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Continuous and steady advances in computer technology have changed the way engineering design and analyses are performed. These advances allow engineers to manage larger-scale problems and more complex systems, or to look in more detail at a specific process. Using advanced computer technology to perform engineering analysis, numerical modeling has emerged as an important field in engineering.
In general, the term numerical method describes solving a mathematical description of a physical process using a numerical rather than an analytical approach.
This may be done for a number of reasons, including:
A small-scale replica of an apparatus is considered a physical model because it describes the full-size apparatus on a smaller scale. This model can incorporate varying levels of detail depending on need and circumstances. A mathematical description of a physical system (referred to as a mathematical model) can also incorporate varying levels of detail. Similar to a physical model, the amount of detail is often determined by the accuracy required and the resources available to use the model. This creates a need to strike a balance between accuracy, complexity and efficiency.
There are two basic approaches to mathematical modeling.
The term numerical modeling usually refers to the use of numerical methods on high powered computers to solve a complex system of mathematical models based on the fundamental physics of the system. In this respect, it describes the second approach previously identified.
Benefits of numerical modeling
There are numerous benefits to using a sophisticated tool such as a numerical model for engineering analysis. These tools can often provide information that can only be obtained through expensive experiments or may not be available any other way. Numerical modeling may often be used to obtain needed information quickly and at a reduced cost.
While it is important to understand the advantages of using numerical modeling, it is equally important to understand that it is only one means of obtaining the required information. Engineering has long relied on theory and experiments for design and analysis. Numerical modeling adds a third approach. Each approach offers different insights with different benefits.
Stay tuned! More articles illustrating specific examples of how numerical modeling was used in power plant applications coming soon.