SolidWorks – An Unexpected Tool Inside the Laboratory

SolidWorks Flow Simulation in Chemical Research

Kayane Dingilian, Chemical Engineering student and researcher, California Institute of Technology, sent us this story on how SolidWorks Flow Simulation is helping to “speed up my research and get to the results more quickly than ever.”  Kayane, thank you for sharing with the SolidWorks community. Marie 

SolidWorks – An Unexpected Tool Inside the Laboratory

At the California Institute of Technology, we’re on summer vacation…almost. Many students, including myself, return to the campus for 10 weeks during the summer to perform research as part of the SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) program. As a chemical engineer, I’ve applied my skills to various disciplines in my research, and have learned a great deal as well. I learn more every day!

I have used AutoCad for many years to design components and assemblies. I started using SolidWorks earlier this summer because it provided better prints for the manufacturing of the components. That was expected. However, what surprised me was the opportunity that SolidWorks gave me to pattern the air flow in my project.

Here I would like to share how easily I can use SolidWorks for simulation, and yet how powerful it was in helping me and my team make the necessary modifications and move forward with our project.

Modeling Air Flow

An important part of my research is modeling the flow of air inside an enclosure. All the work that my team had done was based on concepts and standard design calculations. We did not even think that modeling would be necessary, that is … until we started seeing unexpected results. Since I cannot see the air flow to be able to observe it myself, the SolidWorks flow modeling came to the rescue and provided possible patterns of air flow inside the enclosure. The software was very user friendly and gave us a place to start making the necessary design changes to get the flow that we wanted.

I must say that at first these simulation programs sounded intimidating. But as a good engineer, I had to find the simplest patterns that could simulate our experimental set-up. I simplified our complicated design to look more like a cube. Next, I had openings to allow for the air flow in and out, as shown below.

  Chamber SolidWorks
In order to us the FloXpress wizard, I knew that I needed to construct lids to confine the air flow. I also needed a cross-sectional view so I can view the flow pattern. It is very helpful that the wizard recognizes the “invisible” geometry of the rest of the top while I am looking inside the model.On
 Chamber and Cut Away SolidWorks
On the left, sealing the holes of the enclosure with lids.On the right, a cross section cutting away the top of the enclosure.
I started with an enclosure where the holes were sealed, so I could verify if the wizard would be able to recognize that the openings are plugged. Sure enough, when I started running the software, it indicated that the openings were sealed.I felt better as an engineer knowing that the software recognizes limiting situations.Next, the software asked me for locations of the inlet and outlet openings and conditions at the inlet. It was also very helpful that the software indicated that I have options and a range that I can vary the flow through the openings in order to gain a better understanding of the flow pattern. Some of these simulated flow patterns are shown below.
 High Rates SolidWorks Flow Simulation
At high rates, the flow seems to be going in a straight line at its maximum speed.
 Low Rates SolidWorks Flow Simulation
At slightly lower rates, the flow becomes slower as it comes closer to the outlet and begins to spread out a little.
 Rates Approach Zero SolidWorks Flow Simulation
As flow rates approach zero, the air spreads out even further and occupies more and more volume.
This may seem simple, but it can save a great deal of time when starting a complicated and intricate newly designed research instrument. I was able to save the data for comparison as we made changes to the equipment.As with many simulation software, it cannot replace the actual experimental testing and data generation. However, using simulation tools allowed me to start with a simple design such as this, and gradually make it more complicated. It also allowed to vary the input parameters to both, help make the design modifications as well as determine possible input conditions in the final design that would help me quickly determine whether my observations and explanations of the results were reasonable or not.As mentioned above, I only have 10 weeks to conduct this research. Using the SolidWorks FloXpress helped me save at least 2 weeks in the initial design and experiment set-up phase, so I can more quickly get to the data collection and analysis stage of my experiment. This is 20% time savings and quicker to final result determination.


That’s all for today. Next time I will have another insight on how SolidWorks is helping me in speed up my research and get to the results more quickly than ever.


Marie Planchard

Marie Planchard

Director of Education & Early Engagement, SolidWorks at Dassault Systemes SolidWorks Corporation
Marie Planchard is an education and engineering advocate. As Senior Director of Education & Early Engagement, SOLIDWORKS, she is responsible for global development of content and social outreach for the 3DEXPERIENCE Works products across all levels of learning including educational institutions, Fab Labs, and entrepreneurship.
Marie Planchard