Low-cost Linux clusters drive supercomputing use in manufacturing

The days when only the largest manufacturers could afford supercomputers based on proprietary hardware are giving way to an era of lower-cost high performance computing (HPC) clusters built on x86 processors. Suffice to say, it isn't quite as simple as buying standard hardware and plugging it in. With clusters, a linked group of computers share processing horsepower.

10/01/2007


The days when only the largest manufacturers could afford supercomputers based on proprietary hardware are giving way to an era of lower-cost high performance computing (HPC) clusters built on x86 processors. Suffice to say, it isn't quite as simple as buying standard hardware and plugging it in.

With clusters, a linked group of computers share processing horsepower. In manufacturing, product development teams use HPC clusters to model the effects of design variations. But increasingly, these solutions run on standard platforms. According to Framingham, Mass.-based analyst firm IDC , 65 percent of HPC systems sold in the first half of 2006 ran on Linux, while during the last few years, x86 processors have come to dominate the market.

“It's really these microprocessors that are driving the whole market right now,” says Dave Morton, CTO with Linux Networx , a vendor of Linux-based supercomputer clusters that run on x86 chips. “They have such a high level of performance, and they are cheap. So by starting with these low-cost computing elements, we have the basis for powerful systems.”

The trick is arriving at a complete solution. According to Morton, Linux Networx competes with more generic “white box” cluster vendors by bundling in a complete software stack, including cluster management software.

Morton cites these other value-adds:

  • A proven implementation of standard interconnect protocols such as Infiniband and Myrinet.

  • Math and communication software “libraries” that accelerate cluster performance.

  • Expertise in optimizing clusters to run third-party applications, including computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and finite element analysis packages.

Digital Technology Laboratory (DTL), a provider of engineering services to its parent company, machine tools manufacturer Mori Seiki , is using a Linux-based HPC cluster from Linux Networx. DTL will use the supercomputer to accelerate the performance of engineering software, including the Fluent CFD package from Ansys .



The use of more proprietary hardware elements in supercomputing have given way to standard x86 architecture in recent years.

The 13-node system, which features dual-core Intel processors, is expected to significantly outperform the previous platform DTL used for CFD, according to Zach Piner, director of mechanical engineering with DTL. In initial testing of the 13-node supercomputer, its performance was up to 30 times faster than the previous PC platform, says Piner.

The increased performance comes from the HPC solution's ability to make use of clustering and parallel processing between nodes, though the new platform's 64-byte capabilities also is a factor with larger simulations, says Piner. For example, the supercomputer is well suited to simulating the effect of room-temperature changes on machine tool performance.

Besides engineering software, other supercomputing uses in manufacturing include financial risk analysis and simulations related to business process optimization, says Bjorn Andersson, director of HPC for Sun Microsystems . Sun's HPC clusters can be configured with x86 processors from Intel or AMD, and support Linux or Sun's Solaris operating systems.

Andersson also believes HPC is more accessible thanks to commodity components, and he too sees a need for bundling the necessary hardware, software, and support.

“Many companies tried putting together clustered HPC systems on their own at least once, but they don't want to try it again because of the hidden costs of figuring out how to put it all together and manage it.”





No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
The true cost of lubrication: Three keys to consider when evaluating oils; Plant Engineering Lubrication Guide; 11 ways to protect bearing assets; Is lubrication part of your KPIs?
Contract maintenance: 5 ways to keep things humming while keeping an eye on costs; Pneumatic systems; Energy monitoring; The sixth 'S' is safety
Transport your data: Supply chain information critical to operational excellence; High-voltage faults; Portable cooling; Safety automation isn't automatic
Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Plant Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.

Maintaining low data center PUE; Using eco mode in UPS systems; Commissioning electrical and power systems; Exploring dc power distribution alternatives
Synchronizing industrial Ethernet networks; Selecting protocol conversion gateways; Integrating HMIs with PLCs and PACs
Why manufacturers need to see energy in a different light: Current approaches to energy management yield quick savings, but leave plant managers searching for ways of improving on those early gains.

Annual Salary Survey

Participate in the 2013 Salary Survey

In a year when manufacturing continued to lead the economic rebound, it makes sense that plant manager bonuses rebounded. Plant Engineering’s annual Salary Survey shows both wages and bonuses rose in 2012 after a retreat the year before.

Average salary across all job titles for plant floor management rose 3.5% to $95,446, and bonus compensation jumped to $15,162, a 4.2% increase from the 2010 level and double the 2011 total, which showed a sharp drop in bonus.

2012 Salary Survey Analysis

2012 Salary Survey Results

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.