Swimsuit design needs supercomputing

These days, most competitive swimmers wear some type of body suit to reduce high skin-friction drag from water. And makers of swimwear are already busy working on new models for the Olympics 2008. One of them, Speedo, is even using a supercomputer from SGI to refine its designs.

These days, most competitive swimmers wear some type of body suit to reduce high skin-friction drag from water. And makers of swimwear are already busy working on new models for the Olympics 2008. According to Textile & Apparel, one of them, Speedo, is even using a supercomputer to refine its designs. Its engineers run Fluent Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) program on an SGI Altix system. But a question remains: will swimmers using this new collection win gold medals at the next Summer Olympics?

Here is the introduction from the Textile & Apparel article.

In preparing for [the Olympics 2008,] Speedo, the world's leading swimwear brand, is now nurturing the next generation of its well-known Fastskin performance swimwear. In order to meet the competitive need, the company has decided to use supercomputing system for the making of enhanced version of Fastskin.

So, Speedo's engineers at its Aqualab research and development facility are using a CFD software from Fluent running on SGI hardware.

The CFD modeling shows how the water flows around the body and the Fastskin material that resembles a shark's skin than human skin down to the tiny riblets (ridges) on the surface. In rerunning CFD models of previous Fastskin designs, the data will provide a background for designers to decide the best material and structure for the swimsuit, so that newer, also more hydrodynamic models that will further reduce high skin-friction drag can be created.

Of course, the company doesn't release the results it gets from this ongoing research. But, thanks to Fluent, we have access to previous images contained in two documents, "Speedo Goes for Gold with CFD" (Fluent NEWS Spring 2004) and "Speedo Brings Formula One Technology to the Pool" (Fluent Press Release, March 10, 2004).

For example, you can see below a "CFD simulation of water flow over a typical male elite swimmer showing pulsed water flow pathlines over the body colored by local static pressure" (Visualization by EnSight; Image courtesy of Speedo and Fluent Inc.).

CFD simulation of water flow pathlines over the body

And below are two images of a "CFD simulation of water flow over typical female (top) and male (bottom) elite swimmers in the glide position showing contours of shear stress (frictional drag) on the swimsuit region" (Image courtesy of Speedo and Fluent Inc.).

CFD simulation of water flow over elite swimmers

And if you want to see what a Fastskin bodysuit from Speedo looks like, here is a picture of two elite swimmers wearing them, Grant Hackett, from Australia, and Amanda Beard, from the U.S. (Credit: Speedo)

Hackett and Beard wearing Fastskin bodysuits

For some more details about the use of supercomputers by Speedo, you also can read this press release from SGI, "Speedo Dives into Supercomputing" (May 23, 2006)

"I chose the SGI Altix for one reason: speed," said Barry Bixler, a key member of the Aqualab Research and Development Team. "CFD is one of the most time-consuming, intensive number-crunching activities that you can use a computer for, and I can use all of the eight processors running in parallel on the Altix. When I was using a PC cluster, some jobs would take almost a week to run. I can now run similar jobs on the Altix overnight."

[Disclaimer: I've worked for SGI in the past but I have no current ties with the company, which by the way is in pretty poor financial shape since it applied for protection of Chapter 11 in the US. Last Friday, an SGI share was valued at US 1.9 cent and the whole capitalization market of SGI was $5.13 million. Pretty sad...]

Sources: Eppie Lee, Textile & Apparel, June 20, 2006; and various web sites

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