Of Micelles and Machines: HPC Simulations Transform Everyday Household Products

By Jan Zverina

July 22, 2014

Have you ever dropped your brand new razor or a full bottle of hand soap on a tiled bathroom floor and wondered why it didn’t simply shatter into a dozen pieces or split apart and create a gooey mess? Maybe next time that happens, you’ll thank computer modeling and simulations, not just your lucky stars.

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 8.52.58 AM“What most people don’t know, is behind each one of those everyday mishaps, as well as the routine use of all those household products that help get us through each day, is an amazing amount of science, engineering, and high-performance computing,” said Tom Lange, Director of R&D, Modeling & Simulation for the Procter & Gamble Company (P&G), who addressed attendees at XSEDE14, this year’s conference of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) program in Atlanta this month.

Lange’s responsibilities at P&G – founded 177 years ago and now doing almost $85 billion annually in global sales – spans consumer modeling; computational chemistry and biology; computer-aided engineering in structures, fluids, chemicals and controls; and production system throughput and reliability. From studying the micelles, or an aggregate of molecules in a solution such as detergents, to modeling the stratum corneum to better understand the physical properties of skin, Lange has spent his 36-year career modeling and simulating product formulations as well as their packaging. He and his colleagues have even optimized how these products are mass-produced – often to the tune of one billion items in just a matter of days – enabling P&G to achieve volumes that dwarf those of automobiles or even now-ubiquitous electronic devices such as laptops and mobile phones.

Lange has studied aspects of these household products that most of us simply take for granted: exactly how household cleaners must remove stains while protecting the fabric as well as one’s skin, how the varied sizes of infants directly correlate to fit from a diaper – and its urine leakage risk. He and his team at P&G have been using various XSEDE resources and expertise, such as those at the Ohio Supercomputer Center and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), in addition to other resources including the Department of Energy’s national labs at Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Sandia to help solve a wide range of challenges, primarily by jointly developing detailed simulations that predict performance, durability, and other metrics long before these consumer products hit the store shelves.

“High-performance computing is the theme that made all of this possible,” Lange told XSEDE14 attendees, noting that while advances during the last decade alone have enabled much more accurate simulations demanded by what he calls “the relentless pursuit of realism.” As a society, he noted, we have been on this learning curve for at least the last 60 years or more.

“I like to say that computing and modeling and simulation have changed science and engineering the way aviation changed travel,” Lange said, noting that at some point predictive modeling became an integral part of engineering and analysis replacing the crash-testing expensive prototypes – be it an aircraft or a new line of aerosol cans –demonstrations that bore no resemblance to the final production versions in the first place.

“I’m in the business of shaping decisions,” Lange said. “I make money with modeling and simulations, by either doing something, or not doing something that we would have done by experiment. I would much rather do stuff that tells you those things before they happen, not after.” 

Contradictions and Scale

From an engineering perspective, many consumers may still think that everyday consumable goods such as detergents or diapers are ‘low tech’, when in fact the challenges faced by scientists and engineers working on P&G’s extensive product portfolio are in principle similar to those in rocket science. “High tech is not just for rockets, airplanes, cars, drugs, or smart phones” said Lange.

Computer-generated images from kinematic simulations measuring joint and muscle activity in the design of a laundry detergent bottle. Image courtesy of Tom Lange, P&G.
Computer-generated images from kinematic simulations measuring joint and muscle activity in the design of a laundry detergent bottle. Image courtesy of Tom Lange, P&G.

In describing P&G’s product development challenges as ‘contradictions and scale’, Lange explained that often, even the most common household product must have characteristics that are scientifically opposed to each other to work as flawlessly and effectively as possible. That’s where HPC resources and expertise come in, by making it possible to model many thousands of iterations of a single product characteristic with less time and less cost, but with consistent results – and no unpleasant surprises for consumers.

“Paper towels must be absorbent, but be very strong when wet,” he said. “Diapers need to be absorbent, but not leak and fit and comfort babies like cloth. Laundry treatments need to remove stains but protect fabrics, yet be concentrated and still be easy to use. Containers should never leak, but open easily. When dropped, they shouldn’t break, but they should use a bare minimum of plastic that also recycles well. Most importantly, all these products must represent a good value for improving daily life, not just affordable for use once in a while.”

As for scale, using computational science to improve products is also done to meet the demands of high-volume production. Taken together, contradiction and scale require a systematic process: first, a business challenge must be translated into a science challenge and expressed in science equations. Then all relevant data must be collected, such as material properties, production capabilities, even consumer ratings. Then simulations must be conducted and then effectively communicated at a non-expert level before final decisions are made and actual output begins.

Such computational modeling is used across the entire product spectrum and involves computer-aided engineering (CAE) skills in just about every area. For example, kinetic simulations are done to measure muscle activity and joint angles of the arm and hand when a person lifts a full jug of laundry detergent and twists off the measuring cap time after time. Others focus on how to produce billions of diapers each year that are absorbent, comfortable, and leak-proof. Many of these simulations require cross-disciplinary CAE skills.

“Here’s one – free surface flow on and through a compressible, partially saturated porous media with non-Newtonian behavior. That’s a kid going potty in his diaper,” said Lange.

Looking Ahead

A key challenge for companies such as P&G will be to ensure that computational analysis is eventually democratized, Lange told XSEDE participants. “High-performance computing and modeling and simulation skills need to be a base for all scientists and engineers. We need to be replacing the hand calculations of our education – most of them but not all of them – with computation and calculation.”

Another challenge will be for companies to develop an archive of its many thousands of simulations, and to be able to have the capability to reproduce an analysis done maybe five years ago by another researcher, said Lange. “We need a ‘library science’ to emerge for how we record and manage our simulations.”

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!

Machine Learning at HPC User Forum: Drilling into Specific Use Cases

September 22, 2017

The 66th HPC User Forum held September 5-7, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the elegant and historic Pfister Hotel, highlighting the 1893 Victorian décor and art of “The Grand Hotel Of The West,” contrasted nicely with Read more…

By Arno Kolster

Google Cloud Makes Good on Promise to Add Nvidia P100 GPUs

September 21, 2017

Google has taken down the notice on its cloud platform website that says Nvidia Tesla P100s are “coming soon.” That's because the search giant has announced the beta launch of the high-end P100 Nvidia Tesla GPUs on t Read more…

By George Leopold

Cray Wins $48M Supercomputer Contract from KISTI

September 21, 2017

It was a good day for Cray which won a $48 million contract from the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information (KISTI) for a 128-rack CS500 cluster supercomputer. The new system, equipped with Intel Xeon Scal Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Prepares Customers for Success with the HPC Software Portfolio

High performance computing (HPC) software is key to harnessing the full power of HPC environments. Development and management tools enable IT departments to streamline installation and maintenance of their systems as well as create, optimize, and run their HPC applications. Read more…

Adolfy Hoisie to Lead Brookhaven’s Computing for National Security Effort

September 21, 2017

Brookhaven National Laboratory announced today that Adolfy Hoisie will chair its newly formed Computing for National Security department, which is part of Brookhaven’s new Computational Science Initiative (CSI). Read more…

By John Russell

Machine Learning at HPC User Forum: Drilling into Specific Use Cases

September 22, 2017

The 66th HPC User Forum held September 5-7, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the elegant and historic Pfister Hotel, highlighting the 1893 Victorian décor and art o Read more…

By Arno Kolster

Stanford University and UberCloud Achieve Breakthrough in Living Heart Simulations

September 21, 2017

Cardiac arrhythmia can be an undesirable and potentially lethal side effect of drugs. During this condition, the electrical activity of the heart turns chaotic, Read more…

By Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud, and Francisco Sahli, Stanford University

PNNL’s Center for Advanced Tech Evaluation Seeks Wider HPC Community Ties

September 21, 2017

Two years ago the Department of Energy established the Center for Advanced Technology Evaluation (CENATE) at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). CENAT Read more…

By John Russell

Exascale Computing Project Names Doug Kothe as Director

September 20, 2017

The Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project (ECP) has named Doug Kothe as its new director effective October 1. He replaces Paul Messina, who is stepping down after two years to return to Argonne National Laboratory. Kothe is a 32-year veteran of DOE’s National Laboratory System. Read more…

Takeaways from the Milwaukee HPC User Forum

September 19, 2017

Milwaukee’s elegant Pfister Hotel hosted approximately 100 attendees for the 66th HPC User Forum (September 5-7, 2017). In the original home city of Pabst Blu Read more…

By Merle Giles

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 Conference in Barcelona. In conjunction with her presentation, Yelick agreed to a short Q&A discussion with HPCwire. 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

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

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

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

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

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

Leading Solution Providers

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 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

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

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

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

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