An approach to integrate commercial finite element programs with an optimization program for developing a computer-aided optimum structural design system is described. This approach uses a direct variational method to perform design sensitivity analysis. The design sensitivity analysis only requires the solution of the original problem with new imposed loading consisting of initial stresses or initial strains. The expert system technique was used to assist the designer in selecting the initial strains for design sensitivity calculations. Therefore, this approach can be implemented in a commercial finite element program without either the knowledge of its programming details or access to its source code. The capability of this approach is demonstrated with examples.
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