Evolution of Commercial CFD
The evolution of the commercial Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) industry from the original pioneers makes for an interesting trip through time. Join me as I trace the ancestry of current day CFD vendors.
Fluent launched the first salvo in consolidating the CFD industry in 1996 by, ironically, being acquired itself by a little known heat sink producer called Aavid Thermal Technologies, then listed on the NASDAQ as AATT. Fluent thus gained access to funds to purchase its nearest competitor, Fluid Dynamics International (FDI), and a lesser known Belgium company, Polyflow, which specialized in CFD polymer and glass processing. FIDAP and Icepak (for electronics cooling analysis) from FDI, and POLYFLOW from Polyflow were added to Fluent's product portfolio.
At the time of their acquisition, FDI were in the process of developing FIDAP 8, a new integrated pre-processor, solver and visualization package that went on to become GAMBIT. GAMBIT replaced ICEM CFD's GEOMESH, which Fluent had been licensing as its pre-processor for geometry preparation and meshing. The GAMBIT team was led by renowned meshing expert Ted Blacker. Richard Smith - me - with a newly minted EngD from UMIST, England and British Aerospace, joined the Gambit team at the time of the acquisition and started development of a Cartesian subdivision meshing tool called GOCARTS.
Aavid hit hard times in 1999 and was acquired by Chicago private equity firm Willis Stein and Partners (WSP) for US$260 million. The deal was a leverage buyout. The same kinds of deals that Wall Street found attractive after 2001 and then ended with the sub-prime mortgage credit meltdown in 2007. We'll return to Fluent's fate later.
The UK's Atomic Energy Authority (AEA) privatized a portion of itself in 1996 as AEA Technology which contained their CFD business (FLOW3D later renamed to CFX) within its Engineering Software Business unit. With an eye on growth, AEA Technology, bought Canadian company Advanced Scientific Computing (ASC) in 1997 to gain access to their new, unstructured solver (TASCflow). AEA Technology abandoned their in-house development of an unstructured solver and instead used TASCflow as the basis for the next version of CFX. CFX became the name of the CFD group within AEA Technology.
ANSYS is the leading supplier of analysis tools within the Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) field. However, it was only in 2003 that ANSYS could finally field a strong CFD analysis tool after it purchased the CFX division of AEA Technology. As a precursor to its CFD purchase, ANSYS purchased ICEM CFD in 2000. ICEM CFD was a specialist in providing advanced meshing tools (such as Hexa and Tetra) for CFD and FEA analysis - recall they also used to supply Fluent with GEOMESH prior to GAMBIT. The prolific lead developer at ICEM CFD was Wayne Christopher, who was also responsible for the meshing and user interface in Icepak, owned by Fluent after their purchase of FDI.
Not content with having one of the leading CFD vendors, ANSYS purchased Fluent (the world's leading CFD vendor) from WSP in 2006 for US$630 million - a handsome payback compared to the original purchase price of US$260 million WSP paid for Aavid and Fluent combined. ANSYS is now a CFD superpower and had to obtain FTC clearance for the Fluent purchase after concerns were raised about it forming a CFD software market monopoly.
- AEA Technology News
- Mergers and Aquisitions - Aug-Sept, 2000
- ANSYS completes Fluent purchase
- Unofficial History of ANSYS
Almost since its inception, Computational Dynamics (CD) struck a symbiotic alliance with adapco. adapco's meshing and engineering consultancy services complimented well the STAR-CD CFD solver. The two companies are now known as CD-adapco which is headed by Steve McDonald.
With their new single identity, a new CFD package emerged, called STAR-CCM+. A team led by Fluent alumnus, Wayne Smith, has rapidly developed STAR-CCM+, from scratch (starting in 1999), into a leading light in the next generation of CFD packages. I played a role in developing the Java based user interface for STAR-CCM+ while at CD-adapco during 2001-2003.
CD-adapco have forged strong links with Dassault Systemes (who produce CATIA), and it would seem that the CD-adapco CFD solvers would make a handy addition to the Dassault SIMULIA product. Though there are no signs of a Dassault purchase of CD-adapco, it seems, given ANSYS's move on Fluent, it's only a matter of time...
Source: CD-adapco About Us
CHAM continues to be an independent CFD vendor as does Flow Science. Both have long histories that date back to the beginning of commercial CFD.
The Future of Commercial CFD
What is the future of commercial CFD? Is it now a mature industry where we can expect more consolidation, such as the purchase of Fluent by ANSYS? Or is there room for more players with diverse offerings that are not covered by the established CFD vendors? I guess no-one knows, but I'm still game to make some predictions, so check back soon.