There are no other courses that provide dedicated specialist training in the design and analysis of advanced lightweight and composite structures in aerospace, automotive, marine and renewable energy industries.

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.


  • 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?

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.

Why this course?

Designing advanced structures through novel, lightweight materials is one of the key enabling technologies for both the aerospace and automotive sectors to align with national targets for reduction of carbon. In reducing inherent structural weight, it is essential not to compromise safety, as structural integrity and designing for crashworthiness become key design drivers.

Understanding how aluminium or composite structures and materials 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 continuing need for talented employees with a strong, applied understanding in structural analysis, together with competent technical skills in numerical simulation. Students of this course undertake a workshop session at Cranfield Impact Centreread Rocio’s blog post

Informed by industry

Established in 2003, this course is supported by close ties with industry, through student projects, specialist lectures and more importantly, by them employing our graduates.

The MSc in Advanced Lightweight and Composite Structures is directed by an Industrial Advisory Panel comprising senior engineers from aerospace sectors. This maintains course relevancy and ensures that graduates are equipped with the skills and knowledge required by leading employers.

The Industry Advisory Panel includes representatives from:

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

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.

Group projects 2019:

• Multi-Role Utility Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

Industrial sponsor: Aero Optimal Ltd

The MRU-UAV is a Multi-Role Utility Unmanned Aerial Vehicle integrating the latest available technologies in the electric propulsion system while realising a zero-emission carbon footprint. The MRU-UAV is designed primarily for use as a commercial delivery system with the aim of fulfilling the current and future fail-safe autonomous flight regulations.

In this project, students worked on the aft section of the fuselage together with VTP and HTP designed and analysed using CFRP/PVC foam sandwich composite materials. The group performed analytical and numerical studies using CAD (SolidWorks) and FE (Abaqus and Ls-Dyna) tools for design and analysis of UAV structures.

• Multi-Material Topology Optimised Composite Spaceframe Structures

In this project, students designed a ‘spaceframe’ style structure. The task was to apply both multi-material topological optimisation and evolutionary algorithm-based toolboxes to design a 3D structure based on a set of initial design requirements. Both toolboxes produced a structure made with a mixture of materials including composite trusses with homogenous joints. Students analysed and compared in detail the classical designs with the topological optimised designs produced in this project. The structure of choice was an aircraft wingbox. Students analysed numerically a scaled version of an existing wingbox structure as benchmark.

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.

Past individual research projects:

  • Damage Characterisation of Composite Laminates under Repeated Low Velocity Impact;
  • Investigation of Size Effects on Modelling Composite Delamination Damage using Cohesive Zone Methods;
  • Optimisation of Lightweight Functionally Graded Structure for High Impact Resistance;
  • Crashworthiness Behaviour of Hybrid Foam-Filled Composite Tubular Structures;
  • Ballistic Impact Characterisation of Aerospace Grade Woven Composite Materials;
  • Mechanics of Composite Corrugated Morphing Skin;
  • Ice Impact on Composite Structures;
  • Enhanced Mechanical Performance of Additive Manufactured Hybrid Metal Components.


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

Module Leader
  • Dr Hessam Ghasemnejad

    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 a student 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

Module Leader
  • Dr Iman Dayyani

    This module provides students with a fundamental knowledge of Continuum Mechanics. The classical theories, concepts, and the relevant mathematics are introduced. The module is aimed at giving students 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
    • Co-ordinate transformations of scalar, vector and tensor fields
    • Kinematics of deformation process in the reference and current configurations
    • Different strain measures, strain rate and rate of deformation
    • 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 and non-linear constitutive relationships for isotropic and orthotropic materials
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module a student 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

Module Leader
  • Dr Yigeng Xu

    This module provides an introduction to the students to 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 students’ 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 a student 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 students 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 a student 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

Module Leader
  • Dr Mehdi Yasaee

    This module will provide the principles involved in characterising material properties of composites and metals suitable for input to numerical simulations and to examine the challenges, significance and limitations of available experimental processes in extracting reliable, repeatable and relevant material properties.  The effect of these properties are 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 students 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 a student should be able to:
1. Plan required equipment for material characterisation.
2. Correctly evaluate experimental test data.
3. Assess the relevance of the material parameters for inclusion in a numerical material model.
4. Be able to judge accuracy, practicality, significance and limitations of the experimental procedures considered.
5. Construct finite element models to simulate fibre reinforce composite and ductile metal failure in static implicit analysis
6. Judge the parameter and material inputs and their significance to the simulation results

Structural Stability

Module Leader
  • Dr Wenli Liu

    Provide 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 a student 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.


Module Leader
  • Dr Hessam Ghasemnejad
    To provide students 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 a student 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

Module Leader
  • Dr Mehdi Yasaee

    The aim of the module will be to provide 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 a student 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 simple impact problems for applications to assess crashworthiness of structures using available software.
5. Assess the effect of strain rate and temperature on material constitutive response and strength.

Teaching team

You will be taught by Cranfield University's academic staff within the Centre of Structures, Assembly and Intelligent Automation. Externals Professor J Loaghlan - Professor Emeritus of Aerospace Structures, Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Thin-Walled Structures, and Regional Editor of the International Journal of Science and Technology, Scientia Iranica. Mr J Brown - considerable industrial experience in aerospace and automotive industries and provides research and CPD teaching in structural analysis, design of thin walled structures, finite elements and crashworthiness. Our teaching team work closely with business and have academic and industrial experience. Knowledge gained working with our clients is continually fed back into the teaching programme, to ensure that you benefit from the very latest knowledge and techniques affecting industry. The Course Director for this programme is Dr Yigeng Xu.


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. Candidates must hold a CEng accredited BEng/BSc (Hons) undergraduate first degree to comply with full CEng registration requirements.

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!

How to apply

Online application form. UK students are normally expected to attend an interview and financial support is best discussed at this time. Overseas and EU students may be interviewed by telephone.