Aircraft Simulations Push Computing to the Cutting Edge

By Nicole Hemsoth

January 26, 2012

Designing an aircraft is one of the more expensive endeavors in the manufacturing business. Complex engineering, strict safety regulations, and high levels of quality control, all conspire to make such development time consuming and labor intensive. It’s no surprise that large manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus have turned to computing, and especially high performance computing, to streamline the effort.

To get a sense of the current state of the art, we asked Guus Dekkers, CIO of EADS and Airbus, to shed some light on the computational challenges involved. In the interview that follows, Dekkers, who will be delivering the opening keynote on this subject at ISC’12 in Hamburg, Germany, explains how HPC is being applied to aircraft simulation today and what the future might bring.

HPCwire: Before coming to Airbus and EADS, you worked in the automotive industry. How do these industries differ in their need for, and use of, high performance computing?

Guus Dekkers: Due to the complexity of both the product and the development process, the aeronautics industry has the need to pre-load and virtualize its development process far more than is the case today in the automotive industry. Whereas in an automotive environment the number of prototypes built has been substantially reduced during the last decade, a new car model will nevertheless still see a substantial number of physical models being built. This compares to a handful of extremely expensive prototypes in the aeronautics industry, with only few — and costly! — capabilities to correct if needed.

Also the number of engineering domains in which advanced simulation is being used is far more substantial than in automotive. Because the aeronautics industry needs to address advanced technical challenges unknown to the automotive industry (ex: lightning stroke, ice accreditation prediction, calculation of dynamic loads during different flight phases, …), and also because the establishment of a physical mock-up is in the automotive industry at times the far easier and efficient way to take design decisions.

HPCwire: Is the use of HPC for aircraft simulations actually enabling engineers to come up with better, more complex designs or is its main benefit cost reduction, via the replacement of physical prototyping and testing?

Dekkers: I would say it is both. Today the engineers do no longer limit themselves to simulate an aircraft’s behavior as a static model, but use the availability of vast high performance computing power to calculate the optimal scenario under different, partially dynamic situations. This allows them to optimize important safety, environmental and performance criteria like fuel-burn, noise, aerodynamics optimizations and performance prediction for multiple scenario’s, which has been impossible in the current precision up until recently. This clearly allows us to design better aircraft.

Certainly, HPC simulation allows as well reducing physical testing — with especially reduced wind-tunnel testing — which helps to slice cost. But ultimately, being [able] to design better products pays off more.

HPCwire: What is the biggest challenge in performing aircraft simulations today? And how is it being addressed?

Dekkers: The challenges are multifold. First and most basic, the compatibility of the simulation software with the hardware architecture. This is why most companies prefer having multiple types of architectures to deal with multiple requirements.

The calibration of the simulation algorithm, its results, and its predictions with real-life also represents a challenge, especially for newer materials like carbon fiber. Here we ultimately have no other option than to validate through physical mockups.

Last but not least, linking both input and output of such a simulation cycle to the “right” aircraft configuration is not evident, that is, how do I make sure the calculations are based on the right digital mockup configuration and how can I assure that its results are reproducible for a very long time-frame?

HPCwire: Are there particular aspects of aircraft design that simulations are particularly good at optimizing?

Dekkers: Traditionally over three-fourths of our HPC capacities have been used for aerodynamic optimizations, which is not a surprise to anyone, I believe. However, we currently see a clear trend shifting its use toward multi-disciplinary design and optimization, aero-acoustics and system integration. This does not mean that the traditional area of using HPC is reducing its usage, but the other use cases simply seem to grow faster.

HPCwire: Can you tell us a little about Airbus’ FuSim program — what it’s about and what are the expectations?

Dekkers: FuSim is for Future Simulation concept. It is a strategic research & technology program launched in 2006 to drastically change the aerodynamic development process.

FuSim objectives are to develop innovative computer-based simulation systems to increase the capability of fluid mechanics design processes by up to a million times, leading to significantly reduced product development lead times, as well as enhanced product optimization through investigation of breakthrough technologies such as flow control. Needless to say, this requires endless computing capacity.

Progress achieved during first phase of Fusim from 2006 to 2011 demonstrated an overall 10^3 improvement in computational fluid dynamics efficiency versus its 2005 basis.

The next big step is Megasim, planned for 2015, which targets another 10^3 improvement in CFD efficiency versus today’s basis, that is, a 10^6 improvement in comparison to 2005.

HPCwire: How important are government and academic partnerships to Airbus and EADS?

Dekkers: Especially in the area of flight physics we have long-lasting partnerships with academic institutes and programs. In this area, I specifically would like to mention C2A2S2E in Germany, Mosart in France, CFMS in UK and DOVRES in Spain.

Our typical work with academia focuses on research methods — how to improve aerodynamics analysis and methods implementation and how to best apply them.

In addition to these initiatives we are looking at an EU funded project, called PRACE, which is federating HPC research infrastructure in Europe, in order to see how the aerospace industry can benefit from European petaflops computing capacity, and eventually access exaflops for the most challenging unsteady aerodynamics and multiphysics simulations.

HPCwire: Which new or upcoming HPC technologies and developments do you think will be most significant for the aerospace industry?

Dekkers: In the area of HPC environments, we will have to deal with the strong growth in I/O management and storage. Between 2008 and 2013, I/O volumes are growing from 5 GB/calculation to 5,000 GB/calculation, which all need to be transferred, stored and displayed. Also the visualization of such data volumes represents a true challenge, not only due to its sheer size but also by having to compress the meaningful data onto available display sizes.

Also handling the physical characteristics of such HPC environments are more and more challenging. Our 200 teraflops container solutions consume several hundred kilowatts in just a couple of cubic meters of space, and need to be cooled in an environmental-friendly way. Here we will certainly need even newer technologies then we have today.

Last but not least, I believe that the efficiency of high performance computing will depend at least as much on the exponential efficiency of the algorithms used, which I would expect to contribute in the same order-of-magnitude as the performance of HPC from hardware innovations. Code must clearly be further parallelized to take benefit from the new architectures — we today still have a lot of “old fashion” code on our systems — and needs to be continuously adapted to take maximum benefit of the newest processor technologies.

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!

Nvidia Debuts Turing Architecture, Focusing on Real-Time Ray Tracing

August 16, 2018

From the SIGGRAPH professional graphics conference in Vancouver this week, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang unveiled Turing, the company's next-gen GPU platform that introduces new RT Cores to accelerate ray tracing and new Tenso Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Coding: The Power of L(o)osing Control

August 16, 2018

Exascale roadmaps, exascale projects and exascale lobbyists ask, on-again-off-again, for a fundamental rewrite of major code building blocks. Otherwise, so they claim, codes will not scale up. Naturally, some exascale pr Read more…

By Tobias Weinzierl

STAQ(ing) the Quantum Computing Deck

August 16, 2018

Quantum computers – at least for now – remain noisy. That’s another way of saying unreliable and in diverse ways that often depend on the specific quantum technology used. One idea is to mitigate noisiness and perh Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Introducing the First Integrated System Management Software for HPC Clusters from HPE

How do you manage your complex, growing cluster environments? Answer that big challenge with the new HPC cluster management solution: HPE Performance Cluster Manager. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Super Problem Solving

You might think that tackling the world’s toughest problems is a job only for superheroes, but at special places such as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, supercomputers are the real heroes. Read more…

NREL ‘Eagle’ Supercomputer to Advance Energy Tech R&D

August 14, 2018

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has contracted with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) for a new 8-petaflops (peak) supercomputer that will be used to advance early-stage R&a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

STAQ(ing) the Quantum Computing Deck

August 16, 2018

Quantum computers – at least for now – remain noisy. That’s another way of saying unreliable and in diverse ways that often depend on the specific quantum Read more…

By John Russell

NREL ‘Eagle’ Supercomputer to Advance Energy Tech R&D

August 14, 2018

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has contracted with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) for a new 8-petaflops (peak Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CERN Project Sees Orders-of-Magnitude Speedup with AI Approach

August 14, 2018

An award-winning effort at CERN has demonstrated potential to significantly change how the physics based modeling and simulation communities view machine learni Read more…

By Rob Farber

Intel Announces Cooper Lake, Advances AI Strategy

August 9, 2018

Intel's chief datacenter exec Navin Shenoy kicked off the company's Data-Centric Innovation Summit Wednesday, the day-long program devoted to Intel's datacenter Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SLATE Update: Making Math Libraries Exascale-ready

August 9, 2018

Practically-speaking, achieving exascale computing requires enabling HPC software to effectively use accelerators – mostly GPUs at present – and that remain Read more…

By John Russell

Summertime in Washington: Some Unexpected Advanced Computing News

August 8, 2018

Summertime in Washington DC is known for its heat and humidity. That is why most people get away to either the mountains or the seashore and things slow down. H Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

NSF Invests $15 Million in Quantum STAQ

August 7, 2018

Quantum computing development is in full ascent as global backers aim to transcend the limitations of classical computing by leveraging the magical-seeming prop Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

By the Numbers: Cray Would Like Exascale to Be the Icing on the Cake

August 1, 2018

On its earnings call held for investors yesterday, Cray gave an accounting for its latest quarterly financials, offered future guidance and provided an update o Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

SC17 Booth Video Tours Playlist

Altair @ SC17


AMD @ SC17


ASRock Rack @ SC17

ASRock Rack



DDN Storage @ SC17

DDN Storage

Huawei @ SC17


IBM @ SC17


IBM Power Systems @ SC17

IBM Power Systems

Intel @ SC17


Lenovo @ SC17


Mellanox Technologies @ SC17

Mellanox Technologies

Microsoft @ SC17


Penguin Computing @ SC17

Penguin Computing

Pure Storage @ SC17

Pure Storage

Supericro @ SC17


Tyan @ SC17


Univa @ SC17


  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This