Verne Global

Industry | Manufacturing |

7 August 2017

HPC for Process Manufacturing

Written by Nick Dale

Nick is Senior Director at Verne Global and leads our work across HPC and specifically its implementation within advanced manufacturing and meteorological research.

A great many of the pressing issues facing both industry and society today could be seen as the lack of the proper material. From better photonic components to drive the development of the solar industry, to improved solid state laser technologies to enable improved forms of telecommunications, almost all fields of industry have benefitted greatly from advancements in material technology, and could benefit from further advances.

HPC systems have been integral to many developments in materials science engineering, especially since the turn of the 21st century. In just that short time, advances in hardware and software have improved the computational ability of HPC systems by a factor of a million. This increased compute power has allowed scientists and researchers to integrate the synthesis, processing and characterisation of new materials into a new, predictive paradigm of materials science engineering. This has opened the door to a new era of materials science to emerge, and broken through the barriers that experimental study had imposed on previous generations of materials researchers.

The term for this new paradigm of HPC-assisted materials engineering is high-throughput computational materials design. This new approach to materials science leverages the many recent advancements in thermodynamic and electronic structure methods, combining them with advanced data analytics and HPC computational power to virtually analyse and characterise compounds based on their specific properties. These analysed materials are then placed in a database so they can provide researchers with a reference framework for the design of materials that meet the requirements of a specific industrial application.

The Materials Project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which now contains tens of thousands of unique molecules, compounds and materials, is one of the great success stories of this new approach to materials science. Researchers utilising both the database and a “materials-by-design” approach have made numerous novel discoveries, including new types of transparent conducting material for use in touch screens and smartphones, and other materials that could be used in battery electrodes and semiconductors. The MIT Materials Project has led to other complimentary breakthroughs as well. In 2015, the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory published the world’s largest data set of the complete elastic properties of inorganic compounds. This data, built on the infrastructure laid by the MIT project, is expected to have a major influence on the field of materials science, especially in areas where materials with mechanical properties are prioritised, like the aerospace industry.

HPC is not just revolutionising the discovery of new materials, but has also radically improved the way in which they are used to manufacture products at a commercial scale. HPC-enabled modeling and testing means that researchers can virtually experiment with a new material without the need for a physical prototype. This has led to a better understanding of systems that are too large for experimental study, accelerated the deployment of new technologies, and greatly improved the product development process. In a highly competitive manufacturing environment, where companies are under pressure to update or release new products, this capability is vitally important. The positive impact of HPC on manufacturing companies is confirmed by numerous studies, including one by market research firm IDC, which found that 97 percent of companies that had adopted HPC said they could no longer compete or survive without it.

Industries such as the automotive industry are particular hotbeds of new materials application. Carmakers have already started to use advanced materials like porous polymers and new alloys to manufacture cars that are lighter and more fuel-efficient. On the horizon, automobile manufacturers are looking to nanostructured steel to build automotive body structures, magnesium alloys for lighter-weight powertrains, and new polymers and composite materials as a replacement for existing moulding technologies. These breakthroughs will help car companies meet ambitious emissions standards while delivering increased safety and comfort.

Even tires have been redesigned using the power of HPC. The only major American tire manufacturer, Goodyear, invested heavily in HPC technology when updating the design of its popular all-season tire. The tire is a complex layer of steel, polyester, rubber, and other complex materials that allows it to perform well on dry, wet, icy, and snowy surfaces. Traditionally, Goodyear would have built physical prototypes and then run environmental testing to determine its ability to handle and wear properly, but some tests, such as tread wear, can take four to six months to get representative results. With HPC-enabled modeling, Goodyear was able to reduce product design time from three years to less than one, while reducing the proportion of budget allocated to research, design, engineering, and quality control from 40% to 15%. Other major tire manufacturers such as Continental Tires have long been making similar investments in HPC and computer modeling technology. At Continental’s research and development facility in Hanover, engineers use HPC clusters to not only test tire wear but also to test and develop other automotive components as well.

Looking forward, the intersection between HPC and materials science is set to be an area of continued promise and profitability for the scientific community and businesses big and small. Take for example the field of nanotechnology, where HPC has already greatly improve our understanding of nanoscale structure and dynamics. It’s safe to assume that as HPC continues to get cheaper and more widely available, producers, innovators, and entrepreneurs from around the world will be empowered to revolutionise the production of many man-made objects by combining innovative new materials, low-volume manufacturing, and custom-fit products.

Verne Global is dedicated to keeping its clients on the cutting edge of this new industrial age. By providing companies and organisations with reliable, secure, cost-effective HPC power, we help them take full advantage of the latest innovations and maximise the impact and profitability of their new products.

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