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Compressible Fluid Flow Analysis

The compressible fluid flow analysis is used to run CFD simulations where density variations have a significant influence on the system. Commonly, when the flow velocities exceed ~30 % of the speed of sound, compressible effects start to gain importance.


An aircraft with flow around it. High velocity regions are shown in red and orange
Compressible flow around an aircraft

Aerodynamic analysis of a commercial aircraft

In the following, compressible simulation setup is discussed.

Turbulence model

A turbulence model should be chosen in accordance to the flow regime. In a Laminar flow, associated with low Reynolds numbers, viscous effects dominate the flow and turbulence can be neglected. This flow regime is characterized by regular flow layers.

On the other hand, a turbulent flow is characterized by chaotic and irregular patterns that are associated with Reynolds numbers. In order to simulate a turbulent fluid flow an appropriate turbulence model should be chosen. Currently, these models are supported:

  • Reynolds-averaged Navier–Stokes (RANS)
    • k-Epsilon
    • kOmega-SST
  • Large eddy simulation (LES)
    • Smagorinsky
    • Spalart-Allmaras

Time dependency

There are two variants of simulation: Steady-state and Transient flow. In order to account for time-dependent effects, consider a transient simulation. If you are only interested in the converged steady state solution, where the flow condition does not change over time, consider a steady-state simulation. Steady-state simulations are computationally less demanding.


Depending on the chosen turbulence and time-dependency, different solvers are available. Each combination of choices corresponds to one of the OpenFOAM® solvers. The complete list of available solvers are presented in table below.

turbulence model Time dependency solver OpenFOAM® solver
Laminar Transient pressure-based rhoPimpleFoam
density-based rhoCentralFoam
Steady-state rhoSimpleFoam
RANS Transient pressure-based rhoPimpleFoam
Steady-state rhoSimpleFoam
LES Transient pressure-based rhoPimpleFoam


In order to perform a compressible flow simulation on a given domain you have to discretize your geometry by creating a mesh. Details of CAD handling and Meshing are described in the Pre-processing section.

After a mesh is assigned to the simulation, it is possible to use domain-related entities associated with the mesh in setting up the simulation. Additionally, one can view the mesh or define new entities, e.g. a Topological Entity Set, to facilitate the simulation setup process. Details of each step are described in the following sections:


For compressible simulations, the thermal properties of the system must be defined.

Moreover, if LES turbulence model is being used, LES delta coefficient should be set as well.

Initial and boundary conditions

In a compressible simulation, the computational domain will be solved for three fields: pressure (p), velocity (U), and temperature (T). Depending on the choice of solver, additional turbulent transport quantities may be included. As a general rule for CFD simulations, all field conditions must be well-defined on all boundaries. Therefore, it is very important to define appropriate initial and boundary conditions for all variables on every boundary.


Initial and boundary conditions must be specified for all variables on every boundary.

It is recommended to set the initial conditions close to the expected solution to avoid potential convergence problems. For this analysis type, variables could be initialized using the following methods:

Finally, the following boundary conditions are available for each variable:

Important Information

In case no boundary condition is assigned to some face/faces, by default these faces will be assigned a No-Slip wall BC, and zero gradient for temperature.

Advanced concepts

Based on the choice of solver, the following Advanced concepts are available in a compressible analysis:


Numerical settings play an important role in simulation configuration. Ideally, they could enhance stability and robustness of the simulation. Since the optimal combination is not always trivial to find, default values are tried to be as meaningful and relevant as possible. However, all numerical setting are made available for users to have full control over the simulation. These settings are divided into three categories:

  • Properties

    All properties regarding the iterative solvers of velocity and pressure equations are set here. Relaxation factors, residual controls, and solver-specific tweaks are among these settings. However, depending on the solver (e.g. PIMPLE, PISO, …), these settings will be adjusted. For each field, a Help message is provided on the platform.

  • Solver

    In this part, linear solvers used in computing each variable could be chosen separately. Upon choosing a solver, a set of preconditioners/smoothers and their tolerances become available. To assist with selecting the best solver, a Help message is provided for each field.

  • Numerical Schemes

    These schemes determine how each term in the governing equations should be discretized. Schemes categorized in the following groups:

    • Time differentiation
    • Gradient
    • Divergence
    • Laplacian
    • Interpolation
    • Surface-normal gradient

Simulation Control

The Simulation Control settings define the general controls over the simulation. Number of iterations, simulation interval, timestep size, and several other setting could be set. The following controls are available:

Result Control

Result Control allows users to define extra simulation result outputs. Each result control item provides data that requires additional calculation. The following result control items are available:


Compressible flow analysis is performed using the OPENFOAM® software. See our Third-party software section for further information.

This offering is not approved or endorsed by OpenCFD Limited, producer and distributor of the OpenFOAM software and owner of the OPENFOAM® and OpenCFD® trade marks. OPENFOAM® is a registered trade mark of OpenCFD Limited, producer and distributor of the OpenFOAM software.

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