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Mechanical engineering: computer-aided engineering

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Computer-aided engineering (CAE) uses computational simulation instead of physical or mathematical modelling to solve engineering problems. CAE plays a role in the vast majority of engineering enterprises. It can show if something behaves in a way that would be cost-prohibitive, time-consuming or just too dangerous to try. The ability to model complex parts, machinery and environments on a computer sounds fantastic. However, the answers obtained are only as good as the engineer who made and ran the model – that is where this module comes in.

What you will study

Mechanical engineering: computer-aided engineering (T329) introduces and develops an understanding of the typical three elements included in CAE (computer-aided engineering):

  • finite element analysis (FEA)
  • multibody dynamics (MBD)
  • computational fluid dynamics (CFD).

All run from a single software package: ANSYS Workbench.

The module comprises three parts, each concentrating on a different CAE element:

Part 1: Computer-aided design and finite element analysis
This part begins with a slight detour in the form of an introduction to computer-aided design. This short foray will show you how models are drawn and assembled before they can be analysed using any of the tools. You’ll then move on to analysing these models using the finite element part of the software package, allowing you to discover how these models would behave in different scenarios. There is then a theoretical section so you understand what the software is doing and how it does it, which will provide a solid foundation for interpreting problems and results. Validating results in one way or another is vital for using any modelling with confidence. So, towards the end of this section, you’ll 3D-print a part you designed and test it to see if it behaves as your model predicts.

Part 2: Mechanisms and multibody dynamics
In this part, you’ll learn about mechanisms in engineering and how to model them – both analytically and computationally through the multibody dynamics (MBD) functionality in ANSYS. You’ll begin by examining some simple, familiar systems made from simple joints and exploring their behaviour through the MBD software. The module then introduces kinematic analysis, allowing these simpler systems’ displacement and velocity to be analysed and compared to the results from the MBD. It then tackles more complicated situations that would be impractical to solve by hand. Finally, you’ll move on to gears, belts and pulleys and how they interact with the systems containing them.

Part 3: Computational fluid dynamics
The third part introduces the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) package in ANSYS. It begins with a general overview of the technique with many application examples of CFD. You’ll learn the fundamentals behind CFD programs and about fluid flow more generally, including the Navier–Stokes equations. Following this, you’ll focus on the flow around wind turbines, paying particular attention to boundary layers. You’ll then move on to considering oscillatory flow, vortex shedding and compressibility. During this part, you’ll also have the chance to control a wind tunnel to compare a physical model with the virtual one in the software.

You will learn

You’ll learn how CAE software works and what it can do, along with its limitations, assumptions and how to validate the output.

Entry requirements

T329 has no formal entry requirements; however, it is an OU level 3 module. Therefore, you need a good knowledge of engineering obtained through OU level 1 and 2 study or another higher education institution.

We recommend you have completed:

We strongly recommend you check your background and experience are sufficient to tackle this module. We’ve found that appropriately prepared students have the best chance of completing their studies and get the most enjoyment from the module.

Talk to an advisor if you’re not sure you’re ready.

Preparatory work

Topics that you might find helpful to revise are:

  • stress and strain
  • dynamic systems
  • fluid dynamics
  • differentiation and integration
  • matrices.

What's included

You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials
  • audio and video content
  • access to third-party software
  • assignment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access
  • access to student and tutor group forums.

We’ll also give you three printed module books, each covering one part of the study. And you’ll have access to our OpenSTEM Labs.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date 64-bit version of Windows (10 or 11)*. Any macOS is unsuitable.

Minimum and recommended requirements for The Open University ANSYS software:

  • Minimum i3 processor or equivalent (i5 equivalent or above recommended).
  • Minimum 512 MB graphics card (1 GB or higher recommended).
  • Minimum 4 GB of RAM* (8 GB or more recommended).
  • Minimum 25 GB hard drive (50 GB or larger strongly recommended).
  • Physical ‘C:/’ drive present.
  • You’ll need administrator privileges on your machine.
  • OpenGL-capable.

*A version of ANSYS for Linux OS is also available. The Linux version may require more than 4 GB of RAM.

In addition:

  • You’ll need control over your internet connection settings – corporate firewalls may prevent FEA software from accessing the Internet.
  • 22" or larger monitor recommended.

See System and browser requirements for Ansys software for information on Ansys Student Version.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


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

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying T329 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Mechanical engineering: computer-aided engineering (T329) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2029.

Course work includes:

2 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
3 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
End-of-module assessment