Are you ever ‘dropping a beat’, and it’s just not flowin’? This won’t help. I’d actually love to see a raise of hands though. How many people use Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) for flow analysis in their designs?

My experience with flow analysis and looking at scenarios surrounding flow of any kind has always been with a physical model, not even a 3D print. I’m talking cardboard, tape and little whispies glued every few inches to show turbulent areas as air passes by. This is where CFDesign comes in.

I had a chance to talk with Derrek Cooper, Program Manager at Blue Ridge Numerics, makers of CFDesign. He demoed a few ways the program is able to simplify analysis and how it can extend to a lot of different applications. Here’s what’s interesting me and making those cardboard models look better in the trash bin.

CFD for the Common Man
CFDesign is aiming to put flow analysis in the hands of anyone. It’s, as Derrek says, “CFD for the common man.” I hear that and I immediately think, “Is there such a thing?”. For someone that isn’t involved solely in analyzing water, electrical or ventilation systems I would say, yes, prototyping flow scenarios digitally makes the effort much more simple and easier to understand. For someone that is a systems engineer or involved in systems certification, who has a deeper understanding of pressure drops or the heat absorption of various foams, this type of tool become increasingly more powerful. The basic features each would want to know are these:

  • works with many CAD systems
  • It’s a stand-alone application
  • It opens most any CAD format
  • The lightweight mode allows mesh to be stored
  • Multiple scenarios can be created quickly via cloning
  • Allows you to look at flow patterns side-by-side
A comparison between holes and slots in a water system component
A comparison between holes and slots in a water system component
Looking at Velocity within different scenarios
Looking at Velocity within different scenarios
Analyzing the results of the change in pressure
Analyzing the results of the change in pressure
Final plot showing pressure drops against different scenarios.
Final plot showing pressure drops against different scenarios.

Cool Colors, Cool Images
Oh yes, the fancy images a program like CFDesign is able to generate are nice, but even as a design engineer that needs to quickly optimize a model, you want to know exact values and have the ability to adjust them. This might be for airflow through a system of ducts or convection around a high-priced electrical components. Being able to compare different results side-by-side and run a report, with actual values to show a Systems Engineer, creates a general amount of benefit for a company spread out across different areas of engineering. Areas of engineering that all touch or are influenced by what happens in systems needing flow analysis.

3D CAD Plugins
CFDesign has a full array of product that allow nearly every major format to be brought into the stand-alone software. Currently you have your pick between Inventor, CATIA, CoCreate, Pro/E, SolidEdge, SolidWorks, SpaceClaim and NX. As an example, the SolidWorks plugin is able to:

  • Export your model directly from SolidWorks into CFDesign
  • Copy over materials from SolidWorks
  • Automatically assign boundary conditions
  • Automatically evaluates Mesh and Flow Volume

After that, it’s up to you to do the job you do so well by plugging in various flow, thermal, and turbulence values against your model. The mesh and boundaries can be adjusted as well.

The results of the analysis showing pressure across the region.
The results of the analysis showing pressure across the region.

The Smack
It’s easy to see where this could save a lot of time over building physical models or building spreadsheets to calculate factor affecting a system. I’m looking into this a little more for the companies I work with. They’re spread out across systems that require specific values for heat absorption and sound dampening. Being able to optimize these areas will shave a lot of time off design and manufacturing while helping to standardize components.

CFDesign 2010 is slated for launch early September. That gives you enough time to struggle with a box cutter, some tape, a heat gun, and still be able to swithc mid-way to compare the result CFDesign spits out. Do you use it already? In working with companies looking for better analysis tools, what’s the biggest benefit you see for companies that use this on a regular basis?


Josh is founder and editor at, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.