A specialist MSc in the design and analysis of advanced lightweight and composite structures for application in aerospace, automotive, motorsport, marine and renewable energy industries. The course covers key topics in composite structural design and analysis, impact and crashworthiness, materials characterisation and failure and advanced simulation.

Delivered with a unique focus on industry challenges and concerns, this course will equip you with strong experimental, numerical and analytical skills in structural mechanics for both composite and metallic components. This will help you to practically apply this knowledge to solve real engineering problems including automotive and aircraft structural design through to lightweight composites for use in wind turbines. Established in 2003 this postgraduate course has double accreditations with the Institute of Mechanical Engineering and the Royal Aeronautical Society, graduates secure exciting roles with globally renowned companies around the world.


  • Start dateOctober
  • DurationMSc: one year
  • DeliveryTaught modules 40%, group project 20%, individual research project 40%
  • QualificationMSc
  • Study typeFull-time
  • CampusCranfield campus

Who is it for?

This course will equip you with the specialist knowledge and skills required by leading employers in aerospace, automotive, motorsport, marine and renewable energy industries to design and develop next generation environmental-friendly and structural-efficient advanced lightweight and composite materials and components.

It is suitable for graduates with engineering, science, applied science or related degrees, who are keen to pursue careers as the design engineer, stress engineer, research and development engineer, numerical code developer, consultant, and academic researcher.

Why this course?

Understanding how advanced lightweight metallic and composite materials and structures perform over their life cycles under static and dynamic loading, including crash and bird strike, requires expertise in a range of areas. As new simulation and material technologies emerge, there is a strong demand for talented employees with a sound understanding in structural analysis, together with competent technical skills in numerical simulation.

Combined with Cranfield University’s long-standing track record for delivering high-quality Masters' programmes in both advanced materials and structures, this course equips students with the knowledge and skills in the design and analysis of advanced lightweight metallic and composite materials and structures to solve a wide range of industrial challenges for weight saving, sustainability and carbon reduction without compromising structural reliability and safety.

Our course receives strong support from the aerospace and automotive industries including Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Safran, Jaguar Land Rover, Aston Martin, and McLaren. There is a strong emphasis on applying knowledge in the industrial environment with the group and individual projects commonly sponsored by industry, which gives you highly relevant context to your studies and practical work and prepares you to successfully launch your career.

Informed by industry

Established in 2003, this course has been supported by industries through student projects, specialist lectures and more importantly, by them employing our graduates.

The MSc in Advanced Lightweight and Composite Structures is advised by an Industrial Advisory Panel comprising senior technical specialists from aerospace, automotive, and associated sectors. This maintains course relevancy and ensures that graduates are equipped with the skills and knowledge required by major employers

The Industry Advisory Panel includes representatives from:

Course details

You will complete eight compulsory modules.

The course employs a wide range of teaching methods designed to create a demanding and varied learning environment including structured lecture programmes, tutorials, case studies, hands-on computing, individual projects and guest lectures.

Course delivery

Taught modules 40%, group project 20%, individual research project 40%

Group project

The group project aims to address one of the greatest challenges graduates face, which is the lack of experience in dealing with the complexities of working within a design team. This part of the course takes place from March to May. It is student-led and consolidates the taught material which develops both technical and project management skills on an industrially relevant project.

On successful completion of this module a student should be able to:

  • Set objectives, plan and manage projects;
  • Evaluate a project brief set by a client;
  • Develop a set of project objectives appropriate to the client’s brief;
  • Plan and execute a work programme with reference to key project management processes (e.g. time management, risk management, contingency planning, resource allocation).

The projects are designed to integrate knowledge, understanding and skills from the taught modules in a real-life situation. This module is typically delivered through collaboration with an industrial sponsor.

Project examples:

2017/18, sponsored by LCF Conversions Ltd

Design of a 9g safety barrier for a Boeing 777-200 cargo airplane converted by LCF conversions.

2020/21, sponsored by Royal Academy of Engineering & Thailand Metal and Material Research Centre

Development of aluminium crash box for crashworthiness performance.

Explore more examples of our previous Group projects

Individual project

Individual research project topics can vary greatly, allowing you to develop your own areas of interest. It is common for our industrial partners to put forward real-life practical problems or areas of development as potential research topics. This section of the course takes place from April to August.

The research projects are devised to provide a research challenge allowing you to define the problem, perform appropriate analysis and research, draw conclusions from your work, communicate your findings and conclusions and enhance your skills and expertise. This will enable you to plan a research project, demonstrate a thorough understanding of your chosen topic area, including a critical evaluation of existing work, design appropriate analysis, plan an independent learning ability and manage a well-argued thesis report demonstrating original thought.

Explore examples of our previous Individual projects


Keeping our courses up-to-date and current requires constant innovation and change. The modules we offer reflect the needs of business and industry and the research interests of our staff and, as a result, may change or be withdrawn due to research developments, legislation changes or for a variety of other reasons. Changes may also be designed to improve the student learning experience or to respond to feedback from students, external examiners, accreditation bodies and industrial advisory panels.

To give you a taster, we have listed the compulsory and elective (where applicable) modules which are currently affiliated with this course. All modules are indicative only, and may be subject to change for your year of entry.

Course modules

Compulsory modules
All the modules in the following list need to be taken as part of this course.

Advanced Composite Analysis and Impact


    To develop an understanding of the composite materials used in engineering structures.

    • Introduction to composite materials, types of material and manufacturing methods.
    • FRP constituents: fibres and resins.
    • Micromechanics of a lamina.
    • Analysis of an individual ply.
    • Macro-mechanics of a laminate; stiffness, strength and analysis techniques.
    • Residual stresses due to temperature effects and moisture.
    • Stress distribution around holes in laminates.
    • Test methods; determination of elastic constants, static strengths, fibre volume fractions and void content.
    • Structural Design and Manufacturing considerations.

Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
• Design advanced composite structures based on theoretical approach.
• Evaluate stresses and deformations of composite structures under various loading conditions.
• Assess the failure modes of composite structures.
• Design laminated structures based on stiffness and failure criteria.

Introduction to Continuum Mechanics


    This module provides you with a fundamental knowledge of Continuum Mechanics. The classical theories, concepts, and the relevant mathematics are introduced. The module is aimed at giving you a good understanding of the motion and deformation process of solids and structures, which is essential to the design and analysis of engineering structures

    • Introduction to vectors and tensors.
    • Coordinate transformations of scalar, vector and tensor fields.
    • Kinematics of deformation process in the reference and current configurations.
    • Quantification of stress undergoing finite deformation for initial and current configurations.
    • Kirchhoff, Cauchy stress.
    • Conservation equations of mass, momentum, energy in the local and integral forms in the various reference frames.
    • Basic linear constitutive relationships for isotropic and orthotropic materials.
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
• Practice all laws of continuum mechanics in terms of indicial notation and tensor calculus.
• Analyse kinematics of a continuum and to drive its deformation equations.
• Analyse the response of structural components to complex stresses.
• Understand and apply the basic principles of continuum physics.
• Practice analytical methods to the design and analysis of structural components subjected to different material properties.

Thin-walled Structures


    ​This module provides an introduction to you on the fundamental knowledge and understanding for the design and analysis of lightweight structures. Classical stress analysis techniques to obtain closed form solutions to thin-walled structures under torsion, shear, and bending will be introduced. The module will develop your understanding upon which advanced lightweight structures are designed and analysed in transport industries.


    • Basic theories of structural mechanics.
    • Loading analysis and design criteria.
    • Stress analysis of thin walled structures under torsion.
    • Idealisation of thin walled structures.
    • Stress analysis of thin walled structures under bending.
    • Stress analysis of thin walled structures under shear.
    • Buckling of thin walled structures.
    • Shear lag, warping and warping restraint effects.

Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

1. Apply thin-walled structure analysis methods for solving complex problems in engineering and assess their limitations
2. Understand the design process and methodology of thin-walled structures and apply and adapt them in unfamiliar situations
3. Develop a thorough understanding of current practice and its limitations, and some appreciation of likely developments of thin-walled structure design and analysis.

Finite Element Methods

Module Leader
  • Dr Iman Dayyani

    ​The module is aimed at giving potential Finite Element users basic understanding of the background of the method. The objective is to introduce users to the terminology, basic numerical and mathematical aspects of the method. This should help you to avoid some of the more common and important user errors, many of which stem from a "black box" approach to this technique. Some basic guidelines are also given on how to approach the modelling of structures using the Finite Element Method.

    • Introduction to Finite Element Methods (FEM) and applicability to different situations.
    • Introduction to the Direct Stiffness (Displacement) Method.
    • Development of Truss, Bar Element Equations in 2D and 3D.
    • Development of Beam and Frame Element Equations (2D and 3D).
    • Development of the Plane Stress element Equations (Constant and Linear Strain).
    • Accuracy considerations: higher order elements, Isoparametric elements.
    • The role of numerical integration and methods used in FE.
    • Practical Considerations in Modelling; Interpreting Results.
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
• Analyse and practice the theory of finite element models for structural and continuum elements.
• Design and solve mathematical finite element models.
• Interpret results of the FE simulations and analyse error levels.
• Create and solve mathematical finite element methods.
• Critically evaluate the constraints and implications imposed by the finite element method.

Materials Characterisation and Failure Simulations


    This module will provide the principals involved in characterising material properties of composites and metals suitable for input to numerical simulations and to examine the challenges, significances and limitations of available experimental processes in extracting reliable, repeatable and relevant material properties. The effect of these properties is then investigated through practical simulation exercises to further enhance the understanding of material models and how to apply them correctly.

    This module will complement existing modules on material simulation by providing you with an understanding of:
    • Overview of different types of material testing (quasi-static, fatigue, environmental).
    • Overview of different test machines available (functionality, capabilities, etc).
    • Material characterisation procedures (tensile, compression, shear, temp loading, fracture toughness).
    • Instrumentation required.
    • Specimen/coupon preparation.
    • Material characterisation of metals/composites.
    • Numerical materials models and their requirements.
    • Failure simulation of metal/composite materials in finite element implicit analysis

Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
1. Plan required equipment for material characterisation and correctly evaluate experimental test data.
2. Assess the relevance of the material parameters for inclusion in a numerical material model.
3. Be able to judge accuracy, practicality, significance and limitations of the experimental procedures considered.
4. Construct finite element models to simulate fibre reinforce composite and ductile metal failure in static implicit analysis.
5. Judge the parameter and material inputs and their significance to the simulation results.

Structural Stability


    To provide you with a fundamental understanding of the buckling of thin walled structures and the ability to calculate the buckling load of a component.

    • The buckling of thin plates and thin-walled sections using the Rayleigh-Ritz method of analysis. Alternative methods of buckling analysis.
    • Timoshenko's method for columns.
    • Exact solution of differential equations.
    • Approximate solution of differential equations, Finite difference method, Galerkins method, Theoretical post-buckling analysis of plates in compression.
    • The concept of effective width for thin plates.
    • The behaviour of imperfect plates, Torsional-Flexural buckling of thin-walled open section columns.
    • The buckling behaviour and failure of stiffened panels, crippling of thin-walled sections, stiffened shear webs.
    • This module has additional accompanying tutorials and workshops as required, plus a laboratory demonstration of the compressive buckling failure modes of struts and stiffened panels.
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

1. Demonstrate a conceptual understanding of the buckling of thin walled structures and structural components.
2. Demonstrate the ability to predict buckling behaviour using hand calculation techniques.
3. Analyse the buckling and post buckling behaviour of simple thin walled stiffened panels.
4. Effectively use data sheets to analyse buckling of real structural components.


    To provide you with an understanding of the considerations necessary when designing safe and crashworthy aircraft
    Introduction to crashworthiness.

    Local collapse of structures: Collapse of thick walled sections: axial, bending and torsion. Collapse of thin-walled sections, energy absorption and failure modes.

    Global collapse of structures: Virtual work approach to calculation, identification of collapse mechanism, geometric and large deformation effects.

    Crash energy management: Modes of energy absorption, collapse mechanism control, dynamic effects.

    Crashworthiness design features: Context of structural design in overall crashworthiness, relation to other design aspects.  Issues specific to individual applications, including aircraft, cars, trains.

    Occupant protection: Injury mechanisms, crash dummies and injury criteria.

    Test and analysis methods: Experimental crash tests, hybrid analysis methods.
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • Examine relevant crashworthiness regulations. 
  • Analyse the key issues of structural crashworthiness.
  • Examine the collapse of thick and thin-walled sections.
  • Evaluate the global collapse of structures.
  • Critically evaluate the crashworthiness of structures.

Advanced Simulation for Impact


    ​The aim of the module will be to provide you with a general understanding, advantages and limitations of available numerical methods for analysis of solids and structures. Covering theory behind strain rate dependent materials, explicit non-linear finite element solvers, dynamic plasticity and meshless modelling techniques in finite element framework.

    • Nature and treatment of geometric and material non-linearity.
    • Solution procedures for static analyses and dynamic analyses, formulation and implementation.
    • Failure modelling including cohesive zone methods and strength-based failure criterion for fibre reinforced polymer composites.
    • Failure modelling and strain-based failure criterion for ductile metals
    • Strain rate and temperature dependent models.
    • Examples of smoothed particle hydrodynamics and meshless methods.
    • Practical applications: such as dynamic structural buckling, failure and ballistic impact.

Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
1. Demonstrate an understanding of the basic underlying theory of explicit analysis codes and the numerical implementation of the theory.
2. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the numerical methods available to an analyst.
3. Construct correct damage and failure numerical models to assess common structural failure problems in explicit finite element.
4. Analyse and evaluate impact problems using meshless numerical modelling method.
5. Assess the effect of strain rate and temperature on material constitutive response and strength.

Teaching team

The course will be delivered by Cranfield University's academic staff within the Centre of Structures, Assembly and Intelligent Automation. The course team work closely with business and have extensive academic and industrial experience. Knowledge gained through working with our clients is continually fed back into the teaching programme, to ensure that students benefit from the very latest knowledge and techniques affecting industry. The course team consist of the following academic staff:


The MSc in Advanced Lightweight and Composite Structures is accredited by Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) and the Institute of Mechanical Engineers on behalf of the Engineering Council as meeting the requirements for further learning for registration as a Chartered Engineer (CEng). Candidates must hold a CEng accredited BEng/BSc (Hons) undergraduate first degree to show that they have satisfied the educational base for CEng registration.

Your career

Industry-driven research makes our graduates some of the most desirable in the world for recruitment by companies competing in the structural engineering sector, which forms a large worldwide industry.

Students who enrol come from a variety of different backgrounds. Many have specific careers in mind, such as working in automotive or aerospace disciplines (structural design or crash protection), materials development for defence applications, or working in the field of numerical code developments/consultancy. Others decide to continue their education through PhD studies available within the University.

This course provides graduates with the necessary skills to pursue a successful career in automotive, aerospace, maritime and defence sectors. This approach offers you a wide range of career choices as a structural engineer at graduation and in the future.

Companies that have recruited graduates of this course include:

  • Airbus,
  • Rolls-Royce,
  • Jaguar Land Rover,
  • Aston Martin.

Cranfield University has definitely fulfilled my expectations with regards to studying abroad. Considering the nature of my field of knowledge in structures and impact damage, the Cranfield Impact Centre was the most fascinating and impressive one for me, embodying an FIA approved test house for F1 crash tests.

My group project with Rolls-Royce was about designing an repeated impact rig to test material resistance to impact. My individual project was where I could really show my potential and learn something new by overcoming some of the most academically challenging hurdles I’ve ever faced, which then resulted in my first ever publication!

Studying at Cranfield University was definitely a unique experience for me. The knowledge gained during the course, especially in the field of static and dynamic mechanical analysis, allowed me to build my position as an expert in the field of sealing solutions.
My degree played an important role in helping me gain my current role at Scuderi Ferrari F1. It was key on my CV and highly rated by composite-oriented workers from companies that I’ve been in contact with. In particular, the technical knowledge that I've learnt helps me everyday in my current role. As well as the professional approach that I experienced working on my group project and individual research project that has taught me how to deal with real engineering problems.
My experience at Cranfield has been extremely positive, exceeding my expectations and, although the previous year has been a tough time in the Uk and worldwide, I strongly believe the teaching team managed to deliver a profound and enriching learning experience to me and to my classmates, even during the distant learning weeks. In particular, I delivered an interesting group design project working with Airbus on advanced Finite Element simulation techniques for aircraft design, which permitted me to apply the knowledge and competencies I acquired during classes and workshops in a real work environment. Moreover, at the end of my study period and during the summer I worked on an individual research project, under the supervision of Dr Dayyani, focused on the design and analysis of novel mechanical metamaterials, which resulted in my first ever publication on a top scientific journal.
About a decade ago I successfully launched my career in the Aero-industry, after completing a master’s at Cranfield University. As a Cranfield alumnus, I recognised an opportunity during the pandemic to study lightweight Composite Structures and Impact analysis. This is an ideal leap forward in my career as a structural analyst. Cranfield University is in a unique position as being a postgraduate only University with a blend of professionals and recent graduates. The University's industry-renowned specialised research facilities are at par, giving us exposure to real-world problem-solving testing tools. I enjoyed the experience of Cranfield’s impact centre (CIC) for the crash analysis, which gave us hands-on experience in impact testing. I found the course very exciting because it gave me access to all the necessary knowledge, analysis tools such as Abaqus used in industry, lessons from experts in the field, and a vast number of resources in the on-campus library. Cranfield’s strong industry links and alumni network is the major platform with world-class facilities for higher technology readiness levels; enabling cutting-edge technological research that helps you launch a professional career.

How to apply

Applications need to be made online. Click the 'Apply now' button at the top of this page. 

Once you have set up an account you will be able to create, save and amend your application form before submitting it.