Undergraduate Teaching

Engineering Tripos Part IIA, 3D7: Finite Element Methods, 2018-19

Engineering Tripos Part IIA, 3D7: Finite Element Methods, 2018-19

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Module Leader

Dr J Li


Dr J Li and Prof G Wells

Lab Leader

Dr C Abadie

Timing and Structure

Lent term. 16 lectures and coursework.


The aims of the course are to:

  • Provide an introduction to the finite-element (FE) method, which is widely used to obtain numerical solutions to engineering problems.
  • Explain the key ideas of the FE approach, covers its theoretical foundations, and presents some illustrative applications.


As specific objectives, by the end of the course students should be able to:

  • Develop the weak form of a governing equation for various problems.
  • Explain the difference between strong weak formulations.
  • Compute shape functions in one, two and three dimensions for different elements.
  • Obtain the stiffness and mass matrices and the right-hand side vector for different elements.
  • Explain the ideas and motivations behind isoparametric formulations.
  • Apply numerical integration on different finite elements
  • Assemble the stiffness and mass matrices for a mesh.
  • Explain how to apply various loadings and boundary conditions.
  • Generate suitable meshes for different problems.
  • Set up a finite element mesh, apply appropriate boundary and solve the resulting system in a finite element program.
  • Appreciate sources of errors associated with finite element analysis.
  • Explain key features of different methods for time-dependent problems.


Introduction to finite element analysis (1L Prof G.N. Wells)

  • Overview and key ideas
  • Modelling and applicability

Elastic rods and beams (3L Dr G.N. Wells)

  • Strong and weak equations of equilibrium for rods
  • Linear shape functions in one dimension
  • Assembly and application of boundary conditions
  • Construction of higher-order shape functions
  • Euler beams and Hermitian shape functions

Membranes, heat conduction and elasticity in two and three dimensions (8L Dr J Li)

  • Strong and weak formulations for membranes and heat conduction
  • Shape functions for two and three dimensional elements
  • Isoparametric mapping and numerical integration
  • Application of boundary conditions
  • Assembly of element matrices and vectors
  • Stability considerations
  • Generalisation to elasticity
  • Aspects of solid modelling and meshing

Modelling issues (2L Prof G.N. Wells)

  • Practical issues: element selection, what can go wrong, when does it not work?
  • Errors and convergence
  • Stress recovery and post-processing

Time dependent problems (2L Prof G.N. Wells)

Strategies for time-dependent problems


Use of a finite-element package to solve a stress-analysis problem related to the experiment performed in Module 3C7.

[Coursework Title]

Learning objectives


Practical information:

  • Sessions will take place in [Location], during week(s) [xxx].
  • This activity [involves/doesn't involve] preliminary work ([estimated duration]).

Full Technical Report:

Students will have the option to submit a Full Technical Report.


Please see the Booklist for Part IIA Courses for references for this module.

Examination Guidelines

Please refer to Form & conduct of the examinations.


The UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC) describes the requirements that have to be met in order to become a Chartered Engineer, and gives examples of ways of doing this.

UK-SPEC is published by the Engineering Council on behalf of the UK engineering profession. The standard has been developed, and is regularly updated, by panels representing professional engineering institutions, employers and engineering educators. Of particular relevance here is the 'Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes' (AHEP) document which sets out the standard for degree accreditation.

The Output Standards Matrices indicate where each of the Output Criteria as specified in the AHEP 3rd edition document is addressed within the Engineering and Manufacturing Engineering Triposes.

Last modified: 18/09/2018 11:43