Fluid flow & virtual reality

Over the past decade, Professor and Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering Chenn Zhou, who directs the Center; faculty colleagues; and student engineers have carved an impressive niche of progress. They have done so by applying computational fluid dynamics (CFD), a relatively new method of analyzing problems involving fluid flow and/or heat transfer by solving mathematical equations that govern the flow dynamics with a range of physical and chemical models.

Zhou, who is internationally recognized for her research in CFD, and the other Purdue Calumet researchers generate millions of calculations to simulate flows of gases, liquid, and/or solids, as well as interactions between these fluids within manufacturing equipment.

While CFD modeling has been used since the 1970s for aircraft design, only during the past 15 years have other industries begun to embrace the concept, according to Zhou.

Just as CFD has gained momentum, so has virtual reality, an exciting new way to view those simulations. With virtual reality, users can interact with a computer-simulated environment.

The combination of these technologies, coupled with Purdue Calumet’s locale in the backyard of industrial America has attracted attention from northwest Indiana industries intent on identifying the source of problems, improving designs, optimizing production and even training employees—all while providing Purdue Calumet students with an unparalleled opportunity to apply in the real world theories they are learning in the classroom and laboratory.

“Mark Hunter, project manager for BP’s Whiting Refinery Modernization Project, explains how the CFD models Purdue Calumet students provided while collaborating on a new design helped make water jet targeting more precise than the previous conventional approach that is typically employed in the industry.

“With the help of tools like CFD, today’s student can visualize fluid mechanics at a “micro-level,” he said. “Historically, engineers solved problems in the field by measuring variables at a couple of different locations, often great distances apart. Then, they would use the available data to draw conclusions about large systems. Thanks to the ability to run complex computer simulations, today’s student can work with individual droplets inside a pipe, instead of streamlines.”