Back to the future: trends in commercial CFD

Keith Hanna

Menthor Graphics – UK


Keith Hanna is the Director of Marketing and Product Strategy for the Mentor Graphics Mechanical Analysis Division. He has over 20 years of experience in the Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) industry in engineering, consulting, managerial and marketing positions inside both Fluent Inc. and ANSYS Inc.

Keith has a BSc in Minerals Engineering and a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Birmingham in England and applied experience at both De Beers and British Steel PLC. Currently he sits on the Executive Committee of the International Sports Engineering Association.


Today, the commercial Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) market is around $750M/yr worldwide having grown at a remarkable average rate of about 13% year-on-year since 2000. However, there are only around 250,000 CFD users worldwide today out of a worldwide engineering population of 10,000,000s – suggesting that the CFD market is emerging in terms of potential applied usage. Indeed, it is still largely the preserve of CFD analysts, PhD’s and MEng’s in the “Early Majority” stage. Many factors have fed into this impressive growth rate and this paper will discuss all of them in a historical context with particular reference to the commercial CFD industry:

  • Solver algorithmic advances
  • Preprocessing (geometry and meshing) advances; including:
  • Average CFD Mesh size and Result Fidelity increases
  • Hardware advances (including HPC, Moore’s Law..)
  • 3rd party software advances (visualization, particles..)
  • Coupled multiphysics advances
  • CAD advances & CAD-embedded upfront CFD
  • Open-Source CFD & consulting companies…

The visible market potential globally for CFD in the near future has been estimated at $2.9bn showing that this market is far from saturated and is, in fact, a set of sub-vertical industries, each with their own particular needs and drivers:

  • sub-sectors such as Automotive, Military-Aerospace, HVAC, Chemical Process, Materials Processing, Power Generation and Electronics…
  • CFD tool sub-sectors for differing user demographics – high-end general-purpose analyst tools, designer focused tools, industry focused tools, upfront tools…

The CFD industry is also seeing much more blurring with other engineering disciplines such as CAD/PLM, EDA, ERP, SCM, CRM, Multiphysics, etc. Disciplines such as EDA and MDA, previously following separate evolutionary trajectories are being forced to converge in the Automotive & Aerospace sectors with a drive towards Digital Manufacturing; a trend which is sure to accelerate this century. The “Holy Grail” of CFD in terms of real-time, push-button, automated, easy-to-use, CAD-embedded, and bi-directional multiphysics enabled CFD is still a distant dream in many sectors but the industry is approaching this goal and the market is demanding it more and more! CFD is being pushed further and further up the design process where it has greater and greater impact on reducing manufactured product design costs and delivers higher and higher returns on investment (ROI).