How To Learn CFD From Scratch? (With free software)

A basic CFD simulation graphic

Learning CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) on your own is not an easy task, but it can be done. You can certainly progress a long way in learning CFD on your own.

To learn CFD from scratch acquire a good background in fluid mechanics and mathematics. Explore online resources like Udemy courses. Practice with CFD software and seek help from the open-source community like OpenFOAM. 

From my own experience, I recommend you self-teach yourself CFD through an online course. This is the route I took, and it proved to be very cost-effective while helping me to get to grips with the fundamentals of CFD.

I should add that I have FEA experience, so stepping into the world of CFD and learning it independently was not very intimidating. However, it is still a different skill set, and the CFD application is different from alternative FEM applications such as regular stress analysis. 

In this article, I will share what I have learned from my journey of learning CFD on my own. 

Can I Learn CFD On My Own?

It is possible to learn CFD on your own. However, I highly recommend some tutorials and example videos to get you started.

To learn CFD, you need three key things:

  1. Access to CFD software
  2. Access to training tutorials. 
  3. Access to CFD theory. 

1. CFD Software

One great thing about learning CFD is that you can access the OpenFOAM CFD software. This is an open-source and free-to-use CFD software package.

OpenFOAM is an excellent CFD package also used extensively by academics for research. Many professional engineering companies also use OpenFOAM. 

It makes sense to use OpenFOAM, as firstly, it is free, and secondly, because it is supported so well by academia, there is a fantastic online support community, and the software is kept up to date. 

The downside of OpenFOAM, however, is that the user interface is not particularly user-friendly. As the software is open source and Linux-based, getting up and running can be tricky if you are a Windows user; however, with the right guidance, it can be done and is far easier than it first appears – once you get some guidance.

If you wish to start using OpenFOAM (and in particular if you are a Windows user), I recommend the following course from Udemy. This is the course I used to help me to get started with OpenFoam in the early days.

The first part of the course will show you how to get set up with OpenFoam on Windows. For newbies, this can be a big stumbling block unless you are very familiar with Linux.

Once you get this working, this course will explain how to download OpenFOAM and will work through examples.

2. Training Tutorials

After setting up OpenFOAM, the next critical step towards understanding CFD is accessing and utilizing training tutorials. 

In OpenFOAM, a plethora of case studies and tutorial directories exist within the software. They provide the user with a wealth of examples to dissect and learn from, covering common CFD problems such as incompressible and compressible flows, multiphase systems, turbulence, and heat transfer, among others. 

You can access these tutorials by navigating to your OpenFOAM installation directory’s ‘tutorials’ folder.

On the other hand, Udemy courses provide a more structured and easy-to-follow approach for beginners, with a vast range of CFD courses. You can access these by searching for “CFD” or “OpenFOAM” in the search bar on the Udemy website. 

Before purchasing a course, make sure to read the reviews and course content to ensure it aligns with your learning objectives. Also, look out for frequent sales on Udemy, where you can often purchase comprehensive courses at significantly reduced prices. 

Remember, practising the concepts you learn from these tutorials is the key to understanding CFD. Experiment with different parameters, make mistakes and learn from them. With time and perseverance, you’ll gain a solid understanding of CFD.

3. CFD Theory

Many experts will recommend that you start reading books on CFD to get started. Although this is a legitimate approach, as inevitably you will need to know and understand the mathematics, personally, I prefer a “get stuck in” approach.

Once you can use a CFD software package and start setting up basic problems, I find it much easier to grasp the theory. 

Starting from the theory and reading the mathematics and background of CFD without any real-world applications or examples is tough, and for many they will not be able to follow along.

However, if you can set up a real-world problem and see how fluid mechanics flows and works, you can start asking questions about what is happening, and the physics and mathematics behind the problem will make a lot more sense. 

How To Learn CFD From Basics?

To learn CFD from the basics, start by building a strong conceptual base in fluid mechanics and mathematical principles, specifically differential equations and linear algebra. Online platforms like Coursera, Khan Academy, and EdX offer structured courses in these areas. After understanding these fundamentals, familiarize yourself with fluid dynamics principles, including flow rates, pressure, velocity, and turbulence.

Next, get comfortable with CFD software. OpenFOAM is an excellent starting point due to its free accessibility and robust features. Begin with simple simulations, understanding the software interface and general workflow. Gradually move on to simulating more complex flow scenarios. 

Dedicate time to understanding the underlying physics and math in these simulations. This will help you grasp why you’re getting certain results and how to optimize your simulations. 

Finally, always learn through doing. Constant practice is the key to mastering CFD. As you experiment with different types of simulations, you’ll get a feel for how to adjust parameters and interpret results. 

Remember, it’s a gradual learning process filled with trial and error. Don’t be disheartened by initial failures and complex theories. Instead, use them as stepping stones towards becoming proficient in CFD.

How Long Will It Take To Learn CFD?

The time it takes to learn CFD can greatly vary depending on several factors. For individuals who already have a solid foundation in the underlying principles of FEA, fluid dynamics and mathematics, it might take a few months of consistent practice and learning to get comfortable with CFD simulations. 

However, it might take up to a year or more for those starting from scratch to gain a comprehensive understanding of CFD. Remember, mastering CFD is not just about understanding the software but also about comprehending the complex physics and mathematics behind it. 

It is not a race but a journey of continuous learning and improvement. Furthermore, investing in a quality course or a mentor can significantly reduce the learning curve. Regularly practising simulations, experimenting with different parameters, and continuously learning from mistakes will speed up the learning process. It’s essential to be patient and persistent in your learning journey.

Is Learning CFD Hard?

Learning CFD can indeed be challenging, but it’s important to remember that “hard” is relative. The complexity of CFD lies in its multidisciplinary nature – it’s a field that blends physics, mathematics, and computational science. The learning curve might be steeper but manageable for individuals with a foundation in these areas. However, tackling the complexities of fluid dynamics and the intricacies of computational modelling can seem daunting for those who are just starting. 

But do not be deterred. Like any new skill, mastering CFD requires time, patience, practice, and willingness to make and learn from mistakes. 

Remember, the difficulty of learning CFD can be lessened significantly with the right resources, such as user-friendly software, comprehensive tutorials, and mentorship. 

Ultimately, the reward of simulating and analysing complex fluid-flow phenomena makes the challenge worth it.

Final Thoughts

Learning computational fluid dynamics (CFD) can be a challenging but rewarding. The key is to build a strong foundation in the principles of fluid dynamics and mathematical concepts while getting hands-on experience with CFD software like OpenFOAM. 

Remember, it’s not just about understanding the software but also about comprehending the complex physics and mathematics that drive the simulations. 

It’s a continuous learning process that involves making mistakes, learning from them, and pushing forward. 

With time, patience, and the right resources, anyone can master the art of CFD. So, embark on this journey with an open mind and embrace the challenges of this exciting engineering area.

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