HPC and Supply Chain Management

By Steve Conway

September 15, 2006

Is supply chain management poised to become an important new application for HPC? At the Council on Competitiveness’ annual HPC Users Conference on September 7, panelists from commercial powerhouses Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble, Pratt & Whitney and Clopay Plastic Products described their experiences.

Wikipedia defines supply chain management as “the process of planning, implementing and controlling the operations of the supply chain, with the purpose to satisfy customer requirements as efficiently as possible. Supply chain management spans all movement and storage of raw materials, work-in-process inventory and finished goods from point-of-origin to point-of-consumption.” In a nutshell, it means optimizing the flow of materials, information and money all the way from a company’s suppliers to its customers, including what happens within the company itself.

To explore this topic, the Council on Competitiveness assembled a high-profile panel for its third annual HPC Users Conference. Chaired by Microsoft Corporate Vice President Marshall Phelps, who’s been involved with the Council since it began 20 years ago, the panel included Gary Abyad, president of Clopay Plastic Products Company; Tom Lange, director of corporate R&D modeling and simulation for The Procter & Gamble Company; Dr. Jayant S. Sabnis, chief engineer for systems analysis & aerodynamics, Pratt & Whitney; and Nancy Stewart, senior vice president and chief technology officer, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

David Shaw, chairman of The D. E. Shaw Group and co-chair of the Council’s HPC Advisory Committee, said the Council is especially interested in this topic because supply chain management is increasingly important for competitiveness and profitability. There are strong competitive pressures to obtain parts quickly for assembly and to deliver finished goods quickly to outlets. Supply chain management has strong potential for HPC because it involves a lot of communication and extensive interoperability of heterogeneous systems at different companies. The Council needs to understand what drives these companies.

While large companies are beginning to use HPC for supply chain management because of their enormous data management and data analysis challenges, no two situations are exactly alike.

Nancy Stewart said Wal-Mart supercenters stock about 500,000 products each, and suppliers compete fiercely for shelf space. Every day between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m., the company runs its models to determine what is selling well in each store, then “reformats” the stores and sends the information to the stores. From its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, Wal-Mart services all of its stores worldwide, right down to turning on the lights in the stores. Wal-Mart uses HPC not only for ergonomics like this, but for shelf space determinations, store planning and resource planning.

Stewart stressed that if you really understand your data, you can do predictive analysis. “Every day between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m., I have to do enough data mining and analysis to let Procter & Gamble and other suppliers know what to stock in our stores. We can’t spend a dollar of investment on HPC or anything unless we can see the ROI. That’s why we had to make the investment in HPC.”

The large companies on the panel also discussed the extent to which they expect their suppliers to use HPC, and whether they would be willing to teach the suppliers how to use this technology if they aren’t familiar with it. Most suppliers don’t use HPC yet.

According to Jayant Sabnis, Pratt & Whitney has long used HPC for the modeling and simulation of jet aircraft engines. This is because “building models on the computer is faster and lower-cost, and you can look at any level of detail. Analog models only tell you whether something will work or not, so digital models are the basis for innovation.”

Sabnis said Pratt & Whitney’s suppliers also do modeling and simulation to speed development and reduce costs for the parts they contribute to the company. If parts and other elements from the supply base don’t arrive on time or don’t meet requirements, this can create a major problem. Modeling and simulation are important enough to Pratt & Whitney’s bottom line that if suppliers are ready to use HPC, the company will reach out to help them. Pratt & Whitney builds the digital model and show suppliers what simulation is doing for the company.

“We pay a lot of attention to whether suppliers have the ability to use these tools,” Sabnis said. “Mistakes can be disastrous, so we take a lot of time determining whether suppliers can use these tools. There’s no point using HPC if you don’t understand the problem. If they don’t have the ability, we work with them.”

Wal-Mart doesn’t ask suppliers to use HPC, but is always looking for the lowest-cost, highest-quality products to satisfy the company’s large customer base. “That’s the value HPC brings to us and our customers,” Stewart said. “It’s an advantage if suppliers can link into Wal-Mart’s systems and perform their own analyses using Wal-Mart’s complex tables.”

Procter & Gamble is an important supplier to Wal-Mart and uses HPC and high-end visualization extensively itself, but does not require suppliers to use HPC and, unlike Pratt & Whitney, does not expect to teach them how to use it. But “if HPC can reduce inefficiencies on the supplier side, we strongly applaud it,” said Tom Lange.

In Procter & Gamble’s world, there are some important barriers to the use of HPC by suppliers. One is the cost of software licensing. Another is a generally lower level of engineering ability than among auto-industry suppliers. Related to this is a shortage of user-friendly middleware. ”Not enough people are producing higher-quality middleware to get this scientific stuff out into industry for things that are done every day. We need middleware to get some of the routine analysis automated, so non-experts in FEA and CFD can run it,” Lange explained.

Clopay Plastics Products was the smallest company represented on the panel, though hardly tiny (more than $1 billion in annual revenues). Wal-Mart and Procter & Gamble are both customers for Clopay’s products. Gary Abyad said Clopay isn’t convinced yet of the value of HPC, and hasn’t learned how to use it. “We need to be introduced and led with user-friendly tools that can produce results. As a public company, we don’t have the luxury of investing for 10 years for a potential payoff. Wal-Mart and P&G demand new products every day. So HPC has not made it onto our radar screen yet.”

Abyad said Clopay faces enormous competitive pressures to reduce time and costs, but is not seeing rivals tout HPC yet as a competitive weapon. He thinks larger companies can mentor smaller firms like his in the use of HPC. “But there are competitive issues,” Abyad explained. “Using these tools provides a competitive advantage, so P&G would need to decide how this would affect their own competitive advantage. Industry associations could also help smaller firms.”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

SC Bids Farewell to Denver, Heads to Dallas for 30th

November 17, 2017

After a jam-packed four-day expo and intensive six-day technical program, SC17 has wrapped up another successful event that brought together nearly 13,000 visitors to the Colorado Convention Center in Denver for the larg Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC17 Keynote – HPC Powers SKA Efforts to Peer Deep into the Cosmos

November 17, 2017

This week’s SC17 keynote – Life, the Universe and Computing: The Story of the SKA Telescope – was a powerful pitch for the potential of Big Science projects that also showcased the foundational role of high performance computing in modern science. It was also visually stunning. Read more…

By John Russell

How Cities Use HPC at the Edge to Get Smarter

November 17, 2017

Cities are sensoring up, collecting vast troves of data that they’re running through predictive models and using the insights to solve problems that, in some cases, city managers didn’t even know existed. Speaking Read more…

By Doug Black

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Harness Scalable Petabyte Storage with HPE Apollo 4510 and HPE StoreEver

As a growing number of connected devices challenges IT departments to rapidly collect, manage, and store troves of data, organizations must adopt a new generation of IT to help them operate quickly and intelligently. Read more…

SC17 Student Cluster Competition Configurations: Fewer Nodes, Way More Accelerators

November 16, 2017

The final configurations for each of the SC17 “Donnybrook in Denver” Student Cluster Competition have been released. Fortunately, each team received their equipment shipments on time and undamaged, so the teams are r Read more…

By Dan Olds

SC Bids Farewell to Denver, Heads to Dallas for 30th

November 17, 2017

After a jam-packed four-day expo and intensive six-day technical program, SC17 has wrapped up another successful event that brought together nearly 13,000 visit Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC17 Keynote – HPC Powers SKA Efforts to Peer Deep into the Cosmos

November 17, 2017

This week’s SC17 keynote – Life, the Universe and Computing: The Story of the SKA Telescope – was a powerful pitch for the potential of Big Science projects that also showcased the foundational role of high performance computing in modern science. It was also visually stunning. Read more…

By John Russell

How Cities Use HPC at the Edge to Get Smarter

November 17, 2017

Cities are sensoring up, collecting vast troves of data that they’re running through predictive models and using the insights to solve problems that, in some Read more…

By Doug Black

Student Cluster LINPACK Record Shattered! More LINs Packed Than Ever before!

November 16, 2017

Nanyang Technological University, the pride of Singapore, utterly destroyed the Student Cluster Competition LINPACK record by posting a score of 51.77 TFlop/s a Read more…

By Dan Olds

Hyperion Market Update: ‘Decent’ Growth Led by HPE; AI Transparency a Risk Issue

November 15, 2017

The HPC market update from Hyperion Research (formerly IDC) at the annual SC conference is a business and social “must,” and this year’s presentation at S Read more…

By Doug Black

Nvidia Focuses Its Cloud Containers on HPC Applications

November 14, 2017

Having migrated its top-of-the-line datacenter GPU to the largest cloud vendors, Nvidia is touting its Volta architecture for a range of scientific computing ta Read more…

By George Leopold

HPE Launches ARM-based Apollo System for HPC, AI

November 14, 2017

HPE doubled down on its memory-driven computing vision while expanding its processor portfolio with the announcement yesterday of the company’s first ARM-base Read more…

By Doug Black

OpenACC Shines in Global Climate/Weather Codes

November 14, 2017

OpenACC, the directive-based parallel programming model used mostly for porting codes to GPUs for use on heterogeneous systems, came to SC17 touting impressive Read more…

By John Russell

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Launches Software Tools to Ease FPGA Programming

September 5, 2017

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have a reputation for being difficult to program, requiring expertise in specialty languages, like Verilog or VHDL. Easin Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

IBM Advances Web-based Quantum Programming

September 5, 2017

IBM Research is pairing its Jupyter-based Data Science Experience notebook environment with its cloud-based quantum computer, IBM Q, in hopes of encouraging a new class of entrepreneurial user to solve intractable problems that even exceed the capabilities of the best AI systems. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This