OpenFOAM User Meetings

The third UK & Ireland OpenFOAM user meeting was held at Daresbury laboratory last week between the 2nd and the 4th of November. The event was co-hosted by the the Engineering and Environment group and the Hartree Centre from the Science & Technology Facilities Council. Prior events have been held at The Centre for Modelling & Simulation in Bristol and The University of Leeds. This initiative was spearheaded by Prof. Hrovje Jasak from the University of Zagreb who is also a principle author of the foam-extend project. It is his intention, and now the intention of the past organisers of this event that it should be a regular (at least bi-yearly) event held at institutions around the UK to allow for an informal gathering of OpenFOAM's user and develepor base to help stimulate a cohesive community around the software. Future events will likely be advertised first via the CFD-Online community, so keep your eyes peeled for where it goes next!

The event saw around 50 OpenFOAM users from various backgrounds come together for the first 2 days and explore the use of OpenFOAM on some of STFC's large computing resources while the third day saw nearly 100 users from both industry and academia share their work and engage with each other on the future direction of OpenFOAM and the community built around it.

The event also saw Dr Ajit K. Mahendra present work on the MicroNanoFlows group Molecular Dynamics solver.

One key element of these events is the ability for the group to hold forums and discussion around current software problems, be it their own personal simulation issues or more general problems with either the code or organisational structure around the code. This event was no different with a chaired hour long discussion rounding up the day proving insightful. The key points that were taken away were:

  • Currently the OpenFOAM community is a little too fragmented (partly due to the existence of both the standard OpenFOAM and foam-extend projects).
  • Many people don't know how best to feed back developments or bug reports etc. and more importantly who to feed back to. (Prof. Jasak from foam-extend was present and argued that he was one optin for this at the moment via the foam-extend project).
  • OpenFOAM is not currently in heavy use across all of industry, especially at the "higher" end (i.e. large-scale users), potentially due to a general lack of copability on behalf of the OpenFOAM community. This is a general challenge for open-source software in general but an interesting one nonetheless.
  • There was concensus that OpenFOAM needed more structured testing to improve general confidence in its ability compared to other commercial solvers. This is something currently being tackled by the foam-extend project, which is supplied with an extensive "test harness" but they are looking for as many demanding test cases as possible to be supplied that can be incorporated into the harness.
  • There were questions as to why there was limited uptake of OpenFOAM as a teaching tool within universities and schools, where (admittedly heaviily discounted) commercial solutions are often preferred by tutors. There were a number of reasons cited, but primarily this boiled down to ease of access to the software (not all students know how to compile from source and not all are comfortable with Linux with many resources offering Windows only) and lack of teaching resources like books. It was pointed out however that the latest version of foam-extend, 3.2, can now be natively compiled under Windows and Mac using MinGW and that a number of good books have started to surface recently, for example The OpenFOAM Technology Primer.
  • Finally, everybody agreed that OpenFOAM was a fine example of an open-source software initiative and a very impressive achievement that could only get better as long as the community grows and harmonises via events like the user workshop.