A feature-independent mesh generation and integrated solution framework

Lead Research Organisation: Swansea University
Department Name: School of Engineering

Abstract

Although computational simulation is extensively employed in industry, its wider use is limited by the complexity of the geometric models involved. This limitation is due to the excessive number of human hours, ranging from days to months, required to transfer information from a computer aided design (CAD) model to a computer aided engineering (CAE) model suitable for simulation. CAD models frequently involve a level of detail much greater than that required to perform a computational simulation with a CAE system. The preparation of CAD models for simulation, including mesh generation, is still a challenging bottleneck that needs to be resolved to enable realisation of the full potential of simulation tools in industry. This challenge is also a crucial factor delaying the industrial uptake of, the often computationally superior, high-order methods.

Current research is focused on the development of algorithms for de-featuring complex CAD models. A major drawback of this process is the requirement for human expertise and manual interaction with CAD systems and geometry cleaning tools. Although engineers are aided by the semi-automatic tools that are included in many existing commercial mesh generation packages, such as COMSOL, ANSYS, CATIA, SolidWorks, Patran, MSC, CADfix, ESI Visual Environment, de-featuring cannot be fully automatised. In addition, it is usually not possible to know, a priori, the effect of de-featuring on the results of a simulation because this process depends upon the physical problem and the level of approximation required.

At the heart of the problem is the traditional hierarchical paradigm implemented in many commercial mesh generators. The ultimate goal of this project is to develop a new computational environment that includes a feature-independent mesh generation paradigm and plug--and--play libraries to enable direct integration of the meshes into existing commercial and research solvers. The proposed approach is disruptive, as it proposes the development of unconventional computational approaches, not only at the stage of generating suitable meshes for computational simulations but also requires the incorporation of new plug-and-play libraries into existing solvers. The libraries will be delivered as part of this project and it will follow the rationale used in commercial software where the user can select a different type of element depending on the demands of a particular simulation.

The advantage of the proposed mesh generation technique is not restricted to removing the bottleneck that has been highlighted by many industries that routinely use computational engineering in their design cycles. In addition, the new meshes will completely remove the uncertainty introduced by de-featuring CAD models. Instead of relying on the opinion of experts, to decide which features might not be relevant in a simulation, the CAD model will not be altered, leading to higher fidelity simulations and more confidence in the results.

The proposed research is timely, tackling a problem that has been highlighted in the last three years by independent agencies (e.g. NASA), international associations dedicated to computer modelling (e.g. NAFEMS) and the private sector (e.g. Pointwise Inc.). Since the mid 1990s the research has focused on the development of tools for faster de-featuring. The fact that this issue has not been resolved in over two decades, suggests that the radical new approach proposed here, pursuing an orthogonal research direction, in which no de-featuring is needed, can lead to a breakthrough.

Planned Impact

The impact of the project will be maximised by publishing articles in high impact-factor international journals. Due to the interdisciplinary character of the proposed research, we will target journals in the computational engineering community (e.g. Journal of Computational Physics, International Journal for Numerical Methods in Engineering, Computational Mechanics and Computer Methods in Applied Mechanics and Engineering) and the computer-aided design community (e.g Computer-Aided Design, Computer-Aided Design and Applications, Finite Elements in Analysis and Design and Procedia Engineering).

The investigators will also present the findings of the project at the International Meshing Roundtable, the Conference of the European Community of Computational Methods in Applied Sciences (ECCOMAS), the World Congress on Computational Mechanics organised by the International Association for Computational Mechanics (IACM) and the NAFEMS World Congress. These conferences have been selected as they cover a wide range of multi-disciplinary interests with a large number of attendees and significant industrial presence.

The investigators have extensive experience in organising national and international conferences and mini-symposia. They will involve the research assistants in the organisation of events to provide a platform for further developing their professional career. These events will also help the team to establish new research links. Conferences with a wide focus on computational engineering, as well as conferences and workshops tailored to the specialised community of mesh generation and pre-processing, will be targeted.

Utilising the extensive industrial contacts of the Zienkiewicz Centre for Computational Engineering, the applicants will organise and deliver a national workshop to present the developed technology. Particular emphasis will be placed on its potential impact on numerical modelling in many established and newly emerging fields. Engineers, researchers and scientists from a wide spectrum of SMEs, software companies and universities will be invited. The meeting will extend beyond technical issues, as we will address the question of how the development can be utilised within existing research and commercial software.

The software developed will be made available to UK researchers and companies in the form of open source and plug-and-play libraries. This will enable researchers to directly utilise the technology within their current projects across a wide range of computational engineering applications and to further develop the proposed techniques.

The RAs will be actively involved in the dissemination of the research and will organise outreach activities aim at inspiring the next generation of engineers. This will include the presentation of posters in national competitions such as SET for Britain and competitions within Swansea University. These posters will also be employed in outreach activities, such as Swansea University Open Days.

The applicants have an outstanding track record in delivering industrial impact in the field of computational engineering. They have been responsible for the development of leading edge unstructured mesh based flow solvers and of fully automatic unstructured tetrahedral and hybrid mesh generators. These procedures form the basis of the original FLITE system, extensions of which are now in production use in Airbus, BAE Systems and the Institute of High Performance Computing at Singapore. In addition, unstructured hybrid electromagnetic solvers developed by the applicants are installed at BAE Systems and at the US-Army. The applicants are also currently involved in a European Initial Training Network where Volkswagen, Siemens, Airbus and ESI are project partners.

Publications

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