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Applied Mechanics and Materials Vol.

332 (2013) pp 3-8

© (2013) Trans Tech Publications, Switzerland

Experimental Investigations and Numerical Simulations of the Viscous

Flow around T-Profiles
Mihai SCHIAUA1,a , Andrei DRAGOMIRESCU1,b , and Carmen-Anca SAFTA1,c
University Politehnica of Bucharest, Department of Hydraulics, Hydraulic Machinery and
Environmental Engineering, 313 Splaiul Independentei, Bucharest, Romania
a, b, c

Keywords: viscous flow, T-profile, vortex street, visualization, flow measurement, numerical simula-

Abstract. This paper investigates both experimentally and numerically the flow of a viscous fluid
around T-profiles, i.e. T-shaped bodies, having different geometries. Of main interest it was the vor-
tex shedding behind the T-profiles with an eye towards its application to flow measurement in open
channels. Another purpose of the study was to assess to what extent different numerical models can
be used to accurately predict the flow in the vortex street behind T-profiles.


Known as Bénard-Kármán vortex street, the formation of alternate vortices in the wake behind a bluff
body is one of the classical problems of fluid dynamics. The vortices are a result of the flow separation
at the back of the body, which occurs from a certain value of the Reynolds number onwards. With
increasing Reynolds numbers, the vortices start to detach periodically and alternately on either side of
the body. They form the vortex street as they are carried off by the main flow and eventually disappear
as a result of viscous friction.
Birkhoff [1] demonstrated theoretically that in an inviscid fluid the concentration of vortices is
limited to circles having diameters of about 25% of the distance between two successive vortices in a
row. Schlichting [2] showed that the flow in the wake behind any obstacle becomes turbulent. Also,
the velocity profile in the wake at a large distance from the body is independent of the body shape.
Roshko [3] observed experimentally that a geometric similarity exists between all vortex streets. From
his data, he derived features of a vortex street that are independent of the Reynolds number and he pos-
tulated a universal Strouhal number that is related to wake width. Dumitrescu and Cazacu [4] carried
out experimental studies of the laminar viscous flow past a flat plate placed at different attack angles
in an open channel. They observed the flow patterns behind the plate at Reynolds numbers in the range
between 0.2 and 2 000 for attack angles of 0◦ , 45◦ , and 90◦ . Balan et. al. [5] undertook experimental
and numerical investigations of the planar complex flow of a weak elastic polymer solution around a
T-profile placed in an open channel. It was observed that, for the same Reynolds number, the wake in
the polymer solution is significantly shorter than in a Newtonian fluid.

The study presented in this paper was focused on experimental and numerical investigations of a
Newtonian fluid flowing around T-profiles placed in an open channel. Experimental results obtained
so far and presented in the cited literature show that the Strouhal number calculated with the frequency
of vortex shedding behind a bluff body remains practically constant and independent of the Reynolds
number for a certain range of Reynolds numbers. Thus, it becomes possible to determine the average
flow velocity and the flow rate by measuring the vortex shedding frequency. This is basically the
working principle of vortex meters designed for flow measurement in pressure driven flows through
pipes. The purpose of the present study was twofold. On the one hand, it was aimed at investigating
whether a T-profile could be used as a ``shedder'' (or vortex generator) for flow measurement in gravity
driven flows through open channels. On the other hand, it was of interest to find a numerical model,
either laminar or turbulent, which is best suited to simulate the wall-bounded flow around the T-profile
All rights reserved. No part of contents of this paper may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of TTP, (ID:,12:57:32)
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while retaining as much as possible of the real features of such a flow. Once found, the model can be
used to easily extend the experimental results. The main reason to resort to numerical simulations for
this study is the fact that they are by far less time and resource consuming than the experiments.

In the following, the experimental installation and working procedure are described and experi-
mental results are presented and discussed. Next, the numerical simulations are presented in terms of
computational domain, equations to be solved, boundary conditions and numerical algorithms. The
numerical results are compared with the experimental ones. Finally, conclusions are drawn with re-
gard to the possibility to use T-profiles for flow measurement in open channels and to the degree to
which different numerical models are able to correctly predict the viscous flow around such profiles.


The viscous flow around T-profiles was studied in a closed-circuit open channel. The sketch of the
channel is depicted in Fig.1. The channel is 3 m long, about 1.2 m wide and 0.35 m high and has four
zones: the test area (1) followed by a 180◦ turn (2), a divergent straight section (3), and a second turn
(4) consisting of two 90◦ elbows. The test area has a width lC of 0.23 m and a length of 1.025 m. The
first turn accommodates a cross-flow runner which pumps the working fluid. The cross-flow runner is
driven by an electric motor through a reducing gear which offers the possibility to change the speed.
To assure a flow free of vortices at the entrance of the test area, the elbows of the second turn are
foreseen with flow straighteners and the junction between the last elbow and the test area is made by
means of a convergent section. The test area is foreseen with a lighting system which provides enough
light for taking pictures of the flow paths with relatively small shutter speeds.
The T-profiles were made of 3 mm thick sheets of Plexiglas. They were placed with the stem
along the axis of the working area pointing upstream and with the head pointing downstream. The
main dimensions of a profile are the stem length, b, and the head width, Lt . To easily distinguish
between them, the T-profiles are denoted by a T followed by the length b in mm, a dash, and the width
Lt in mm. For example, T500-110 is a T-profile having a stem which is 500 mm long and a head which
is 110 mm wide.
All experiments were made with water as working fluid. To make the flow paths evident, very
small particles of Plexiglas were used. They were blown uniformly on the free surface of the flowing
water at the entry of the test area and, after flowing around the T-profile and in its wake, they were
collected with a strainer before entering into the cross-flow runner. The flow paths were photographed
with a bridge camera that provides full manual control over aperture size and shutter speed. For each
case, the shutter speed was set according to the flow-rate and to the average velocity of the vortices
shed by the T-profile.
Applied Mechanics and Materials Vol. 332 5

On every picture, the length xm of the trace left by a Plexiglas particle along the channel axis
upstream of the T-profile was measured. The exposure time texp was read from the EXIF data of the
picture. The maximum velocity in the channel was calculated with the formula

Table 1: Blockage ratios α for different dimensions of the T-profiles used in the experiments.

V = . (1)
Successive pictures were examined in order to find successive detachments of vortices behind the T-
profile. The vortex shedding frequency f was calculated as the inverse of the average time difference
between two successive detachments. Two significant parameters of the flow are the Reynolds and
the Strouhal numbers which were calculated with the formulas
V lC f Lt
Re = , St = , (2)
ν V
where ν = 10−6 m2 /s is the kinematic viscosity of water at the working temperature (about 20◦ C).
Another importand parameters are the blockage ratio, α = lC /Lt , the aspect ratio, λ = b/Lt , the
velocity of the vortices, VT = dpv /tdcs , and the wake length, LS . The blockage ratio is defined as the
ratio between channel width and profile width. The vortex velocity is calculated based on the time
tdcs between two successive photos and on the distance dpv traveled by the vortex within this time
interval. The dimensions, corresponding aspect ratios, and blockage ratios of the T-profiles used in
the experiments are summarized in Table 1
The experiments were carried out in a channel were the lateral walls have a strong influence on
the flow around an obstacle. To account for this influence and to make possible comparisons with
previous studies on the Bénard-Kármán vortex street, the velocity was corrected with the formula
V′ = V. (3)
With this velocity corrected Reynolds and Strouhal numbers were also calculated.
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The experiments were performed for Reynolds numbers in the range from 4 000 to 20 000. In this
range, the flow can be considered subcritical according to Rusu [6]. Fig.2 shows typical flow config-
urations observed behind different T-profiles during the experiments. In all cases alternate vortices
formed in the wake of the profiles. With the profiles in the series T25-x, the number of vortices was
between 4 and 9 at different flow times. The picture changed for the profiles in the series T100-x,
T300-x, and T500-x. As long as the Reynolds number remained below 7 000, up to 4 vortices were
observed. With increasing Reynolds numbers, the vortices dissipated more rapidly, so that their num-
ber decreased. Thus, for Reynolds numbers higher than 11 000 only 2 to 3 vortices were observed. The

variation of the Strouhal number depending on Reynolds number is presented in Fig. 3. It can be seen
that the Strouhal number remains almost constant at higher values of the blockage ratio, typically for
α ≥ 3.5. This is a favorable finding from the point of view of using a T-profile as vortex generator
in a flow meter for open channels. When the Strouhal number is constant and known beforehand as a
result of experiments, only the vortex shedding frequency f must be measured in order to determine
the flow rate. The reference velocity in the channel can be calculated with the formula
f Lt
V = . (4)
By multiplying this velocity with the cross-sectional area of the flow and with an appropriate discharge
coefficient found experimentally, the flow rate can be easily determined. It should be noted that, since
we deal with a free surface flow, the depth of the fluid in the channel must also be measured.
Applied Mechanics and Materials Vol. 332 7

Numerical simulations

The simulations presented in this paper were carried out for the unsteady viscous flow around the
profile T500-110. The computational domain, presented in Fig. 4, was meshed with an unstructured
grid consisting in 50 838 cells of triangular shape and of boundary layer type.

The continuity and momentum equations that describe the flow were integrated numerically in
space and time using the Finite Volume Method and the segregated pressure based solver implemented
in the commercial program Fluent. The equations were discretized in space with a second order upwind
scheme and in time with second order accurate backward differences. A first set of simulations were
made in the hypothesis that the flow is laminar. Subsequent simulations were performed considering
the flow turbulent and using the following turbulence models: standard k-ϵ, SST k-ω (Shear Stress
Transport k-ω), and RMS (Reynolds Stress Model). Since no experimental data regarding turbulence
was available, the default values of the turbulence models were kept unchanged. The working fluid
was water with the density ρ = 1000 kg/m3 and the dynamic viscosity µ = 0.001 Pa s. A mass flow
rate of 17.4 kg/s was imposed as boundary condition at inlet, while the boundary condition at outlet
was the evacuation of the entire mass flow rate. To the mass flow rate corresponds an average velocity
of 0.07565 m/s that gives a Reynolds number of 17 400 which matches the experiment depicted in Fig.
2c. For all turbulence models, a turbulence intensity of 2% was assumed at the inlet. At all solid walls
the usual condition of no-slip was prescribed. The time step used in simulations was of 0.1 s except
of the laminar case that required a time step of 0.01 s.
All simulations were performed in two stages. In the first stage -- the flow build up stage --, the
numerical integrations were advanced in time until a stabilization of the drag coefficient of the T-
profile around an average value was observed for more than 30 s of the simulation time. In the second
stage, the flow equations were integrated for another 90 s. At each time step, the convergence criterion
was the drop of the residuals of all equations below 10−4 .
Some of the results obtained are presented in Fig. 5. These results are to be compared with the
experimental flow depicted in Fig. 2. As it can be seen, the laminar model is able to reproduce the
vortex shedding (Fig. 5a. However, in comparison with the vortices observed experimentally, those
obtained numerically seem to be "squeezed'' behind the T-profile. Neither the k-ϵ model (Fig. 5b, nor
the SST k-ω model (Fig. 5c were able to predict vortex detachment. In both cases, the flow remained
symmetrical, showing two identical stationary vortices behind the profile. The closest to reality was
the RSM model. When comparing Fig. 2 and Fig. 5d, it can be seen that the RSM model reproduces
with good accuracy in terms of position and size both the vortices shed behind the T-profile and the
small vortices that appear from time to time at the solid walls.


The viscous flow of a Newtonian fluid around T-profiles placed in an open channel was investigated
both experimentally and numerically. The study aimed at assessing to what extent T-profiles could be
used as “shedders” for flow meters and what are the most appropriate numerical models that best retain
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the characteristics of wall-bounded free surface flows around T-profiles. The experiments showed that,
for values of the blockage ratio larger than 3.5, the Strouhal number calculated with the frequency of
the vortex shedding behind the profiles remains almost constant. The small deviations of the Strouhal
number from constant values are most probably caused by the inherent measurement errors. Neverthe-
less, the experimental findings allow us to conclude that T-profiles having properly chosen dimensions
could be successfully used as vortex generators for flow meters in gravity driven flows through open
Numerical simulations were carried out only for the flow behind profile T500-110 at Re = 17400.
Of the models chosen, the standard k-e model and the SST k-w model were unable to reproduce any
vortex shedding. Only the laminar model and the Reynolds Stress Model were able to predict the
vortex detachment behind the profile, the latter offering results that are the closest to reality.


[1] G. Birkhoff, The formation of vortex street, Journal of Applied Physics 24 (1953) 98-103.

[2] H. Schlichting, Boundary-Layer Theory, McGraw Hill Book Co., Columbus, 1968.

[3] A. Roshko, On the drag and shedding frequency of two-dimensional bluff bodies. Technical Re-
port TN 3169, NACA, US Government Printing Office, Washington DC, 1954.

[4] D. Dumitrescu, M.D. Cazacu, Theoretical and experimental considerations on the flow of viscous
fluids around a plate at low and average Reynolds numbers, ZAMM 50 (1970) 257-280.

[5] C. Balan, V. Legat, A. Neagoe, D. Nistoran, Experimental investigations and numerical simula-
tions for an open channel flow of a weak elastic polymer solution around a T profile, Journal of
Experiments in Fluids 36 (2004) 408-418.

[6] I. Rusu, Phenomena in Hydro-Elasticity, Junimea, Iasi, 1998.