CFD Software: Going with the Flow3D

by STEVE BROWNE, MWH Global

I recently was able to visit Santa Fe-based Flow Science to learn more about their popular and powerful computation fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling software, Flow3D. For the few of you who know what I am talking about, let’s be friends (and for everyone else, bear with me as I walk you through this complex, yet highly powerful tool). This software in particular is used in my company to develop hydraulics for all types of cool hydro-projects, such as the Panama Canal Third Set of Locks, Lake Mead Intake Tunnel, and multiple hydroelectric dams around the world. This software allows engineers to input project design geometry and datasets into a computer, providing accurate feedback on water simulations and behaviors.

I found the software to be incredibly easy to use because of its friendly graphic user interface (GUI), geometry developer tools and conforming mesh capabilities. But before I dive too deep into all that, I’d like to give a brief summary of the CFD process and why it’s important for hydraulic design.

FLOW-3D simulates transient pressure contours during the flushing of a toilet.

If moving water were as simple as fastening a pump, a pipe and a spigot all together, I’d be out of a job. But the fact is that when you’re dealing with miles of pipe or tunnel, hundreds of horsepower of pumping capabilities, millions of gallons of water, and risk of failure resulting in flooding and other disasters, it’s very important that the hydraulic design performs as intended. Flow3D software breaks down the design process into simple, logical steps to help verify design intent and calculations.

The 3 key steps that I will explore are physics, geometry, and meshing:

Physics: The physics step is used to tell the software what physical elements you want it to consider in the calculations, such as fluid parameters, viscosity, atmosphere, gravity, and air entrainment.

Geometry: The geometry step is used to build the structure it is you’ll be testing/running fluid through. Flow3D also offers the capability of importing geometries from other software such as AutoCAD and MicroStation.

Meshing: Meshing is the step which determines the resolution of the model. The better the resolution, the better the results. Flow3D touts the ability to use a conforming mesh, which automatically builds a finer mesh around the surfaces of your geometry, providing better boundary layer calculations.

Now that all of the basics are out of the way, I can tell you what I really like about this software. As mentioned earlier, I really like how it handles. Imagine the design and functionality of a Porsche 911; sleek, powerful, smooth. The GUI is visually pleasing, and I can find all the tools I need without a problem. Next, the software runs design calculations in a separate executable program, meaning, you can work on other models while you are running your current model. Furthermore, you can even view stunning 3D results at any angle from every pre-selected parameter (including all the nitty-gritty color contours) at any time. Lastly, I want to mention that Flow Science plans to offer a server where you can upload your models to run on their super computer, significantly cutting down on traditional computation times.


Steve Browne is a hydraulic and civil EIT for Colorado-based MWH Global. Receiving BS and MS degrees from the University of Iowa in civil engineering, hydraulics and water resources, Steve was awarded graduate assistantship and fellowship at University of Iowa's IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering to develop physical models for the Thames Tunnel in London, England. Steve is a guest contributor for Blue Collar Labs and regularly provides feedback on tech products within the engineering space.