Unilever, Syngenta and Infineum, are using high performance computing (HPC) to drive a radical reduction in speed-to-market for their new product designs by up to 80%.

These three businesses have selected the world leading expertise and HPC facilities at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC’s) Hartree Centre as part of a joint initiative to develop a range of new software tools that can shave months or years off product development, and therefore cost, for UK companies. A week’s worth of experimentation on a new product formulation can now be done in just 40 minutes through advanced computer modelling, simulation and 3D visualisation. All that is needed is a simple ‘app’ that is linked to one of the most powerful supercomputers in the UK.

Massimo Noro, Relationship Manager at Unilever, who initiated the project, said: “We have identified STFC’s Hartree Centre as a key enabler that will allow us to access the power of the supercomputer to accelerate our discovery processes. Against a tough, highly competitive market environment, speed-to-market is critical for UK companies, especially a company like ours that creates new products every year.”

Environmentally friendly cleaning products; cleaner, more efficient lubricating oils and fuels; more sustainable crop protection products; and breakthrough personal care products; these are just some of the widely varying consumer and industrial goods that will benefit from this three year initiative. It is being funded as part of a £1million grant from the Technology Strategy Board to support the development of new ways of designing, improving and manufacturing complex high-value formulated products.

One of the key aims of the project is to ensure that the manufacturers themselves, rather than specialist computational scientists, will be able to routinely run predictive simulation tests through the ‘app’, developed by the Hartree centre in association with IBM. The app connects to the Hartree Centre’s Blue Joule supercomputer, capable of more than 15 trillion calculations per second. It can accurately predict the behaviour and structure of different concentrations of liquid compounds and how they will interact with each other, both in the packaging, throughout shelf-life and in use, helping researchers plan fewer and more focussed experiments. The results will all be immediately beneficial and shared amongst all three companies. Each of the companies is very different but all have in common the need to understand the behaviours and structures of the ingredients they use, and the interactions between them, as quickly and efficiently as possible, speeding up their route-to-market for new products.

Cliff Brereton, Director of STFC’s Hartree Centre, said: “STFC is well known for its computational science expertise in modelling and simulation and one of our aims is to bridge the gap between science and industry to the benefit of UK companies competing on an international scale. We hope that the results of this initiative will pave the way for further advances in materials chemistry which will benefit consumers, the environment and the wider economy, through significantly faster design processes and cost reduction.”

Located at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire, which sits within the successful Sci-Tech Daresbury science and innovation campus, the Hartree Centre was officially opened by the Chancellor George Osborne last year and is the UK’s largest supercomputing facility dedicated to industrial applications.