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SID- 201062601

Reynolds Number Sensitivity for Flow Over the

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.

1.1Backward facing step

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

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1.2 Reynolds number

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

Figure 2 effects of various Reynolds numbers (ANSYS, Inc., 2010)[2]

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

𝑅ⅇ =
Here Re is the Reynolds number,

𝜌 is the density of fluid,

U is the velocity of the fluid at the inlet,
L is the characteristic length,

𝑢 is the dynamic viscosity of fluid.

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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.

Figure 3 2D model of backward facing step

The dimensions used for creating this model are

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

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Figure 4a Mesh with 1080 elements

Figure 4b Mesh with 1500 elements

Figure 4c Mesh with 2000 elements

Figure 4d Mesh with 4000 elements

Figure 4e Mesh with 8000 elements

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2.3 Discretisation and Flow simulation

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

2.3.1 Boundary Conditions

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

𝑅ⅇ =
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.

Next we provide the hydraulic diameter and intensity.

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

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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2.4 Grid Independence

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.

No. elements Inlet velocity Max outlet velocity error

1080 24.34 16.398 -

1050 24.34 16.374 0.0015

2000 24.34 16.46 0.0052

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







0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 7000 8000 9000
no.of elements

Figure -5 comparison of solution between different meshes

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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2.5 Post Processing

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

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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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.

Figure 6a contour plot of the x velocity

Figure 6b pathline view of the flow

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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


0 10000 20000 30000 40000 50000 60000

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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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





0 10000 20000 30000 40000 50000 60000

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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Re Uo Umax Umax/Uo

50000 24.34 16.45903 0.676213

10000 4.8691 3.1291 0.642644

5000 2.4345 1.4906 0.612282

2500 1.21727 0.72618 0.596564

Table-4 x-velocity at the outlet from the STD k-ε model











0 10000 20000 30000 40000 50000 60000

Figure-9 normalised max outlet velocities from STD k-ε model

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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Re Uo Umax Umax/Uo

50000 24.34 17.01775 0.699168

10000 4.8691 3.1642 0.649853

5000 2.4345 1.4884 0.611378

2500 1.21727 0.72347 0.594338

Table-5 x-velocity at the outlet from the RNG k-ε model








0 10000 20000 30000 40000 50000 60000

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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0 0.01 0.02 0.03 0.04 0.05 0.06 0.07

2500 5000 10000 50000

Figure-11 comparison of velocities at the outlet for various Re values

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.

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Figure 12a contour profile of flow with Re 2500

Figure 12b contour profile of flow with Re 5000

Figure 12c contour profile of flow with Re 10000

Figure 12d contour profile of flow with Re 50000

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.

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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.

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.