The Third Wave of CFD

In the history of the simulation of flow, heat and mass transfer processes for the development of products and processes, several phases can be observed: an early phase of the first commercial codes from the 1960s to the 1980s, and a subsequent era of unstructured grid-based methods, approximately starting from the beginning of the 1990s and lasting until the mid-2000s, which was characterized by the introduction of CFD into the research and development departments of large companies. After these two big waves in the development of commercial CFD software a new, third wave appeared. This current phase is characterized by a new paradigm shift in the use of CFD simulations in industrial product development. This paradigm shift relates to the changing development processes within companies towards simulation-driven design, which has resulted in a sharp increase in the responsibility being placed on simulation engineers as simulation results become the sole basis for making decisions that have serious business and financial implications. In turn, this is translating into pressure on the manufacturers of CFD simulation software, who must, beyond the traditional focus on improvements in physical models and solver performance, respond to the changing demands of industry with new concepts for integrating CFD simulations into the product development process, new business models for licensing and use, and innovative usability concepts.

Aspects like process integration, reliability, modeling safety, and reproducibility are becoming the center of attention for the industrial use of CFD, and will eventually displace the historical vendor-driven focus on result accuracy and solver performance improvements as key drivers for software development. Excellent and consistent simulation result quality, obtained using the latest computer hardware, system software and mathematical algorithms, is simply considered as a basic, given prerequisite. This new ‘third wave’ in the development of commercial CFD software is fueled by the continuing dramatic improvements in the performance of computing and graphics hardware that continue to produce dramatic improvements in the price-performance ratio for appropriate hardware configurations. This development is, in addition to the advances in CFD technology and new demands for excellent User Experience (UX), the third pillar of the current third wave. In this paper, the three phases of the development of commercial CFD software for product development are analyzed in a historical context and the challenges and opportunities for the further development are discussed.

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