Boeing Phantom Works races to develop computational fluid dynamics tools with Renault F1

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Boeing aims to capitalise on the opening of a new £10 million ($15 million) computational fluid dynamics research centre by its technical partner, Grand Prix team Renault F1, as the two companies work to develop new CFD design tools.

Boeing's Phantom Works research and development division based in St Louis, Missouri has extended the initial three-year agreement with Renault F1 for another five years, says Peter Hoffman, director of the division's global R&D strategy. Through the partnership, Renault F1 and Boeing are jointly developing CFD code, he says. "There is a proprietary code within Boeing that Renault F1 engineers are working on with us," he adds.

Hoffman says the code has a wide speed range: "It can work for a car through to hypersonic."

Renault F1's new "computational aerodynamics centre" at the team's UK base near Enstone, north of Oxford, began operating in July and is now the most advanced in F1. It boasts a 10t, 52m (172ft)-long Appro supercomputer capable of 38 teraflops (38 trillion mathematical calculations a second) with 265 terabyte storage capacity. Renault F1 says the computer has the equivalent power of 1,000 high-performance personal computers. A team of up to 25 engineers work in the centre.

"We took the decision two years ago to build the CFD centre instead of adding a second windtunnel complex," says Renault F1 technical director Bob Bell. "Windtunnels are old fashioned and have reached the limit of their performance development. We could build the technology centre for half the cost of a physical windtunnel with the initial aim of achieving 50% of the capacity," he adds. "Within three or four years it will be approaching a windtunnel's capacity."

Hoffman says the partnership extends beyond development of new CFD tools to other areas such as structures, advanced digital manufacturing (rapid prototyping) and even accident investigation: "We're very interested in the work they're doing on the metallic side of selective laser sintering - a forming process that enables a part to be produced directly from the computer model without any machining."

Renault's CFD centre will receive additional computer capability every six months, with the next update planned for early next year. The team's 2009 F1 challenger, the R29, will be the first car to take full benefit from the new centre.