FSI, Fluid-Structure Interaction

FSI, Fluid-Structure Interaction

Fluid–Structure Interaction

Fluid-Structure Interaction (FSI) is the interaction of some movable or deformable structure with an internal or surrounding fluid flow. Fluid–structure interactions can be stable or oscillatory. In oscillatory interactions, the strain induced in the solid structure causes it to move such that the source of strain is reduced, and the structure returns to its former state only for the process to repeat.

Defining Fluid-Structure Interactions

Fluid-structure interaction (FSI) is a Multiphysics coupling between the laws that describe fluid dynamics and structural mechanics. This phenomenon is characterized by interactions – which can be stable or oscillatory – between a deformable or moving structure and a surrounding or internal fluid flow. When a fluid flow encounters a structure, stresses and strains are exerted on the solid object – forces that can lead to deformations. These deformations can be quite large or very small, depending on the pressure and velocity of the flow and the material properties of the actual structure.

Figure 1. This model depicts the velocity field and von Mises stress in the structure.
Figure 1. This model depicts the velocity field and von Mises stress in the structure.

If the deformations of the structure are quite small and the variations in time are also relatively slow, the fluid’s behavior will not be greatly affected by the deformation, and we can concern ourselves with only the resultant stresses in the solid parts. However, if the variations in time are fast, greater than a few cycles per second, then even small structural deformations will lead to pressure waves in the fluid. These pressure waves lead to the radiation of sound from vibrating structures. Such problems can be treated as an acoustic-structure interaction, rather than a fluid-structure interaction. Yet, if the deformations of the structure are large, the velocity and pressure fields of the fluid will change as a result, and we need to treat the problem as a bidirectionally coupled Multiphysics analysis: The fluid flow and pressure fields affect the structural deformations, and the structural deformations affect the flow and pressure.

Figure 2. The presence of fluid produces von Mises stress in the steel container.
Figure 2. The presence of fluid produces von Mises stress in the steel container.

Considering Fluid-Structure Interactions in Design and Modeling

In design, you may either want to exploit or avoid significant effects of fluid-structure interactions. Devices such as peristaltic pumps, for example, exploit significant structural deformations to gently pump blood without damaging living cells. Such pumps are a combination of flexible tubing and rigid rollers, and the designer must be concerned with the fluid velocities, shear rates in the fluid, and the stresses and deformation in the tubing. Industrial mixers, on the other hand, have moving parts, but the stirrers can be considered essentially rigid parts that agitate a fluid. When analyzing such systems, the mixing efficiency is the most important quantity to compute. It is possible to compute the stresses in the stirrers, if the designer is concerned with that. The solid structures can even be treated as entirely stationary obstructions in the fluid flow, with an objective of computing the stresses in the solid materials.

When modeling such systems, there are a variety of appropriate modeling approaches available. You may need to model both the Navier-Stokes equations for fluid flow as well as the solid mechanics equations for the deformation of a solid body. The Navier-Stokes equations can be solved in various forms for different flow regimes. It may even be possible to simplify the modeling of the flow as a thin film to model lubricating films. The structures can be treated either as rigid, experiencing small deflections that are negligible to the fluid flow problem, or as having large deflections that significantly affect the fluid flow.

Figure 3. A torqueing action causes displacement in the micromirror.
Figure 3. A torqueing action causes displacement in the micromirror.
Figure 4. A model highlighting elastic deformation.
Figure 4. A model highlighting elastic deformation.

Choosing the appropriate combination of modeling approaches for each situation is the key to solving fluid-structure interaction problems.


Fluid–structure interactions are a crucial consideration in the design of many engineering systems, e.g. aircraft, spacecraft, engines and bridges. Failing to consider the effects of oscillatory interactions can be catastrophic, especially in structures comprising materials susceptible to fatigue. Tacoma Narrows Bridge (1940), the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge, is probably one of the most infamous examples of large-scale failure. Aircraft wings and turbine blades can break due to FSI oscillations. Fluid–structure interaction has to be taken into account for the analysis of aneurysms in large arteries and artificial heart valves. A reed actually produces sound because the system of equations governing its dynamics has oscillatory solutions. The dynamic of reed valves used in two strokes engines and compressors is governed by FSI. The act of “blowing a raspberry” is another such example. Fluid–structure interactions also occur in moving containers, where liquid oscillations due to the container motion impose substantial magnitudes of forces and moments to the container structure that affect the stability of the container transport system in a highly adverse manner. Another prominent example is the start-up of a rocket engine, e.g. Space Shuttle main engine (SSME), where FSI can lead to considerable unsteady side loads on the nozzle structure.

Figure 5. Propagation of a pressure wave through an incompressible fluid in a flexible tube
Figure 5. Propagation of a pressure wave through an incompressible fluid in a flexible tube

Fluid–structure interactions also play a major role in appropriate modeling of blood flow. Blood vessels act as compliant tubes that change size dynamically when there are changes to blood pressure and velocity of flow. Failure to take into account this property of blood vessels can lead to a significant overestimation of resulting wall shear stress (WSS). This effect is especially imperative to take into account when analyzing aneurysms. It has become common practice to use computational fluid dynamics to analyze patient specific models. The neck of an aneurysm is the most susceptible to changes in to WSS. If the aneurysmal wall becomes weak enough, it becomes at risk of rupturing when WSS becomes too high. FSI models contain an overall lower WSS compared to non-compliant models. This is significant because incorrect modeling of aneurysms could lead to doctors deciding to perform invasive surgery on patients who were not at a high risk of rupture. While FSI offers better analysis, it comes at a cost of highly increased computational time. Non-compliant models have a computational time of a few hours, while FSI models could take up to 7 days to finish running. This leads to FSI models to be most useful for preventative measures for aneurysms caught early, but unusable for emergency situations where the aneurysm may have already ruptured.


Fluid–structure interaction problems and multiphysics problems in general are often too complex to solve analytically and so they have to be analyzed by means of experiments or numerical simulation. Research in the fields of computational fluid dynamics and computational structural dynamics is still ongoing but the maturity of these fields enables numerical simulation of fluid-structure interaction.

Two main approaches exist for the simulation of fluid–structure interaction problems:

  • Monolithic approach: the equations governing the flow and the displacement of the structure are solved simultaneously, with a single solver
  • Partitioned approach: the equations governing the flow and the displacement of the structure are solved separately, with two distinct solvers

The monolithic approach requires a code developed for this particular combination of physical problems whereas the partitioned approach preserves software modularity because an existing flow solver and structural solver are coupled. Moreover, the partitioned approach facilitates solution of the flow equations and the structural equations with different, possibly more efficient techniques which have been developed specifically for either flow equations or structural equations. On the other hand, development of stable and accurate coupling algorithm is required in partitioned simulations. In conclusion, the partitioned approach allows reusing existing software which is an attractive advantage. However, stability of the coupling method needs to be taken into consideration. In addition, the treatment of meshes introduces another classification of FSI analysis. The two classifications are the conforming mesh methods and the non-conforming mesh methods.

Numerical Simulation

The Newton–Raphson method or a different fixed-point iteration can be used to solve FSI problems. Methods based on Newton–Raphson iteration are used in both the monolithic and the partitioned approach. These methods solve the nonlinear flow equations and the structural equations in the entire fluid and solid domain with the Newton–Raphson method. The system of linear equations within the Newton–Raphson iteration can be solved without knowledge of the Jacobian with a matrix-free iterative method, using a finite difference approximation of the Jacobian-vector product.

Whereas Newton–Raphson methods solve the flow and structural problem for the state in the entire fluid and solid domain, it is also possible to reformulate an FSI problem as a system with only the degrees of freedom in the interface’s position as unknowns. This domain decomposition condenses the error of the FSI problem into a subspace related to the interface. The FSI problem can hence be written as either a root finding problem or a fixed-point problem, with the interface’s position as unknowns. Interface Newton–Raphson methods solve this root-finding problem with Newton–Raphson iterations, e.g. with an approximation of the Jacobian from a linear reduced-physics model. The interface quasi-Newton method with approximation for the inverse of the Jacobian from a least-squares model couples a black-box flow solver and structural solver by means of the information that has been gathered during the coupling iterations. This technique is based on the interface block quasi-Newton technique with an approximation for the Jacobians from least-squares models which reformulates the FSI problem as a system of equations with both the interface’s position and the stress distribution on the interface as unknowns. This system is solved with block quasi-Newton iterations of the Gauss–Seidel type and the Jacobians of the flow solver and structural solver are approximated by means of least-squares models.

The fixed-point problem can be solved with fixed-point iterations, also called (block) Gauss–Seidel iterations, which means that the flow problem and structural problem are solved successively until the change is smaller than the convergence criterion. However, the iterations converge slowly if at all, especially when the interaction between the fluid and the structure is strong due to a high fluid/structure density ratio or the incompressibility of the fluid. The convergence of the fixed point iterations can be stabilized and accelerated by Aitken relaxation and steepest descent relaxation, which adapt the relaxation factor in each iteration based on the previous iterations.

If the interaction between the fluid and the structure is weak, only one fixed-point iteration is required within each time step. These so-called staggered or loosely coupled methods do not enforce the equilibrium on the fluid–structure interface within a time step but they are suitable for the simulation of aeroelasticity with a heavy and rather stiff structure. Several studies have analyzed the stability of partitioned algorithms for the simulation of fluid-structure interaction. Fluid-structure interaction (FSI) is the multiphysics study of how fluids and structures interact. The fluid flow may exert pressure and/or thermal loads on the structure. These loads may cause structural deformation significant enough to change the fluid flow itself. Undesired effects in your product may increase as the level of the fluid-structure interaction increases.

As the fluid-structure interaction increases and the problem needs more detailed evaluation, Ansys has an automated, easy-to use-solution called one-way coupling. One-way coupling solves the initial CFD or Ansys Mechanical simulation and automatically transfers and maps the data to the other system. An example of this would be simulating the fluid flow around a cone flow meter and automatically transferring this data to calculate the resulting structural response. For the most complex and tightly coupled fluid-structure interaction problems, you can use System Coupling to perform two-way coupled FSI simulations. The fluid and structural simulations are both set up and solved at the same time. While being solved, data is automatically transferred between the two solvers to achieve robust and accurate results. An example of this would be calculating flow around a rigid airplane wing and transferring the pressure loads to solve structural deformation. The structural deformation would be transferred back to the CFD simulation to calculate the flow again, and this process would repeat.

Source: 1. Wikipedia 2. COMSOL Multiphysics 3. Ansys 4. Flow Vision CFD
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