Beware the upfront CFD non-specialist specialist

The beauty of upfront CFD (and really any upfront simulation genre) lies in your ability to empower the whole engineering staff. CFD used to be relegated to very specialized, PhD, expensive users at very large companies. Unfortunately, that put the bulk of industry CFD work on deep R&D and thesis-worthy projects.

Most companies had little success in leveraging their internal CFD specialists to help attack day to day product development. Most PhD’s are interested in theoretical perfection and are accustomed to measuring projects in months and years. Frontline engineers, on the other hand, think in terms of days and months. You might even hear them quote Larry the Cable Guy on a regular basis, “Get ‘r done!”

I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard the following:

“Well, we do have some really smart CFD specialists over in the other building. We used to send stuff over to them, but it usually takes a month or two just to get on their schedule. Then, it’s at least a couple weeks to get any kind of an answer back. We gotta make decisions faster than that, so we usually just go out back and try a bunch of stuff with real prototypes.”

This kind of thing is often the catalyst for companies to investigate upfront CAE solutions that are appropriate for design engineers. An investment is made, and everyone is excited to see the results. Several months later, however, guys are still out back messing around with prototypes. The upfront CAE software is gathering dust. Why?

Because… an Engineering Manager often selects 1 person from his group of multi-tasking, fast-moving engineers and proclaims him the “upfront CFD go-to guy.” So, we’ve just taken a highly effective worker who can move between multiple engineering genres, and pigeon-holed him into a specialist role.

But… he’s not a specialist. He doesn’t have a PhD or even a Masters. He will never reach the level of expertise earned by those specialists in the other building. Since this is his new role, though, he’s going to try. Everybody in the group will now begin to load him up with their individual CFD projects, and he’ll hesitate to provide results until he’s sure they are perfect. Voila, you’ve just created the same productivity bottleneck you were trying to fix with upfront CFD in the first place!

Train your whole team and make sure they view upfront CFD as just another arrow in the engineering quiver. Just as everyone uses CAD and Microsoft Excel, so should everyone feel comfortable opening the upfront CFD or FEA tool. Perfection should not be the goal. Rather, quickly down-selecting design directions and cutting out some of that prototyping and testing in the lab should be the goal. Usage should be ubiquitous across the team. Each person needs to take ownership of his own usage of the tool to avoid bottlenecks and the “toss it over the wall” mentality.

Get ’em trained… and get ‘r done.