8 March 2021
Dr. Fassi Kafyeke
Director Advanced Design and Strategic Technology, Bombardier Aerospace, Montreal (Past) Board Member, Compute Canada
A significant amount of Bombardier’s joint research with academia relies on numerical modelling and simulation to test new aerodynamic methods, new composite materials and other systems technologies before testing them in a factory setting. Compute Canada provides access to its infrastructure and expertise to the university researchers that make these computationally intensive tasks possible.
The aerospace manufacturing industry is one of Canada’s most R&D and export intensive industries. However, one of the defining challenges for the 21st century is understanding and reducing the global industry’s environmental impacts. This means finding ways to manufacture planes that are quieter, lighter and more fuel efficient.
As Canada’s #1 corporate research and development spender1, Bombardier has a long history of collaborating with Canadian universities. Why are these partnerships important?
Bombardier invests heavily on the applied side of R&D, but we don’t carry an army of scientists to work on earlier stage research. We rely on university experts to develop new promising technologies and then we connect them with our specialists, and once the technology has shown commercial potential, we take the research in-house. That allows us to bring the technology to a point where we can put in on an airplane.
What are the big challenges facing the aerospace industry globally?
Lessening the environmental impact of aircraft will be a big issue in the future. This involves many different research areas: advanced materials, composites and metallic alloys to make airplanes lighter; aerodynamics and configuration to reduce drag and thus fuel consumption; and advances in electrical, pneumatic, hydraulic and other aircraft systems to make them more efficient. All new technology must also be cost effective to find its way on an airplane. To really make the right technology choices we need a deep understanding of these technologies and that comes from our collaborations with universities.
How does Compute Canada add value to these collaborations?
We fund a variety of different projects and increasingly these are collaborative projects where engineers in our companies and engineers in universities will have to work together. That requires many projects to use the same computing architecture, if not the same computing platform and for the work we support, that will be Compute Canada. It’s in our interest to see that platform optimized.
Is the type of academic research that Bombardier supports changing?
Yes. Traditionally we’ve supported early-stage research that would be used specifically by Bombardier. In April (2014) a new national research and technology network was launched – the Consortium for Aerospace Research and Innovation in Canada (CARIC) – which will see Bombardier 1 Top 100 Corporate R&D Spenders 2012, Research Infosource Inc. and other aerospace companies collaborate with academia on more applied research, what we call Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 4+. This hasn’t really been done before, not involving this many collaborators and on a national scale. It will make access to Compute Canada’s infrastructure important not just for us, but for the entire Canadian aerospace industry.
How does having access to Compute Canada — as a national organization — make these collaborations easier?
Having a single point of contact certainly creates less work all around. In industry, you simply don’t have the time or resources to deal with every regional consortium or individual university.
How has Bombardier benefited from Compute Canada’s technical expertise?
We’re always working with universities to push new technologies, like the use of graphics processing units (GPUs) for intensive computing. These massive parallel processors (initially used in gaming and animation) provide a powerful new platform for engineers and scientists to accelerate numerical models in aerospace research. But to use these types of technologies, we need not only the university professors who are specialists in the aerospace field, we also need support from people who understand how these computers can make our models more efficient. So it’s not just the equipment, it’s also the support from Compute Canada that will make these projects a success.
How would you like to see Compute Canada’s infrastructure evolve to meet your industry’s needs?
Canada needs updated infrastructure if aerospace research in Canada is to keep up with what’s happening in other countries. The industry is facing some big challenges and it needs the expertise in universities to tackle these problems. Having access to the most advanced research computing isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity if we want to compete globally.