, that Customers are way more aware about Nonlinear FEA possibilities, and it’s more common for folks to require such designs, and not treating FEA as a “unnecessary burden without benefits”. Also, new editions of Codes see Nonlinear FEA design as an option, so this is cool as well.

I suspect that the awareness will grow, and with it, the industry itself will expand, as the need is there. But apart from that I don’t think so much will change.

I use arc-length methods derived in 1970 to solve my problems, and when I run an animation of failure from those algorithms, people are still awe-struck how awesome those outcomes are. Even if the breakthrough would happen today (and as far as I know it didn’t) it will take decades to impact the industry, I think. Engineering is a conservative thing, and historically speaking, for a good reason.

Top 3 Pieces of Advice to Juniors 💁

First of all, do not freak out when you don’t feel passionate about it yet. Passion seems to be a funny thing. Try to get “mastery” over whatever you are set to achieve, and I think that with it, the passion will come as well.

Secondly, always do your best. In many places, this extra effort will not be seen nor praised (not to mention paid for!), but it is still worth it! When you do your best, you will learn and grow. And what you CAN do, will grow as well. In time, this should allow you to reach cool places and work with cool people, although the road may not be super pleasant.

Thirdly, search for places where people appreciate your hard work, and your drive to learn. If you are a “master” of something nobody cares about, this could be a frustrating thing really (you know so much, and yet nobody cares!). Try to find an industry that really cares about the outcomes and does not force you to cut corners – that will be a good place to grow in!

And lastly, remember about a survivor bias! The fact that a random guy from the internet who seem successful gives you advice, doesn’t mean that they work! They worked for me, but I can’t guarantee that 10000 other folks followed those advice and failed, and I’m simply the last survivor to tell the tale...

Biggest Success Factor on Your Journey 🚀

I don’t know. I guess my deep understanding of things, and the fact that I work hard and never stop. There were months where I worked so much, I haven’t talked to my wife... and while those days are long gone, they could have drastically changed my trajectory... or not. There is no way to check this.

Interestingly, my blog was not a factor in my design company, almost at all. When I started, I was thinking that showing my expertise will attract potential Customers for my services. It turns out that potential Customers don’t read FEA blogs... since they don’t need to! This is why they hire FEA professionals! Still, it grew into a second business with online courses for engineers, so I do not complain at all.

What Inspired You to Become an Engineer? 🧑‍🔬

When I was in the first grades of primary school my father did his PhD. And he had a super cool green silo high on a shelf, that was a model of some sort for initial studies. I couldn’t play with it of course, but I wanted to have my own green thingy... and so I got hooked!

I guess I always was an engineer, but it’s likely that this is simply how I was raised. As for starting, I started as everyone else, I think... I went to Technical University to study engineering (civil in my case).

Most Challenging Project 💪

There were many challenging projects in my history. Choosing one, would be tricky since I can’t compare different “kinds” of challenges.

I think that the one that dreads me the most, was the first “big” project we did. We had to do workshop drawings (still before 3D models and Tekla and all) of a gravel sorting station. We were learning the craft on the fly and doing our best (not that much back then!) but I also remember crying at work because of the pressure. So that was pretty tough, definitely not a fun experience. There was not simple way to “overcome” problems like this... we simply punched through it with grit.

Most Important Skills for a Successful Career 🛠

I don’t think there is a “single most important” skill in Nonlinear FEA design. I mean, you definitely need to understand things, but also have some software knowledge, and ability to realistically look at your model and its outcomes.

All of them are important, but what is the most important one? I think that doing proper Boundary Conditions for your models would be one, if there is a single one at all. I’ve seen many bizarre mistakes related to this. Simply, there is no advanced math that would tell you how to support your model. You either understand it, or you don’t.

I mostly worked on this when I talked about my designs with other smart folks. They would often point out that they think that this or that is stupid and I should look into this. Also, teaching at University, where I had to explain to students how things are done, and then answer their questions made me understand more about all of this. To the same extent, when I do office hours for my online course, and I talk with my students, I get to help them, but I also learn myself at the same time.

Most of the FEA skills simply comes from “using it”. You start, and then each project you do you get better and better. There is no simple shortcut to experience.

I wonder if I even do... Sure, I try to expand my knowledge by doing interesting projects etc. But I stopped reading scientific articles from my field a few years ago.

I realized, that at some level, going deeper into a given field is pointless… as you won’t be able to use your skills to your full anyway in industrial grade problems. So instead, I learn new things from nearby areas, and just learn about things that interest me.

And I talk with people... as many smart people I can get in touch with! I’ve learned A LOT this way!

Most Rewarding Thing About Your Work 🏆

That’s easy! Most, if not all, of my Customers are my friends. Building such relations take time, but it’s always awesome! I care about them, but I’m also always honest and straightforward. Relations like this are extremely rewarding!

The same of course goes for my online students. I love reading emails from people thanking me for help and learning their stories in the process. It’s very heart lifting.

So, after all this talk about how “understanding” is super-important and that you should learn... it seems that it’s the people who are the most important!

Advice to Someone Starting Their FEA Career ✅

First of all, hang in there! I know how overwhelming FEA is – everyone started the same way! But this is also a great FEA value – not many folks master it, so when you do, you will be in a rare bunch! There is value in that for sure.

But also, be honest. If you don’t know how to do something, say it. If you need help, ask for it. Don’t pretend that you know everything at the start… I don’t know close to everything 15 years in (and a Ph.D.). Nobody in their right mind would expect you to know all of it when you start. Just don’t hide it.

And if you like, sign up to my Nonlinear FEA newsletter [https://enterfea.com/nonlinear-newsletter/?src=jof]  – I’m sure you will benefit a lot from the weekly emails packed full of cool Nonlinear FEA knowledge.

Work-Life Balance? ⚖️

You got me here Mate... I barely do! Sadly, I’m a workaholic, but after 4 years of therapy things start to be better.

This may be more about running my business, not necessarily the field that I’m in. It’s just a demanding (but rewarding) thing to do. I slowly learn to “let go”, and work less, and in recent years I’ve made a super good progress here... but I still work more than any of my employees by quite a bit!

Luckily, nowadays my interests mostly revolve around teaching, so part of what I do (the online part) is actually nicely attuned to what I do as my “job”. But if I would like to pick up playing a guitar or something, I don’t think I would have space in my life to do it right now. But I’m sure I will have... one day!

What Excites You About the Future? 🎉

I’m finishing my Nonlinear FEA newsletter [https://enterfea.com/nonlinear- newsletter/?src=jof] which makes me pretty excited. Soon, folks will sign up, and I will most likely get a lot of warm and friendly emails from readers – this is always exciting.

I also did some “private” scientific research and lab tests, and we are about to work on the outcomes in the coming weeks (can’t wait!). This will be such a cool and warm welcomed addition to one of my Online Courses. I just can’t wait for the discussions about it!

And I’m taking my family for a traditional 3-week seaside holidays to our favorite hotel... I just can’t wait.

Not many “grand plans” out there, huh? Yea, I try to live here and now a lot more. Of course, I hope to make a 3rd online course, and maybe one day write a book when I will have the time. But that will or will not come – we will see.

It’s like with my gym sessions. I don’t care about the goals nor outcomes… I just want to still be doing this regularly in 3 years. The rest will work itself out!

One Science Concept That Engineers Commonly Misunderstand? 🤔

I feel that we put too much emphasis on complex mathematics in FEA. There is a tendency to understand the “scientific math” behind it before you start using it. In general, I don’t think that’s as important as people think.

And... would psychology as a whole count? I really feel that engineers should be trained in a psychology and need of self-care way more (well anything above zero would be a nice change I guess!).

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Keep engineering your mind! ❤️