Skip the navigation

HPC Is Providing Boost to Old-Line Companies

Manufacturers say high-performance computing reduces design, test times

By Patrick Thibodeau
March 12, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A key piece of a legislative push to boost U.S. competitiveness could lead to a significant increase in spending on high-performance computing research.

The America Competes Act, introduced into Congress last week by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), calls for doubling research budgets at two agencies responsible for studying high-performance computing (HPC): the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

The high-end technology is already providing significant benefits at two veteran manufacturing companies, according to executives at each.

Mark Crawford, vice president of engineering at Simpson Strong-Tie Co., knows first-hand the benefits of HPC to old-line manufacturing companies. Simpson Strong-Tie makes metal connectors used in construction and is in many ways the polar opposite of the Web 2.0 companies springing up near its Pleasanton, Calif.-based headquarters.

But this manufacturer may be one of the more high-tech companies around, because it uses a Linux Networx Inc. high-performance computer for both design and testing in its product development efforts.

Virtual Environment

For most of its 50 years, Simpson Strong-Tie built its metal connectors by making and then testing physical prototypes. Last year, it began using HPC to test product variations in a virtual environment.

Crawford said the system helped cut product development time — a product that may have taken six months to develop in the past now takes just three.

Crawford said that the HPC system is now “one of the key aspects to maintaining our competitive advantage.” Simpson Strong-Tie can now more quickly investigate complex designs and see how its connectors fare in various conditions, such as during high winds, he noted.

The company had used desktops for some of the engineering work involved in designing connectors, but computations could take a week and weren’t always completed. That prompted the company to turn to the Linux Networx system, which has 14 Opteron processors, to run its Abaqus Inc. engineering software.

Simpson Strong-Tie’s connectors are made of light-gauge steel and are used to join wood, as well as wood to concrete and masonry. Complex engineering is needed because “the strength of these joints is what essentially holds a building together,” especially during a hurricane or earthquake, said Crawford.

Creating realistic simulations is compute- and time- intensive, but HPC systems can distribute jobs to individual nodes, so complex jobs can now be run overnight, said Frank Ding, research and design engineer at Simpson Strong-Tie.

Today, the company uses the HPC technology to determine how connectors will perform on various building substructures, Ding said.

IDC data indicates that many large companies are turning to HPC. According to the Framingham, Mass.-based research firm, worldwide HPC revenues are growing by about 9% annually, making HPC one of the fastest-growing computer technologies. The market is projected to reach $14.3 billion by 2010, IDC said.

Ping Inc. also turned to HPC technology to hasten product development and testing, said Eric Morales, a staff engineer at the Phoenix-based maker of golf clubs. Ping’s Cray XD1 high-performance system, installed in 2005, has substantially reduced the time needed to develop golf clubs, he said.

“HPC is working great for us. We can get our answers faster, and we can increase the resolution of the simulations to get more accurate results at the same time,” Morales said. “The computer and software that we purchased has already paid for itself.”

Read more about Hardware in Computerworld's Hardware Topic Center.

Our Commenting Policies