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Feature - Grid sails to the aid of shipbuilding

Feature - Grid sails to the aid of shipbuilding

New FSG ships anchored next to the factory building where they were constructed. Image courtesy of FSG

Shipyards in Europe cannot compete on price alone against overseas competitors, especially those based in the Far East.

Consequently, European shipbuilders must concentrate on high-quality construction projects that are specially tailored to their customer's requirements. Each ship is a unique product, produced only once or in a very small run.

To improve their competitive position, modern European shipyards must harness the most advanced simulation and design tools to produce complex structures cost effectively, in order to reduce the technical and economic risks at a time when orders for new ships are down worldwide.

The goal? The complete, virtual design of a ship. The solution: the grid.

At the Flensburger Schiffbau Gesellschaft (FSG) shipyard, managers wanted to find ways to design their ships so that they used less of costly materials such as steel - while reducing weight, noise and vibration, and simultaneously improving fire safety.

The shipyard decided to focus on one aspect - the ship's funnel - as a test case, and see if they could design it using modern composites in a "sandwich" of different materials. But while conventional computer programs could do these calculations, the computational power required for the simulation of heat transfer was not available at the shipyard or from its suppliers.

To solve this problem, the shipyard joined in a temporary consortium, or "business experiment," cordinated by BEinGRID that brought together the skills of the Fraunhofer-Institute for Algorithms and Scientific Computing (applied research and development in numerical simulation), the Center of Maritime Technologies (a non-profit organization), and the Simulation and Software Technology division of the German Aerospace Center (software engineering, with an emphasis on distributed systems and grid computing). The service provider was T-Systems Solutions for Research.

Modern shipbuilding is an extremely complex process, distributed over many industry sectors. Only one-third of the added value is realized by the shipyards themselves; the rest goes to suppliers of individual components. Image courtesy FSG

How to build a better boat

The consortium's solution connected the engineer's workplace with the computing resources of an independent application service provider offering hardware and software services via the Internet, resulting in a grid interface that was integrated into the ship design and simulation, or SESIS, environment. A graphical user interface enables the engineer to configure fire dynamics simulation jobs before submitting them to a remote server, using grid protocols based on Globus and UNICORE middleware. A service level agreement regulates the allocation of hardware and software resources to guarantee reliable service, and also determines the prices for these services. After job execution, the simulation results were transmitted back to the engineer's desktop for analysis and evaluation.

The bottom line? By high performance computing resources on demand, the shipyard was able to solve its engineering problem, while shortening the design phase and reducing the uncertainty of trying a new composite - and calculating expenses more accurately.

Or, as Thomas Gosch, head of the basic design department at FSG, put it: "On-demand computing enabled us to solve CPU-intensive calculations in a very short time without the need to invest in an expensive IT infrastructure and specialized software at the yard. It helps us significantly in improving individual ship designs."

-Dan Drollette, iSGTW, and BEinGrid

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