Throughout its 160-year history, Corning has been headquartered in New York, and its legacy of innovation—as one of the country’s first R&D laboratories, and continuously one of its top corporate patent holders—has been fundamentally aligned with America’s own history. One of its first products, in 1879, was a glass envelope, or light bulb, for Thomas Edison’s new incandescent lamp, initially made by hand and then mass-produced. Another mid-1800s product was a ruby-colored glass railroad lantern that could withstand heat and cold; a century later Corning made the heat-resistant windows for Mercury, the first manned space flight, and for every American space mission since. The process Corning developed in the 1940’s for mass-producing thin picture, ushering in a new cultural age; in the 1970’s the first low-loss optical fiber capable of use in telecommunications was invented at Corning, arguably the heart of another new cultural age.
In economic upswings or downturns, commitment to R & D is a central company tenet; Corning continues to invest close to 10 percent of its revenues into R&D annually. Its goal is novel and challenging: affordable, energy-generating technology that can harness the power of flowing water with mechanisms of few or no articulated moving parts.
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New technologies face several challenges along the path from possibility to reality; they must be imagined, designed and manufactured with all of their desired traits at a large and economical scale. In 2006, when Steve Jobs approached Corning CEO Wendell Weeks with a simply stated request for millions of square feet of ultra thin (1.3 mm), ultra-strong LCD glass that did not exist, Corning kicked their R&D methodology or “Innovation Process” into high gear, and delivered. In six months. Today Weeks has a framed message from Jobs in his office, sent the day the iPhone came out: “We couldn’t have done it without you.”
While glass is fundamentally made of silicon dioxide (sand), its molecular and thermodynamics are so complex that it could be considered a highly viscous liquid and an amorphous solid–both or neither–depending on its state of development. Within the specifics of mixing, high temperature heating and cooling, and the addition of chemicals and coating, it can attain a range of properties and attributes. From Pyrex to light-refracting optical glass, from optical fibers and glass polarizers for telecommunications and aerospace, to Corning’s advanced Gorilla glass (alkalinalumino-silicate) for consumer electronics displays, the company has over 150 material formulations.
The most common mixing device for viscous flows is the closely inter-meshing co-rotating twin-screw extruder, which pushes, blends, cuts and stretches the material, transforming it under high temperature and pressure. Because of the thermal effects and shear stress, the slightest variation in rotation, velocity or heat affects the composition of the final product, as well as its processability, energy and manufacturing costs. The ability to optimize this extrusion process is critical to minimizing the time and expense of physical prototyping. Corning worked with HPCNY to evaluate the capabilities of available computational tools and resources for parallel simulation of highly viscous flows for use as simulation-based engineering systems that could be integrated into their ongoing product development workflow.
Beyond computational resources and expertise, 3D simulation-based engineering systems of this scale require advanced expertise in fluid dynamics, material science, and physics. Numerical simulations need to explain the relationship between the working conditions within the twin-screw extruder: temperature, mass flow rate, screw geometry and rotation velocity; and the fluid-dynamic parameters: shear rate, residence time and mixing index. RPI Professor Onkar Sahni and HPCNY computational scientists worked closely with Corning to generate twin-screw extruder meshes, discretized representations of the computational domain, using Simmetrix software tools. This is an intrinsically difficult task: generating twin-screw extruder meshes suitable for the underlying numerical methods that can be efficiently run on HPC systems. The difficulty is compounded by the disparity of feature sizes in twin-screw extruder geometric models, where critical gaps can be 1/50th of the diameter of the screw.
Corning’s project with Professor Sahni and HPCNY was the first attempt to execute twin-screw extruder runs and analyses at this scale. HPCNY also supported Corning’s use of other advanced simulation technologies. A CCI-ANSYS software hosting agreement, a CCI-Corning partnership, and a Corning-ANSYS software license agreement provided Corning engineers access to ANSYS on the large CCI HPC systems. Additionally, HPCNY Computational Scientists worked closely with Corning HPC specialists to install, tune, and benchmark the LAMMPS, GROMACS, and VASP open-source packages for molecular dynamics and Ab initio simulations. These capabilities are now incorporated into Corning’s day-to-day engineering workflows, providing ongoing insights for the optimization of both design and manufacturing processes.
In Corning’s red-hot glass melting tanks in 1890, a team of two craftsman could blow two glass ‘bulb envelopes’ per minute; in 1925 one of those glassblowers, William Woods, invented the ‘Ribbon Machine,’ which poured a ribbon of molten glass down a chain with holes opening into molds, increasing the manufacturing rate fivefold. With early runs of 400,000 bulbs per day, this innovation would begin to light the world. For Corning R&D has always been the window to its future: leading to new materials, technologies and products, new applications for existing materials, and solutions to manufacturing problems that prevent technologies from reaching the market on a massive scale. Corning is still innovating with molten glass, but today their ‘Innovation Process’ involves a singular combination of the country’s most advanced fluid dynamics expertise, parallel computer systems, and advanced software solutions. With RPI, CCI and HPCNY, Corning is working to define accelerated simulation-based engineering systems to improve the fidelity of future materials and products, to reduce energy and raw material usage, and to make them more cost-effective and environmentally sustainable.