Thursday, December 22, 2011

Red Bull and Immersed Boundary Methods

Autosport's recent 2011 Formula 1 review pointed out that whilst Red Bull were the first team to appear with exhausts blowing the outer extremities of the diffuser, "others, notably Renault and Ferrari, had tried the layout in their tunnels before the Red Bull appeared and couldn't make it work, and Newey later confirmed that it actually took months of simulation work to maximise."

So what is it that Red Bull were able to do that other teams weren't? Was it mere persistence in the wind-tunnel with a flow regime that transpired to be extremely sensitive to the exact position and geometry of the exhaust outlet? Or were Red Bull able to apply some form of computer simulation not currently utilised by other teams?

Perhaps the former is the most likely answer, but let's pursue the alternative explanation, and see if we can join up the dots. And let's start with the fact that Red Bull use Ansys Fluent as their CFD package. In this promotional video from late 2010, it's acknowledged that Red Bull use Fluent to model their exhaust flow, (although this obviously doesn't entail that it's their only simulation tool for doing so).

Speaking recently about the High Performance Computing solutions provided by Ansys, Nathan Sykes, CFD Team Leader at Red Bull Racing, pointed out that "To retain freedom to innovate and adapt the car quickly, we rely on a robust modeling process. This puts new designs on the track quickly. To accomplish our goal, we continually need to leverage technologies that help us introduce and evaluate new ideas. With a significant reduction in process times over the last three years, ANSYS HPC solutions have continued to be the tool of choice for us."

Now, the normal aerodynamic optimisation cycle involves shaping a part in CAD, importing it into CFD, meshing it in CFD, running the CFD solver, and then post-processing the results. Meshing, in particular, can be very time-consuming. There is, however, a means of short-circuiting the cycle, called the Immersed Boundary Method, and in an environment such as Formula 1, where aerodynamic turnover is paramount, any team able to successfully implement this method could gain a significant advantage.

Immersed Boundary Methods provide a means for dealing with geometries which may be complex, or in a state of motion. They enable one to mimic the effect that an appendage has on the fluid flow in terms of something called a 'body force'. For example, if a fixed solid object is introduced into a region previously occupied by fluid flow, then the no-slip boundary condition must be imposed on the new surface, (i.e., the velocity there must be zero). In effect, this requires the application of a force which reduces the pre-existing velocity to zero. To calculate the necessary body force, one could in principle insert the necessary acceleration into the (Reynolds-Averaged) Navier-Stokes equations, as below, with udesired=0 in this case:

Coincidentally, Ansys Fluent 12.0, released in 2009, has an Immersed Boundary module, developed with Cascade Technologies Inc. This is what Ansys said at the time:

A conventional fluid dynamics simulation starts with the transfer of CAD data to a grid-generation package, in which a surface mesh and then a volume mesh are generated before the simulation can be set up and the solution run. The effort and time required for such pre-processing tasks can be significant. For example, in cases with complex or dirty geometry that require CAD cleanup, this part of the process may take 50 percent to 90 percent of the total time required for the simulation. The Immersed Boundary module addresses such issues by providing a rapid, automated, preliminary design approach.

Fluid flow simulations using the Immersed Boundary module for ANSYS FLUENT 12.0 software start with the surface data of the simulation geometry in the STL file format, which is commonly used in rapid prototyping and computer-aided manufacturing. This CAD geometry does not need to be clean, does not require smooth surfaces or geometry connectivity, and may contain overlapping surfaces, small holes and even missing parts. The simulation geometry is meshed automatically. Mesh refinement also is carried out automatically after specifying the desired resolution on the boundaries, ensuring the accuracy required for preliminary design evaluation. Using the immersed boundary meshing technique greatly reduces the amount of time spent preparing the geometry for meshing and creating the mesh.

At first sight, Immersed Boundary Methods do not appear to be available in Star-CCM+, one of Fluent's main competitors. Star-CCM+ does, however, provide a Surface Wrapper, a type of shrink-wrapper, which fixes gaps and overlaps in complex CAD geometries. Nevertheless, in Star-CCM+ it appears to be necessary to create a body-fitted mesh: a surface mesh must be created on the surface imported from CAD, and then a volume mesh is grown outwards from the surface mesh.

Immersed Boundary Methods have become increasingly popular over the past decade, and knowledge of such techniques will have been carried into the world of Formula 1 by many recent PhDs. Nevertheless, it's interesting to speculate whether Red Bull have stolen another march on the opposition here...

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