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Structural integrity: designing against failure

Structural integrity is the study of the safe design and assessment of components and structures under load, and has become increasingly important in engineering design. It integrates aspects of stress analysis, materials behaviour and the mechanics of failure into the engineering design process. The module is well-illustrated with case studies, and will be of interest to anyone associated with the design of any component or structure that experiences loading, and will be of benefit in developing skills in the analysis and assessment of product design. It has universal applicability in the UK and across international boundaries.

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Module code
Study level
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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What you will study

This is an OU level 3 engineering module, which integrates aspects of design, materials selection and mechanical engineering under the banner of ‘structural integrity’. It will be of particular relevance to you if you are studying towards a BEng (Hons) or MEng qualification, or pursuing a BSc and will benefit from exposure to and an understanding of the application of stress analysis principles and the causes underlying materials failures. It is also a valuable updating module for professional engineers as part of your continuing professional development. Structural integrity therefore covers a wide range of skills underpinning the design of products, components and structures that must operate safely and reliably.

The module has two main themes.

Stress analysis

The concepts within stress analysis have wide applicability, as there are very few manufactured components and products that do not experience any loading during their life. The module starts with an introduction to the fundamentals of stress analysis, in obtaining stresses from known loads, describing the stress state at a point in a component, and relating stress and strain in a material.

It progresses to looking at loads on structures and assemblies, and methods for analysing these and other loading situations. The concept of residual stress is introduced, and how residual stresses can be introduced during the manufacturing process.

Fracture mechanics

The module then moves on to look at concepts of fracture mechanics. These concepts need to be understood in order to design components that do not fail under their design load, particularly when fatigue loading or environmental effects may have impaired the component’s load-bearing capability. It shows how failure assessment can be used to obtain information as to why a component or structure failed so that better information is available to inform future designs. The material within this section includes the topics below.

  • Fracture mechanics begins with an introduction to the study of components that contain flaws or cracks, and how the fracture toughness of materials can be as important as the strength in assessing safety. It then looks at how fatigue of materials occurs, how the fatigue process can be related to fracture mechanics parameters, and how the fatigue life of a component under complex loading can be assessed.
  • Failure modes looks at how failures can be analysed to give insight into how a component was loaded and what form of loading or stress state led to failure. It examines how different materials fail according to their fundamental properties.
  • Environmental factors; one of the most important factors influencing a material’s lifetime is the environment in which the component will spend its life: for example a factor such as corrosion can have a severe detrimental effect either by initiating or propagating existing flaws.

If you are considering progressing to The engineering project (T452), this is one of the OU level 3 modules on which you could base your project topic. Normally, you should have completed one of these OU level 3 modules (or be currently studying one) before registering for the project module.

You will learn

  • How to model the behaviour of engineering structures under load, and use stress analysis principles in problem solving.
  • How to model and predict the performance of cracked structures under load.
  • To interpret engineering case studies of failure in terms of fundamental fracture mechanics and stress analysis concepts.

Professional recognition

This module is part of the BEng (Hons) programme, which can lead to CEng status with a professional engineering institution.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Your tutor will help you with the study material and will mark and give feedback on the continuous assessment for the module.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2015. We expect it to be available once a year.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
2 Computer-marked assignments (CMAs)
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from studies at OU levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject, preferably with The Open University. You should have previously studied engineering-related modules at OU level 1 and 2. You will also need mathematical skills for engineers or scientists. In particular you should be able to:

  • describe the concept of stress in an engineering context, and relate it simply to an applied force
  • describe the concept of strain, and its relation to stress through the Young’s modulus of a material
  • recognise the names of common metals, ceramics and polymers
  • distinguish between metals, ceramics and polymers in terms of their atomic and molecular structure, and understand how the atomic-level structure and microstructure of a solid material relates to its physical properties
  • identify, from a curve of engineering stress against engineering strain for an elastic material, the Young’s modulus, yield stress and tensile strength of the material
  • describe the mechanisms of creep, corrosion and fatigue in materials
  • use mathematical principles to solve engineering-based problems.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

Make sure you are familiar with Windows and suitable word-processing and spreadsheet software.


Start End England fee Register
03 Oct 2015 Jun 2016 £1350.00

Registration closes 10/09/15 (places subject to availability)


You may need to apply for some payment or funding options earlier. Please check the Fees and Funding information or contact us for information.

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after you register.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time that is convenient to you.

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2016. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

This information was provided on 02/08/2015.

What's included

The module comprises the printed module texts, a DVD-ROM, online forums and a website.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as the study materials and activities are accessible via a web browser. Any other computer-based activities you will need to carry out, such as word processing, using spreadsheets, taking part in online forums, and submitting files to the university for assessment, are specified in the module materials. If any additional software is needed for these tasks it will either be provided or is freely available.

We recommend either of the following:

  • Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system
  • Macintosh desktop or laptop computer running OS X 10.7 or later operating system.

A netbook, tablet, smartphone or Linux computer that supports one of the browsers listed below may be suitable. The screen size should be at least 1024 (H) x 768 (W) pixels. If you intend to use one of these devices please ensure you have access to a suitable desktop or laptop computer in case you are unable to carry out all the module activities on your mobile device.

We recommend a minimum 1 Mbps internet connection and any of the following browsers:

  • Internet Explorer 9 and above
  • Apple Safari 7 and above
  • Google Chrome 31 and above
  • Mozilla Firefox 31 and above.

Note: using the latest version for your browser will maximise security when accessing the internet. Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.

See our Skills for OU study website for further information about computing skills for study and educational deals for buying Microsoft Office software.

If you have a disability

The module requires interpretation of a number of complex illustrations and diagrams. Students with a severe visual impairment, or who use a screen reader to study, are strongly recommended to contact their regional or national centre for advice before registering onto this module.

The study materials are available in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). Components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Written transcripts are available for the audio-visual material. The books are available in a comb-bound format.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.