Information regarding our 2023/24 admissions cycle

Our 2023/24 postgraduate taught admissions cycle will open on Monday, 10 October. For most programmes, the application form will not open until this date.

MSc Mechanical Engineering Design

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Finite Elements

Course unit fact file
Unit code MECH60561
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course unit detail provides the framework for delivery in 20/21 and may be subject to change due to any additional Covid-19 impact.  Please see Blackboard / course unit related emails for any further updates.

The finite element method (FEM) is a numerical technique that can be applied to solve a range of physical problems. In the field of solid mechanics, the FEM is undoubtedly the solver of choice and its use has revolutionised design and analysis in all fields of engineering. The method involves the transformation of a continuous system (infinite degrees of freedom) into a discrete system (finite degrees of freedom) which can be used to solve complex engineering problems in a reasonable time. The syllabus for this course has been approved by NAFEMS, the International Society for Engineering Simulation. This means it covers the core competences identified by industry as being required to carry out finite element analysis in a professional manner. One of the recommended text books, co-authored by the unit coordinator, is available in both English and simple Chinese versions (Smith, Griffiths and Margetts, “Programming the Finite Element Method”, 5th Edition).


This course will provide students with an introduction to finite element modelling that includes a high level view of the modelling process as well as an understanding of the underlying mathematics and how finite element programs work internally. Students will also be given a practitioner’s view of how finite element modelling is used to solve “real” engineering problems, through a range of industrial case studies. These will be selected to cover the different MSc programmes. The topics covered will give students the confidence to dig deeper into more advanced issues when using the method later in their careers, both in an industrial or research context.


The course starts with an introduction to the basic terminology and modelling workflow for the finite element method: pre-processing, equation solution, post-processing and post-solution checking. Students will learn how to carefully plan an analysis and set up finite element models. This includes choosing boundary conditions, employing consistent units, selecting material properties, testing mesh sensitivity, using mesh refinement, obtaining a converged solution and checking for errors. Course materials dealing with the theoretical/mathematical foundation of the finite element method will focus on static elastic equilibrium problems: the strong/weak form and shape functions. Students will learn about the basic steps carried out by a finite element program for a static elastic equilibrium problem: formation of the element stiffness matrix, assembly of the global system of equations and equation solution. This will be followed by a basic introduction into the solution of more complex systems, including those with a nonlinear response to loading and time dependent problems. The course will also highlight key research activities that are likely to become mainstream techniques in the next 5-10 years. This includes advanced topics in mesh generation such as laser scanning and photogrammetry for reverse engineering, as well as virtual reality visualisation. Students will also learn about the effective use of high performance computing and cloud computing, allowing those graduating from the course to choose the best hardware platform for competitive advantage.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 80%
Report 20%

Feedback methods

Feedback is given to students in a number of different ways. An online discussion board is used all the way through the course to address any doubts relating to the self-study materials, the lectures, the assessments and the examination. For the first piece of assessed coursework, teaching assistants provide feedback during a computer class before the coursework is submitted. Individual written feedback on the first piece of coursework is provided to each student less than 15 working days after submission. General class feedback is given in the lecture after marks are released (as it is very useful to also learn from the feedback given to other students). For the group project, feedback is provided on the coursework several times before submission: during and after lectures, in two timetabled computer classes and via the discussion board. The aim is to help each group achieve all the intended learning outcomes of the exercise, before submitting the report. Written feedback on the group report is provided less than 15 working days after submission. After the examination, students may consult the model answers and arrange to view their marked scripts.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
eAssessment 20
Lectures 18
Practical classes & workshops 52
Tutorials 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 50

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Lee Margetts Unit coordinator

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