Unconventional Ways Supercomputers are Used: Part 2

We talk a lot about how high performance computing systems are on the forefront of science, but it’s also fun to take a step back and look at some of the more unusual ways that supercomputers are impacting our lives. In a previous post, I discussed how supercomputing systems are being used in everything from ice cream physics to baseball and dirty diapers. Now we’re back with part two of our series on unconventional uses of supercomputers.

The Lord of the Rings
Considering this movie’s high-flying, detailed special effects, I’m not surprised the director, Peter Jackson, turned to supercomputing to help create these lifelike experiences. To make the weather, buildings and vegetation accurate enough to turn J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth into real-world sets and environments, Jackson and his team enlisted supercomputing resources from the New Zealand Supercomputing Centre. Jackson also created a special effects studio, Weta Digital, where all the magic would happen — with, of course, the help of a supercomputer.

Dr. Dan Lunt, an expert on past climate change at the University of Bristol (and also a fan of the trilogy) ran his own simulations on a supercomputer to model the famously detailed map of Middle Earth. Tolkien wrote entire mythologies detailing the creation and evolution of the land, with staggering detail. By creating a climate prediction model, Lunt was able to accurately create 70 years of climate change in the different parts of Middle Earth. He found that Mount Doom (where the evil ring of power must be destroyed) is like Los Angeles — hot and dry — while the Shire is similar to Leicestershire in the U.K.

Formula 1 Racing
It’s all about speed when it comes to racecars. You can never go fast enough, and Swift Engineering, a company that designs and builds Formula racecars, decided that 200 mph and 5 G cornering wasn’t fast enough. The car maker wanted to make it easier for their drivers to pass the lead car, and that meant taking a variety of conditions into account. With a number of factors that affect lead changes, including the lead car’s wake, Swift needed a solution that would be able to scale and conduct an unsteady simulation with moving mesh and rotating boundary conditions. Using the Metacomp Technologies CFD++ code and a Cray® XE6™ supercomputer, researchers conducted simulations allowing Swift to alter the aerodynamic design of the car. The result: faster cars and a thrilling experience for spectators.

The Mystery of the Exploding Coffee Containers
Folgers Coffee switched from coffee cans to plastic containers, only to find the new containers doing everything from cracking to imploding, leaving an unusually expensive residue of spilt coffee. Folgers decided they needed to do some heavy investigating. The easy part was creating a new container design with this HPC simulation; the not-so-easy part was creating a design that would maintain the coffee’s flavor and freshness A team of scientists at Procter & Gamble (Folgers’ parent company) came up with a few different designs in a matter of minutes. Folgers found a way to use new containers while still assuring their customers that “The best part of waking up, is Folgers in your cup.”

Achieving Sustainability in Suds
With a global push to create more environmentally friendly products, Procter & Gamble decided it was time to revamp the solutions customers use every day to improve sustainability without sacrificing quality. That includes shampoo, lotions, dish soap, laundry detergent … a seemingly endless variety of products. To tackle this challenge, P&G applied to participate in the INCITE program and was awarded time on Argonne National Lab’s system.

At the lab, P&G researchers were able to simulate the molecular dynamics of their products, which helped them better understand the characteristics of each ingredient and how the ingredients interact. This allowed them to determine the concentration at which a given material will make a phase change into a different structure. P&G’s formulators, who mix and match the ingredients to make new or improved products, applied this information to ensure the environmentally friendly reformulations would continue to perform well in terms of sudsing, shelf life, color and other characteristics.

Making Wings that Won’t Bend (Too Much)
Next time you hop on an airplane, even a giant like a Boeing, remember that the wings bend in the wind. But rest at ease — it’s no different from a massive bridge bending and swaying instead of breaking. When airplanes take on enough wind resistance to generate lift, the wings bend.

Boeing, one of the world’s top airplane manufacturers, was facing mounting competition; one way it sought an edge was to improve the aerodynamics of its wings. The company was awarded a contract as part of the INCITE program using supercomputing resources at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to simulate different wind conditions and find ways to create lighter wings that still meet bend-resistance requirements. With access to these resources, one of the R&D teams modeled aeroelasticity – the effect of aerodynamic loads on airplane structures and also a component of the aircraft’s performance.

Virtual Tires – Real Results
Goodyear, the iconic tire company that dispatches blimps to countless sporting events, was facing mounting competition that was hurting its revenue. The solution came down to one simple principle: Get rid of unnecessary physical tests.

Goodyear had been going through traditional prototyping processes that involved expensive and time-consuming physical tests for varying weather conditions. Taking the tires out of the rain and “into” a supercomputer let the company simulate different weather conditions and create tire materials and treads that would improve functionality with lower rollout costs. Goodyear accomplished this through a partnership with Sandia National Laboratories. The results were Goodyear’s Assurance tires and TripleTread technology.

Supercomputers can accomplish many things, from theoretical sciences to simulating real-world conditions. These unique projects highlight just how much any organization, not just traditional HPC users, can benefit from advanced supercomputing systems.

Feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] if you’d like to hear about any other unique uses of supercomputers.

Sia Hubman, Marketing Specialist 

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