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CFD HVAC Analysis For Sustainable Building Design

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With 97 of the top 100 industrial companies on the FORTUNE Global 500 investing in simulation as a key strategy to solve a range of engineering challenges, it's clear computational fluid dynamics (CFD) has much to offer. In 2018, sustainable building design has never been more important, with architects seeking ways to integrate technology in the design and build of more energy efficient structures. Despite the role CFD can play in in increasing sustainability, limitations and perceptions currently restrict its wider adoption, particularly among architects and consultants working in SMEs where budgets and resources may not be as expansive.  

Modern CFD tools like our own cloud-hosted platform, EXN/Aero, are making strides to address the void and to highlight the huge advantages to integrating high performance software for overcoming challenges - particularly within HVAC designs. In this article, we highlight how CFD can be integrated into the design process, where it can be applied, the common barriers and how these are being addressed, and the opportunities it can bring to those working in the sector.

Improving Building Sustainability with CFD HVAC Simulations


Common Applications

CFD has become well known for the integral role it plays in the aerospace and automotive industries, yet it offers huge potential to facilitate improvements to a number of applications in the built environment and HVAC sectors. The table below shows some of the most common uses of simulation in the sustainable building industry and where it can be used to best effect.

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Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 16.26.22Common Pains in the Built Environment

  • Buildings above 10 stories require wind studies. Recent cases have shown the importance of understanding a building's impact on the local micro-climate and environment, as well as highlighting the dangers if due processes are not followed.
  • Some government agencies are now mandating BIM studies.
  • Hand calculations are often impractical and time-consuming.
  • Some physical phenomena cannot be calculated by hand or with calculators - notably passive HVAC and buoyancy driven phenomena.
  • Higher end or LEED certification processes don't currently have a streamlined process of achieving their specifications.

CFD in the Design Process

While every design project is different, there remains a clear goal to create a sustainable design fit for purpose, within a set budget and timeframe.

At present, simulation is often performed at the end of the process and while this still facilitates design improvements, the use of CFD in the early stages could potentially prevent late design changes that prove costly and extend project timeframes.

When integrated into the workflow, CFD can bring huge benefits particularly when working with challenging and complex HVAC environments. The hesitation to use CFD can be attributed to one or more of the common barriers listed below.

Overcoming Common Barriers to Using CFD

While CFD simulation offers many advantages to those working with complex HVAC challenges, there are also barriers to overcome. Below, we highlight the most common barriers and highlight how our CFD simulation platform, is overcoming circumventing these issues. 

  • Time: Time is of the essence in the built environment and there's lots of iterating involved with building designs often changing on a daily or even hourly basis on the request of engineering contractors, clients, HVAC designers or architects. Multiple-day simulations are of no use, so speedy turn-around times are vital. EXN/Aero Value Proposition: This platform uses GPUs to finish simulations in hours instead of days. Faster simulation turnaround times mean you can react to ever-changing requests and iterate quicker on designs.
  • Cost: Every day brings fresh challenges to businesses in the built sector, and as such it's often impractical to commit to software licenses and the large price tags they often bring. EXN/Aero Value Proposition: Our pay-as-you-go platform means you can access CFD tools on-demand with no commitment which helps optimize cash flow. 
  • Ease of Use: Architects and designers want simplicity. They don't have the time to take weeks and months learning to use a complicated system, and want CFD tools to complement their work rather than add barriers. There's also a perception that CFD tools have been purely in the realm of experienced simulation engineers. EXN/Aero Value Proposition: While the platform is already fairly easy to use, our engineers are always working on the interface and its features to make it even more user-friendly. 
  • Dynamic: Models are in the hands of architects, engineers and HVAC contractors, and are constantly changing. This can make it particularly difficult to simulate the right space - hence the number of iterations are high. A CFD tool that can work quickly and produce these iterations to optimize the final design is essential. EXN/Aero Value Proposition: With EXN/Aero you can run numerous models in parallel to speed up the overall design process.
  • Resource Limitation: Contractors are often operating under heavy workloads and as such are sometimes too busy to run the simulations themselves. EXN/Aero Value Proposition: We offer a range of engineering services to support you and your team. With the Discovery Project, our experienced team will run your CFD project for you, returning the simulations and engineering data to you at the end of the process. This is a great way to expand your service offering to clients and access high performance software and experienced engineers to benefit your project objectives. Find out more by clicking on the button below.

Discover The Benefits Of Simulation

  • Complexity: Designs have a lot of features and intricacies which aren't necessary in a CFD simulation. Geometry cleanup needs to be fast. EXN/Aero Value Proposition: Our engineers are currently working to optimize and speed up geometry cleanup on EXN/Aero even further.
  • Simplification: While designers have the ability to run a simulation correctly in the BIM suite, they aren't necessarily trained in running CFD and require the process to be simple. EXN/Aero Value Proposition: As mentioned earlier in this piece, our tool is already fairly easy to use but we want to get more people making use of CFD. For this reason, our development team continue to promote the usability of EXN/Aero and have created an Onboarding Program, where our engineers will work alongside you to train and support you on the platform during a live project. Click the button below to find out more. 
  • Personas: In many cases, BIM users are artists and designers while CFD has been reserved or outsourced to engineers. The perception that CFD can only be performed and understood by engineers has largely contributed to this, and a more integrated relationship between all parties would lead to higher quality conversations and informed decision-making. Despite the advantages provided by CFD software applications, they are not always fully integrated within the BIM process. Surprisingly, BIM models of architectural spaces are often not utilized as the object domain in a CFD simulation, despite the advantages and insight that could be provided.
  • Lack of Integration with BIM Tools: Despite the advantages provided by CFD software applications, they are not always fully integrated within the BIM process. Surprisingly, BIM models of architectural spaces are often not utilized as the object domain in a CFD simulation, despite the advantages and insight that could be provided.
  • CFD Technology & Terminology: In many cases, there remains a lack of understanding in the built environment when it comes to CFD. This is mostly due to the fact that its use is occasional so no one is using it on a constant basis. What is a volume mesh? What are boundary conditions? Overall, the learning curve needs to be short and vendors need to facilitate training and education accordingly.
  • Value Proposition: There remains a lack of understanding of the value CFD can bring to designs. Higher quality results and an easier parametric sweep to assess best design parameters would address this issue. EXN/Aero Value Proposition: For this and the previous point, CFD education is vital. As a responsible vendor, our team are always working to provide support and training to users of EXN/Aero, as well as raising awareness of simulation among the BIM communities to raise awareness of its benefits and use.

Opportunities with CFD

Overall, CFD has the potential to provide a number of key opportunities to architects, consultants, designers, manufacturers, and all those working in the built environment. These include:

  • Better thermal comfort for occupants
  • Reduced project times
  • Increased value and marketability for firms
  • Decreased HVAC design changes
  • Reduced risk of lawsuit and easier compliance of health & safety guidelines
  • Improve customer satisfaction
  • Justify recommendations
  • Showcase engineering quality
  • Reduce capital equipment needed to manage airflow in a space
  • Greater marketability & potential to win pitches through greater assets

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A New Era of CFD

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.

As architects, consultants, designers and engineers work towards more sustainable building design, using and integrating CFD HVAC simulation into their design process is all but essential to cut costs, meet timeframes and improve design quality. However, CFD must be seen as an integral part of the design process involving all parties at all stages, as opposed to something that is merely used by remote engineers once the design is built. Architects often have unrivalled knowledge about a particular project and so should be actively involved in the simulation and its results, in order to implement the most appropriate design changes.

2018-04-18 | Categories: HVAC, Engineering, architecture

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