In fluid dynamics, laminar flow is characterized by smooth or in regular paths of particles of the fluid, in contrast to turbulent flow, that is characterized by the irregular movement of particles of the fluid. The fluid flows in parallel layers (with minimal lateral mixing), with no disruption between the layers. Therefore the laminar flow is also referred to as streamline or viscous flow.
The term streamline flow is descriptive of the flow because, in laminar flow, layers of water flowing over one another at different speeds with virtually no mixing between layers, fluid particles move in definite and observable paths or streamlines.
When a fluid is flowing through a closed channel such as a pipe or between two flat plates, either of two types of flow (laminar flow or turbulent flow) may occur depending on the velocity, viscosity of the fluid and the size of the pipe. Laminar flow tends to occur at lower velocities and high viscosity. On the other hand turbulent flow tends to occur at higher velocities and low viscosity.
Since laminar flow is common only in cases in which the flow channel is relatively small, the fluid is moving slowly, and its viscosity is relatively high, laminar flow is not common in industrial processes. Most industrial flows, especially those in nuclear engineering are turbulent. Nevertheless laminar flow occurs at any Reynolds number near solid boundaries in a thin layer just adjacent to the surface, this layer is usually referred to as the laminar sublayer and it is very important in heat transfer.
Despite the small thickness of the laminar sublayer (usually much less than 1 percent of the pipe diameter), since it strongly influences the flow in the rest of the pipe. Any irregularity or roughness on the surface disturbs this layer and significantly affects the flow. Therefore, unlike laminar flow, the friction factor in turbulent flow is a strong function of surface roughness.
The Reynolds number is the ratio of inertial forces to viscous forces and is a convenient parameter for predicting if a flow condition will be laminar or turbulent. It can be interpreted that when the viscous forces are dominant (slow flow, low Re) they are sufficient enough to keep all the fluid particles in line, then the flow is laminar. Even very low Re indicates viscous creeping motion, where inertia effects are negligible. When the inertial forces dominate over the viscous forces (when the fluid is flowing faster and Re is larger) then the flow is turbulent.
It is a dimensionless number comprised of the physical characteristics of the flow. An increasing Reynolds number indicates an increasing turbulence of flow.
It is defined as:
V is the flow velocity,
D is a characteristic linear dimension, (travelled length of the fluid; hydraulic diameter etc.)
ρ fluid density (kg/m3),
μ dynamic viscosity (Pa.s),
ν kinematic viscosity (m2/s); ν = μ / ρ.