GRIDtoday editor Derrick Harris spoke with Mike Twelves, manager of knowledge-based engineering and IT systems for Corus Automotive, about how the automotive branch of the United Kingdom-based steel manufacturer has used and will be using Grid computing to optimize its simulation environment.
GRIDtoday: Can you tell me about Corus Automotive?
MIKE TWELVES: Corus Automotive employs about 30 people — mostly engineers with an automotive background — and is based in Coventry, UK. Its goal is to support Corus business units in the application of metals solutions in the automotive industry
We place significant emphasis on engineering analysis supporting all major FE codes used by automotive OEMs and typically undertake the full range of analysis from component level, through system level to full vehicle crash simulations
Corus is one of the leading suppliers of steel products, services and technology to the automotive industry. A broad range of Corus steels, ranging from strip and engineering steels to tubes, are used by our customers to make products that are used in body-in-white, closures, chassis and suspension systems, powertrain, seating systems, safety systems, interior trim and other components. Corus is committed to the global automotive industry, uniquely combining its materials and vehicle engineering knowledge to respond cost-effectively to key drivers of importance to the sector, such as safety, fuel-efficiency, innovation and the environment. The company actively supports supply chain initiatives that improve efficiency and enhance the value of steel used in automotive applications.
Corus Group Plc is one of the world's largest metal producers with a turnover of over £9 billion and major operating facilities in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Norway, Belgium and Canada. Corus' four divisions comprising Strip Products, Long Products, Aluminium and Distribution & Building Systems provide innovative solutions to the construction, automotive, rail, general engineering and packaging markets worldwide. Corus has over 48,300 employees in over 40 countries and sales offices and service centres worldwide. Combining international expertise with local customer service, the Corus brand represents quality and strength.
Gt: What are your responsibilities as manager of KBE and IT systems?
TWELVES: KBE is Knowledge Based Engineering — capturing knowledge and embedding it in design and analysis processes to facilitate automation. Some typical benefits we see are reducing lead times for design ad analysis activities from weeks to hours. I am also responsible for our IT systems (hardware, software, comms, etc.) and lead our continuous improvement activities
Gt: When did you get started with Grid computing? Was the simulation project aimed at replacing crash barriers along UK motorways Corus Automotive's first experience with Grid technology?
TWELVES: Yes, we went live with the grid in February 2005.
Gt: How did that experience work out? How did the grid affect the work you were able to do with that project?
TWELVES: The implementation was very well executed (we built the grid — hardware and software — from scratch). The grid enabled us to run significantly more simulation than we could otherwise have done, which leads to a better understanding of system dynamics and more optimized system design. The result of this for our business unit customers is reduced physical testing, which means lower development cost and faster time to market.
Gt: Have you used the grid for other projects since then? If so, what have you used it for?
TWELVES: The grid is our single portal to all our analysis resources. It is used for all our analysis work.
Gt: Have you experienced any significant challenges (technical or cultural) during, or as a result of, your grid deployment? How were they resolved?
TWELVES: The biggest challenge was in gaining user acceptance. We were asking people to change the way they did their job to some extent. We recognized this at the outset and concentrated on this aspect to ensure it would not be a problem. We also worked hard to address any technical issues that arose as quickly as possible and deliver valued enhancements made by the users, either by ourselves (using our KBE techniques) or via United Devices as product enhancements.
Gt: Overall, how much has the use of Grid computing improved the work being done at Corus Automotive?
TWELVES: There are two extremes — we can do the same amount of simulation as we used to do in significantly less time because of the automated resource management, so we can deliver project faster, which means we should be able to do more. The other end of the spectrum is to take the same time as previously, but do significantly more simulation, leading to more highly optimized product. The ideal is somewhere in between, where both ourselves and the customers see big benefits.
Gt: What kinds of plans do you have for the future in terms of grid use?
TWELVES: Highly optimized designs is one thing, but these are digital and a risk of being highly optimized is that when we get into the real world and apply manufacturing tolerances and variations, the product doesn't perform as well as we have predicted because it isn't exactly the same as the simulation model. We are looking at optimized robust designs, that is a design that will continue to perform well even when subjected to manufacturing variations. This requires significantly more compute resource than just optimizing a design, so is ideally suited for Grid. I think that this area will be a big growth and demand on the grid as we move forward.
Gt: You first started your Grid implementation with GridXpert, correct? From your perspective, was it a smooth transition when GridXpert was acquired by United Devices?
TWELVES: It was very smooth. Before the acquisition, UD visited us to talk about the acquisition, both to get a customer perspective of GridXpert but also to reassure us of their intentions for the product. I saw the acquisition as being a positive step forward.
Gt: How has it been working with UD?
TWELVES: UD are very easy to work with. At a day-to-day level, we are working with the same people we worked with when it was GridXpert, but it's easy to see the extra capability and resources UD have been able to bring.