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Sim­u­la­tion king Nick Wirth

F1 Rac­ing: Vir­tual engi­neer­ing is the com­mon thread in your ac­tiv­i­ties. How did you be­come so com­mit­ted to it?

Nick Wirth: For 15 years with Honda, dur­ing the post-sea­son review they’d say, “We’ve had a suc­cess­ful year but the com­pe­ti­tion are go­ing to come back stronger – what are we go­ing to do to en­sure that we carry on win­ning?” And I’d say, “We need to in­vest more in aero­dy­namic re­search. We need to do more CFD." It ended up with us in­vest­ing in CFD to a level that is far beyond what is used in F1 now.

F1R: In what way?

NW: It’s sim­ply be­cause the rules have been writ­ten, in my opin­ion, in a very un­for­tu­nate way, which means that the full power of mod­ern CFD can­not be ex­ploited in F1 be­cause of the reg­u­lated re­stric­tion in re­sources in CFD.

F1R: Why is that?

NW: Be­cause do­ing CFD right is so com­pu­ta­tion­ally dif­fi­cult to do. Do­ing it right is a very high grid count, com­press­ible flow, full physics, large-eddy sim­u­la­tion. It’s the gold stan­dard of what we know about CFD. The top teams can use it on oc­ca­sion but they can’t use it ev­ery sin­gle run be­cause of the F1 CFD rules.

F1R: What you mean by the ‘gold stan­dard’?

NW: The crit­i­cal phrase is ‘full physics’ – aero­dy­namic and ther­mo­dy­namic si­mul­ta­ne­ous sim­u­la­tion. So, F1 tyres run at about the boil­ing point of wa­ter, brake discs at a peak tem­per­a­ture of 1000ºc and the wa­ter coolers in­side the en­gine are run­ning at maybe 120-130ºc. There’s all this heat trans­fer go­ing on and that’s crit­i­cal to sim­u­late. Warm air go­ing down the car af­fects the forces on the back of the car dif­fer­ently to if it was cold, be­cause it’s less dense. It was only when we added all these pro­cesses into our mod­els that they started to cor­re­late re­ally well to full-scale. The Honda sportscars we never took to a wind­tun­nel. All those cars we de­vel­oped in CFD only.

F1R: What are the ap­pli­ca­tions beyond mo­tor­sport?

NW: The defence in­dus­try is one area. For in­stance, Lock­heed Martin asked us to come up with a con­cept that would en­able a sub­ma­rine to launch an un­manned aerial ve­hi­cle while un­der­wa­ter. We had to de­sign a tube that would trans­form into a small air­craft in three tenths of a sec­ond and only weigh a kilo and a half, so we ap­plied all our mo­tor­sport sim­u­la­tion knowl­edge to mak­ing this air­craft as ef­fi­cient as it could be. Our pro­pel­lers use 20 per cent less elec­tri­cal power to gen­er­ate the same thrust as the best com­mer­cial com­pos­ite pro­pel­lers.

We’re do­ing a lot of work in ar­chi­tec­ture on pedes­trian com­fort and build­ing loads, and we also helped Ap­ple with the nat­u­ral ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem on their new cam­pus. To work out the flow struc­tures we had to model the whole val­ley Cu­per­tino is set in!

Some­thing else we can do now, which hasn’t been solv­able in sim­u­la­tion be­fore, af­fects tall build­ings. You can use a wind­tun­nel to work out how much a build­ing sways in the wind, but you have no idea if the cladding is go­ing to scream. We can get it so they can see those prob­lems and en­gi­neer them out be­fore build­ing and we’re go­ing to present our so­lu­tion to the world in Chicago on May 30.

F1R: How did you end up re-engi­neer­ing the fridge?

NW: We’d worked with a num­ber of part­ners, in­clud­ing Ed­die Sto­bart, on the road haulage side, to re-en­gi­neer their trail­ers to be more aero ef­fi­cient and they were typ­i­cally see­ing a five per cent im­prove­ment.

When talk­ing to Marks and Spencer about their ve­hi­cle aero­dy­nam­ics, they asked us to take a look at their chiller cab­i­nets. They were good at keep­ing sand­wiches cold but were ex­pen­sive and kept the shops cold. If they put doors on it had a dis­as­trous ef­fect on sales. We built a model, ran a high grid count, com­press­ible flow, full physics, largeeddy sim­u­la­tion – mak­ing it the most so­phis­ti­cated fridge ever built – and that en­abled us to un­der­stand and in­vent a means to con­trol the air spill. Our retro-fit so­lu­tion takes 30 sec­onds to fit. If ev­ery su­per­mar­ket has one it will re­duce the UK’S over­all elec­tric­ity con­sump­tion by one per cent...

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