Virtual Design: Simulated Crash Test Dummies

Virtual Design: Simulated Crash Test Dummies

High-performance computing systems improve modeling efficiency for automakers.

In the race to produce the safest, most fuel-efficient cars, automakers are turning toward high-performance computing (HPC) systems to conduct such simulations as crash tests, operating variables and parts performance, according to research developed by software giant Microsoft Corp.

Traditionally such tests have required engineers to share a single super-mainframe computer to complete jobs. But improvements made to HPC technology now allow for easier integration with existing applications, saving engineers days to process tasks.

Many HPC software programs have been designed to simulate everything from aerodynamics and airbag deployment to how brake cooling occurs on a certain disc or the combustion and thermal impacts on the inside of cylinder walls, according to a recent Microsoft report.

Suspension assembly model from Microsoft's Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003
"Automotive companies are finding the more creative they can be on the pre-work on HPC clusters, the more money they can save in real-world testing," notes Jeff Leigh, a senior technology specialist with Microsoft. "Before, companies would run tests on six transmissions to see which failed first. Now they can determine the best two and just run those in the real world."

HPC systems also could make mathematical modeling easier. "Hardware builds are now used to confirm the math rather than finding out what is wrong with the design -- a key distinction," explains Steve Rohde, General Motors Corp.'s former technical director for vehicle synthesis, analysis and simulation. "Now a supplier may provide part/subsystem math models that can be integrated directly into a virtual vehicle prior to virtual testing." Adds Rohde, who is now director of Quantum Signal LLC, a mathematics-based engineering solutions firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., "This is completely analogous to requiring hardware from suppliers at various stages in the vehicle-design process."

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