Back in February, the US Department of Energy’s High Performance Computing for Manufacturing program (HPC4Mfg) announced its first awards for advancing industry manufacturing projects using national lab supercomputing resources and expertise. Projects ranging from improved turbine blades for aircraft engines and reduced heat loss in electronics to waste reduction in paper manufacturing and improved fiberglass production were among the 10 selected. Each project received about $300,000 from a total of $3 million.
HPC4Mfg is a tri-lab partnership of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and is led by Lawrence Livermore. The idea of the initiative is to pair US manufacturers with the world class computing tools and expertise at our national labs to advance clean energy technologies, increase the efficiency of manufacturing processes, accelerate innovation, shorten the time it takes to bring new technologies to market and improve the quality of products. As Peg Folta, HPC4Mfg program director said in March: “This program lowers the barrier of entry for U.S. manufacturers to adopt HPC. It makes it easier for a company to use supercomputers by not only funding access to the HPC systems, but also for experts in the use of these systems to solve complex problems.”
HPC4Mfg was launched by the Advanced Manufacturing Office within DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and is very much in the spirit of President Obama’s National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI), which was unveiled in July 2015 and calls for public-private partnerships to increase industrial adoption of high-performance computing. This is clear recognition of our HPC community’s potential to boost economic growth and improve our quality of life while minimizing the impact on the environment. Addressing the challenges of industry in turn benefits the labs by expanding their skill set, skills they can then apply to their DOE/NNSA missions in basic science, engineering and national security.
While HPC4Mfg may still be in its early stages, we believe it will rapidly mature with the experience gained from each round of proposals. Anticipating the results of the latest projects down the road is very exciting and we’re confident it will attract more potential industry partners and the fields of partnership will expand. The program is presently focused on using national lab HPC resources to bolster manufacturing, but it is increasingly apparent that other fields, such as transportation, more efficient buildings and renewable energy also could benefit. As the program broadens, other national laboratory partners are expected to join. Taking on new technical challenges outside their traditional mission space is one of the important ways national labs maintain their R&D vitality.
In March, HPC4Mfg issued a call for a second round of industry proposals due April 21. The way the program works, initial concept proposals are selected and paired with a national lab HPC expert to jointly develop a full proposal in June, with final selections announced in the August timeframe. The program expects to select another 8-10 projects to the tune of about $3 million total. In this way HPC4Mfg is serving to broaden the base of users, reaching out to small and medium-sized companies that have not yet tapped the power of top-tier supercomputers. Larger companies such as Proctor & Gamble and Boeing have successfully used HPC to design better products faster by reducing test cycles.
The response to the HPC4Mfg program indicates that perceptions may be beginning to change and that the broader industrial community is recognizing that TOP500 petaflops computing is not just for high-level scientific research and national security, but also is rich with possibility for a nation’s economic bottom line. The science and technology innovation HPC makes possible is at the heart of global economic competitiveness. Awareness is growing that when it comes to economic prosperity and protecting the environment so integral to our quality of life, HPC really does matter.