The use of explicit Finite Element Analysis for non-linear, dynamic simulation (that is, variable loads and boundary conditions as well as permanent deformation and tensile failure of elements) goes back to the 1960s when it was developed for certain military applications. Since then, it has become a powerful tool for simulating any event which requires computation of the complex interactions involved in a constantly changing system. One of the most well-regarded software suites which takes advantage of these capabilities is LS-DYNA, originally developed by Livermore Software Technology and now incorporated into the ANSYS family of simulation programs.
The software can simulate a variety of engineering situations including heat transfer, electrical phenomena, and fluid mechanics, but is most well known for calculation of mechanical and structural systems where collision or overload produce severe deformation and/or rupture of the material. The program is noted for accurately reproducing the reaction forces and changes in kinetic energy that accompany such events, providing a real-world prediction or recreation of a complicated interaction. This can be used in the design process or as a post-event forensic tool for analyzing conditions leading to a failure or unexpected behavior in a part or assembly.
In particular, the use of LS-DYNA to simulate automobile crash scenarios has been widely used in past decades. Its robust modeling capabilities and recognized accuracy have received recognition by the FHWA, NHTSA, and AASHTO, among other agencies, which provide specific guidelines and even approved vehicle models for use in crash simulations as part of the engineering process for roadside safety equipment.
However, the principals involved can be applied to any mechanical or structural system that has been, or is expected to be, subjected to highly dynamic loads and/or stressed beyond the elastic or tensile limit of the material. It is, therefore, a valuable tool for prediction of performance under such conditions, as well as for post-failure investigations.