SICOS brings HPC to SMEs, both in simulation support and training

17 Oct 2018 Stuttgart - At the HPC User Forum at the Supercomputing Centre (HLRS) in Stuttgart, Germany,Primeur Magazinemet with Andreas Wierse from the SICOS company, a transfer technology business with two universities, Stuttgart and Karlsruhe as shareholders. SICOS supports small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), especially in the uptake of technologies like smart data and high-performance computing.

Usually, the small companies have a kind of disadvantage compared to larger enterprises that can explore these technologies better on their own. SICOS' task is to go out and find those companies, find out what the problems are that they have which could be solved by high-performance computing (HPC), and then provide them with the necessary knowledge. To do so, the company works with the so called solution centres by going out to work with associations like the Chambers of Commerce or the VDMA (German Engineering Federation) Machinery Association. SICOS is also participating in European projects, for example in the Fortissimo project, where the company teams up with other HPC centres and technology transfer partners all over Europe to work on improving its ways to reach the SMEs and to support them. Together, the partners have built the Fortissimo marketplace which will act as a one-stop shop. In this way, it is very easy for the companies if they decide to do something around HPC to find everything they need there like access to hardware, to the resources from the computing centres, to the software but also to expertise, application knowledge and also HPC knowledge.

Andreas Wierse presented two examples at the HPC User Forum. One is a midsize company, called Optima Pharma. They produce machinery for cleanroom packaging of pharmaceutical products. The cleanroom is very sensitive so they have to make sure that the airflow inside this cleanroom works in a way so that there is almost no dust or whatever where the critical packaging happens. They used to do that by hands-on, build up everything and then test and rebuild it. SICOS worked with them to do this virtually using OpenFOAM as a simulation tool so that, in parallel to the development and the construction of the machine, they can already prepare the set-up of how the system will be installed at the customer site. In the meantime, the quality is really good so that in many cases a long set-up and test time could be reduced to a few days and sometimes even less.

The other company is called Bollinger & Ohr. It is a laser welding company. It is much smaller. They have three employees and they do service in laser welding. In order to improve the process, SICOS introduced to them simulation that allows them to check the temperature distribution in the parts they weld together in advance so that they know how hot it can be. There was a special case where they had a heating element which was glued to the parts that were welded together. If the temperature was too high, the heat element got damaged. Now, they can simulate it. Before this, they just had to test it. They welded several of those with different parameters, cut them in pieces and looked at what happened. Now, everything happens virtually which is faster and in the end even cheaper.

This proves that SICOS is able to get people and companies on board using HPC but SICOS is now also looking one step further because when companies start to actually use it for themselves, in many cases they quickly come to the issue of training. They need some support tutorials for their employees to understand what they have to do. In this context SICOS got a project, funded by the European Social Fund (ESF), to support industry in general, not only smaller enterprises but also the larger ones, by setting up a modular training environment, a vocational training environment targeting industry to become HPC experts in whatever that means. There are different flavours of experts and different companies have often different needs. Therefore, SICOS is producing a modular environment with modules like parallel programming, simulation, and optimization. One of the courses SICOS is preparing is a basic course to get a general understanding of HPC-does-it-all.

In the next two years, until the end of 2020, SICOS, in the framework of this project, will develop all these courses. The company started already this year with its parallel programming course. In the end, SICOS hopes to have an offering that can become an official offering of the HLRS Stuttgart Supercomputing Centre towards industry to learn whatever they need to know for their business in a way that is compatible with the employment of the people. This is something like let's say 10 hours per week in addition to their daily job. They do this for three months and in the end they can get a certificate and become so to speak certified HPC experts. What is more important is that it is really helpful in their everyday business. In the end, the company pays the bill so they want to get something out of it. That is what SICOS is targeting at.

Primeur Magazine: If I understand correctly, you say that it is best to approach people locally?

Andreas Wierse:Yes. The Supercomputing-Akademie is actually the German name. What the company noticed is that the locality is really very helpful so it starts with meeting each other. People come from let's say an hour or two hours drive. More than that is already much more complicated. It is also a language issue. Especially in small and medium-sized companies, many people are still not so familiar with English. If you have, for instance, a Swabian machine developer talking to a Spanish computer science person, there are many things including distance and language culture, which make it just a little bit more difficult to talk. SICOS wants to keep these hurdles as low as possible. On the other hand, and that's where Fortissimo comes in, of course, the Spanish computer science expert can have probably exactly the right knowledge for the person in the Swabian outback but SICOS can then bring them together. There is a stable consortium with a local strong relationship but also with a distant relationship that is managed by the partners, by HLRS and SICOS.

Primeur Magazine: Thank you very much for this interview.

Ad Emmen