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Backward-Facing Step

V.SANDEEP REDDY, MSc Automotive Engineering, SID-201062601

1. Introduction:

In this report we compare the flow field over a backward facing step for different

Reynolds numbers using a 2D model in a CFD software. We will be considering a

domain with the size of inlet equal to the step height. The variation of reattachment length

and the maximum outlet velocity are the parameters used for this comparison. Details

regarding these are explained further below.

We observe separation, recirculation, and reattachment of flow in many practical

engineering applications. So backward facing step is used as a benchmark for testing different

flows and turbulent models. Fig-1 shows the 2D model of a backward facing step and how

the flow separates at the step and later reattaches. Recirculation can be observed near the step

as well.

Figure 1 flow over a backward facing step (Lasher WC, 1992) [1]

In the above image H represents the step height and XR is the reattachment length where the

fluid flow joins the surface after separation at the step. This analysis provides us information

regarding similar separation and reattachment in turbulent shear layers observed in generally

internal flows such as combustors and external flows such as wind blowing against a building

[1].

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SID- 201062601

Reynolds number is defined as the ratio of inertial forces to viscous forces. For a given fluid

the Re value can provide different flow characteristics. Based on Reynolds number we can

tell if the flow is laminar, transient or turbulent. Fig-2 shows various effects of Reynolds

number.

We will be analysing the flow for Reynolds numbers 50000, 10000, 5000 and 2500.

The formula for Reynolds numbers is

𝜌𝑈𝐿

𝑅ⅇ =

𝑢

Here Re is the Reynolds number,

U is the velocity of the fluid at the inlet,

L is the characteristic length,

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SID- 201062601

2. Methodology

For the analysis of flow over a backward faced step we will create a 2D model and using

ANSYS FLUENT software test the different turbulent flows with various Reynolds numbers.

The process of discretisation, meshing, grid independence, and flow simulation are explained

in detail below.

2.1 Geometry

For the 2D model we will consider an inlet size equal to the of the step height (H) and the

outlet distance from the step to be more than 10H for proper flow development and analysis.

Fig 3 shows the 2D model created in designmodeler.

Step height (H) - 0.03m

Distance from inlet to step - 0.2m

Distance from step to outlet – 0.4m i.e. around 13 times the step height, very sufficient for the

flow to completely develop and for proper analysis of reattachment length.

2.2 Meshing

Five different meshes are created and will be used for grid independence. The model is

meshed using hexahedral mesh with clustering near the step as to give better results for the

high flow gradients. The meshing is done using three sizing parameters and with proper

refining near the step. Fig 4a-e will show the different meshes created for testing. It is

important to make sure that the mesh satisfies the y+ criterion i.e. 30 < y+ < 500

3

SID- 201062601

4

SID- 201062601

We will use second order upwind schemes for better results in the simulation. The first

step is to select the turbulence model. I have selected the standard k-epsilon method. Then

we provide the working fluid, boundary conditions and gradient method before going any

further.

The working fluid is selected as air. We will first run simulations using one Reynolds

number and compare the results. After achieving grid independence, we can test with

various Reynolds numbers. So initially we start by using Re 50000. To find the inlet

velocity we use the formula

𝜌𝑈𝐿

𝑅ⅇ =

𝑢

The density of air is 1.225 kg/m3

The dynamic viscosity of air is 1.789e-5 kg/ms

The characteristic length is the height of the step H 0.03m

Using these values, we can calculate the inlet velocity of air for Reynolds number 50000

as 24.34 m/s.

Assuming a width of 0.12m for the inlet, we can calculate the hydraulic diameter to be

0.048. and we also assume the intensity to be 5% which means that its moderately

turbulent.

2.3.2 Initialisation

Before we start initialising the solution we select the gradient method as green gauss cell

based and also change the residual tolerances from default values to 1e-16. The solution

doesn’t completely converge for the default values. During the simulation I observed that

1e-10 residual tolerance is sufficient for the present model but few iterations do converge

around 1e-16 depending on the mesh and boundary conditions. Now we initialise the

solution and run the simulation for 1500 iterations. (3000 for the 8000 elements mesh).

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SID- 201062601

After running the simulation with same settings for different meshes, we compare the

results and do grid independence study to find a mesh suitable for further processing. The

coarser meshes provide relatively inaccurate results compared to the finer meshes. We

can see the data obtained from different meshes in the Table-1, the parameter maximum

outlet velocity is used to study the different mesh results.

1050 24.34 16.374 0.0015

4000 24.34 16.459 0.00004

8000 24.34 16.457 0.0001

Table -1 comparison of different mesh solutions

Using the above data, I plotted a graph which shows the convergence of the solutions as

the mesh gets finer with more number of elements. See Fig -5 for the graph data

16.48

16.46

16.44

Umax

16.42

16.4

16.38

16.36

0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 7000 8000 9000

no.of elements

As you can see from the above graph (Fig-5) and Table-1 the error between solutions is

very less and even GCI for different meshes is less than <1%. So using the graph as a

reference we can assume that the solution converges after 4000 elements for this model.

So we will select the mesh with 4000 elements as our final mesh and continue further

processing. NOTE-(all the meshes also satisfy the y+ criterion with values between 30-32)

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SID- 201062601

After finalising on the mesh we simulate the flow in FLUENT with appropriate settings.

It is important to make sure that the mesh is refined properly before simulation because

the values in coarse meshes are inaccurate. The mesh which we selected after grid

independence has 4000 elements. Since we will be running the simulations of a turbulent

flow with moderately high Reynolds numbers, I have chosen the k-ε model for analysis.

This is a two equation model one for k and one for ε. It is a RANS (Reynolds averaged

navier-stokes) equation based model which is used for analysing the motion of fluid flow

for an average period of time. There are other different models that provide better results

but are relatively costly or time consuming. For a 2D model the standard k-ε model is

sufficient. But the k-ε RNG model provides better results for such a flow. So we will

compare both the standard and RNG k-ε models as well. Generally, RNG k-ε models

provides better results than standard model while analysing flows with separation and

swirls (ANSYS, Inc, 2006)[3].

After simulation the flow over the backward facing step for Re 50000, we will repeat the

process for other values of Re i.e. 10000, 5000, 2500. We do this by changing the inlet

velocity of air. We do post processing for all of this using both qualitative and

quantitative methods.

For qualitative analysis of the flow field we get the contour graphic plots and path lines of

the simulation, they provide the flow of the air from the inlet, over the step and till the

outlet. The turbulent flow, separation and recirculation, reattachments are clearly visible

in them.

For the quantitative method we export the xy plots of the required parameters and use this

data to compare the different flows and methods. This data can be represented using

graphs.

As we don’t have experimental data to compare our results and validate them, we can

only estimate the relations. But the data can be used as a reference to compare the flows

with each other and can be used to provide valid conclusions on the respective parameters

and their relations.

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SID- 201062601

3. Results

The primary parameter that we are using to compare the sensitivity of the Reynolds

number is the reattachment length. Fig 6a, 6b provide the contour and path lines of the

flow and the point at which the air meets the base surface after separation at the backward

facing step from the standard (STD) k-ε model.

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SID- 201062601

The comparison of the change in reattachment length (L) with respect to the Reynolds

number are presented in Table-2, and the graphical representation in Fig-7. L/H is the ratio of

reattachment length to the step height.

Re L H L/H

50000 0.03

0.2034 6.78

10000 0.03

0.19037 6.345667

5000 0.03

0.17356 5.785333

2500 0.03

0.15749 5.249667

Table-2 reattachment lengths for various Re numbers using STD k-ε

7

6.8

6.6

6.4

6.2

L/H

6

5.8

5.6

5.4

5.2

5

0 10000 20000 30000 40000 50000 60000

Re

Figure-7 variation of L/H with different Re values from STD k-ε model.

From the above data we can it is evident that the reattachment length is proportional to Re.

As the Re value increases the reattachment length increases. But once the Re value reaches

very high values the reattachment length doesn’t change much, eventually the variation

becomes negligible.

The values from the STD k-ε are sufficient for this comparison but they do underperform

compared to the RNG k-ε values. The values obtained from the RNG k-ε model are provided

the Table-3 and the comparison of STD k-ε model to RNG k-ε model are provided in Fig-8.

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SID- 201062601

Re L H L/H

50000 0.03

0.23103 7.701

10000 0.03

0.20794 6.931333

5000 0.03

0.1861 6.203333

2500 0.03

0.16544 5.514667

Table-3 reattachment lengths for various Re numbers using RNG k-ε

7.5

7

L/H

6.5

5.5

5

0 10000 20000 30000 40000 50000 60000

Re

RNG standard

Figure-8 comparison of L/H values between STD and RNG k-ε models

The above data shows us how the RNG k-ε model provides relatively higher values of

solution for the same model and Re number. But both models are very similar so the relation

between reattachment length to the various Re values is consistent for both solutions.

Another parameter that we obtained from the simulation is the x-velocity at the outlet. The

max outlet velocities (Umax) for various Re values is shown in Table-4 and the normalised

outlet velocities (Umax/Uo) compared to the respective Re values are presented in the Figure-9

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SID- 201062601

Re Uo Umax Umax/Uo

0.69

0.68

0.67

0.66

0.65

Umax/Uo

0.64

0.63

0.62

0.61

0.6

0.59

0 10000 20000 30000 40000 50000 60000

Re

From the above provided data we can see the x-velocity at the outlet is also dependant on Re

value and similar to the reattachment length. With increase in Re number the outlet velocities

also increase respectively. This is due to the increase in the turbulence forces in the flow. The

outlet velocity data from the RNG k-ε model are presented in table-5 and the comparison of

the same data between STD k-ε and RNG k-ε models are shown in Fig-10.

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SID- 201062601

Re Uo Umax Umax/Uo

0.72

0.7

0.68

Umax/Uo

0.66

0.64

0.62

0.6

0.58

0 10000 20000 30000 40000 50000 60000

Re

RNG standard

Figure-10 comparison of normalised max outlet velocities from STD and RNG k-ε models

The above data from Table-5 and Fig-10 show that the RNG values are similar for low Re

values but the RNG values vary and are greater at relatively higher Re values. Either way it is

clear that outlet velocities are influenced by Re and using the xy plots the comparison of

outlet velocities between different Re numbers are shown in Fig-11.

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SID- 201062601

0.8

0.7

0.6

0.5

Umax/Uo

0.4

0.3

0.2

0.1

0

0 0.01 0.02 0.03 0.04 0.05 0.06 0.07

y

The graph in the Fig-11 has the normalised outlet velocities along the length of the outlet

plotted against the height of the outlet. This shows that for high Re the outlet velocity of the

flow is high at the top and less at the bottom. As the Re value reduces we see that the flow

reduces its velocity from the top of outlet. Eventually the flow becomes equal from top to

bottom of the outlet.

These are the quantitative results that show the sensitivity of the Reynolds number in the flow

over a backward faced step. With the increase in the Reynolds number the flow field changes

and the reattachment length increase i.e the point where the fluid touches the base after

separation moves away from the step. This also influences the outlet velocity and with the

change in flow the outlet velocity also changes.

The qualitative results are shown in the Fig 12a-d in the next page. They show how the flow

varies with change in Re number. The contour plots show the x-velocity along the 2D model

and clearly depict the turbulent flow ,recirculation, separation and reattachment of the air.

13

SID- 201062601

These results show how the velocity of air before the step varies and how the reattachment

length increases, also how the recirculation area (blue region in the profile) changes based on

the Re values. The velocity at the outlet is also clearly seen in the contour plots, the fluid

meets the outlet with high velocity with high Re value and with low Re value the velocity of

air is mostly similar along the length of the outlet with slightly higher values at the centre.

14

SID- 201062601

4. Discussion

From this report we can understand the relation between Reynolds number and the

parameters in a turbulent flow over a backward faced step, and the sensitivity of these values.

Based on the results we can conclude that the reattachment length is very dependent on the

Reynolds number for values below 10000 and only slightly varies for Reynolds number

above 10000.

The normalised outlet velocity is very sensitive of the Reynolds number, that can be seen

from the contour plots. This also varies based on the expansion ratio and the distance of the

outlet from the step.

The RNG k-ε model provides slightly higher values compared to the standard k-ε method.

This is mostly due to different constants present in these equation and their respective values.

References

1- ANSYS, Inc., 2010. lecture 6, turbulence modeling. In: ANSYS customer training

material. s.l.:ANSYS, Inc., pp. l6-36.

2- ANSYS, Inc, 2006. Modeling Turbulent. In: introductory FLUENT training.

s.l.:ANSYS, Inc, pp. 6-11.

3- Lasher WC, T. D., 1992. On the computation of turbulent backstep flow.

International Journal of Heat and Fluid Flow, pp. 30-40.

15

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