When a fluid flows past a point or through a path different parameters associated with the flow of the fluid, certain parameters vary and others may remain constant.
The two basic parameters of any fluid flow are velocity of the fluid particle or element and the pressure of the fluid at the point under consideration. The flow of fluids can be classified in different patterns based on the variation of the flow parameters with time and distance. The benefit of characterizing the fluid flow as certain patterns helps in analyzing it under the appropriate solution paradigm.
Classification Based on Variation with Time
The classification of the fluid flow based on the variation of the fluid flow parameters with time characterizes the flow in two categories, steady and unsteady flow. If the flow parameters, such as velocity, pressure, density and discharge do not vary with time or are independent of time then the flow is steady. If the flow parameters vary with time then the flow is categorized as unsteady.
In real conditions it is very rare to have such flows with parameters exactly constant with time. The parameters usually vary with time but variation is within a small range such as the average of particular parameter is constant for certain duration of time.
Classification Based on Variation with Space
The other classification criterion for the fluid flow is based on the variation of the flow parameters with distance or space. It characterizes the flow as uniform or non-uniform. The fluid flow is a uniform flow if the flow parameters remain constant with distance along the flow path. And the fluid flow is non-uniform if the flow parameters vary and are different at different points on the flow path.
For a uniform flow, by its definition, the area of the cross section of the flow should remain constant. So a fitting example of the uniform flow is the flow of a liquid thorough a pipeline of constant diameter. And contrary to this the flow through a pipeline of variable diameter would be necessarily non-uniform.
Flow Types and Examples
A steady flow can be uniform or non-uniform and similarly an unsteady flow can also be uniform or non-uniform. For a steady flow discharge is constant with time and for a uniform flow the area of cross section of the fluid flow is constant through the flow path.
Examples of Different Flow Types
Steady and Uniform Flow: Flow through a pipeline of constant diameter with a discharge constant with time.
Steady and Non-Uniform Flow: Fixed discharge flow through a tapering pipe. Water flow through a river with a constant discharge is also a good example of such flow as the span of river generally varies with distance and amount of water flow in river is constant.
Unsteady and Uniform Flow: A flow through pipeline of constant cross section with sudden changes in fluid discharge or pressure.
Unsteady and Non-Uniform Flow: Pressure surges in a flow through a pipe of variable cross section. A practical example can be the water flow in the network of canals during water release.