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PAPER SERIES 2003-01-0993

Automated Aerodynamic Design Optimization

Process for Automotive Vehicle
Rajneesh Singh
General Motors Corporation

Reprinted From: Vehicle Aerodynamics 2003


2003 SAE World Congress

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Automated Aerodynamic Design Optimization Process for

Automotive Vehicle
Rajneesh Singh*
General Motors Corporation

Copyright © 2003 SAE International


An automatic optimization process for the aerodynamic modifying the clay model and re-running the wind tunnel.
design of automotive vehicle shapes is presented. The The modifications in the clay model are made using
Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) mesh generation simple sculpting tools. The design changes tend to be
and the analysis software packages are coupled for small and are limited by the need to make quick
transfer of data and information between the two changes to the model mounted in the wind tunnel.
packages. This communication enables an automated
process in which designs are created and analyzed for In the CFD analysis process, wind-tunnel test procedure
the aerodynamic drag. New designs are created by is simulated to numerically compute the aerodynamic
morphing the CFD model for the baseline design. The drag. The CFD analysis process consists of two steps.
automated process is applied to perform a parametric In the first step, a mesh is created for the math model of
study on a generic automobile sedan shape. The results the experimental setup. In the second step, fluid
show that the process can be used for aerodynamic dynamical equations are then solved on the mesh to
optimization of any automotive vehicle shape. The compute the aerodynamic flow and the forces on the
turnaround for the automated process is at least an vehicle. Further designs are evaluated by modifying the
order of magnitude less than the conventional analysis CAD surfaces to create a new design. The process is
process. then repeated by going through the two steps to
compute the aerodynamic drag. In general, the step of
INTRODUCTION creating mesh is the most time consuming step and it
can be an order of magnitude larger than the time
Aerodynamic drag of an automotive vehicle is an required for fluid dynamic simulations. The total time
important performance attribute. It has a direct impact on required to analyze the baseline design and evaluate
the fuel economy of the vehicle and therefore the few alternative designs can be so large that the analysis
aerodynamic design of the vehicle needs significant results may not be of much use to the designers.
attention. The aerodynamic design is an iterative The large turn-around time for the CFD analysis is a
process. It involves interaction between the designer major obstacle in making CFD analysis play a more
who proposes a shape for the vehicle and the proactive role in the aerodynamic design of the vehicle.
aerodynamics engineer who evaluates the shape for the However, a new technological progress has occurred
aerodynamic performance and provides enablers for the recently. A new class of software packages is emerging.
drag minimization to the designer. The designer then These are the mesh morphing packages. Mesh morpher
incorporates these recommendations within the enables a direct modification of the mesh models
constraints of the design theme. The process continues instead of manipulating the CAD surfaces and re-
until the vehicle drag target is achieved or no time is left meshing of the CAD surfaces. Thus a major time
for further modifications. consuming step in the CFD analysis is eliminated. With
There are two approaches to evaluate the vehicle design the use of the morpher, the analyst can modify the
for aerodynamic drag. These are the wind tunnel tests vehicle design just like the engineer does in the wind
and the CFD analyses. In the wind tunnel tests, a clay tunnel with a clay model in a very short time.
model of the vehicle shape is milled and the Some of the capabilities required in a morphing software
aerodynamic drag is measured at controlled conditions for the aerodynamic analysis application are the ability to
in the wind tunnel. The design changes are investigated handle a large model size that can currently range from
by 3 million elements to a 8 million element model and the
software execution using the text commands in a batch-
* Project Engineer, Altair Engineering Inc. processing mode without invoking the graphics interface.
on site at General Motors
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A further reduction in the turn-around time for the CFD regions that may be stretched by the morpher. The
analysis can be achieved by automating the process of design variables are defined for the DOE study. The
selecting the magnitudes for the geometric parameters baseline mesh is read in the visual Meshworks morpher
of the vehicle. A batch process can be setup to to create control blocks for morphing. Each design
automatically change the mesh for a given set of variable is associated to a control block such that a
geometric parameters and compute the drag for the design variable change results in the change in the
resulting design. Optimization software is needed to shape of these control blocks to morph the mesh for the
control this batch process. This software can also be entire model. Meshworks morpher provides a utility to
used to conduct Design of Experiments (DOE) studies generate the control blocks for a selected value of the
by efficiently sampling the design space to reduce the design variables. A lower and upper bound of all the
number of CFD analyses required for a parametric design variables is fixed by inspecting the model in the
study. visual Meshworks itself.

The accuracy of the numerical predictions depends on

the software used for the simulation. The CFD analysis
software is required to perform the aerodynamic
simulation and compute the drag for a given design. It
also needs to be executed using the text commands for
the automated analysis processes.

In this paper, DEP’s Meshworks[1] morpher is used for

mesh morphing, iSIGHT[2] is used for controlling the
design optimization process and the CFD simulations
are performed by Fluent[3] .

The main objective of this paper is to develop a process

for the aerodynamic shape optimization of automotive
vehicles. The process with a very quick turn-around time
for analysis is expected to contribute to the vehicle
design in two ways. It can be used to develop the
enablers for the efficient design. The process can also Figure 1: Flow-chart of the automatic analysis process.
be used to complement the wind tunnel testing. The
design space can be explored to identify the iSIGHT is setup to conduct a DOE study for the selected
aerodynamically critical regions of the vehicle. The wind- design variables at prescribed levels. The algorithm for
tunnel testing engineer can use this information to sampling the design space is also selected. The drag
reduce the number of wind-tunnel tests. The secondary coefficient from the CFD analysis is used as the
objective of the paper is to apply the analysis is to objective function. iSIGHT executes the control block
perform a parametric study on a generic car shape. generator utility to generate the control blocks for the
design variables. The Morpher then modifies the
METHODOLOGY baseline mesh to create a new mesh. This mesh is
passed on to Fluent.
This section describes the methodology of the
automated process. In a top-level view, Meshworks Fluent performs the aerodynamic simulation by
morpher and Fluent are coupled via iSIGHT for an executing a sequence of commands listed in the journal
automatic exchange of information and data. iSIGHT file. The process is setup to run the Fluent on a remote
then guides the design optimization by selecting the high performance-computing machine in a batch
design variable magnitude, executing Morpher to create process mode. The computation for a new design is
the mesh and providing this mesh to Fluent for the CFD started from the converged solution for the previous
computations. The process can be setup to conduct design to reduce the computation time. After the
traditional design optimization or design of experiment convergence is reached, iSIGHT extracts the drag
study. Each aerodynamic simulation requires large coefficient from the output of the CFD simulation. The
computer resources so the DOE study is often a better drag coefficient and the design variables are stored for
alternative to the conventional optimization process. post-processing. The process is repeated for the next
set of design variables until all the designs are analyzed.
Figure 1 shows flow-chart of the process used for DOE Since the CFD computations are performed using the
study. The process starts with creating the CFD model journal file, it is also possible to produce a set of images
for the baseline vehicle. Since morpher only displaces to visualize the flow for each design. These pictures can
the nodes in the mesh as opposed to re-meshing, it is be used to investigate the characteristics of the flow for
necessary to keep mesh element size small in the a design.
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APPLICATION analyzed. It should be noted that for large number of

designs and number of levels the total number of
The automated analysis process described in the experiments could be too many to be evaluated with in a
previous section is applied to perform a DOE study on a reasonable amount of time. More advanced algorithms
generic automobile shape. Figure 2 shows two views of like Latin-Hypercubes or the Orthogonal array algorithms
the baseline design. The main objective of this study is can be used to reduce the number of experiments.
to demonstrate the process therefore a simple shape is
considered. The process can be as easily applied for
optimization of vehicle with detailed underhood and
underbody components. Level Level #1 Level #2
Design Variable

Deck Length (DX) -100 mm 200 mm

Roof Edge length (RX) -50 mm 100 mm

Roof Edge Height (RZ) -50 mm 50 mm

Deck Height (DZ) -50 mm 50 mm

(a) Table 1: Design variables magnitude used in the DOE study.


The model for the analysis consisted of the car in a
rectangular tunnel. The inlet of the tunnel was at 2 car
DX lengths in front of the vehicle while the wind tunnel exit
was at a distance of 5 car lengths. The sidewalls and the
ceiling were located at about 5 car widths. The CFD
mesh for the baseline model consisted of 1.3 million
(b) elements. Prism layers were created on all the car
surfaces for an accurate resolution of the boundary
layer. Figure 3 shows the mesh in the symmetry plane of
the model. A fine mesh in the wake region of the vehicle
can be seen in the picture.
Figure 2: Design variables used in the parametric study.

The shape of the rear end of a car has a significant

influence on the aerodynamic flow and thus on the
drag[4]. Deck height and length are two critical geometric
parameters defining the shape of the rear end of a car.
Similarly, rear roof edge location has a significant
influence on the wake flow. A parametric study is
performed to modify this region using the 4 design
variables as shown in the figure 2b. These variables are
the displacements magnitudes from the baseline
locations for the deck feature line and the rear roof edge
line in X and Z coordinates directions. Each of these
design variables is studied at two levels.
Figure 3: Section of the mesh through the symmetry plane for the
Table 1 shows the design variables and magnitude of baseline model.
levels used in the present study. The levels for the
design variables have been chosen arbitrarily in this A no-slip boundary condition is used on vehicle
study. A full factorial DOE analysis results in 16 unique surfaces. The symmetry boundary conditions are
designs. In this study all 16 possible design are imposed on the tunnel surfaces. Analysis is performed at
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80 kph vehicle speed condition. The second order Similarly, four groups can be formed using unique
discretization schemes are used for improved accuracy. combinations of the RX and RZ magnitudes.
The Realizable k-e turbulence model with non-
equilibrium near wall function is used. Since the mesh
morpher preserves the mesh connectivity therefore
solution for a design is started from the converged
solution for the previous design. The mesh adaptation
has not been attempted in this study. The CFD
computations are performed on 8-processor Silicon
Graphics workstations.


In this section, results of the DOE study are presented.

The aerodynamic drag coefficient is computed using the
projected area of the vehicle in x-direction and the wind
tunnel inlet velocity.

Table 2 shows a summary of the study. The Design

matrix of the DOE experiments and the corresponding
aerodynamic drag coefficient are shown. It can be noted
from the table that the base line design (Run # 0) has a
drag coefficient of 0.189. The drag coefficients for other
designs range from 0.157 (Run # 3) to 0.237 (Run # 10).

Run # DX (mm) DZ (mm) RX (mm) RZ (mm) Cd

0 0 0 0 0 0.189
1 -100 -50 -50 -50 0.159
2 -100 50 -50 -50 0.210
3 -100 -50 -50 50 0.157
4 -100 50 -50 50 0.198
5 -100 -50 100 -50 0.158
6 -100 50 100 -50 0.207
7 -100 -50 100 50 0.158
8 -100 50 100 50 0.194
9 200 -50 -50 -50 0.180
10 200 50 -50 -50 0.237
11 200 -50 -50 50 0.177
12 200 50 -50 50 0.226
13 200 -50 100 -50 0.179
14 200 50 100 -50 0.234
15 200 -50 100 50 0.176
16 200 50 100 50 0.220

Table 2: Design matrix of the DOE experiment and the corresponding

aerodynamic drag coefficient.

Figure 4 shows the picture of rear half of the vehicle

shape and the drag coefficient for various designs. The
16 designs analyzed in the DOE study can be grouped
in four categories based on the magnitudes of length
and height of the vehicle deck. For example, it can be
seen from the Table 2 that Run # 1,3,5 and 7 are for the
Figure 4: Rear part of the vehicle for various designs (run number and
deck length deviation (DX) of –100 mm and deck height the aerodynamic drag are shown below the images).
deviation (DZ) of –50 mm from the baseline design.
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computational resources limit the turn-around time. With

more computational resources, it is possible to evaluate
0.26 a large number of designs and conduct an exhaustive
RX= -50, RZ= -50
RX= -50, RZ= 50 DOE study to find the true optimal design. The
RX= 100, RZ= -50 conventional analysis process may require at least an
0.24 RX= 100, RZ= 50 order of magnitude more time to perform the same





DX= -100, DX= 200, DX= -100, DX= 200,
DZ= -50 DZ= -50 DZ= 50 DZ= 50

Figure 5: Plot of drag coefficient for various designs.

Figure 5 shows a plot of drag coefficient magnitudes for

the 4 groups of deck parameters. X-axis shows the 4
groups for deck parameters. The four curves correspond Figure 6: Pareto plot of total effect on drag coefficient of various
to the 4 sets of rear roof edge parameters. Several parameters.
interesting observations can be made from the figure. It
can be readily seen from the plots that all designs
corresponding to the DZ = -50mm exhibits drag lower
than the baseline design. Similarly, for all designs with
deck higher than the baseline model, the drag coefficient CONCLUSION
is larger than the baseline design.
An automatic analysis process is developed for the
It can also be seen from the plot that the effect of roof aerodynamic design of an automotive vehicle shape.
edge parameters on the drag coefficient is relatively The process couples Meshworks morpher and Fluent in
small than the effect of the deck length parameters. For a generic software shell iSIGHT to automate the grid
example, for DX=-100 mm and DZ=-50 mm, all four generations and the CFD analysis. The process is used
designs for the set lies with in a range of 0.002 (0.157- to perform a parametric study for drag on a generic
0.159). Similarly, the designs corresponding to DX = vehicle shape. It is shown that the turn around time for
200mm and DZ = -50mm shows drag coefficient in a CFD analysis in the process is limited only by the
range of 0.004 (0.176-0.180). computational resources. The automated process
enables, for the first time, a CFD based aerodynamic
Pareto plot can be used to estimate the relative shape optimization in the vehicle development process.
importance of various parameters on the aerodynamic
drag. Figure 6 shows the pareto plot of total effect on the REFERENCES
drag coefficient. It can be seen that the deck parameters
and their interaction constitute more than 85% effect on 1. Meshworks/Morpher Training Manual, Detroit
the drag. On the other hand, the roof edge length has a Engineering Products,
negligibly small effect on the drag coefficient. 2. iSIGHT Basic Training Guide, Engineous
Software, Inc,
As mentioned previously, the main objective of 3. Fluent 6.1, CFD Analysis Code, Fluent
developing the process was to reduce the turnaround Incorporated, .
time for the CFD analysis for aerodynamic drag 4. Hucho, W., ‘’Aerodynamics of Road Vehicles’’,
predictions. In addition to a day of work for setting up the SAE International, 1998.
model, it took less than 2 days of time to create and
evaluate the 16 designs shown in the study. In fact the