Learning CFD from Afar
This blog was contributed by Garrett Clyma, CFD Engineer at Flow Science.
Passion Meets Opportunity
It’s difficult for a high school student to predict a specific career path, especially in the broad world of engineering. At that stage in my life, all I knew was that I was good at math, loved science, and had an interest in space travel, largely in part to the booming developments of SpaceX and the anticipation of the James Webb Space Telescope. Majoring in aerospace engineering was the obvious choice, prompting me to move across my home state to attend Western Michigan University.
As I progressed through my degree, I saw for the first time that there was more to solving engineering problems than just design, manufacturing, and process engineering. I enjoyed social situations and interacting with other students, which furthered my interest away from a purely technical engineering career. Although learning about space will always remain a hobby, my time in school and at internships caused me to think outside the realm of aero- and astronautics to a career in which I could combine my love for science and problem solving, while still using my social skills. I was introduced to CFD for the first time through my senior capstone project, which concentrated on the design of a scramjet combustion test lab. Using software to simulate the supersonic flow within the wind tunnel sparked my interest in numerical modeling and had me questioning, “where else is CFD used?”
It just so happens that, from a combination of luck and opportunity, I was able to land a post-graduate remote internship with Flow Science in a career path I was extremely interested in and could picture myself excelling in. This internship offered me a three-month opportunity to increase my competitiveness for a full-time position.
CFD is, simply put, complicated. How was I, a college graduate with sparse CFD experience, to become well versed enough to solve and convey complex topics for highly technical clients in just 3 months? My manager, John Wendelbo, and I laid out a plan with two objectives.
- Objective #1: Develop my CFD modeling skills to be competitive for a Sales Engineer position
- Objective #2: In the process, fine-tune my presentation skills and develop a strong familiarity with value propositions, sales pipelines, and the inner workings of sales group processes.
To accomplish my objectives, we set a generalized plan for me to learn the FLOW-3D product family, spending about 3 weeks on each software. The idea was to work from lower to higher complexity CFD concepts and continue a steady buildup of aptitude in modeling while approaching the software like any new user, by utilizing the extensive directory of user training materials. This would give me a strong base of CFD knowledge while also providing plenty of opportunities to pick the brains of my colleagues, asking relevant questions when needed (and irrelevant questions when curious) to accomplish my second objective.
Working remotely from a different state had implications that I had yet to experience in a working environment. The lack of face-to-face interaction with my co-workers could have had a negative impact on relationship-building and productivity. To combat that possibility, I introduced myself to each of my colleagues over Zoom throughout my internship and allowed them to put a face to a name and exhibit my positive, motivated, and curious approach to work. I organized myself by creating daily, weekly, and monthly goals to circle back to and adjusted my work habits to be as productive at home as I would be in an office.
Onward and Upward
Due to the broad design of my internship, I was exposed to an array of industries, physics concepts, and software features rather than focusing on one or two specific applications. Since similar physics phenomena are present across different engineering problems, learning a range of applications provided me with a more thorough understanding of which physics models are important to include and which are not for an effective simulation. Modeling microfluidic capillary flows brought me insight to surface tension physics which I could apply to melt pool modeling in laser powder-bed fusion and bubble formation in boiling water. Additionally, setting up simulations to validate experimental research let me practice creating models of real situations which included exploring the changing flow rate over a labyrinth hydraulic weir and spillway and the effect of gravity on electron beam penetration of a metal disc.
The variety in my experience continued when I got to leave my “home office” for a few days to attend the RAPID+TCT 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing Conference in Detroit, MI alongside two colleagues that had flown in. The energy there was high and foot traffic at our booth reflected that. I enjoyed speaking to academics, engineers, executives, and investors about what they are looking for in applications relating to CFD respective to their roles in the business or engineering process. Walking the conference floor exposed me to different companies’ capabilities and trends present within the industry, both of which will help me make informed decisions in my role.
It’s fun for me to look back and think about how I arrived at this stage of my academic and professional career and there’s no shortage of people to thank. I’m now very happy to say that, after a successful internship, I’ve been hired full-time as a CFD Engineer with the sales team focusing on additive manufacturing and metal casting applications.