- Spillway tutorial
- 1: Setup of initial case - change of turbulence model
- 2: Creation of background mesh and boundary conditions
- 3: Mesh creation with snappyHexMesh
- 4: Creation of a 2D mesh with extrudeMesh
- 5: Running the interFoam solver
- 6: Postprocessing in Paraview
- 7: Futher work
- 8: Download
This tutorial is based on cases created by Nils Reidar Bøe Olsen at the Department of Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering. Thank you!
The purpose of this tutorial is to learn to create and analysis slightly more advanced cases in OpenFOAM than the supplied tutorials. This includes the following topics:
- Setup of turbulence model
- Mesh generation with snappyHexMesh
- Generation of a 2D mesh with extrudeMesh
- Advanced postprocessing in Paraview, including finding and plotting of free surface elevation
The case will be based on the damBreak tutorial supplied with OpenFOAM, but we will gather example files from other tutorials as well. In this tutorial we will look at a spillway width dimensions as shown in the image below (all dimensions are in meters):
The water will enter the domain with a fixed velocity along the left face, flow over the dam and out through the right boundary. The corners of the dam is rounded with a radius of 1 meter. As both the water velocity and the area of the inlet is known and fixed, we know the volume flow of water. In this case we will use 3.6 per unit width as the target volume flow. As the solution reaches a steady state (when the discharge over the dam becomes equal to the amount of water entering the reservoir), we can record the height of the free surface.
Before you do this tutorial, you should do the classic cavity and damBreak tutorials supplied with OpenFOAM. These tutorials are described in the OpenFOAM documentation and in our introduction to OpenFOAM.
To be able to use snappyHexMesh, an STL file with the geometry is needed. How to make this is not a topic here, but there are several tools available. The one used in this tutorial is generated with Autodesk Inventor, but another good alternative is FreeCAD, witch is available for all common operating systems (Windows, Mac and Linux). If you do not want to generate your own, you can download the one used in this tutorial.
1: Setup of initial case - change of turbulence model
This is clearly a two-phase problem, and that means that we will have to use the interFoam solver. The case is also clearly turbulent, so we will have to choose some turbulence model for our problem. To avoid having to write all the input files from scratch, we look in the
$FOAM_TUTORIALS/multiphase/interFoam/ras/ folder. Copy the
damBreak case to a folder of your choice. If you want you can also rename it to something else, e.g. spillway. In the rest of this tutorial all file and folder references will be given relative to this folder if nothing else is specified. It might be wise to try to run the case without any modifications before you proceed. In the following chapters we will go through all files you need to change, and explain the changes made
We will now switch from the turbulence model used in the tutorial to a model. That means that we will have to make some slight adjustments in the differentiation schemes. Replace all occurrences of
omega and make sure that the
divSchemes section looks like:
In the file
system/fvSolution, do as in the last file, and replace any occurencies of
constant/RASProperties contain the information about what turbulence model to use. Switch from
constant/transportProperties file does not need any changes. Anyways, it is wise to check that the properties of the two phases are correct for air and water respectively. It is also smart to make sure that water is
phase1, and air is
phase2. The solver does not care, but we will see later that having water as
phase1 will give some advantages when it comes to the postprocessing.
No changes need to be made to the
constant/turbulenceProperties file, but again, open it and check that
Since we have changed the turbulence model, and a new variable omega has been introduced, we must create boundary and initial condition for this. Simply rename
0/omega, open the file and replace all occurrences of
omega, including switching from
omegaWallFunction. The initial condition is not important at this stage, and can for instance be left at the current value or set to 0 (will be adjusted later anyway). You will also need to change the dimension for
omega, as it is different from
epsilon. The correct dimension are
[0 0 -1 0 0 0 0].
We have now changed the turbulence model from to a model. Follow the procedure in the original damBreak tutorial, and try to run this case. If you get any error messages, it is strongly recommended that you correct them before you proceed.
2: Creation of background mesh and boundary conditions
Before we can make the final mesh with snappyHexMesh, we will need a simple and coarse background mesh. This will be used as a basis for the meshing in snappyHexMesh. The background mesh more or less defines the bounding box and boundaries of our problem. We will also set the boundary conditions in this phase, but we will not include the spillway yet (this is snappyHexMesh's task).
The background mesh will consist of two boxes, one upper and one lower. We choose the lower box to be as high as we think the water level behind the spillway will be. This is because we will use the leftmost face of the lower box as an inlet for the water. If the height is chosen properly, the solution will become better and more stable. Otherwise oscillations or standing waves in the free surface might occur.
In the following text we have guessed that the water level behind the spillway will be approximately one meter above the top, and we will create the lower box 6 meters high. The height of the upper box then becomes 2 meters.
Since the geometry in this case is 2D, and we want to "cut out" for the spillway, and not include any ends, it is smart to let the spanwise dimension of the spillway (as defined in your STL file) exceed the spanwise dimension of the mesh, i.e. the maximum and minimum y-coordinate of the spillway should exceed the maximum and minimum y-coordinate of the mesh on both sides (see illustration above). If you have used the attached STL file, you can use the following
blockMeshDict directly, otherwise you should check your STL file and make the necessary adjustments.
constant/polyMesh/blockMeshDict file should contain something like this if you are using the supplied STL file:
If you are unsure about the meaning of anything in this file, please consult he OpenFOAM documentation.
The boundary conditions are set in the
0-folder. Since for instance
0/alpha1 are overwritten by the setFields utility, it is often wise to create a folder
0.org with the original and unmodified boundary and initial condition files. Therefore copy the entire
0-folder to a new folder called
0.org. The variables that need boundary conditions in the simulation are:
Make sure that all these files are present. If any more files are present (for example
alpha1.org) they can be deleted. To help us judging the boundary conditions for the turbulent variables k and omega, you can use the CFD-online turbulence calculator. With a target volume flow of 3.6 per unit width over a height of 6 meter, that will give a inlet (freestream) velocity of 0.6 m/s. You can use your own judgments for the turbulence intensity levels and length scales (whether this spillway is in a river or in a great lake will affect the choices you make). In this example we have used 2% turbulence intensity with a characteristic length scale of 0.1 meter.
The boundary conditions that are to be implemented then becomes:
fixedValue of 0
fixedValue of 2.16e-4
fixedValue of 0.1470
fixedValue of 0
fixedValue of (0 0 0)
fixedValue of 1
fixedValue of 2.16e-4
fixedValue of 0.1470
fixedValue of 0
fixedValue of (0.6 0 0)
buoyantPressure of 0
inletOutlet of 2.16e-4
inletOutlet of 0.1470
pressureInletOutletVelocity of 0
buoyantPressure of 0
fixedValue of (0 0 0)
front, back, defaultFaces
The boundary conditions can of course be discussed. Feel free to alter the boundary conditions if you like. If you wonder why this boundary conditions have been chosen, it is simply because it is the same boundary conditions that is already implemented in the case we copied in the beginning, and only some patch names and the values need to be changed.
The initial conditions can be given as constant velocity of (0.6 0 0) m/s, with the same turbulent properties as the freestream properties of water. The pressure and phase fraction
alpha1 can both be set to zero at the moment.
This tutorial is in the XZ-plane with the Z-axis pointing upwards, and we must check that the gravity is applied correctly, i.e. acceleration in the negative Z-direction. Open the
constant/g file, and switch the direction of gravity to:
We have now made a new mesh, boundary and initial conditions. Before we try to run this case it might be wise to clean up the results from any previous runs. This is done with the
foamCleanTutorials commands. In addition to this we will have to move our initial and boundary condition files from the
0.org-folder to the
and see if it works. Correct any errors you have made, and inspect the results in Paraview. As the mesh consist of relatively few cells of large size, it should not be necessary to decompose the case and run it in parallel yet.
3: Mesh creation with snappyHexMesh
It is now time to do the (perhaps) most difficult task: to create a mesh with snappyHexMesh. Brefore we start on this, you are strongly encouraged to read the OpenFOAM documentation on snappyHexMesh, as that tool is not very intuitive at first.
Finding a snappyHexMeshDict file
As nobody wants to write the input files for snappyHexMesh from scratch, we will copy it from one of the examples supplied with OpenFOAM. Look in the
$FOAM_TUTORIALS/incompressible/pimpleDyMFoam/wingMotion/wingMotion_snappyHexMesh/system/ folder and copy the
snappyHexMeshDict file into your
system directory. Also copy the
$FOAM_TUTORIALS/incompressible/pimpleDyMFoam/wingMotion/wingMotion2D_simpleFoam/system/extrudeMeshDict file to your
system directory (we will need it later). This can be done with the following commands in the terminal:
Creating a mesh around the spillway
The first thing we want to do is to "cut out" a hole in our base mesh, fit this to the spillway and then make some refined layers around the spillway such that the effects of the walls are correctly resolved. We will here go through the
system/snappyHexMeshDict file to make the neccesary changes. Before we start, you should place your STL file in a folder
constant/triSurface. We will assume that the file is named
The first thing to do in the
system/snappyHexMeshDict file is to specify the STL file to use. This is done in the geometry section. Remove the already defined
wing_5degrees.obj section and insert a new for our spillway:
The refinementBox section below can be commented out, as we will modify this later. The comments are standard C-syntax, i.e. you can add a double backslash at the beginning of each line to be commented out, or use the
/* something */ block comment style.
The next setting to be changed is the
minRefinementcells option. For this (rather small and simple) case, it can be set to 0, i.e. we will not tolerate any bad cells on the refinement surface.
nCellsBetweenLevels can also be reduced to for example 3 (this is the setting used in this tutorial). Leaving it as it is will create a thicker refinement layer around the spillway and a mesh with overall more cells.
In the refinementSurfaces section the surface name must be changed from
dam. The refinement levels can for example be reduced from "5 5" to "4 5" here. Everything inside the following refinementRegions must also be commented out (we will come back to this later).
locationInMesh is a coordinate that must be within your mesh region. It simply points out what part of the mesh that should be kept after snappyHexMesh has read the STL file and done the edge snapping. (-2 -0.1 2.5) will be fine in this example.
The last ting we want to change in the
snappyHexMeshDict file is that we want to create some layers on our walls, both the bottomWall and the surface of the spillway. This layer addition process is controlled by the settings in the addLayersControl section. First change the
(bottomWall|dam).. This means that both the surface bottomWall and the surface dam will get layers added. You can reduce the number of layers to 2 if you like. The other settings can be adjusted to be:
None of these settings are essential, and you might want to play around with them ans look at the differences afterward.
Now create the mesh:
Inspect the result in Paraview. Observe that the mesh is now fully 3D around the dam. The resulting mesh should look something like this:
Try to play with different refinement levels and find out how it works!
Creation of refinement regions (optional)
If you want to better resolve the free surface you might want to create a finer mesh around where we previously have guessed that our free surface should be (1 meter above spillway). Open your
system/snappyHexMeshDict file again and uncomment the refinementBox section in the start that we previously commented out. It can be renamed to anything you like, for example surface. Enter coordinates such that it encapsulates the region you want refined. The coordinates of your box might exceed the mesh dimensions if you like. The result should be something like:
The coordinates must be two opposite corners of the box, and all the coordinates in the minimum-corner must be less than the coordinate values in the maximum corner (i.e. the coordinates of a vector from min to max must all be positive).
Now we need to scroll down to the refinementRegions section of the file. Uncomment the refinementBox section that was previously commented out. If you changed the name of refinementBox previously, you should do that here as well. For this case it is probably sufficient with one level of refinenemt, so change make sure the section looks like:
The first number in levels is ignored for mode inside.
Recreate the mesh with the new settings:
Observe that there now is a refined region around where the free surface is going to be. This will give increased resolution and a sharper interphase.
Add two new refinement regions. One should be on the downstream side, and one should be along the bottom wall after the spillway. Both refinement regions are meant to better capture the flow behind.
4: Creation of a 2D mesh with extrudeMesh
As previously mentioned, the mesh from snappyHexMesh is a 3D mesh. Depending on the choices made when defining refinement surfaces and regions, the number of cells can vary much, but you probably have a mesh with somewhere between 200 000 and 400 000 cells. This is unnecessary and a waste of compute resources and time in this simple case. What we want to do now is to take the front patch of our mesh and extrude it 1 cell in the positive y-direction. This will create a new mesh that is pure 2D. This is done by the tool called extrudeMesh. Open the previously copied
system/extrudeMeshDict file, and set the
Check the number of cells in the mesh (with the
checkMesh command ) before and after running the
extrudeMesh command. Also look at some of the statistics that checkMesh gives you about mesh quality. If the mesh fails one or more checks, you should try to find out the cause of the error and fix it.
Setting boundary conditions on the spillway
As we now have introduced a new patch in our domain, we have to set boundary conditions on this as well. Go through all the files in the 0.org folder, and make a new boundary with the exact same boundary conditions as bottomWall. The name of your new boundary might vary, depending on your STL file. If you created the file with FreeCAD, it is probably named
dam_Mesh, and if you used Autodesk Inventor, it is probably called
To reduce solution time, we will initialize the case with water behind the spillway up to the edge (z=5 meter). In the
system/setFieldsDict file, change the box coordinates so that it encapsules the part behind the dam:
We have all our boundary condition files in a folder
0.org, but we must put them in the folder
0. Therefore, delete all the files already present in the
0 folder (snappyHexMesh creates some files there that becomes invalid after mesh extrusion. Those files must be removed.) and copy the contents of
0. Then you can use the setFields utility to initialize the volume fraction:
Visualize the result in Paraview, and verify that everything is correct:
5: Running the interFoam solver
Before we run the solver, a few more changes need to be made to the files controlling the simulation:
system/controlDict file is the main control file of the simulation. Open the file, find the keywords and adjust if necessary so that the lines are:
Read through the rest of this file and make sure that you do understand what all the parameters mean. Note that we now have enabled automatic time-step scaling based on the Courant number. OpenFOAM will at each time iteration scale the timestep to satisfy .
system/decomposeParDict file controls the decomposition in several processes. Since we have one main direction, we will only decompose along the x-axis. Make sure that you decompose the domain in the same number of parts as you have processor cores available on your computer. You can choose decomposition method
hierarchical as you like, they will behave the same in this case. In this example we will use four processors and the simple method. The
system/decomposeParDict file should then contain:
Start and wait
You are now ready to start the analysis. The first you do is to decompose the case , and then you start the solver in parallel:
The analysis will probably take several hours, so you can for example start it in the evening, and it should be ready the next morning. If you have decomposed in more or less domains than 4, this must be changed in the
mpirun command. It might be wise to start the solver, let it run until the simulation time is between 1 and 2 seconds, and then stop it with Ctrl+C. Open the case in Paraview as described below and verify that thing works. Then you can start the simulation again with
mpirun -np 4 interFoam -parallel.
6: Postprocessing in Paraview
When the analysis is finished it is time to find the answer to the original question: given a volume flow of 3.6 , what is the water level behind the spillway? This can be found using the post-processing tools in Paraview.
When it comes to running Paraview, you have two choices:
- Recompose the case with reconstructPar as taught in the original damBreak tutorial, and then open Paraview with paraFoam.
- Create an empty file called
spillway.foam(or something else ending in
.foam), open this (empty) file in Paraview (no reconstruction needed).
The last option is definitely the fastest, and will be used here.
Open the decomposed case in Paraview
To create an empty file, we can use the
touch command. Then we open the file in Paraview:
You must now remember to select "case type" to be "decomposed case" in the left bar before pressing "Apply":
Look at the results by playing the animation. Does the result seem to be reasonable? How well was our initial guess about the water level behind the dam?
Finding the free surface elevation at any point
To find the free surface elevation at a point can at first seem to be somewhat difficult, as Paraview does not have any such "surface elevation tool". Another difficulty is that OpenFOAM itself does not solve for the surface elevation, it solves for the volume fraction . That means that we will at least have one cell, probably more, where the volume fraction is somewhere in the region . There are (at least) two common ways to find the surface elevation from the volume fraction:
- Sample the volume fraction along a vertical line parallel to the z-axis crossing the free surface, and use interpolation to find where .
- Integrate the volume fraction from the bottom of your domain to the atmosphere along a line parallel to the z-axis:
The latter method will be used here, as it is easy implementable in Paraview using standard tools.
The first thing we need to do is to sample the volume fraction along a line. This is done by using the Plot Over Line utility, found under Filters -> Data Analysis. Create a line from the bottom of your domain to the top. Under the "Display" tab, deselect all other variables than alpha1. Remember to step to the last timestep of your simulation.
Now we want to integrate the volume fraction along this line. This is done by the Integrate Variables tool, also found under Filters -> Data Analysis. Press "Apply", and you see the integrated variables. Then we want to plot this integrated variable over time, so that we can see how the free surface elevation changes during the simulation. This is done with the Plot Selection Over Time tool, and now you can guess yourself where to find it. Select the row from the table with the integrated variables, and choose "Copy active selection". Then press "Apply" and wait. This might take some time, as it will sample the volume fraction and integrate it at every timestep stored. Go and grab a cup of coffee while you wait. After the process has finished, you can deselect those variables not needed in the plot. The resulting Paraview workspace now looks something like this:
The resulting surface elevation development over time is:
In this example the simulation is proceeded to 45 seconds, and as we can see, the surface elevation is more or less converged.
Create a nice and illustrative image of the results, with the the spillway, streamlines and an isosurface at alpha1=0.5 (what does that mean?) (final timestep only).
Restart the simulation and run another 15 seconds (if you stopped at 30 seconds). Re-run the postprocessing and check the difference in final surface elevation. Has the solution converged?
Use the "calculator" utility in Paraview, and calculate the volume flow of water out of the domain at any time. The procedure is roughly the same as when we plotted the free surface elevation. Is 30 seconds of simulation time enough to reach steady state?
7: Futher work
There are a lot of interesting exercises that can be done based on this tutorial. Here are a few:
- Adjust the height of the inflow region (and the inflow velocity) to match the free surface elevation recorded previously. Did this change the results?
- When doing CFD simulations (and other simulations as well) it is common to make the mesh as fine as the computing resources allow within the boundaries of your desired solution time. Now try to make the background mesh as coarse as possible, make refinements where needed, and see how far down you can get the solution time!
- Is the "inlet length" (the length from the inlet to the dam) long enough? Will a longer inlet change the surface elevation?
- Read about swak4Foam and follow the basic example given to measure surface elevation at runtime and make a new and better inlet.
You can download all necessary case files in spillway.tar.gz. Scripts to run and clean the case is also attached.