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!

Kathy Yelick Charts the Promise and Progress of Exascale Science

September 15, 2017

On Friday, Sept. 8, Kathy Yelick of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the keynote address on “Breakthrough Science at the Exascale” at the ACM Europe Conferen Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

U of Illinois, NCSA Launch First US Nanomanufacturing Node

September 14, 2017

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign together with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) have launched the United States's first computational node aimed at the development of nanomanufactu Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

PGI Rolls Out Support for Volta 100 in its 2017 Compilers and Tools Suite

September 14, 2017

PGI today announced a fairly lengthy list of new features to version 17.7 of its 2017 Compilers and Tools. The centerpiece of the additions is support for the Tesla Volta 100 GPU, Nvidia’s newest flagship silicon annou Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Prepares Customers for Success with the HPC Software Portfolio

HPC environmentsHewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) is committed to delivering end-to-end HPC software solutions to help customers get the most out of their HPC systems. Read more…

DARPA Pledges Another $300 Million for Post-Moore’s Readiness

September 14, 2017

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a giant funding effort to ensure the United States can sustain the pace of electronic innovation vital to both a flourishing economy and a secure military. Under the banner of the Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI), some $500-$800 million will be invested in post-Moore’s Law technologies. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Kathy Yelick Charts the Promise and Progress of Exascale Science

September 15, 2017

On Friday, Sept. 8, Kathy Yelick of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the keynote address on “Breakt Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Pledges Another $300 Million for Post-Moore’s Readiness

September 14, 2017

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a giant funding effort to ensure the United States can sustain the pace of electronic innovation vital to both a flourishing economy and a secure military. Under the banner of the Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI), some $500-$800 million will be invested in post-Moore’s Law technologies. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Breaks Ground for Complex Quantum Chemistry

September 14, 2017

IBM has reported the use of a novel algorithm to simulate BeH2 (beryllium-hydride) on a quantum computer. This is the largest molecule so far simulated on a quantum computer. The technique, which used six qubits of a seven-qubit system, is an important step forward and may suggest an approach to simulating ever larger molecules. Read more…

By John Russell

Cubes, Culture, and a New Challenge: Trish Damkroger Talks about Life at Intel—and Why HPC Matters More Than Ever

September 13, 2017

Trish Damkroger wasn’t looking to change jobs when she attended SC15 in Austin, Texas. Capping a 15-year career within Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories, she was acting Associate Director for Computation at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Her mission was to equip the lab’s scientists and research partners with resources that would advance their cutting-edge work... Read more…

By Jan Rowell

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

MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab Targets Algorithms, AI Physics

September 7, 2017

Investment continues to flow into artificial intelligence research, especially in key areas such as AI algorithms that promise to move the technology from speci Read more…

By George Leopold

Need Data Science CyberInfrastructure? Check with RENCI’s xDCI Concierge

September 6, 2017

For about a year the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) has been assembling best practices and open source components around data-driven scientific researc Read more…

By John Russell

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

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

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

Russian Researchers Claim First Quantum-Safe Blockchain

May 25, 2017

The Russian Quantum Center today announced it has overcome the threat of quantum cryptography by creating the first quantum-safe blockchain, securing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, along with classified government communications and other sensitive digital transfers. Read more…

By Doug Black

Google Debuts TPU v2 and will Add to Google Cloud

May 25, 2017

Not long after stirring attention in the deep learning/AI community by revealing the details of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), Google last week announced the Read more…

By John Russell

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

Six Exascale PathForward Vendors Selected; DoE Providing $258M

June 15, 2017

The much-anticipated PathForward awards for hardware R&D in support of the Exascale Computing Project were announced today with six vendors selected – AMD Read more…

By John Russell

Top500 Results: Latest List Trends and What’s in Store

June 19, 2017

Greetings from Frankfurt and the 2017 International Supercomputing Conference where the latest Top500 list has just been revealed. Although there were no major Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

IBM Clears Path to 5nm with Silicon Nanosheets

June 5, 2017

Two years since announcing the industry’s first 7nm node test chip, IBM and its research alliance partners GlobalFoundries and Samsung have developed a proces Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in 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

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

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

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

GlobalFoundries: 7nm Chips Coming in 2018, EUV in 2019

June 13, 2017

GlobalFoundries has formally announced that its 7nm technology is ready for customer engagement with product tape outs expected for the first half of 2018. The Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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