Why is CFD Hard to “Democratize?”

The structure of CFD codes will need to change before the simulation method will become widely available to many types of users and engineers, write two officials from Mentor Graphics in a recent white paper.

In the engineering industry, “democratization” has come to mean making software like CAD and simulation software available to more of the people who need it.

The integration of CAD and simulation software has meant simulation and analysis software such as FEA has become much more available to the engineers who use it as they design (rather than passing off their completed designs to in-house FEA analysts, as was done in the past). But Ivo Weinhold and Keith Hanna, of Mentor Graphics, argue that computational fluids dynamic software has not followed suit.

In their white paper, “The Democratization of CFD,” they argue that CFD hasn’t kept up with trend of making computer-aided engineering software available to a wider community, as was seen with CAD and FEA.

“We estimate that 80 percent of all CFD users in the world today are still analysts; the remainder are designers. CFD is therefore not democratized,” the pair wrote.

While the commercial CFD market passed the $1 billion per year mark in 2013, the industry still mainly focuses on using analysts at the top end of the CFD pyramid, while the technology is under-utilized by the many designers and part-time engineers at the lower end.

Democratization of CFD is indeed possible, will probably require a radical rethinking of CFD code structures, the pair said.

A “democratic” CFD software tool is not a simpler version of a software tool already available today that employs hard-to-use “low-tech” CFD technology; it has to have actually a sophisticated “high-tech” approach to CFD, which allows it to remove a CFD expert operating the CFD tool on behalf of a better “natural” CFD operator: a value-generating product development engineer, they said.

To be able to allow CFD simulations to play to its strength as a highly available supporting service for manufactured product and process development based on digital prototypes, the underlying technology has to improve dramatically, Weinhold and Hanna said.

“We believe the biggest impact on democratization will come from PLM-enabled CAD-embedded CFD, cloud deployment, and user experience being front and central to code design,” they wrote.

It should be noted that Mentor Graphics makes CFD tools that work within the CAD and PLM environment.

Six years ago, there were only about 250,000 regular CFD users in the world. Today, the number has grown to more than 300,000 full-time users and up to 500,000 total, when part-time users and students are included, they said.

Mentor Graphics makes CFD applications that analyze fluid flow and airflow.

“It is reasonable to say that a total available market for global CFD usage of 10,000,000s still exists,” they write. CFD has been around for 30 to 40 years and is considered fairly mature, yet barely 10 percent of the potential industry has been penetrated, Weinhold and Hanna estimated.

“It’s entirely conceivable that one day our grandchildren—or let’s say two generations of engineers removed from us—will laugh at us when we tell them that we spent two-thirds of our time in creating geometry and meshing when we did fluid flow simulation with CFD,” they wrote.

That generation will be able to do “real time” CFD with the touch of a screen, they estimated.

“Certain CFD apps will have a place in the democratization thrust but the very challenge of CFD democratization itself should be the biggest agent for change in our industry,” the pair wrote in the white paper.




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