New Blue Collar Bill Seeks Federal Funds So Small Businesses Can Compute

Columbus, OH -- August 12, 2006 -- Now even the most down home mom and pop businesses may have access to supercomputers without worrying about the cost.

A bill proposed by Senators Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and Herb Kohl, D-Wis., seeks legislation to spend $25 million a year for five years to fund up to five supercomputer centers across the country. The idea is modeled after the Ohio Supercomputer Center’s (OSC) Blue Collar Computing initiative that extends cutting-edge technology use to smaller businesses and manufacturers at a no- or low-cost rate.

“Small businesses and manufacturers are critical to growing our economy and we need to do all we can to support them,” said DeWine. “This bill would help small businesses become even more productive and competitive by allowing them to harness the cutting-edge supercomputing technology that our larger corporations are already using. With this technology, small businesses in Ohio and across America will be able to compete even better in the expanding global marketplace.”

Bill S. 3527, the Blue Collar Computing and Business Assistance Act of 2006, is a competitive initiative that would use the power of the information technology economy to regain an innovative edge in the manufacturing economy. With the new bill, staff from the proposed centers would help small businesses find areas where supercomputing would help them stay competitive and then link the businesses with existing supercomputing labs to execute those plans. The centers would also develop software specifically designed to meet the needs of small businesses.

“I hope the new legislation will let our center and others hire more outreach staff to help smaller businesses in their quest for product design and analysis,” said OSC Executive Director Stan Ahalt. “Small- and medium-sized companies have not benefited from federal investment the way larger companies have. Our objective is to promote use of the most advanced tools to assist these companies so that they are competitive.”

In the meantime, Ahalt said his center’s Blue Collar Computing initiative has already begun helping two small Ohio companies analyze the formation of plastic containers. With support from the Ohio Board of Regents, OSC launched the program to provide industrial users that lack high performance computing (HPC) resources, training, and expertise with HPC tools to enhance their competitiveness.

Manufacturing groups such as the Edison Welding Institute in Columbus and the Ohio Aerospace Institute in Cleveland have also taken advantage of OSC’s Blue Collar Computing initiative.

And, of course, there are the more traditional large corporations like Procter & Gamble (P&G). Supercomputing has helped P&G design product prototypes like diapers. Molecular modeling has also helped the company figure out how to get a laundry product’s fragrance to survive washing and drying cycles and yet eventually wane. Analyzing Pringles also helped P&G unravel why the potato chips were flying off manufacturing machines.

“We spend 1.8 billion on research and development (R&D) but we can afford it; it’s purely scale,” said Thomas Lange, director of P&G modeling and simulation.” “But it’s important for our suppliers to innovate, too.”

Goodyear has reduced the amount of money its R&D department spends on physical tire prototypes by 25 percent. The company, based in Akron, attributes its savings to supercomputing simulations.

“From our standpoint, the results have been dramatic,” said Loren Miller, Goodyear director of IT research, development and engineering, in a previous statement to Computerworld. “Other companies in the U.S. need to realize that they can gain a competitive advantage from high performance computing systems.”

The Council on Competitiveness co-hosted a day-long workshop with OSC on “Accelerating Innovation For Competitive Advantage: The Need For HPC Application Software Solutions.” Participants examined the effectiveness of current HPC application software business models and outlined a roadmap of actions independent software vendors, universities and government research establishments can do to address these barriers for greater productivity for industrial supercomputing.

Ahalt adds that with the availability of supercomputers, the U.S. could better capitalize on its manufacturing knowledge by leading with design innovations.

“I envision widespread use of high performance computing by companies wanting to become more competitive in the global economy and run complex of products during the design and testing process,” he said. “The benefits reaped from Blue Collar Computing will enable these companies to increase return on investment, deliver products to the marketplace faster, or produce more sophisticated products with a higher profit margin.”

But who will teach these smaller businesses, usually more familiar with personal computers, to use the supercomputers? Since supercomputer usage and software are more complicated than the applications found on PCs, many small- and mid-sized businesses may face a steep learning curve. Training and several other barriers to widespread HPC usage include a lack of readily available and easy-to-use software and a lack of clarity on HPC’s return on investment.

According to Ahalt, HPC’s advantages to science and engineering have not transferred to many of the industries that would benefit dramatically from an infusion of computation. Rarely discussed is how engineering design or manufacturing might use HPC to produce radically improved products. These are areas in which using HPC as a competitive tool can help create new markets, new opportunities and new jobs. A fundamental shift in the HPC market via Blue Collar Computing needs to take place to revitalize the nation’s leadership in computational science, engineering and product design.

“We’ve seen small and mid-sized manufacturers, which provide good-paying, family–supporting jobs for skilled workers, dwindle in number and decline in productivity because they don’t have access to the same high-tech equipment that giant companies rely on,” said Kohl.  “It makes sense to establish these regional high-tech centers where expertise can be shared and experience can be tapped – one-stop shopping for small businesses and manufacturers who want to make sure their enterprises thrive in an evolving marketplace.”

OSC’s Blue Collar Computing program is specifically designed to provide businesses that lack HPC expertise with the tools they need to test the technology. OSC has also already implemented needed technology structure and programs to complement Blue Collar Computing. Its Third Frontier Network is the premier 1,600-mile high-speed research network linking Ohio’s colleges and universities., K-12 schools, public television stations and economic development centers. OSC has also helped establish the Ralph Regula School of Computational Science, the nation’s first statewide school of computational science, focusing on direct outreach and training for Ohio’s industries and businesses.

For more information about OSC’s Blue Collar Computing program, visit www.bluecollarcomputing.org or contact Kathryn Kelley, OSC Director of Outreach, at 614/292-6067 or kkelley@osc.edu.

About OSC
OSC is a technology initiative of the Ohio Board of Regents. OSC serves Ohio by connecting high performance computing, the nation’s foremost state-of-the-art research network, and a deep pool of expertise dedicated to advancing research in the public and private sectors. OSC plays a key role in fueling Ohio’s emerging high tech economy by enabling front-line research, cutting-edge information technology, and new industrial growth. For more information about OSC, visit www.osc.edu.