Vittorio Michelassi is patient man, but even he doesn’t have enough time. As the chief engineer for aerodynamics at a GE Aviation research center, his job is to figure out “what’s really happening inside the jet engine,” and make engines more efficient.
The traditional approach, called computational fluid dynamics (CFD), “may take 10 million hours of computer time, and involve many terabytes of data,” Michelassi says. “The number of unknowns in the simulation is in excess of billions.”
That’s why Michelassi and his team at GE Aviation’s Advanced Aviation Technology Center of Excellence (ATT) in Munich, Germany, recently started using a new approach called “high-fidelity CFD.” It allows them to get close to the “real physics” happening inside the burning guts of an engine by pooling the power of several supercomputers spread out across Europe and the U.S. Some of their simulations involve as many as 50,000 computer cores running in parallel.
These supercomputer simulations show how turbulent air swirls from turbine blades and trailing edges.Image credits: Vittorio Michelassi/GE Aviation
“It’s like running a ‘numerical test rig,’ where you reproduce the real behavior of a real engine, but you do it in a supercomputer… with an accuracy that you can never measure in a real rig,” Michelassi says.
The ATT is working closely with engineers based at GE Global Research labs (GRC) in Munich, but also universities around the world to better understand turbulence inside jet engines and figure out what it means for performance and durability. (GRC scientists are separately using supercomputers to study jet engine noise, and GE Power and Water is modeling heat flows.)
“We are looking for the smoking gun and find where the inefficiencies are,” Michelassi says. “Then we can fix it.”
Image credit: Vittorio Michelassi/GE Aviation