Safer Ships through Simulation-Based Design
IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering at the University of Iowa is leading a revolution in naval ship design.
No longer must the navy “build and test” its ships — with real sailors aboard, risking their lives — to find out how vessels will perform under real-life conditions. Researchers at IIHR are using simulation-based design (SBD) — a sort of virtual reality of ship hydrodynamics, supported by model-scale experiments — to develop a safer, less expensive way to design modern high-performance naval vessels.
“In my thinking, this is going to revolutionize engineering,” says Professor Fred Stern, IIHR research engineer and director of ship hydrodynamics, in a video produced for the Big Ten Network. “Engineering will become more and more based on simulation techniques as time evolves.”
Cracking the Computer Code
Under Stern’s leadership, researchers at IIHR have developed a groundbreaking computer code, CFDSHIP-Iowa, simulating air and water flow around a virtual ship. CFDSHIP-Iowa is the most advanced computational fluid dynamic (CFD) computer code in the world for ship hydrodynamics, allowing researchers to predict the performance of a virtual ship prototype under extreme environmental conditions.
Computer simulations at IIHR guide model-scale physical experiments conducted in a towing tank and in a new state-of-the-art wave basin at the University of Iowa’s Oakdale Research Park. The experiments, on the other hand, help evaluate the limitations of current mathematical models and allow researchers to develop better models. With uncertainty analysis and optimization methods, researchers are able to develop the best possible design, Stern explains.
UI engineering students benefit from this revolution in engineering. Graduate students have been the co-developers of CFDSHIP-Iowa since its genesis in the early 1990s. Undergraduates also participate, Stern says.
“We need to ensure that they’re highly-trained, expert users of tools such as computational fluid dynamics,” he explains. A recent National Science Foundation project introduced computational fluid dynamics into the introductory and intermediate level fluid dynamics courses at the University of Iowa as well as Iowa State, Cornell University, and Howard University.
Engineering for a New Century
Stern believes this is crucial to a 21st century engineering education. “My thinking very much is that our students need to be exposed to and use simulation technology and computer technology from the get-go,” he says.
IIHR’s unique combination of resources, facilities, and people promises an ongoing role for the University of Iowa in the front lines of naval ship design, Stern says. “We’ve contributed in all areas, I would say, very strongly—not only the development of codes, the procurement of experimental data, but also the application of the codes.”
“There’s still plenty of work for us to do,” Stern concludes.