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How Tesla Uses Cost Effective CFD

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Tesla Motors named after Nikola Tesla, an extraordinary scientist, is becoming a household name in electric cars.

The company came up with their first vehicle Tesla Roadster in 2006, followed by Model S and Model X. Model 3, was recently unveiled in March 2016 and received more than 325,000 reservations within a week. 

Cost-Effective CFD and computer simulations are being used more frequently in the automobile industry for the aerodynamic design of cars, and for reducing the cost and testing times of specialized components. The aerodynamic design of automobiles, focused on increasing the range and speed of the vehicles, greatly depends on reducing the drag coefficient (a dimensionless variable that is used to quantify the resistance of air or drag in the design of automobiles). The drag coefficient, among other things, depends greatly on the automobile geometry and can be smartly reduced by streamlining the external design.

Exa Corporation, a leading automotive simulation software provider, played a great role in reducing the drag and improving the aerodynamic design of both Model S and Model X. A simulation-driven approach aided in reducing the drag coefficient from 0.32 for early styling concepts to a final value of 0.24 for Model S and Model X. According to Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, Model 3 is expected to have an aerodynamic drag of 0.21 Cd, making it the least aerodynamic drag mass-production SUV ever. A low aerodynamic drag will help in increasing the fuel efficiency of the model, and achieve a greater range.

At initial stages in the design process of Tesla S, Tesla Motors used conventional steady state CFD models but switched to PowerFLOW (ExaCorp) to “directly resolve anisotropic turbulence scales.” Rob Palin, a lead aerodynamicist at Tesla Motors, said

“We had confidence based on validation and prior correlation with physical tests that PowerFLOW simulations were an accurate representation of the aerodynamics.”

Apart from improving the crucial front end design, parametric studies were conducted to modify the headlight area design with the objective of turning the air sharply and keeping it adhered to the sides of the car. Additionally, wheel design was improved so that air hits head-on on the front wheel of the vehicle instead of hitting at an angle. Also, to reduce the vortex formation, the curvature of A and C pillars were optimized by performing simulation studies. The optimized simulation results were validated by wind tunnel testing and provided a much faster solution to drag problems.

Check Out This One Pager on Simulations vs. Experiments

Cost-Effective CFD software is a tool that is used in several departments across Tesla motors including Aerodynamics, HVAC design, and Powertrain engineering. In addition to reducing the drag forces, the range of cars could also be improved by increasing the onboard energy storage.  However, increasing energy storage enhances the weight and cost of the vehicle apart from requirements of additional heat exchangers for heat removal. According to Vince Johnston, engineering manager at Tesla Motors, the simulation tool helped in optimizing range performance and reducing the energy consumption in Model S.



2016-07-22 | Categories: CFD, Blog

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