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I see images of steel connections, concrete dams, and other complicated 3D objects in papers which finite element analysis has been performed on them. My questions are:

  1. How these objects are created in MATLAB? Should we give all the points ourselves?

  2. How can we create mesh for them to perform finite element analysis? This one might be a general question with many answers but if it is possible please give some main points or references about it.

  3. Are these objects drawn in a software then their coordinates exported to MATLAB? If so, then what are these software?

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    $\begingroup$ 3. Yeah. The simplest approach is to draw objects using CAD-software (Solidworks, Solid Edge, ...) and export STL which describes the surface of the object. This surface description is fed to an automatic mesh generator (Tetgen, Netgen, JIGSAW, ...). Another approach is to use a more manual mesh generator which allows you to also define geometry (Gmsh, HyperMesh, ...). Engineers usually want to control the mesh carefully and hence they choose the latter approach. $\endgroup$ – knl Sep 19 '17 at 16:37
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    $\begingroup$ I update the title of your question, since it seem that you are just mentioning MATLAB because that is the programming language that you commonly use. $\endgroup$ – nicoguaro Sep 19 '17 at 20:18
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Depending on how complicated your meshing needs are, you might find the following Matlab program useful: Distmesh. This program makes it possible to generate simple shapes and geometries in Matlab itself.

If you need to model actual parts, and you don't have a FEM code to use yourself, then Matlab offers a PDE toolbox that can be used to solve various FEM problems. From looking at their documentation, the easiest way to import models is by using .stl files link. There are a number of CAD programs that can be used to build models and export them as stl files, as mentioned by @knl in the comments

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  1. Giving individual points is certainly a way to create a mesh in MATLAB. You can use the delaunay triangulation funciton with the list of points and boundaries to get a mesh, but that can be tedious and not very efficient. I have used this for simple meshes (e.g. cubes, prisms, very regular 3d shapes)

  2. There are many ways to represent geometry for FEM meshes, pick a method (e.g. Discontinuous-Galerkin) and read up on how the information is stored. Generally you need to represent each element and have some sort of connectivity between them.

  3. CAD from ~almost~ any package now can export .stl formats which MATLAB can read in, and by using the PDE toolbox, can solve PDEs.

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