IBM Supercomputer Revs Up Car Design

The new system will let General Motors reduce the cost and time it takes to bring a new auto to market.

General Motors Corp. is upgrading the technology at the heart of its auto-development process, installing a new IBM supercomputer the carmaker says is the fastest in the auto industry. The system will primarily be used to simulate crash tests and perform other safety-related product-development tasks.

The new system is part of GM's ongoing effort to reduce the cost and time it takes to design a new car and bring it to market. In recent years, GM has used leading-edge design and simulation systems to cut in half the 48 months it previously took to develop a new car, from initial concept to manufacturing. GM is now developing some cars in as little as 15 months.

Such a system "takes months out of our development process," says Robert Kruse, GM's vehicle integration executive director. "It lets us get the right product to the right market or niche much faster."

GM is installing an IBM pSeries 655 supercomputer that will operate at 9 teraflops (performing 9 trillion calculations per second). The system will be made up of eight-node servers using 1.7-GHz Power4 processors. Those will be upgraded to new Power5 processors later this year.

About 80% of the system's use will be devoted to performing simulated crash tests and other safety-related tests, says Terry Kline, GM's global product-development information officer. GM has already successfully used such simulations to reduce by 85% the number of crash tests it does using car prototypes, Kruse says.

The supercomputer is being installed at a GM facility and will be serviced by IBM. It will be about twice as fast as the older IBM supercomputer it's replacing, according to GM. The cost of the system was not disclosed.

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