CFD Simulation in the Built Environment


From hotels to schools, and stadiums to concert halls, modern buildings must meet ever increasing safety, energy efficiency, aesthetic and environmental standards. In order to satisfy the requirements of such standards, engineers have long championed the use of simulation as a way of optimizing a design in the early stages - a process that enables changes to be made as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. Envenio recently exhibited at London's Ecobuild 2018, a tradeshow committed to the future of the sustainable buildings. As such, this article takes a look at the role CFD simulation is having on the industry now and in the future.

97 of the top 100 industrial companies on the “FORTUNE Global 500” invest in engineering simulation as a key strategy, using multiphysics solutions to solve a range of engineering challenges.

While the advantages are clear, limitations and perceptions have sometimes restricted the wider adoption of computational fluid dynamics, particularly among architects and consultants working in SMEs where budgets and resources may not be as expansive. 

Modern CFD tools are making huge strides to addressing the void, and the introduction of cloud-hosted platforms such as EXN/Aero and the integral role of BIM are enabling more consultants to access and use high performance software. In light of this, we look at the common challenges presented by the built environment, and highlight how simulation can effectively provide solutions. This article follows on from a more in-depth article around how CFD simulation continues to bridge the gap between architecture and engineering.

CFD: Providing Solutions to Common Challenges in the Built Environment

Comfort Modeling

Thermal comfort and air quality within buildings is a primary consideration when designing or optimizing HVAC systems. By effectively predicting room conditions such as temperature, humidity, contaminants, air velocity and thermal radiation, and taking into account how they are impacted by heat loss and solar gains in a particular building, more effective design decisions can be made. 

Energy Efficiency

Energy consumption was a particularly important topic at Ecobuild 2018, and simulation plays a key role in minimizing energy consumption through the improvement and optimization of building materials and HVAC systems. Simulations can be used to determine optimal HVAC equipment placement before any development takes place or for improving an existing layout. 

Fire & Smoke

Predicting and evaluating fire and smoke propagation within a building is essential, due to the obvious and significant risk presented to public safety. Smoke management and fire suppression systems are vital and potentially life-saving, so must be designed to optimum levels and rigorously tested and assessed. Ecobuild raised the issue numerous times throughout the program, noting the industry's challenges in a 'post-Grenfell world'.

Simulation enables material resistance to explosions, extreme heat or fire, and structural performance during a catastrophic event, to be fully modelled and tested. By simulating explosions, fire and smoke events, and making improvements and alterations based on such results, a greater degree of confidence in installed smoke management and fire suppression systems can be relied upon. 

Wind & Airflow

Skyscrapers are commonplace in cities the world over, and with space in many of these locations at a premium, it's hardly surprising that developers continue to build upwards in an attempt to maximize and utilize available land. Such structures, combined with landmarks including bridges and historical features, can have a considerable impact on local pedestrian comfort due to the behavior of air around them, and this must be factored to avoid potentially dangerous micro-climate effects. Any building over 10 floors must have some wind flow modelling. Proper wind flow characterization on a building requires 16 angles of attack and in some cases 36 angles. Many engineering consulting firms do this in wind tunnels, which is expensive and time consuming. Many in the industry have shied away from simulating this behavior in transient virtual environments because of the high cost and compute power required for such simulations. 

In 2013, a council in Leeds, England, revealed that 25 incidents had occurred due to a 'wind tunnel effect' around a newly implemented building.

EXN/Aero allows for transient simulations to take place during the 'planning stage', predicting airflow around intended buildings while taking into account existing structures. Envenio launched an ability to run simulations in parallel on single nodes, enabling an engineer to simulate 16 wind angles on a building in as little as 4 hours. This can prove a hugely valuable tool not only for increasing pedestrian safety and comfort, but also for presenting to local authorities and communities when proposing a new urban structure.

The Impact of Accessible & Affordable CFD Tools

CFD simulation tools such as EXN/Aero have the potential to greatly assist professionals in the built environment, allowing them to:

  • Have greater confidence in the safety and structural performance of buildings
  • Comply with safety legislation
  • Optimize comfort of occupants 
  • Utilize energy more efficiently
  • Acknowledge and eradicate local concerns in urban construction projects 
  • Pitch new projects to investors or pitch for business using simulations

Barriers & Perceptions

Traditionally, those wishing to use simulation software faced considerable costs and inflexible licenses. Many traditional codes were also complex to use, requiring a substantial amount of engineering knowledge.

In 2018, the landscape is changing at a rapid pace. Vendors such as Envenio are utilizing the cloud in order to deliver high performance software to its users in an on-demand, pay-as-you-go format. Intuitive platforms that are generally easy to use, are therefore more readily accessible by architects and consultants in the built environment. Envenio's range of support services and guidance ensures users of its platform are sufficiently equipped to run simulations and have confidence in their results. 

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