Opportunities in Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) for an Indian Engineering student

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Computational Fluid Dynamics, abbreviated as CFD, is a numerical study of fluid flows and their characteristics. As we know, fluids in motion are omnipresent. Fluid analysis is, therefore, useful and important for almost all the objects in motion as we encounter flow around any moving object. Be it on land, in air, or in water.

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Fluid (gas and liquid) flows are governed by Partial Differential Equations which represent conservation laws for the mass, momentum, and energy. CFD is the art of reducing such complex PDE systems to a set of linear equations which can be solved using computers. Navier-Stokes equation, which describes the motion of fluids, has been described as “one of the greatest unsolved problems in physics”
Navier Stokes Existence and is, till date, beyond human analysis. CFD primarily attempts to get the best solvable approximation to the N-S equation using various mathematical algorithms, enabling us to understand the motion of fluids.

Above Image is of the full-scale wind tunnel at NASA's research center at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia in which a top secret Plane by Boeing is being subject to testing. Data from the test will then be subjected to CFD analysis to help the US government get an ever better secret airplane.

Let us look at some of the practical applications and the necessity of CFD. Consider a project to design a new aircraft with specified mission requirements. The design of any product is an iterative process. Imagine the impracticality of testing different versions of a life-sized preliminary design: a wind tunnel large enough to fit the aircraft, a fan powerful enough to simulate the actual flow, the amount of work to be put in to change the design to the minutest detail every single time and so on. An alternative is to test a scaled prototype, but the loss of data or the disregard of the change in various parameters affected by the change in size can lead to a catastrophe. Using CFD analysis, we import a 3D model of the design and simulate the actual conditions under which the aircraft is supposed to perform. We get aerodynamic and structural results and use them to modify (which is just to change the CAD model!) the design.

The advantages of CFD mentioned above can be easily understood in different real-world problems like the design of skyscrapers (impossible to test due to the sheer scale of the project), the analysis of a volcano burst (conditions very difficult to experiment with), the study of blood flow in humans (obvious hindrance) etc. CFD reduces the resources required in a lot of other less-obvious physical situations.

CFD is very big globally, being extensively used in various fields such as Automobile, Aerospace, Bio-Medical, Civil, Marine, Sports etc. Almost anything new by a big player in these fields would have CFD applications. But, in India, CFD is still in infantry stage, as it has not been included in the undergraduate level academia. CFD today is an add-on course, like say Java was, a decade ago. There are students who attend these courses and get acquainted with CFD. Today, there are a lot of analysis projects that are getting outsourced to India. So, India is definitely catching up on the industry front in CFD.

CFD is hard to do well and easy to do badly. Expertise is gained by running many cases and checking the quality of those cases religiously. Below are a few tips on improving your CFD knowledge and analysis skills.

    1. • Gain in-depth knowledge of Partial Differential Equations and Numerical Analysis. This can be achieved by referring to books, but the best way to get acquainted with the same and the basics of CFD would be through an online course. Below is a link to a video lecture series by Prof. S. Chakraborthy of IIT Kharagpur.
    2. NPTEL :: Mechanical Engineering
    3. • Get hands-on experience. Once the basics are sort out, the best way to get acquainted with the usage, understanding and analysis of CFD would be to get hands-on experience on CFD. Probably a course or a training where the institution provides good software for you to work on and experience a few real world problems would be the right way to go.
    4. • Once you receive the knowledge of working on CFD, you should run validation cases regularly and prove to yourself that you are making good choices. Run numerical tests with varying aspects of the case set up and compare them to the validation cases. Learn what becomes a big mistake and what has little or no effect.
    5. • Learn many tools and know what each does well and what each does badly. Don't ever hesitate to try a new tool or re-evaluate an older tool (that's been improved by the developer). Network with other CFD people and developers and find out what others know.
    6. • Finally, CFD is hard to get right because there are so many details. Take care of the details. Take care that the case is converged and that the grid was good. Be willing to rerun a case again and again until you have the details right.

CFD is most definitely an untapped area, where India can improve its hold on and further deepen its roots in, not just as an outsourcing destination, but also for research and development for CFD analysis. Since CFD projects are an extrapolation of advanced mathematics, an area which we Indians are traditionally flavored in, if the students are guided in the right way, CFD boom could be the next IT boom for India.

For details of the CFD course from AerotriX, click here

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