Airbus innovates with high-performance computing.

The aircraft manufacturer flies with IT innovation, from HPC to RFID.

I’d give aircraft manufacturer Airbus high marks for IT innovation. Like Wal-Mart did for the retail industry, Airbus has been blazing RFID trails in the aviation industry. It’s also blazing high-performance computing (HPC) trails.

As for RFID, the manufacturer, headquartered in Toulouse, France, has stipulated that its suppliers tag parts that will be put onto aircrafts so they can be tracked from cradle to grave. For example, in 2007, Airbus kicked off a project at one of its assembly plants in Germany to test how well RFID could be used to track the metal frames used to transport aircraft sections between manufacturing and assembly facilities. The tests proved successful and an implementation was completed in 2008; Airbus continues to expand its use of RFID today.

Multiple tier-one global suppliers for the for Airbus A350 XWB are starting to use RFID technologies to create birth records and updating repair maintenance histories. As part of that effort, all of Airbus' new A350 XWB wide-body aircraft are being built with most flyable parts tagged with high-memory EPC Gen 2 RFID tags for maintenance-tracking purposes. Each A350 is expected to have 3,000 tagged parts, the company reports, 2,000 of which will be fitted with high-memory tags. The planes are expected to be put into service in 2013.

For what it’s worth, Airbus is no small operation and thus has the lift necessary to sway industries. It captures about half of all commercial airliner orders. It has about 52,500 employees, with fully-owned subsidiaries in the United States, China, Japan and in the Middle East, spare parts centers in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Washington, Beijing and Singapore, training centers in Toulouse, Miami, Hamburg and Beijing and more than 150 field service offices around the world. It has network of some 1,500 suppliers in 30 countries.

So what about Airbus’ HPC and data center initiatives? Well, this week, HP announced that the aircraft manufacturer is doubling its usable supercomputing power with containerized HP Performance Optimized Datacenters (PODs). This is the final phase of a four-year HPC deployment.

According to a press release from HP, Airbus has taken delivery of two HP PODs, which HP says make this the world's largest industrial HPC system and one of the first confirmed commercial HPC container contracts. This deployment is the 29th biggest computer in the world according to the official TOP500 Supercomputer list published on June 20, HP says.

The modular HP PODs were delivered to Airbus sites in Toulouse and Hamburg, Germany. Each POD contains all the elements of an HP Converged Infrastructure, including servers, storage, networking, software, management, and integrated power and cooling. A total of 2,016 clustered HP ProLiant BL280 G6 blade servers enable the two 12 meter-long containers to deliver the equivalent of nearly 1,000 square meters of data center space.

The HP PODs have enabled Airbus to quickly expand data center capacity, boosting computing performance for aircraft development while saving space and energy. Compared to an installation in a nearby customer data center, the water-cooled HP PODs consume up to 40 percent less power. With a near-optimum Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.25 from The Green Grid(TM) consortium,(1) Airbus decreased operating expenses while delivering power capacity in excess of 15 KW/m(2).

HP Enterprise Services provides data center services for Airbus, while HP Technology Services managed the transportation, deployment and commissioning at the customer site. For this project, HP managed the preparation of the new infrastructure, the technology decisions and the technical elements of the transition.

Airbus is clearly serious about HPC. I poked around on the Internet and came across a brief about a presentation Guus Dekkers, CIO of EADS and Airbus, will do at the International Supercomputing Conference to be held in Hamburg in June 2012. (EADS, by the way, stands for European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company N.V., a global pan-European aerospace and defense company comprised of Airbus, Eurocopter, Astrium, and Cassidian.)

In the brief describing Dekkers presentation, HPC is referred to as the enabler for the virtualization of aircraft development – a process that takes billions in investment and years’ in time. The design process must be flawless, and the sooner digital modeling can be used, the better. The brief notes that “numerical simulation is one of the most important means to realize this objective,” and to make that happen, the aircraft is modeled in an early phase representing both physical flight behavior as well as the behavior of the different aircrafts structures such as flaps) and systems. The design teams then apply different improvement plans and “what if” studies to this model, which allows for a quick analysis of the consequences of any modification or optimization suggested.

Substantial HPC power is needed for the necessary real-time simulations, incredible amounts of detail and continually condensed timeframes in which to get the job done. To get a sense of just how much calculating and data creation occurs, the definition of the overall aircraft model ultimately translates into between 500 million to 1 billion nonlinear equations which have to be resolved during each reiteration in a time-accurate manner.

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