I’m Massimiliano Fontana and This Is How I Mesh

Massimiliano Fontana, CFD Specialist and Design Engineer, Porto Ricerca.

Massimiliano Fontana, CFD Specialist and Design Engineer, Porto Ricerca.

I was born in a town in Lombardy, North Italy, and ever since I was a child my passion has been airplanes. One day, with my father, I witnessed the low altitude flight of an F-104 Starfighter during an air show. It was love at first sight. I was about seven years old at the time, but immediately decided that I would become a military pilot.

As time went on, I realized it would be a quite difficult goal, as someone who already wore glasses, so I moved to plan B: become an aeronautical engineer. It took a few years, but in the end I received my degree from the Politecnico di Milano.

In the final phase of my university courses, the choice of aerodynamics as the main focus was almost mandatory, and it always felt like the heart of aeronautics. Until then, my only CFD experience had been the 2D design of airfoils using a simple code developed in the Aeronautics Department (no XFoil available at that time, of course).

After graduation, my strict intention was to work in the aeronautics sector and not, like most of my colleagues, design microwave ovens or similar items. So I began to contact all the companies in the sector looking for a temporary job or an internship. From my research an opportunity presented itself at Aerea SpA, a private firm which produces pod and missile launcher rails for major aircraft manufacturers and is presently engaged in the F35 program. My task was to use a panel code, VSAERO, for pod fluid dynamics analysis. This was the bridge that put me in contact with Alberto Porto of Porto Ricerca, a distributor of Analytical Methods’ products in Italy and with whom I started working a short time later.

Porto Ricerca was (and still is) a consultancy in the field of computational fluid dynamics, as well as software sales and support. In my position, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many different fluid dynamics topics in different sectors ranging from aeronautics to sailing boat racing and for different companies, like Piaggio Aero, Pilatus Aircraft, Thales-Alenia, and Pagani. The work has been diverse and has covered aerodynamic design, icing simulations, store-release, and more!

Accustomed to using software for mesh generation that was developed specifically for each individual code, my first contact with Gridgen was shocking – the possibilities and freedom in the grid generation process were almost paralyzing.

Recently, with the support of Pointwise, we have been involved in the complete design of an aircraft called the SEA Risen. This included a complete aerodynamic design, performance evaluation, and loads analysis for structural dimensioning. The effort has paid off. Last December it obtained the category world speed record which was recognized and awarded by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.

The SEA Risen.

The SEA Risen.

  • Location: Pavullo nel Frignano, Modena (Italy)
  • Current position: CFD Specialist and Design Engineer
  • Current computer: Dell Precision Intel Xeon quad-core
  • One word that best describes how you work: Tidily

What software or tools do you use every day?

An important part of my work is to prepare reports and studies, so I’ll typically use Microsoft Office and LibreOffice, Google Chrome for browsing and searching the Internet, and Windows Mail for e-mail management (but I’m considering Thunderbird).

What does your workspace look like?

Massimiliano's current workspace.

Massimiliano’s current workspace.

I do not have my own workspace because, due to our activities, we often move. Currently, we have two locations. One location is in Lissone, near Milano, and the other in Pavullo nel Frignano, in the Apennines near Modena (the area of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Pagani). Sometimes I work while travelling or during my days at home. Therefore, my workplace is really just anywhere I can open my laptop.

For the most demanding tasks the reference point is the office in Pavullo where we spend most of our time. It is here where we have all the essentials required for our job, including more powerful workstations able to overcome the limits of our laptops.

What do you see are the biggest challenges facing CFD in the next 5 years?

The route seems drawn: availability of higher computing power coupled with increasingly sophisticated tools that enable automation leading to the generation of larger meshes for more complex simulations. What I hope I will have in this context is the availability of tools to assess and control the different and individual aspects of the grid generation, calculation, and post-processing. Pointwise certainly offers this possibility and makes it easy to move from a global to a local view of the problem when necessary.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on the fluid dynamics analysis of a glider in an effort to accurately estimate performance. Being a very efficient aircraft, it is essential to have an accurate drag estimation where the values obtained, as well as the overall glide-ratio characteristics, can be immediately and easily compared with what the pilots know well and routinely experience when they fly.

What would you say is your meshing specialty?

As a result of my early experiences using panel codes and my accumulated experience since then, I prefer generating a structured mesh and also take advantage of Glyph scripting as often as I can. I’m also good at keeping complex meshing projects organized so I can focus on the details. This means hiding things that are not useful while operating on the parts that are of interest. Think Pointwise layer manager and groups.

Any tips for our users?

Take advantage of all the opportunities offered by Pointwise. This includes all the online content such as videos and articles, as well as technical support. As I mentioned earlier, use the layer manager to establish and maintain order for problems of arbitrary complexity.

What project are you most proud of and why?

The optimization activities we performed for the America’s Cup. We developed an optimization process for the study of boat’s appendages and sails. This involved linking together various tools with Pointwise committed to the preparation of the grid for both a panel code (used for the appendages and upwind sails) and a Navier-Stokes code (for downwind sails). Using this process we remained competitive.

More recently, our collaboration with CINECA, the largest Italian computing centre and one of the most important worldwide has been much appreciated and has allowed us to push Pointwise and test the limits of grid generation.

And of course, the work done on the SEA Risen aircraft leading up to the world speed record was also a big accomplishment.

What CFD solver and postprocessor do you use most often?

We have at our disposal the complete set of Analytical Methods (Stark Aerospace) software, ranging from a panel code to Navier-Stokes. For specific goals, we have used Star-CCM+, and lately we’re investigating the use of General Public License software. For post-processing, we use a dedicated tool from AMI. Otherwise, we use Tecplot and Paraview.

Are you reading any interesting technical papers we should know about?

I’m reading a paper, AIAA 2016-3323, prepared in the context of the NASA CFD Vision 2030 Study, “Unstructured Grid Adaptation: Status, Potential Impacts and Recommended Investments Towards CFD Vision 2030”, by Park et al. Publications like this are an opportunity to think about the near future of both CFD and grid generation and to understand the problems which different parties have met as well as the proposed solutions.

It is always interesting to see how the modelling of boundary layers and transition is dealt with in an effort to more accurately estimate drag as in AIAA-2016-3981, “An Application of CFD to Guide Forced Boundary-Layer Transition for Low-Speed Tests of a Hybrid Wing -Body Configuration”, by Luckring et al.

Do you plan on attending any conferences or workshops this year?

I hope to attend a meeting prepared by CINECA, “HPC methods for computational fluid dynamics and astrophysics”, to be held in early November in Bologna. This meeting would be an opportunity to keep up to date with HPC developments applied to CFD and to discover computational astrophysics.

What do you do outside the world of CFD?

First of all, I spend time with my son. I also try to make time for some physical activity and reading novels and psychology books.

More difficult to find time for are my other interests, such as aeronautics and flight, computing and financial engineering, and so on.

What is some of the best CFD advice you’ve ever received?

To never forget to look at the problem through the eyes and mind of an engineer. We often find ourselves immersed in complex grids and risk to weigh solutions and results only from the numerical calculation point of view, forgetting that a real problem is behind the computations and reality will judge the results validity.

If you had to pick a place to have dinner, where would you go?

Near Pavullo, in Serramazzoni, I would recommend the restaurant Selva Nuova. While in Valtellina where I live, the restaurant Da Nello. They have a familiar atmosphere, homemade pasta, and genuine and traditional food which is typical of these types of places.

About Travis Carrigan

A Pointwise engineer helping other engineers solve their meshing problems.
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