High-speed electronic digital computers have enabled engineers to employ various numerical discretization techniques for approximate solutions of complex problems. The finite element method is one such technique.
It was originally developed as a tool for structural analysis, but the theory and formulation have been progressively so refined and generalized that the method has been applied successfully to such other fields as heat flow, seepage, hydrodynamics, and rock mechanics. As a result of this broad applicability and the systematic generality of the associated computer codes, the method has gained wide acceptance by designers and research engineers. It is now being taught to both students and practicing engineers at many universities and will soon be a regular part of the curriculum at almost all colleges of engineering.