Dimensional Analysis

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Many important engineering problems cannot be solved completely by theoretical or mathematical methods. Problems of this type are especially common in fluid-flow, heat-flow, and diffusional operations. One method of attacking a problem for which no mathematical equation can be derived is that of empirical experimentations. For example, the pressure loss from friction in a long, round, straight, smooth pipe depends on all these variables: the length and diameter of the pipe, the flow rate of the liquid, and the density and viscosity of the liquid. If any one of these variables is changed, the pressure drop also changes. The empirical method of obtaining an equation relating these factors to pressure drop requires that the effect of each separate variable be determined in turn by systematically varying that variable while keep all others constant. The procedure is laborious, and is difficult to organize or correlate the results so obtained into a useful relationship for calculations.

There exists a method intermediate between formal mathematical development and a completely empirical study. It is based on the fact that if a theoretical equation does exist among the variables affecting a physical process, that equation must be dimensionally homogeneous. Because of this requirement it is possible to group many factors into a smaller number of dimensionless groups of variables. The groups themselves rather than the separate factors appear in the final equation.

Dimensional analysis does not yield a numerical equation, and experiment is required to complete the solution of the problem. The result of a dimensional analysis is valuable in pointing a way to correlations of experimental data suitable for engineering use.

Dimensional analysis drastically simplifies the task of fitting experimental data to design equations where a completely mathematical treatment is not possible; it is also useful in checking the consistency of the units in equations, in converting units, and in the scale-up of data obtained in physical models to predict the performance of full-scale model. The method is based on the concept of dimension and the use of dimensional formulas.

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Last Modified on: 14-Sep-2014

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