The finite element method (FEM) (its practical application often known as finite element analysis (FEA)) is a numerical analysis|numerical technique for finding approximate solutions to partial differential equations (PDE) and their systems, as well as (less often) integral equations. In simple terms, FEM is a method for dividing up a very complicated problem into small elements that can be solved in relation to each other. FEM is a special case of the more general Galerkin method with polynomial approximation functions. The solution approach is based on eliminating the spatial derivatives from the PDE. This approximates the PDE with
* a system of algebraic equations for steady state problems,
* a system of ordinary differential equations for transient problems.
These equation systems are linear if the underlying PDE is linear, and vice versa. Algebraic equation systems are solved using numerical linear algebra methods. Ordinary differential equations that arise in transient problems are then numerically integrated using standard techniques such as Euler's method or the Runge-Kutta method.
In solving partial differential equations, the primary challenge is to create an equation that approximates the equation to be studied, but is numerically stable, meaning that errors in the input and intermediate calculations do not accumulate and cause the resulting output to be meaningless. There are many ways of doing this, all with advantages and disadvantages. The finite element method is a good choice for solving partial differential equations over complicated domains (like cars and oil pipelines), when the domain changes (as during a solid state reaction with a moving boundary), when the desired precision varies over the entire domain, or when the solution lacks smoothness. For instance, in a frontal crash simulation it is possible to increase prediction accuracy in important areas like the front of the car and reduce it in its rear (thus reducing cost of the simulation). Another example would be in Numerical weather prediction, where it is more important to have accurate predictions over developing highly nonlinear phenomena (such as tropical cyclones in the atmosphere, or Eddy (fluid dynamics)|eddies in the ocean) rather than relatively calm areas.

The finite element method (FEM) (its practical application often known as finite element analysis (FEA)) is a numerical analysis|numerical technique for finding approximate solutions to partial differential equations (PDE) and their systems, as well as (less often) integral equations. In simple terms, FEM is a method for dividing up a very complicated problem into small elements that can be solved in relation to each other. FEM is a special case of the more general Galerkin method with polynomial approximation functions. The solution approach is based on eliminating the spatial derivatives from the PDE. This approximates the PDE with
* a system of algebraic equations for steady state problems,
* a system of ordinary differential equations for transient problems.
These equation systems are linear if the underlying PDE is linear, and vice versa. Algebraic equation systems are solved using numerical linear algebra methods. Ordinary differential equations that arise in transient problems...