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February 21, 2014

XSEDE Program Forges Industry Alliances

Tiffany Trader
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The eXtreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) is launching a new program – called the Industry Challenge – that connects industry partners with researchers from the open science community in order to enhance product designs and speed time to market.

Over at the XSEDE.org website, science writer Scott Gibson details the new program, which brings together collaborative cross-disciplinary teams and provides them with access to XSEDE’s advanced computational capabilities. Industry Challenge draws on the power of collaboration and technology to address industry challenges, according to David Hudak, director of the program.

The program works by soliciting open science proposals capable of solving the modeling and simulation problems the industry is facing. It’s not something most of us give much thought to, but consumers are accustomed to toothpaste coming out of the tube a certain way – not too fast and not too slow – and the same is true with shampoo and other health and beauty products. To optimize this aspect of design, scientists manipulate flow properties in a discipline known as rheology.

The major stakeholders for the current iteration of the project include Procter & Gamble, known throughout the world for its household and beauty products, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), which submitted the winning bid for this year’s competition. The two organizations have drawn up teams comprised of industrial and academic members.

Procter & Gamble (P&G) stands behind such popular brands as Braun, Crest, Oral-B, Head & Shoulders, Bounce, Charmin, Tide, and others. Many of these products are comprised of surfactants, compounds that reduce surface tension and show up in detergents, wetting agents, and foams. The rheology of surfactant formulations determines, for example, how a given shampoo dispenses from the bottle, and how it puddles on the palm of the hand. XSEDE resources will support rheology predictions through the use of molecular simulations and mechanical models.

“The adjustment of flow properties by altering the composition of ingredients is an important part of the design of new consumer products,” according to Peter Koenig, principal investigator for the P&G-led project. “Being able to predict the rheology using computer simulations will focus and accelerate the development process.”

These types of simulations are too big for P&G’s on-site machines, but via the XSEDE collaboration, the P&G project participants will have access to Stampede at the Texas Advanced Computing Center and Keeneland at the National Institute for Computational Sciences – machines powerful enough to handle the demanding workloads. Staff from XSEDE will contribute their expertise to the research and will assist with tuning the resources for these large-scale, high-fidelity simulations.

The RPI team will be relying on Stampede to develop and run computationally parallel simulation workflows for a number of companies, including Corning, Inc., ITT Gould Pumps, Pliant Energy Systems, and Sikorsky Aircraft. The work aims to enhance materials processing, flow control, fluid structure interaction, and design methods to benefit the partner companies.

Program Director Hudak explains that this project will include a strong focus on the bottom line. Digital design tools are valued for improving the quality of the product and the manufacturing process as well as reducing the time to design, but all these dimensions should translate into greater profit.

“I believe that engaging the academic community in general, and XSEDE in particular, must have a demonstrable return on investment [ROI] or else industrial partners will lose interest,” he states. “I want to find ways to demonstrate ROI for our Industry Challenge projects.”

Mark Shephard, principal investigator for the RPI-led project, says that the beyond improving complex simulation workflows, the team is working to boost the levels of automation and reliability of the simulations. In the commercial world, it’s especially important that simulation workflows can be deployed in a fast and cost-effective manner, so that new simulations can be implemented as quickly as possible.

In the 21st century, there is a growing emphasis on public-private partnerships. It is Hudak’s opinion that the “larger win [for the project] will be the demonstration that industry and academic teams can work together to achieve results they could not reach alone.”