Upfront CFD: easy to use, but often hard to implement

Here is a typical multi-tasking engineer’s to-do list:

  • get new plastic housing in queue for environmental life testing
  • get Belleville washer pricing from new fastener supplier
  • call plant about quality control on paint process
  • mock up and compare 3 new airflow designs in CAD/CFD
  • prepare my section of the X14 GANTT chart for Thurs meeting
  • check out CAD integration with Mastercam
  • register for National Design conference

Here is a typical, dedicated CFD specialist’s to-do list:

  • run mesh sensitivity study on latest CFD software upgrade
  • finish mesh for new droplet dispersion model
  • customize solver diffusion algorithm
  • submit last year’s polymer mixing project for publication

Upfront CFD is developed for multi-tasking engineers. These folks are on the frontlines, pushing new products to completion so the marketing and sales teams can fulfill their promises. Multi-tasking engineers interface with suppliers, manufacturing people, testing engineers, and more. Notice that running some upfront CFD calculations on this Engineer’s to-do list is buried 4 deep among 6 other completely unrelated activities.

Contrast that with the dedicated PhD analyst’s to-do list. Every item is directly related to analysis and has no direct impact on current products.

The important takeaway here is that multi-tasking engineers don’t eat, breathe, and sleep upfront CFD or FEA. Dedicated analysts think about traditional CFD or FEA in the shower.

This is the double edged sword that you need to deal with to get the most out of upfront simulation tools. These tools are sold largely on ease-of-use, and indeed they are extremely simple to learn. But that doesn’t mean they’ll magically get used. Any stumbling blocks in your implementation of upfront tools will cause multi-tasking engineers to toss their hands in the air… and head back out to the lab for another round of expensive and time consuming physical prototyping.

In contrast, an analyst will take the time and energy to master every knob, widget, and custom programming option of a traditional CFD tool. CFD is his identity. The more complicated (and impossible for anyone else to understand) the better!

So, if you employ multi-tasking engineers AND a dedicated specialist, you will usually notice the following:

Upfront CFD is easy-to-use, but requires care to properly implement.
Traditional CFD is hard-to-use, but easy to implement.

Upfront CFD offers far more payback on your day to day business if you can successfully drive it into the process of your multi-tasking engineers. Lots of new adopters make the mistake of thinking this will naturally happen because the software is so easy-to-use. You must understand that upfront tools won’t get adopted without firm attention on these points:

  1. Easy access to sufficient licensing
  2. Proper training for the full team
  3. Inclusion of upfront CAE milestones in official project plans
  4. Vocal executive support for the CAE initiative
  5. Regularly scheduled touch-up training
  6. Fast access to quality technical support

Take these points seriously in your upfront CAE implementation and you will transform your frontline engineering process.



  1. “Dedicated analysts think about traditional CFD or FEA in the shower.”
    Hey how did you know? Are you spying on me?

  2. Yup, the camera is waterproof.