A Look into the Future: Flow Simulator Under the Care of Altair

GE Aviation hands control of Flow Simulator to Altair—now what?

Recently, Altair acquired the system-level simulation software Flow Simulator from its longtime partner GE Aviation. This thermal, flow and combustion simulation software is well known in the aerospace industry. The acquisition aims to expand the software’s reach to any application that includes fluid flow and thermal management.

A gas turbine combustor that is designed in Flow Simulator. It is based on a CAD integrated flow network model. (Image courtesy of Altair.)

A gas turbine combustor that is designed in Flow Simulator. It is based on a CAD integrated flow network model. (Image courtesy of Altair.)

“Altair will bring Flow Simulator’s capability to simplify the modeling of complex thermal systems to new industries. This will expand global technical capabilities,” confirmed Arjan Hegeman, senior executive – Technology at GE Aviation.

James R. Scapa, founder and chief executive officer of Altair, expanded on the acquisition: “There is great potential to expand Flow Simulator’s capabilities and make it available to new industries focused on simulating systems models including automotive, electromobility, battery, defense and renewable energy.”

Some of the complex models that new users will design include:

  • Rotary machines
  • Electromobility systems
  • Wind turbines
  • Heat exchangers

Altair knew that GE Aviation would be a valuable resource as these functionalities are integrated. As a result, a memo of understanding has been signed between the two organizations that establishes a long-term partnership.

But what will this all look like and how will it affect current and future simulation users?

How Will Simulation Users Utilize Flow Simulator?

A CAD-integrated 3D flow network model that is designed within Flow Simulator to assess thermal management. The 1D elements are overlayed onto the 3D Geometry. (Image courtesy of Altair.)

A CAD-integrated 3D flow network model that is designed within Flow Simulator to assess thermal management. The 1D elements are overlayed onto the 3D Geometry. (Image courtesy of Altair.)

Flow Simulator can be used to pre-, post-process, solve and optimize simulations within a CAD-compatible 3D design environment. It includes fully coupled 1D thermal and flow network modeling and a library of preconfigured elements, components and experimental data on pressure drop and heat transfer.

Its Monte Carlo, Optimal Latin Hypercube, and N-factorial optimization and design space exploration capabilities can explore parameterizations of:

  • Flow configurations
  • Shapes
  • Dimensions
  • Thermal characteristics

The software can also model control systems using proportional integral derivative (PID) controllers, feed forward, and missions that integrate into the simulation and optimization models.

Flow Simulator users start with 3D geometry and overlay 1D elements on the model to simplify each section. Data is shared between the 3D geometry and 1D elements. The 1D elements can be based on entries in the library, a reduced order model (ROM) of a 3D simulation, or user-defined functions and intellectual property.

How Will Flow Simulator’s Development Differ?

Uwe Schramm, CTO of Altair, explained that his organization owns most of Flow Simulator and will develop its own technology. However, GE Aviation’s development team will still participate by developing features.

Simulations produced using Flow Simulator. (Image courtesy of Altair.)

Simulations produced using Flow Simulator. (Image courtesy of Altair.)

He adds that the aim will be to have one version of the software. But some technology associated with the software, which is verified by proprietary data, remains under GE Aviation’s control. “A lot of the elements are verified through data that is proprietary to GE. They do not share that with us or the public. But on a non-proprietary basis we are developing elements together.” He added that a lot of elements can be made using 3D models—which is the simulation company’s bread and butter.

Hegeman elaborated, “Concurrently, GE Aviation and Altair will continue developing Flow Simulator together, with even more advanced simulation technologies and design tools that will continue to expand its capabilities for a broader base of users.”

So, what does this all mean from a user and functionality point of view?

What to Expect from Future Flow Simulator Iterations?

The battery of an electric car. (Stock image.)

The battery of an electric car. (Stock image.)

Altair and GE Aviation will have a unified Flow Simulator road map. They will both add models based on their simulations and data.

As Altair is the current owner of the technology, expect to see the software integrate further with ecosystem staples, like OptiStruct, HyperStudy and HyperWorks.

This opens the door to thermal structural simulations, optimizations and development. Users can optimize a mechanical design based on flow and thermal inputs from Flow Simulator. They can also reduce their 3D CFD simulations into 1D models to speed up the iteration and optimization process.

The software can be used to assess how turbine engines handle the loads of an entire flight cycle. Schramm explained, “Flow Simulator is based on a flow network simulation. It can model and simulate the whole flight path from taxi to landing. You can’t do that with 3D technology. It uses 1D elements to model the flow regime conditions, so it doesn’t need 3D CFD which is more expensive.”

With the Altair ecosystem integrations, users will be able to extend this functionality to other industries. For instance, an engineer could test the performance of an electric car’s battery throughout a drive cycle.

Each battery cell can be modeled as a 1D element and linked together to represent the behavior of the battery pack. Then engineers run the model through the car’s expected drive cycle.

“Runs take minutes, so you can do a lot of iterations,” said Schramm. “Flow Simulator has some optimization models, but we’re going to hook it up to HyperStudy to improve its optimization environment.

“More and more simulations are on the system level of optimizations,” he added. “Personally, Flow Simulator is a super nice product with a UI [user interface] that is easy to use.”

What’s to Come from Altair’s Partnerships with GE Aviation

Expect more to come from the Altair and GE Aviation partnership. (Stock image.)

Expect more to come from the Altair and GE Aviation partnership. (Stock image.)

It should be clear to readers that GE Aviation wasn’t looking to abandon Flow Simulator—or its users. The company will remain an integral part of the tool and other Altair projects going forward.

Under a memo of understanding signed by the two organizations, they promise to peruse new opportunities and establish a long-term strategic partnership.

This agreement not only guarantees GE’s further involvement with Flow Simulator, it also gives the company access to Altair’s complete software suite in an effort to explore potential enhancements and functionalities.

The executives of the two organizations will also participate in ongoing engagements to ensure they are strategically aligned as they pursue new ventures.

Why is this important to the users? As GE Aviation designs engines for commercial and military uses, it brings to the table the perspectives of Flow Simulator’s users, engineers, and GE software developers. This will not only help smooth its integration into other products, but also ensure that the new features will be informed by people who use the software in the field. This insight can improve the day-to-day usability of the whole Altair ecosystem.

Given the history of collaborations and the memo of understanding, it’s unlikely that this will be the final announcement to come out of Altair and GE Aviation. As Scapa said, “We successfully collaborated with GE Aviation for many years on several initiatives including rotor dynamics using [OptiStruct], which opened doors for new opportunities to work together. We value our strong relationship … as we join forces to drive innovation for aircraft engines and beyond.”

Written by

Shawn Wasserman

For over 10 years, Shawn Wasserman has informed, inspired and engaged the engineering community through online content. As a senior writer at WTWH media, he produces branded content to help engineers streamline their operations via new tools, technologies and software. While a senior editor at Engineering.com, Shawn wrote stories about CAE, simulation, PLM, CAD, IoT, AI and more. During his time as the blog manager at Ansys, Shawn produced content featuring stories, tips, tricks and interesting use cases for CAE technologies. Shawn holds a master’s degree in Bioengineering from the University of Guelph and an undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Waterloo.