Customized Simcenter Templates Speed Success of Student Competition Teams

By Leigh-Anderson

Siemens Digital Industries Software supports dozens of student design-build engineering competitions around the world with no-cost software grants from its Xcelerator software suite, online training and tech support. These compettions reach thousands of student teams and over a quarter-million students.

An additional way that Siemens speeds these students success is by creating advanced templates and tutorials that are specific to the type of competition, such as Formula Student racecars, solar racecars, and rockets. These templates educate the students in best practices and help them learn and achieve results quickly – despite their frequent 70-100 hour work-weeks across their demanding studies and team tasks. For example just understanding 3D aerodynamics simulation theory and principles as an undergraduate student is daunting, let alone learning a CFD simulation software package and then customizing it for their vehicle. Starting with a blank screen is quite difficult. These simulation templates get them going quickly on the right track. They might even get a bit more sleep!

Following are three examples for Simcenter STAR-CCM+, a very popular 3D multi-physics simulator known especially for it’s aerodynamic and cooling uses (specifically using the software’s Computational Fluid Dynamics capbilities – ‘CFD’ for short). There are vast additional resources for student teams at Siemens’ Formula Student & FSAE Forum which, despite it’s title, also has valuable content for solar car and rocketry teams. Online courses are at Xcelerator Academy.

Much credit for this content goes to Chris Penny of Siemens for developing and refining these templates; he supports student competition teams in the Americas region, but these templates are well used worldwide.

Formula Student/SAE Racecars

STAR-CCM+ has become the de facto standard CFD simulator for Formula Student (FS) teams around the world. There are 823 FS teams in over a dozen countries, with about 25,000 elite students participating. These amazing students are innovating by designing and fabricating racecars with electric drivetrains, autonomous racing and carbon-fiber construction. Top FS racecars can hit 2.5 G’s in corners and accelerate 0-100 km/hr (60 mph) in a shocking 1.5 seconds. See another blog article about Formula Student and digital twin methodology results HERE.

The Siemens-sponsored RWTH Aachen University autonomous racecar at speed at Formula Student Germany – one of the very top-tier teams in the world. They are sophisticated users of Siemens NX, STAR-CCM+, Fibersim, FEA and other Siemens tools. Due to their advanced use of simulation, the team has been awarded the prestigious Siemens Digital Twin Engineering Excellence Award and always places in the top tier of competitions they enter. The top FS teams’ autonomous cars are approaching the lap times of many human drivers’ times.

While being as accurate and powerful as its main competitor software, STAR-CCM+ is factors easier to learn and use – even before considering these templates – a mission-critical criterion for student teams – that suffer from large annual personnel turnover. The simulation template for FS teams is at this link: Fully setup FS car CFD in 1 hour: STAR-CCM+ sim template with surface wrapper. A screen shot of that web page is below:

This web page explains how to save weeks of effort to get going with a best-practices drag vs downforce optimization simulation. Some teams even gain access to actual wind tunnels to validate and refine their simulations in STAR-CCM+.

There is an even more advanced followup tutorial that models the drag and downforce while the racecar is turning – a dynamic situation with markedly different air flow. See this advanced 3D CFD simluation technique explained at Formula Student Car cornering CFD setup

Due to the many sharp turns in the typical Formula Student track, it’s important to model the racar’s dynamics while turning, not only for straight sections of the track as in the first template.

Solar Race Cars

Moving on to solar race cars, there is another STAR-CCM+ simulation template specifically tailored to the needs of student designed and built solar cars.

The RTWH Aachen University’s, the Sonnenwagen solar race car is capable
of racing across 3,000 kilometers/1,875 miles of the vast outback of Australia.

This template for solar cars is also easy to adapt to a specific team’s racecar – like the FS car template. The CAD model can be simply changed by modifying the supplied typical model or teams can import their specific CAD from NX or other CAD packages and use STAR-CCM+ surface wrapping and mesh tuning capabilities to make a computationally efficent CFD model. The template can be found HERE.

Sample image from the solar car template simulation. Minimizing drag is the principal goal of solar car body design.

One of the things about sponsoring real-world competitions that Siemens focuses on (versus design-only student competitions) is that the real world can be quite surprisingly educational and even devastating! In the most recent Solar World Challenge in Australia some race leaders crashed and overturned heavily off road when some strong crosswinds rose up.

Despite the best efforts of this Dutch team’s driver, crosswinds threw their solar car off the road overturning in the process. Fortunately due to the strong carbon fiber construction, the driver was unhurt. Simulation can help design for conditions like this that would be difficult and dangerous to test in real life. Both the Dutch Team Twente and Germany’s Team Sonnenwagen, potential winners crashed out just 320km/200 miles from the finish. Despite the understandable sadness and disappointment, these teams will rebuild and will be successful.

After Chris and Leigh heard about these unfortunate crashes in Australia, Chris upgraded the solar car template to help teams model the effects of dangerous crosswinds.

Sample image from the solar car CFD template showing the very different air flow directionality and air pressure differences under crosswind conditions. Using STAR-CCM+ crosswinds analysis there’s a much better chance of designing a car that can survive and finish the tough World Solar Challenge race.


Spaceport America Cup is the premier aerospace competition in the world, featuring student designed and built rockets that soar to 30,000 ft/~9,000 meters (higher than Mt. Everest) reaching speeds in excess of Mach 5 (~6,000 km/hr or ~3,700 mph), enduring extreme stresses. These are clearly not ‘model rockets’ from a hobby shop! Siemens has been a proud sponsor of this competition from soon after its inception, offering rocket-specific technical workshops, software grants and tech support to about 150 teams from ~17 countries. You can find a blog article about the competition HERE.

A student built rocket rrriiippp’ing into the sky – an impressive sight and sound!

The rocket simulation template can be found HERE. Plus commercial-scale rocket engine simulation articles HERE and THERE. The students use the STAR-CCM+ template to predict drag, thrust, shocks, pressure distribution, etc at different speeds and altitudes in order to optimize fuel load and dozens of other parameters to hit a target apogee just right – they get points for hitting the target altitude precisely.

An image from the rocket simulation template, showing the pressures around the rocket at certain velocities and ambient air pressures, plus the exhaust plume’s shape and pressures. For a symmetrical vehicle like a rocket it is saves computation time to just have 1/4 of the rocket simulated. The blue planes help visualize pressures and supersonic shock waves.

The rocket simulation template can be found HERE. Note that unlike in the automotive world, simulation is the only way to understand rocket designs, except for expensive test launches – there are no physical wind tunnels for Mach 5 speeds!

…and the picture below shows why students need to use tools such as Siemens FEA (strength analysis, Finite Element Analysis) tools and STAR-CCM+ aerodynamic simulations to determine strength of the structure, supersonic shock waves, drag, turbulence plus nozzle flows and pressures.

After roughly 1,000 feet of high-G acceleration and aerodynamic stress, this rocket broke into several pieces and fell to earth. One of very few structural failures in the entire competition. The students really do an amazing job of design and fabrication.

A key life lesson in engineering is about sometimes failing – then doing failure analysis, often with simulation tools (such as Siemens Simcenter tools) and trying – and trying again till you succeed, using the digital twin methodology to succeed more and more often – the first time.

One of the top Formula Student teams in the world, Greenteam Uni Stuttgart, knows how to succeed with Siemens NX, Simcenter and other Siemens software tools!

Get your Team a No-Cost Software Grant!
Student competition teams can get free student editions at this site, or apply for full commercial functional software packages, (some of which don’t have student editions) using this online form.

Are you concerned about your aging engineering workforce? These student team members are the elite of all engineering students – smart, innovative, incredibly hard-working, with an engineering methodology and Siemens-software experience that will make them great contributors right away. Hire them!


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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at