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New ways to see

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Sam Mahalingam, chief technical officer, HPC/Cloud Solutions, at Altair, looks forward to a culture in which innovation flourishes as a result of human ingenuity and the creative application of technology

We all know that for children to learn, it is important to create an appropriate environment. The child’s personal circumstances also play a huge role. Rote learning, while helpful for apprehending some concepts, will never result in critical thinking skills. Unstructured time, or play, is considered to be the foundation of creativity. Playing with others adds another dimension to the creative experience – picking up where someone left off, imitation, experiment, refinement, and iteration.

Similarly, a spirit of inquiry and collaboration rests at the basis of what scientists and engineers do every day – a profound sense of needing to know something. What if I do this? What happens if I combine this with that? Could this technique or material produce a better result than what we have seen before? How do we tackle this? Human ingenuity, advances in knowledge, and the creative application of technology all play a role in discovery.

Historically, there has been a movement toward specialisation. Increasing distances have separated the practitioner (engineer) from the theoretician (scientist). Convergence, however, is natural and often happens – for example, scientists commercialising their theories and engineers developing cutting-edge research. We consider both approaches to be authentic.
Meanwhile, 3D printing and advanced materials such as composites, high-strength steels and aluminium are giving designers more freedom to innovate. There are new ways to interpret concepts and transform them into manufacturable designs. Composite and other alternative materials can drive performance and efficiency. HPC, leveraged in various ways, is delivering infinite computing resources to solve enormous design and optimisation challenges and perform stochastic analysis.

The quest for innovation is driving the use of simulation to lead the design process. Aesthetics, ergonomics, and performance will all benefit from an integrated simulation approach. Optimisation of all types of complex simulation is becoming essential: linear and non-linear, structures, fluids, thermal, multi-body, systems, electromagnetics, and more.
Complexity is driving the need for accessible and intuitive user experiences. Physics-based simulation and HPC are the enablers for infinite exploration. Scientists and engineers need better modelling and simulation methods as well as failure models; they need to be able to assess trade-offs and make design decisions that improve outcomes; they need new ways to see.

Increasing complexity

As technology increases in complexity, it becomes harder for the average person to understand. The pool of people who truly grasp what is happening gets smaller and smaller. A commuter checking the weather on a mobile is unlikely to be aware of how it works. Enabling this information to be provided accurately in real-time involves sophisticated algorithms, modelling techniques, and computing power. Making information intuitive and easy to access has changed the nature of the user experience, making it available to many rather than a few, and creating customisable environments.

Scaling to keep up with the exponential increase in computing power has been and will continue to be important. HPC is pushing the boundaries of technology. The number of users will continue to grow, as will their diversity. Machine size will continue to double. Consumer-based design and manufacturing will transform how computing power is tapped and experienced. The relationship between human and computer has, in the past 20 years, gone from batch, to interactive, to mobile. Easy, on-demand access to HPC and domain-specific resources is already happening using the cloud.

Multiple product data management and computer-aided design systems are a fact of life for engineers, making simulation lifecycle management increasingly relevant. We continue to see high-fidelity models, long compute cycles, and big data. Web-based remote visualisation and application integration are instrumental for pre- and post-processing. License mobility, short-term usage business models, minimal movement of data, ease of use, ease of access, and traceability are paramount.

Technology democratisation

Smaller entities in both the public and private sector have begun to adopt HPC. Clusters have become less expensive. With the advent of appliance computing and ‘cluster-ready’ designations, implementation has become simpler. Adoption of computer-aided engineering methods is also more widespread, particularly on the front end of the design process. This means that a greater number of innovators have access to the tools they need.
3D printing has become accessible to most commercial entities. Topology optimisation and 3D printing are moving from high-end applications to more general usage. Both technologies are disruptive: topology optimisation to established design processes, and 3D printing to the manufacturing process.

More access to computing power is enabling more of us to take steps to improve our analysis capabilities. However, there is still a technology race among those competing to get the supercomputing resources required to conduct top tier research. An entity may not be able to rationalise the purchase of elite supercomputing resources when the computation is only done once a month. A cloud infrastructure will ease this burden.

The pace of innovation

Physics-based simulation is powered by HPC. The fidelity of these models is getting better and better. An expansion to sound and touch is likely in our lifetimes. The explosion of data will continue, but energy-efficiency at exascale levels is desirable and possible. We see a single pane of glass, through which a user may access infinite computing power, software parallelisation, increased design exploration, complex, high-fidelity models, and simulation data.

The body of knowledge is expanding exponentially for humankind. Leveraging this knowledge in conjunction with advanced computing power has tremendous potential for improving the world as we know it. Applied physics and mathematics enable us to manage complexity and see things differently. Human-computer interaction and user experience will play a pivotal role in how we access and manipulate technology.

Scientists and engineers apply their passion, talent and experience to innovate. To do so, they must have the tools they need, without being restricted by limits to computing power, undue complexity, or access to resources. The ability to employ technology in the pursuit of knowledge is a critical success factor. The freedom to think, to experiment, to try something new, to fail without repercussion in the pursuit of something better: these characteristics are the hallmarks of a culture in which innovation flourishes, one which will enable us to see clearly in order to create a better world.