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August 29, 2011

Swift Engineering & Platform HPC: Designing Faster Race Cars and Planes

Nicole Hemsoth

Founded in 1983, Swift Engineering began as a constructor of world-class, open-wheel race cars. Today, Swift is a leader in the design and manufacture of composite structures, expanding its portfolio to include race cars capable of reaching 200 MPH as well as conventional and military aircraft. “We design and build high performance vehicles in quick turn under one roof,” said Mark Page, Swift’s Chief Scientist. “We process huge amounts of data simultaneously, so we need some serious computing power to do that.”

In 2001, Swift began experimenting with high computing power and assembled a 16 node cluster specifically for use with Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) applications. However, Swift’s in-house solution did not meet growing demands for CFD analysis, and by 2008 Swift’s needs had outgrown the workstation cluster; its associated costs outweighed its benefits and demands on employee time were no longer feasible.

Maintaining global leadership in design and manufacturing requires Swift to find competitive advantages wherever possible. Two of the key areas of the design cycle that are critical for achieving an advantage are testing and simulation. These are time intensive processes, with each new idea or part requiring a scale prototype and wind tunnel testing. According to Chris Norris, Swift’s Chief Engineer, “The problem is whenever you come up with a new idea or a concept you have to make a part to test on the wind tunnel model. Finding ways to reduce the cycle and expedite testing through computer simulation reduces the time to market.”

Swift knew a state-of-the-art, purpose built, High Performance Computing (HPC) solution was needed to further significantly increase its efficiency and output. “This HPC solution had to be simple and require minimal management,” said Dr. John F. Winkler, Swift’s Chief Aerodynamicist. “We needed a HPC solution where we spent more time solving complex problems than we did administering the system. Cray and Platform Computing provided a turn-key HPC solution to Swift allowing us to develop client projects more rapidly, answer more complex questions”.

With Cray and Platform Computing’s complete, market leading HPC solution for small businesses, Swift engineers were able to evaluate concepts within hours instead of days and make design changes in real time. “With incredible support from Cray and Platform Computing, we transitioned from a two workstation solution to a full-scale HPC Cluster within a week very quickly and very efficiently,” said Dr. Winkler. Using Platform’s management software, Platform HPC, Swift can schedule large computations so design engineers are not waiting around for their analysis to complete overnight. Now the jobs are started in the morning with results in the afternoon. Additionally, analysis can be run in parallel, further increasing the amount of analysis that can be completed within a single day.

A new design idea can therefore be easily simulated without having to build a scale model and conduct extensive wind tunnel testing. Thus, Swift began the newest chapter of its racing achievements with its next generation Formula Nippon racecar (Japan’s premier formula racing series).  Swift’s aerodynamic innovation, known as the ‘Mushroom Buster’, generates a cleaner aerodynamic wake signature behind the car, improving close proximity racing with significantly higher cornering speeds (approximately four times greater than gravity), making racing even more exciting.

 Using Platform HPC, Dr. Winkler is able to provision, instantly submit jobs, monitor and report and easily re-provision a computer node when necessary, requiring less than 10% of his time for process overhead depending on the size of the job. Efficient computing makes more efficient aerodynamic vehicles, providing Swift designs with an ‘unfair advantage’ – enabling them to outwit the competition through better preparation and resources.

Swift Engineering – Making Cars Go Faster With Platform HPC

Platform Computing