How We Adopted Open Source CFD

Back in the early-2000s some of our longer serving (older!) staff, myself included, were working at British American Racing – a Formula 1 team that would eventually transition into Mercedes F1.

We were getting into optimisation as a method of maximising aerodynamic performance and our workflow used Sculptor to morph geometry coupled with our own Kriging codes to find the optimum designs.

We faced one big headache though – commercial CFD licensing costs meant we could only afford a finite number of licences.  Optimisation, however, can require large numbers of simulations, easily swallowing licenses for days.  Consequently, optimisations would only be run on weekends and holidays when more licenses would be free.

Thankfully, a new player on the scene – OpenFOAM – gave us the solution we needed – license free CFD.

Over-Coming Inertia

Getting someone to change CFD process can be a massive ask.  They know how their existing code works, they have worked hard on developing the recipe and, hopefully, they like the results they get.

And so it was with us.  At the time we used Fluent, we had a scripted workflow, we new what to look out for when creating models, and we knew what mesh settings were needed.  We didn’t want to learn OpenFOAM – “it doesn’t even have a GUI!”

So, our development team came up with a cunning plan – to seamlessly run OpenFOAM in parallel to Fluent without the user having to do anything – Stealth CFD.

Parallel Workflows

Our developers created tools that would automatically convert a prepared Fluent case into an OpenFOAM case.  Once converted, both simulations would be submitted to separate queues, and, on completion, users would get two results back – one from Fluent, one from OpenFOAM.

This allowed us to easily compare both codes and gain enough confidence in the OpenFOAM solutions that we trusted it for running optimisations, and ultimately all external aero simulations.

Bramble CFD

We left BAR (or Honda Racing as it had become) in 2007 and founded TotalSim, and at this point we completed the transition to OpenFOAM.  The lesson learnt stayed with us though.

The integration of new CFD methods needs to be seamless for our engineers to adopt it.

When we created bramble, we decided that it should be done in such a way that the users define their test conditions and the software handles creating the case, whether that’s OpenFOAM or another CFD code.  Seamless.  Easy.

In bramble, users select from a series of drop-downs when configuring their CFD setup.

Methodology defines the CFD code.  These are mostly OpenFOAM-based at the moment, but we don’t intended to keep it that way.

Workflow sets the type of solve, steady-state, transient, thermal and so on.

The Template Case contains all the generic CFD setup information.  Mesh recipe and boundary conditions for example.

And that’s it.  bramble has the ability to allow engineers to painlessly access the CFD software that they need.  Driving change can be hard, so make the adoption easy.

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