Engineering - 1956 GE Computer Symposium - Grosch
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Engineering - designing the product to meet the business requirements       DR. H. R. J. GROSCH

 

Computers for Engineering

by

H. R. J. GROSCH

Manager -Investigations

Aircraft, Gas Turbine Development Department

 

 

INTRODUCTION

Time is short today, and I want to get directly into the technical improvements in our product lines which can be made by utilizing the power of electronic computing devices. But I cannot resist the temptation to make a few generalizations about the inter-relation of problem and equipment. The structure of this program today, for instance, reflects a common but not universally accepted opinion that the problems of engineering, of accounting, of sales analysis, and of production control require a different approach, and eyen different computing equipment.

I should like to point to the possibility - indeed the probability -that data processing systems of the future will be so flexible, so fast, so capacious and so well utilized by professions programmers that they will take on the characteristics needed by various problem areas when required, and change over to different apparent characteristics when applied in another function.

This is a real handy idea, since it relieves we of the necessity of describing the type of machine best suited for engineering and technical calculations, makes it unnecessary for me to tackle the question of whether each function should have its own equipment because of specialized requirements, and introduces enough "blue sky" to enable me to wriggle off the hook during the question period.  For instance, I need no longer to distinguish between the power of digital and analog equipment for engineering applications in much detail, since it is already possible to point to digital simulation of analog equipment, and to analog devices which embody many digits components and principles. It would probably be fair to both sides of the analog-digital rivalry; to say that at the present state of the art, analog computation is noted for its convenience and digital for its power.

SHORT RANGE APPLICATIONS

When an engineering section first has access to electronic calculation equipment, it most frequently develops simple applications first. And these usually are done from the design area. For short, one might refer to such problems as involving formula evaluation. in that the design techniques are not new, have been expressed in simple mathematical equations already, and are familiar to the customer (pardon me for the use of the term "customer" - I have been operating in a service capacity, and charging for those services, so I think of the engineers and scientists whom we serve in those terms!). The power of the electronic computer, analog or digital, here resides in the economies of time and money it makes  possible. The work could be done just as well by slide rule, by graphical techniques, or by desk calculators. Indeed, it could probably be accomplished in many cases by construction of experimental models, thus avoiding all mathematization. But it can be done more cheaply and more rapidly by using electronic equipment. In military work, in new fields of advanced technology, and in areas where the competition is particularly keen, time considerations commonly outweigh money economies. In more conservative areas -the lamp business, transformers, and so on - time may be available, and the important consideration will be reduction of engineering costs.

An allied application, and one frequently used as an introduction, is that of test data reduction. All through our business are engineers who want to record and reduce the results of tests on physical equipment. Some are writing down ammeter readings on the back of envelopes with a blunt pencil, while at the other extreme completely automated data systems may be listening to guided missiles in flight, or to reactors nearing the critical phase, Computing equipment can make little contributions to the single-setup test - the Research Laboratory, for instance, makes little use of automatic data reduction techniques. But where simple tests are done ever and ever, many economies are definitely possible, and where tests are complicated and the data reduction problem is difficult, economies of time make it possible to increase the utilization of million dollar facilities. so that time economies lead, as they always must, to profit rewards. This has been the case in the jet engine business; raw test data is transmitted from engine cells in Lynn to our computing facilities in Evendale, and reduced there with very expensive equipment; we may be shooting sparrows with a coast defense gun, but it pays off tremendously by making the results of the previous day's test available immediately to those conducting the next one. .

All engineering sections facing the problem of major testing costs should immediately consider the advisability of recording their results in digital form suitable for insertion directly into a general purpose digital computer, or the construction or purchase of analog equipment designed to transform the readings directly into final form as part of the test setup, ready for engineering analysis.

Both the substitution of numbers into designed formulas and the reduction of test data present little conceptual difficulty. When we consider the problems of aerodynamics, of heat transfer. of neutron flux - in general, one might say "field"  problems - design techniques turn out to revolve around the solution ~f partial differential equations and systems of ordinary differential equations, usually non-linear and often time-dependent. Here - only the most powerful new electronic' systems are capable of making a contribution at all. Design techniques in these areas had to wait the invention and development of computer tools; the work was never done by hand, and I believe it is safe to say that the flight problems of supersonic aerodynamics and the shielding problems for a nuclear aircraft engine could not be solved if our computers were taken away.

 

LONG RANGE APPLICATIONS

The items I have just mentioned, although they differ considerably in difficulty, share one characteristic: they involve analysis but no synthesis. It is a Common situation to use a computer 'Of some sort for the analysis of a proposed design; it is much less frequent, and a much more challenging possibility, to also ask the machine to improve the design and arrive at a specified optimum. To put it bluntly, I might say that mechanizing design analysis is a way of getting around the engineering assistant shortage, while mechanizing design synthesis mitigates the shortage of engineers.

A requirement for this sort of thing - in fact the most important requirement - is a complete understanding - of the physical fundamentals underlying your product. I 'Was personally responsible, many years ago, for the first steps towards mechanizing the design of optical lenses; Pittsfield and Port Wayne engineers have gone far in automatic design techniques for transformers, and much has been done in the optimization of power distribution networks. These problems could be tackled earlier because 'We understand things like lenses and transformers very well; on the other hand, the problems of aerodynamics, combustion, and mechanical design posed by jet engines and rockets are much less clearly understood, and we are years from synthesis of such engines.

The message here, of course, is that those of you who are engineering technical products that are clearly understood should immediately consider the use of computers for automatic optimization of designs. There will be additional payoff to the ones already mentioned - lower costs, shorter time -in that you can be certain of a more perfectly optimized design. And this is important when your product competes on the basis of a few tenths of a per cent of efficiency, as does a steam turbine or a transformer.

A related application is that of systems design. Until the advent of large computers, it 'Was necessary to design the component of a system individually, and to then assemble the components by a separate design process. This will, of course, always be the case in many areas, for the good engineer can dream up a system so huge as to swamp the computing equipment available at any instant including human brain power!  But the big digital or analog machine does make it possible to consider much larger chunks of a system; for instance, we are already able to analyze the propulsion system, the structure, the guidance system, and the armament capabilities of a missile in the most powerful computers now available. Since computers are improving at a faster rate than 'the complexity of missiles is increasing, we shall shortly be able to analyze a complete missile - a complete weapons setup  - in one computer setup. Then the interaction of jet engine compressor design and the alternative arming devices for a nuclear warhead can be examined explicitly, instead of intuitively!

Let's get down to earth again for a moment. You aren't all concerned with ICBM! But every engineering manager in this audience, and every manufacturing manager is concerned, with the way engineering information sets turned into metal. So I want to mention in passing the great potential that we must explore in replacing the engineering blueprint and manual operation of tools in the shop. As certainly as day follows night, engineering design calculations will some day result, not in a draftsman's pretty picture, but in a reel of magnetic tape (or some more economical or Bore durable alternative) which will directly control a machine tool making the experimental part, the tools and dies for mass production, or the master for a printed circuit.

CONCLUSION

I have talked philosophy today because the interests of this audience are so diverse. Finance managers don't want to hear about the details of steam turbine stress calculations, just as the engineering managers don't particularly enjoy the fine details of mechanized inventory control. I am conversant, however, with many of the detailed engineering and scientific contributions made by use of electronic computers in the Company, and would be glad to answer questions now or later. I should also like to invite those of you who come through Evendale to inspect the new Computation Building and its equipment.

 

 

 

 
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