Laminar Flow Fluid Flow Review

Fluid Flow Table of Contents
Hydraulic and Pneumatic Knowledge

Laminar Flow Fluid Flow Review

In fluid dynamics , laminar flow (or streamline flow) occurs when a fluid flows in parallel layers, with no disruption between the layers. At low velocities, the fluid tends to flow without lateral mixing, and adjacent layers slide past one another like playing cards. There are no cross-currents perpendicular to the direction of flow, nor eddies or swirls of fluids.In laminar flow, the motion of the particles of the fluid is very orderly with all particles moving in straight lines parallel to the pipe walls. Laminar flow is a flow regime characterized by high momentum diffusion and low momentum convection .

When a fluid is flowing through a closed channel such as a pipe or between two flat plates, either of two types of flow may occur depending on the velocity of the fluid: laminar flow or turbulent flow . Laminar flow tends to occur at lower velocities, below a threshold at which it becomes turbulent. Turbulent flow is a less orderly flow regime that is characterised by eddies or small packets of fluid particles which result in lateral mixing. In non-scientific terms, laminar flow is smooth while turbulent flow is rough .

Laminar flow is also referred to as streamline or viscous flow. These terms are descriptive of the flow because, in laminar flow, (1) layers of water flowing over one another at different speeds with virtually no mixing between layers, (2) fluid particles move in definite and observable paths or streamlines, and (3) the flow is characteristic of viscous (thick) fluid or is one in which viscosity of the fluid plays a significant part.

Reynold Number and Laminar Flow

The type of flow occurring in a fluid in a channel is important in fluid dynamics problems and subsequently affects heat and mass transfer in fluid systems. The dimensionless Reynolds number is an important parameter in the equations that describe whether fully developed flow conditions lead to laminar or turbulent flow. The Reynolds number is the ratio of the inertial force to the shearing force of the fluid—how fast the fluid is moving relative to how viscous the fluid is, irrespective of the scale of the fluid system. Laminar flow generally occurs when the fluid is moving slowly or the fluid is very viscous. As the Reynolds number increases, such as by increasing the flow rate of the fluid, the flow will transition from laminar to turbulent flow at a specific range of Reynolds numbers, the laminar-turbulent transition range depending on small disturbance levels in the fluid or imperfections in the flow system. If the Reynolds number is very small, much less than 1, then the fluid will exhibit Stokes or creeping flow, where the viscous forces of the fluid dominate the inertial forces.

The specific calculation of the Reynolds number, and the values where laminar flow occurs, will depend on the geometry of the flow system and flow pattern. The common example is flow through a pipe, where the Reynolds number is defined as:

Reynolds Number


  • D H is the hydraulic diameter of the pipe; its characteristic travelled length, L , (m).
  • Q is the volumetric flow rate (m3 /s).
  • A is the pipe's cross-sectional area (m2 ).
  • v is the mean velocity of the fluid ( SI units : m/s).
  • μ is the dynamic viscosity of the fluid (Pa·s = N·s/m2 = kg/(m·s)).
  • ν is the kinematic viscosity of the fluid, ν = μ / ρ (m2 /s).
  • ρ is the density of the fluid (kg/m3 ).

For such systems, laminar flow occurs when the Reynolds number is below a critical value of approximately 2,040, though the transition range is typically between 1,800 and 2,100.

For fluid systems occurring on external surfaces, such as flow past objects suspended in the fluid, other definitions for Reynolds numbers can be used to predict the type of flow around the object. The particle Reynolds number Rep would be used for particle suspended in flowing fluids, for example. As with flow in pipes, laminar flow typically occurs with lower Reynolds numbers, while turbulent flow and related phenomena, such as vortex shedding, occur with higher Reynolds numbers.