Computational Fluid Dynamics: Three Reasons Your Design Team Needs It

Written By: Cat McClintock
  • 9/9/2018

Like other engineering simulation tools, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) uses numerical methods and algorithms to analyze complex 3D models. Specifically, it examines complicated phenomena like fluid flow, heat and mass transfer, turbulence, phase changes, chemical reactions, and flow-induced noise.

Fouladi quote: Can you afford not to use CFD?

This helps engineers who might otherwise have used expensive physical testing to optimize products and troubleshoot systems digitally, so that they can create viable designs that hold up under real world conditions.

 Flow through a radiator shown in Creo

A CFD analysis shown within a design engineer’s CAD system.

Historically, CFD tools and related analyses were the realm of experts who specialize in simulation methods and software. Design engineers would create a model and then ship it to these experts (if they were lucky enough to have one available) for analysis.  

But times and technology change. Now, CFD is accessible to design engineers as an integrated part of their CAD systems. Does that make every CAD designer an instant CFD expert? No. But there are significant advantages to giving your design engineers simulation capabilities. With proper setup, the engineers now have the capabilities to use CFD to:

  • Explore large trade studies and numerous what-if scenarios.
  • Simulate extreme operating conditions.
  • Work out hard to impossible measurements.
  • Evaluate non-testable scenarios (e.g., geophysical, biological, nuclear, etc.).
  • Work through scenarios that are otherwise too huge or too remote.

Here’s why that benefits everyone:

Reason 1: Fewer “Close Enough” Designs

When design engineers run analyses directly in their familiar CAD systems, they no longer have to send every change to the simulation specialist or wait for physical prototyping to evaluate the results. That means the designer is freer to try alternatives and test them—and much less likely to settle on a design that’s “close enough.”

Moreover, using CFD in the early development stages can help design engineers shape the direction of the model and promote changes well before all the details have been set, avoiding expensive late changes. (And when problems occur in a design, CFD results can help design engineers understand the problem areas better and work faster to arrive at the solution.)

Reason 2: More Robust Physical Prototypes

CFD doesn’t eliminate physical testing, nor should it. Instead, it changes the nature of testing. With more simulations taking place during digital design phases, physical testing time does not need to be wasted on simple verifications and validations. Rather, prototyping is used more judiciously, preventing potential cost overruns and delays.

And with virtually no scale limitation, design engineers can explore large parametric studies in CFD. The majority of the design iterations can be virtually verified, which should further decrease recurrent physical prototype testing and expenses.

Reason 3: Better Informed Teams

Valuable performance and manufacturability insights can be generated throughout the design process with this simulation approach.

CFD provides flow field details at high resolution both in space and time. Therefore, designers can get detailed and comprehensive information from the simulations as opposed to getting global qualitative data and limited quantitative information from physical testing.

With recent advances in graphics capabilities, CFD programs can deliver sophisticated fluid flow patterns and thermal gradient visuals to make it easier to see problem areas and overcome design problems early. Furthermore, the graphical representation and videos now available with these programs can undoubtedly enhance communications between team members and managers.

CFD shows airflow around an airplane wing

An engineer combines CFD with augmented reality to demonstrate flow around an airplane in real time.

Can You Afford CFD?

Your team can expect significant savings in both cost and time by using CFD in the design of products that are impacted by flow-related phenomena.

Employing CFD simulations and virtual testing in product design can help engineers overcome design bottlenecks, make the right call on design changes, and significantly reduces physical prototype testing.

If you have a system or a product with fluid flow or heat transfer involved, can you really afford not to incorporate computational fluid dynamics (CFD) into your team’s design process?

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About the Author

Cat McClintock

Cat McClintock edits the Creo and Mathcad blogs for PTC.  She has been a writer and editor for 15+ years,  working for CAD, PDM, ERP, and CRM software companies. Prior to that, she edited science journals for an academic publisher and aligned optical assemblies for a medical device manufacturer. She holds degrees in Technical Journalism, Classics, and Electro-Optics. She loves talking to PTC customers and learning about the interesting work they're doing and the innovative ways they use the software.