Since 2016, ”democratization” has been the buzzword in the simulation industry and is projected to become the new reality. Meintjeis (2016) defined democratization as “making engineering simulation accessible and usable to a much wider audience in a way that supports how they get their work done.” Since then, there has been a huge push to make high-end simulation tools like FEA (Finite Element Analysis) and CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) accessible on an ad-hoc basis to more engineers and product designers. However, these efforts have been unsuccessful; the latest market statistics show market penetration of CFD is barely 5%. This gap between prediction and reality does not seem to diminish with time as previously postulated.
According to Hannah and Weinhold (2017), this gap arose because the basic skeleton of simulation performance remained unchanged over time. A typical workflow of a CFD simulation consists of generating a clean geometry and a high-quality volume mesh, setting up the preprocessor, solving the problem, and post-processing the solution. Each step requires extensive expertise which can be a bottleneck in terms of available engineers. If a design iteration is necessary, one must start over at the geometry stage.
As of now, there is no way to reduce these steps. Most of the big software vendors are working towards cutting down the time for each step by providing better software to clean up dirty geometry, better meshers, and faster algorithms; however, there is no indication that this process is likely to change in near future. Assuming this process would still be used in most of the simulation industry in the foreseeable future, the problem is better appreciated if we understand the users of such simulation tools.
CFD Analyst: Usually have Masters or PhD degrees, and are experts in engineering, mathematics, and physics. They are in high demand when the design process is stuck where the conventional design is unable to solve the problem. Usually that happens at the late stages of the design process when the bulk of the design is already conceptualized. Thus, this situation poses great difficulty for CFD analysts as they must find a solution under great design constraints. In an ideal world, CFD analysts would have been deployed at an earlier state to provide a truly ‘out-of-the-box’ design.
Design Engineers: Usually have bachelor’s degrees and are highly competent in physical testing and somewhat familiar with the CAE environment. They solve design problems quickly but are usually unfamiliar with the complicated environment of CFD simulations.
The major reason that the gap between CFD predictions and reality exists is due to the apparent misconnection of design engineers and CFD analysts.
Lately, software vendors have attempted to address this issue by providing simplified apps for design engineers of specific industries. For example, FloTherm and ICEPACK are for the Electronics Cooling Industry; FloVENT for the HVAC industry; Numeca and CFTurbo for the Turbomachinary industry, and Hammer and Impulse for the pipeline industry. While these can be helpful to solve simple issues, they fall short in performing complicated calculations. Additionally, these apps are not available for all industries, so the majority are left with general purpose CFD tools.
To counteract this, some companies provided design engineers with CFD tools, but they were typically unable to handle complicated simulations. For example, when an engineer designs a pipe support, the process is relatively straightforward: perform a CFD calculation of the pipe flow, transfer the fluid pressures into a structural model, analyze the stress in the pipe support, and design accordingly. In these seemingly simple steps, complications arise when the flow regime creates cavitation or column separation in the pipe. At this point, the process cannot be handled by design engineers. A pioneer of modern CFD, Dr. Boyshan, Former President of Fluent Inc, aptly summarized that now “more people can get a wrong answer with CFD faster than ever before.” We end this discussion by quoting Hanna and Weinhold (2017), “…the next 20-40 years will require more thinking out of the current box and probably radial rethinking of CFD codes structure along with more fundamental academic research into algorithm, numerical and the application of artificial intelligence…”. So, it seems the gap is here to stay for another couple of decades.
XRG Technologies was founded in 2016 with the goal of closing this gap in the fired equipment industry. We mastered a way to involve experienced CFD and FEA Analysts at earlier phases of design to provide out-of-the box solutions that actually work. Every design calculation is backed by solid simulation for both CFD and FEA analyses. We take pride in our approach of “minding the gap” and believe that this seamless integration of simulations in design engineering is the first step towards solving the gap created by a lack of true democratization. At XRG, we support democratization whole-heartedly, but the world cannot wait another couple of decades for properly designed fired equipment.
The need is now, and we are the most qualified to address it. For your next project, whether a novel design or a traditional CFD model, put your trust in the hands of XRG Technologies.
 Hanna, R. K., Weinhold, I., 2017. “The Democratization of CFD – is it Possible?”, NAFEMS World Congress, Stockholm, Sweden, June, 2017
 ASSESS Congress, 2016. Presentations and Contributions from Dennis Nagy, Keith Meintjes, Monica Schnitger et al., Washington DC (accessed Nov 24th, 2019): http://www.assessinitiative.com/congress/assess-2016/