Travel Trailer Analysis in ANSYS Discovery

ANSYS Discovery is a wonderful tool for fast and first look structural, fluid flow, and thermal simulations. Discovery gives us the ability to modify geometry very quickly within the interface and to add or remove features to view realtime simulation reactions. This allows us to quickly iterate, explore design changes, and better understand interaction between our design and the environment. Today we are going to be investigating the pressure profile on the exterior of a travel trailer being pulled behind a truck down the highway.

Truck and Trailer with velocity streamlines

In this analysis we are using a 2018 Chevy Silverado 2500 model pulled from GrabCAD with a generic 25 foot travel trailer. Based on described experience we’ve noticed that the roof and sidewalls of a moderately sized travel trailer seem to bow outwards at highway speeds near the front of the trailer.

The first thing to do is to put this model in an enclosure and prescribe a flow condition at the inlet and a pressure boundary at the outlet. Modeling the truck/trailer combo at a speed of ~55 mph (25 m/s) confirms that there is suction (negative pressure) present in these key areas:

Negative Pressure: Truck and Trailer in 25 m/s airflow, -500 Pa isosurface

While the actual roof and sidewall separating could be attributed to poor manufacturing processes we wonder if there could be a design change to minimize negative pressure/suction. One idea would be to incorporate some sort of turbulator to break up the laminar flow. I’ve seen turbulator tape in a zig-zag pattern used in aviation for this specific purpose so we’ll try recreating the travel trailer equivalent and see how it goes.

I started with a zig-zag pattern about 4″ tall on top of the trailer to see if I could “pop the bubble”

This did have the intended consequence and it was curious to see how much impact the turbulator on top of the trailer had on the negative pressure at the sidewall of the trailer:

The next thing I wanted to try was moving the turbulator forward or backward to see the effects. Moving the turbulator towards the aft of the vehicle has limited effects but moving it to different locations within the suction “bubble” seems to effect our -500 Pascal isosurface:

This would seem to indicate the presence of a “sweet spot” for turbulator location that merits further research in either the “Analyze” mode within Ansys Discovery or within Ansys Fluent.

Before I hang up my coat I’d like to investigate one alternate design that I’ve seen more often in automotive applications. I’m going to try adding vertical pillars and see how that goes:

We can easily change the height and position of the pillars to see the resultant effects on the pressure isosurface. The pillars also have a significant effect on the suction bubble but I notice that it has less effect on the suction on the sides of the trailer.

Using Discovery we can quickly and easily iterate on designs, get a first-view of the physics, and determine which change or design merits further investigation. In this analysis we can see that there is most definitely a suction profile at the front of a generic travel trailer. If the suction proves damaging we can see that there are several design changes which will help to mitigate this effect.

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If you would like to play with the models themselves, you can download a zip file with all three models here.