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Big Ass Fans Uses CFD Simulation to Create a Custom Comfort Sales Tool on AWS


“If you haven’t seen our fans in use, it can be hard to understand how they would operate in your space,” says Ben Schaefer, digital product manager for Big Ass Fans. “Helping prospective customers see and quantify the benefits of our fans presented a challenge to the company’s sales team.”

Big Ass Fans, manufacturer of high-volume, low-speed (HVLS) fans, was originally called the HVLS Fan Company, an accurate but unmemorable name. The company became known for its massive fans—up to 24 feet in diameter—used to make a variety of spaces, such as factories, warehouses, and dairy barns feel more comfortable. In 1999, the company adopted the name “Big Ass Fans,” the phrase buyers used most often to describe its products.

Big Ass Fans has a 45,000-square-foot R&D facility dedicated to testing air movement. The company’s engineers regularly conduct fan performance and fatigue testing. Engineering and sales teams meet directly with site managers to explore fan installation. The sales team needed to equip its prospects with actual product performance data beyond basic product details and engineering expertise.

Big Ass Fans warehouse

AWS and its partners help companies like ours build robust solutions that solve our business challenges.”

Ben Schaefer
Digital Product Manager, Big Ass Fans

The Power to Rapidly Quantify Custom Comfort

Big Ass Fans believed airflow and cooling-effect calculations would add to the proposed solution’s value proposition. The company used an on-premises computational fluid dynamics (CFD) solution to calculate the airflow produced by its fans in a customer’s space. Only one local computer was configured to simulate airflow, and it took 6 hours to complete a single simulation. Scaling the operation meant adding more staff and machines for computation, which wasn’t feasible for the company. Instead, Big Ass Fans saw a scalable solution in high-performance computing (HPC) in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud.

The company found CFD Direct, which manages and develops the open-source CFD software OpenFOAM released by the OpenFOAM Foundation. CFD Direct is an Advanced Technology Partner in the AWS Partner Network (APN). It offers a turnkey installation of the latest version of OpenFOAM within its software product CFD Direct from the Cloud (CFDDFC) in the AWS Marketplace. AWS Marketplace is an online catalog to find, buy, and deploy software that runs in AWS environments. CFDDFC runs on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances, most notably C5 and C5n instance types, which are compute-optimized and run on Intel Xeon Scalable processors. “The availability of computing power to perform CFD simulations once presented a high barrier to entry. Intel’s commitment to affordable high-performance processors and access to them via the cloud has placed CFD calculations within reach across all areas of engineering,” says Chris Greenshields, managing director of CFD Direct.

Big Ass Fans worked with CFD Direct to create SpecLab, a web application for modeling a facility, inserting fans, and simulating airflow with CFD. The CFD component, built from CFDDFC, processes requests from the SpecLab application, transfers data via Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), and runs a bespoke CFD simulation of fan-driven airflow. It then returns processed data and images back to the application. The CFD component is continually maintained, with new features being added to extend its range of application. Big Ass Fans and CFD Direct collaborate seamlessly by leveraging AWS as a DevOps platform. New versions of CFD are developed and tested on AWS and released by CFD Direct to Big Ass Fans as a new custom Amazon Machine Image (AMI). Big Ass Fans can move a new version into production by simply switching to the AMI ID in SpecLab.

CFD Simulations Improve Prospective Customer Rate

Big Ass Fans now integrates CFD calculations into its sales process by using SpecLab. When sales team members arrive at a prospect’s location, they enter the site’s details and dimensions into SpecLab. This allows for on-site modeling of fan placement and airflow analysis. Simulations that previously took 6 hours now take only 30 minutes. “With our old process, we could use CFD only on a handful of projects per week. Now, with AWS, we can run 250 to 300 projects per week, allowing for endless growth potential thanks to the scalable solution,” says Schaefer.

SpecLab quantifies and validates the performance of the proposed fan configuration specifically for each customer. Since every customer space is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The sales team shares modeling results with the prospect, providing a PDF explaining the proposed solution. The prospect can then give that PDF to decision makers to provide justification for the purchase. The ability to perform rapid, on-site CFD modeling and to share the results with decision makers has helped Big Ass Fans increase its sales close rate by 7 percent. In addition to aiding Big Ass Fans’ internal sales teams, SpecLab benefits distributors of the company’s fans, offering manufacturer-level expertise and confidence.

“The scalability provided by AWS and the ease of implementation provided by CFD Direct offered an efficient and cost-effective solution,” says Schaefer. “AWS and its partners help companies like ours build robust solutions that solve our business challenges.”

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About Big Ass Fans

Big Ass Fans manufactures fans and lights used to transform spaces and make life more comfortable.

About Intel

Intel is the world’s leading designer and manufacturer of high-performance processors for servers, PCs, IoT devices, and mobile devices. AWS and Intel engineers have worked together for more than 10 years, building custom hardware to ensure AWS services run on a platform optimized for customer workloads, for the best value. Intel Xeon processors power Amazon EC2 instances to help enterprises drive performance for their compute-intensive workloads.

Benefits of AWS

  • The number of simulations jumped from a few per week to an average of 250–300
  • Sales teams with simulation data have a 7% higher close rate
  • CFD simulations can now be performed by sales teams and distributors
  • Prospects have specific data to share with decision makers

AWS Services Used

Amazon EC2

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) is a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. It is designed to make web-scale cloud computing easier for developers.

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Amazon EC2 C5 Instances

Amazon EC2 C5 instances are the next generation of the Amazon EC2 Compute Optimized instance family. C5 instances offer the lowest price per vCPU in the Amazon EC2 family and are ideal for running advanced compute-intensive workloads.

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Amazon S3

Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) is an object storage service that offers industry-leading scalability, data availability, security, and performance.

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AWS Marketplace

AWS Marketplace is a digital catalog with thousands of software listings from independent software vendors that make it easy to find, test, buy, and deploy software that runs on AWS.

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