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Novelis Taps HPC and SigOpt Platform To Optimize Products for Strength and Safety

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As the world’s largest aluminum sheet flat-rolling and recycling company, Novelis has over 14,500 employees in nine countries. Its business focuses on producing environmentally responsible non-ferrous products for its customers spanning many sectors, including automotive, appliance, beverage and aerospace. For Novelis’s clients to remain competitive in today’s fast-moving marketplace, it’s critical to cut down the time needed for product research and development.

In the past, Novelis relied on in-house CAD design workstations – and trial-and-error approaches – to perform simulations to identify the best product designs for prototyping and testing. However, as designs grew in complexity, so did the length of time required to complete them. This reality rendered the legacy workstation-based approaches slow and impractical. For example, one Novelis client needed a more robust and lighter beverage can. Designing a can may seem like a simple task. In reality, beverage cans are one of the most highly engineered products manufactured today. Tiny changes in product geometry can result in profound performance improvements. Therefore, identifying the best possible design requires the consideration of 26 different parameters through 67 million finite element (FE) computations. If using typical FE Analyzer methods for the task, the design cycle could take 150 years!

Credit: Image courtesy of Novelis.

To accelerate the iterative process, Novelis turned to simulations using high-performance computing (HPC) cloud instances powered by Intel Xeon Platinum processors and SigOpt's Intelligent Experimentation Platform. As explained in a recently published case study, rather than prototyping and testing ten or more designs in a lab, the new approach can narrow that list to two or three. As Dr. Vishwanath Hegadekatte, global R&D manager for AD and advanced modeling at Novelis, put it, “With HPC’s help, we can perform much faster simulations and reduce the time required for physical prototyping. Plus, we can deliver better products to our clients much faster.”

Better, stronger, faster

Typical aluminum cans today weigh 14.5 grams with a 0.21 mm wall thickness. That’s a vast improvement over years past. However, reducing that heft by another gram would save approximately 23,000 metric tons of aluminum yearly. Using modern simulation tools, engineers found that shallower curves at the can’s top and bottom improve its strength-to-weight ratio to conserve resources. The result of applying HPC technology to the process makes the soda can one of the most highly engineered products you’ll ever hold in your hands.

Improving car safety

Another Novelis client, an automotive company, sought help to improve its vehicle safety with a new aluminum sheet geometry that folds gradually during a crash, without cracking, to reduce the impact on the vehicle’s occupants. Designing an “axial crush component” like this with traditional FE analysis could take years or even decades. Using the SigOpt solution, Novelis completed the task rapidly without the previously time-consuming trial-and-error method. The process also provided a superior result while reducing development costs.

Today’s projects speed up future design iterations

AI-based modeling and simulation also brought Novelis other advantages by generating “reusable” data. When Novelis engineers conduct new mathematical or physical simulations in the future, they can run fewer tests more quickly while still extracting valuable insights. “The main thing that surprised us was that the performance bump we saw with artificial intelligence was almost double that of our manual approaches,” said Hegadekatte. While AI-based modeling simulation has a proven track record of accurate outcomes, the Novelis team still performs a small number of physical experiments to verify expected product performance.

As the beverage can and automotive examples illustrate, modern design processes can deliver better, more cost-effective, and environmentally friendly results. As HPC and AI technologies progress, it’s exciting to imagine how many familiar objects around us could improve in unexpected ways. As Hegadekatte noted, “With the help of Intel and SigOpt software, we can explore new design approaches that are impossible for humans.”

About the author

Rob Johnson spent much of his professional career consulting for a Fortune 25 technology company. Currently, Rob owns Fine Tuning, LLC, a strategic marketing and communications consulting company based in Portland, Oregon. As a technology, audio, and gadget enthusiast his entire life, Rob also writes for TONEAudio Magazine, reviewing high-end home audio equipment.


This article was produced as part of Intel’s editorial program, with the goal of highlighting cutting-edge science, research and innovation driven by the HPC and AI communities through advanced technology. The publisher of the content has final editing rights and determines what articles are published.