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Dimensional Analysis

Dr. Om Prakash Singh
Asst. Prof., IIT Mandi


Many problems of interest



in fluid mechanics cannot be solved

using the integral and/or differential equations.
Wind motions around a football stadium, the air flow around the
deflector on a semitruck, the wave motion around a pier or a ship,
and air flow around aircraft are all examples of problems which are
studied in the laboratory with the use of models.
A laboratory study with the use of models is very expensive,
however, and to minimize the cost, dimensionless parameters are
In fact, such parameters are also used in numerical studies for the
same reason.
Once an analysis is done on a model in the laboratory and all
quantities of interest are measured, it is necessary to predict those
same quantities on the prototype, such as the power generated by
a large wind machine from measurements on a much smaller
Similitude is the study that allows us to predict the quantities to be
expected on a prototype from measurements on a model.
This will be done after our study of dimensional analysis that
guides the model study.

Dimensional Analysis
Dimensionless parameters are obtained using a method called
dimensional analysis.
It is based on the idea of dimensional homogeneity: all terms in an
equation must have the same dimensions.
By simply using this idea, we can minimize the number of
parameters needed in an experimental or analytical analysis, as
will be shown.
Any equation can be expressed in terms of dimensionless
parameters simply by dividing each term by one of the other
For example, consider Bernoullis equation,
Now, divide both sides by gz2 . The equation can then be
written as

Note the dimensionless parameters, V2/gz and p/ z

Example for Dimensional

Suppose the drag force is
desired on an object with a
spherical front that is shaped as
shown in Fig.
A study could be performed, the
drag force measured for a
particular radius R and length L
in a fluid with velocity V,
viscosity , and density .
Gravity is expected to not
Flow around an object
dependence of the drag force on
the other variables would be
written as
To present the results of an experimental study, the drag force
could be plotted as a function of V for various values of the
radius R holding all other variables fixed.
Then a second plot could show the drag force for various values
of L holding all other variables fixed, and so forth.

Example for Dimensional


Fig. 2 Drag force versus velocity: (a) L, , fixed; (b) R, , fixed.

The plots may resemble those of Fig. 2 above. To vary the

viscosity holding the density fixed and then the density holding
the viscosity fixed, would require a variety of fluids leading to a
very complicated study, and perhaps an impossible study.

Example for Dimensional


The actual relationship that would relate the drag force to the
other variables could be expressed as a set of dimensionless
parameters, much like those of Eq. (2), as

The procedure to do this will be presented next.
The results of a study using the above relationship would be much
more organized than the study suggested by the curves of Fig. 2.
An experimental study would require only several different models,
each with different R/L ratios, and only one fluid, either air or water.
Varying the velocity of the fluid approaching the model, a rather
simple task, could vary the other two dimensionless parameters.
A plot of FD/ (V2 R2) versus VR/ for the several values of R/L would
then provide the results of the study.

Dimensional analysis
Nondimensionalization of an equation by inspectional analysis is
useful only when one knows the equation to begin with.
However, in many cases in real-life engineering, the equations are
either not known or too difficult to solve;
often times
experimentation is the only method of obtaining reliable
In most experiments, to save time and money, tests are
performed on a geometrically scaled model, rather than on the fullscale prototype.
In such cases, care must be taken to properly scale the results.
We introduce here a powerful technique called dimensional
analysis. While typically taught in fluid mechanics, dimensional
analysis is useful in all disciplines, especially when it is necessary to
experiments. parameters that help in the design
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resultsThe three primary purposes of
To obtain
laws so that prototype performance can be
predicted from model performance
To (sometimes) predict trends in the relationship between

Dimensional analysis and similarity

Before discussing the technique of dimensional analysis, we
first explain the underlying concept of dimensional analysis
the principle of similarity.
There are three necessary conditions for complete similarity
between a model and a prototype.
The first condition is geometric similaritythe model must be
the same shape as the prototype, but may be scaled by some
constant scale factor.
The second condition is kinematic similarity, which means
that the velocity at any point in the model flow must be
proportional (by a constant scale factor) to the velocity at the
corresponding point in the prototype flow
Fig.: Kinematic similarity is achieved
when, at all locations, the velocity in
the model flow is proportional to that
at corresponding locations in the
prototype flow, and points in the same
direction. In other words, ratio of
velocity must remain constant.

Dimensional analysis and similarity

The third and most restrictive similarity condition is that of
dynamic similarity.
Dynamic similarity is achieved when all forces in the model
flow scale by a constant factor to corresponding forces in
the prototype flow (force-scale equivalence).
As with geometric and kinematic similarity, the scale factor
for forces can be less than, equal to, or greater than one.
All three similarity conditions must exist for complete similarity to
be ensured.
In a general flow field, complete similarity between a
model and prototype is achieved only when there is
geometric, kinematic, and dynamic similarity.

Wind Tunnel Testing

We match the Reynolds numbers for
the full scale model and prototype.

which can be solved for the required

wind tunnel speed for the model tests
While drag coefficient CD is a strong
function of the Reynolds number at
low values of Re, CD often levels off
for Re above some value. In other
words, for flow over many objects,
bluff objects
trucks, buildings, etc., the flow is
above some threshold value of Re
(Fig., typically when the boundary
layer and the wake are both fully

For many objects, the drag coefficient

levels off at Reynolds numbers above
some threshold value. This fortunate
situation is called Reynolds number
independence. It enables us to extrapolate
to prototype Reynolds numbers that are
outside of the range of our experimental

The aerodynamic drag of a new sports car is to be predicted
at a speed of 50.0 mi/h at an air temperature of 25C.
Automotive engineers build a one fifth scale model of the car to
test in a wind tunnel. It is winter and the wind tunnel is located in an
unheated building; the temperature of the wind tunnel air is only
about 5C. Determine how fast the engineers should run the
wind tunnel in order to achieve similarity between the model and the
Ans: 221 mi/h

Hind: Reynolds number should be same both in model and prototype

Dimensions of fluid variables

There are only three basic dimensions, since Newtons second law
can be used to relate the basic dimensions.
Using F, M, L, and T as the dimensions on force, mass, length, and
time, we see that F= ma demands that the dimensions are related
We choose to select the M-L-T system (F-L-T system can also be
used) and use Eq. (5) to relate F to M, L, and T.
If temperature is needed, as with the flow of a compressible gas,
an equation of state, such as
could be expressed dimensionally as

where the brackets mean the dimensions of. Note that the
product RT does not introduce additional dimensions.

Dimensions of fluid

Symbols and Dimensions of

Quantities of Interest Using the
M-L-T System

Dimensional analysis
1. Rayleigh method (or power
2. Buckingham theorem
Above are methods to convert a dimensional relationship into nondimensional form
Dimensional analysis is used to test models in
Civil Engineering: study of structures such as dams, spillways,
canals etc. to predict the working of full suze structure
Mechanical engineering: model tests on pumps, compressors,
engines, turbine etc.
Aeronautical engineering: Model tests on aeroplanes, rockets,
missiles in wind tunnel
Naval Engineering: Model tests on ships, submarines etc.
Architectural engineering: Model tests on buildings to predict
wind loads, airflow pattern; helps in design passage ways,
thermal comport of the buildings

ayleigh method (or power series)

The Rayleighs method is based on the following steps:
1. First of all, write the functional relationship with the given
2. Now write the equation in terms of a constant with exponents
i.e. powers a, b, c,...
3. With the help of the principle of dimensional homogeneity,
find out the values of a, b, c, ... By obtaining simultaneous
equation and simplify it.
4. Now substitute the values of these exponents in the main
equation, and simplify it.
5. If the number of exponents involved is more than 3, then the
exponents of the properties D, V, and are evaluated in
terms of other exponents. That helps to group the variables
into recognized dimensionless parameters.

Problem using Rayleigh method

how that the resistance force F to the motion of a sphere of diameter D moving
ith a uniform velocity V through a real fluid of density and viscosity is given b

Buckingham theorem
Rayleigh method becomes laborious and cumbersome when large
number of physical variables are involved.
The Buckingham theorem is used to create the dimensionless
parameters, given a functional relationship such as that of Eq.
(3). Write the primary variable of interest as a general function,
such as
where n is the total number of variables.
If m is the number of basic dimensions, usually 3, the
Buckingham theorem demands that (n m) dimensionless
groups of variables, the terms, are related by,
The term 1 is selected to contain the dependent variable [it would
be FD of Eq. (3)] and the remaining terms contain the independent
It should be noted that a functional relationship cannot contain a
particular dimension in only one variable; for example, in the
relationship v=f(d, t, ) the density cannot occur since it is the
only variable that contains the dimension M, and M would not have
the possibility of canceling out to form a dimensionless term.

Buckingham theorem
The steps that are followed when applying the Buckingham theorem
1. Write the dependent variable as a function of the (n1)
independent variables. This step requires knowledge of the
phenomenon being studied. All variables that influence the
dependent variable must be included and all variables that do
not influence the dependent variable should not be included.
In most problems, this relationship will be given.
2. Identify the m repeating variables that are combined with the
remaining variables to form the terms. The m variables must
include all the basic dimensions present in the n variables of
the functional relationship, but they must not form a
dimensionless term by themselves. Note that an angle is
dimensionless, so it is not a candidate to be a repeating
3. Combine each of the (n m) variables with the repeating
variables to form the terms. Step 3 is carried out by either
inspection or by an algebraic procedure.
4. Write the term containing the dependent variable as a
function of the remaining terms.
5. Suitable non-dimensional group results when repeating

Buckingham theorem
The method of inspection will be used in an example. To
demonstrate the algebraic procedure, lets form a term of the
variables V, R, , and . This is written as
In terms of dimensions, this is

Equating exponents on each of the basic dimensions provides the

system of equations:

Buckingham theorem
The solution is

The term is then written as

This term is dimensionless regardless of the value of d.

If we desire V to be in the denominator, select d =1; if we
desire V to be in the numerator, select d = 1. Select d = 1
so that

Suppose that only one term results from an analysis. That

term would then
be equal to a constant which could be determined by a single

Buckingham theorem
Finally, consider a very general functional relationship between a
pressure change p, a length l, a velocity V, gravity g, viscosity , a
density , the speed of sound c, the surface tension , and an
angular velocity .
All of these variables may not influence a particular problem, but it is
interesting to observe the final relationship of dimensionless terms.
Dimensional analysis, using V, l, and
as repeating variables
provides the relationship

Each term that appears in this relationship is an important

parameter in certain flow situations.

Buckingham theorem
The dimensionless term with its common name is listed as follows:

ows with Free Surfaces: Froude number

For the case of model testing of flows with free surfaces (boats and
ships, floods, river
flows, aqueducts, hydroelectric
interaction of waves with piers, soil erosion, etc.), complications arise that
preclude complete similarity between model and prototype.

For example, if a model river is built to study flooding, the model is often
several hundred times smaller than the prototype due to limited lab space. If
the vertical dimensions of the model were scaled proportionately, the depth of
the model river would be so small that surface tension effects (and the
Weber number) would become important, and would perhaps even
dominate the model flow, even though surface tension effects are
negligible in the prototype flow.

In addition, although the flow in the actual river may be turbulent, the flow in
the model river may be laminar, especially if the slope of the riverbed is
geometrically similar to that of the prototype. To avoid these problems,
researchers often use a distorted model in which the vertical scale of the
model (e.g., river depth) is exaggerated in comparison to the horizontal
scale of the model (e.g., river width). In addition, the model river bed slope
is often made proportionally steeper than that of the prototype. These
modifications result in incomplete similarity due to lack of geometric

Model tests are still useful under these circumstances, but other tricks

ows with Free Surfaces: Froude number

In many practical problems involving free
surfaces, both the Reynolds number and Froude
number appear as relevant independent groups
in the dimensional analysis (Fig.). It is difficult
(often impossible) to match both of these
dimensionless parameters simultaneously. For a
free-surface flow with length scale L, velocity
scale V, and kinematic viscosity , the Reynolds
number is matched between model and prototype
The Froude number is matched between model
and prototype when

To match both Re and Fr, we solve above

simultaneously for the required length
scale factor Lm/Lp

In many flows involving a

liquid with a free surface,
both the Reynolds number
and Froude number are
parameters. Since it is not
always possible to match
both Re and Fr between
model and prototype, we are
sometimes forced to settle
for incomplete similarity.

ows with Free Surfaces: Froude number

Eliminating the ratio Vm/Vp from above Eq., we see that the
required ratio of kinematic viscosities to match both Re and Fr:

Thus, to ensure complete similarity (assuming geometric

similarity is achievable without unwanted surface tension
effects as discussed previously), we would need to use a
liquid whose kinematic viscosity satisfies above Eq.

In the late 1990s the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers designed an
experiment to model the flow
downstream of the Kentucky
Lock and Dam (Fig. ). Because
of laboratory space restrictions,
they built a scale model with
a length scale factor of Lm/Lp =
1/100. Suggest a liquid that
Ans: m =
x 10-9 m2/s for the

Note on previous problem

We need to find a liquid that has a viscosity of 1.00 x 10 9
m2/s. A quick glance through the property table yields no
such liquid. Hot water has a lower kinematic viscosity than
cold water, but only by about a factor of 3. Liquid mercury
has a very small kinematic viscosity, but it is of order 10 7
m2/sstill two orders of magnitude too large to satisfy .
Even if liquid mercury would work, it would be too
expensive and too hazardous to use in such a test. What
do we do? The bottom line is that we cannot match both
the Froude number and the Reynolds number in this model
In other words, it is impossible to achieve complete
similarity between model and prototype in this case.
Instead, we do the best job we can under conditions of
incomplete similarity. Water is typically used in such tests
for convenience.

Buckingham theorem
Not all of the above numbers would be of interest in a particular
flow; it is highly unlikely that both compressibility effects and
surface tension would influence the same flow.
These are, however, the primary dimensionless parameters in our
study of fluid mechanics.
The Euler number is of interest in most flows used to characterize
losses in the flow (pressure drop by kinetic energy per unit volume)
where a perfect frictionless flow corresponds to an Euler number of
1; the Froude number in flows with free surfaces in which gravity is
significant (e.g., wave motion), it the ratio of a characteristic
velocity to a gravitational wave velocity; the Reynolds number in
flows in which viscous effects are important, the Mach number in
compressible flows, the Weber number in flows affected by surface
tension (e.g., sprays with droplets), it is a measure of the relative
importance of the fluid's inertia compared to its surface tension;
and the Strouhal number in flows in which rotation or a periodic
motion plays a role.
Each of these numbers, with the exception of the Weber number
(surface tension effects are of little engineering importance), will
appear in flows studied in other cases.
Note: The Froude number is often defined as V2/lg; this would not

The pressure drop p over a length L of pipe is assumed to depend
on the average velocity V, the pipes diameter D, the average
height e of the roughness elements of the pipe wall, the fluid
density , and the fluid viscosity . Write a relationship between the
pressure drop and the other variables using Buckingham theorem.

The speed V of a weight when it hits the floor is assumed to depend on
gravity g, the height h from which it was dropped, and the density of
the weight. Use dimensional analysis and write a relationship between
the variables.

A simple

experiment would show that C=