How High-Tech Computing Makes Everyday Life a Little Better

Feb 2014

By Thomas J. Lange

We take them for granted, those products that help us start nearly every day. We shampoo and condition our hair, wash our skin, dry off with a fresh-smelling towel, shave, brush our teeth, fix our hair. Maybe we’ll also change the baby, feed the dog, start the dishwasher.

For more than seven generations, P&G has been inventing the products and building the brands aimed at making the morning’s start, and the day, just a little better. From the candle that lit the morning gloom in the 1837, to the floating bar of Ivory soap—‘99 44/100% Pure.’ To today, with brands like Pantene, Gillette, Crest, Covergirl, Hugo Boss, Pampers, Charmin, Cascade, Tide….

What most people don’t know is that behind each of those daily experiences, lays an amazing amount of Science, Engineering, and High Performance Computing.

P&G doesn’t usually talk about that because consumers really care more that Charmin is soft and strong, not really how it got that way. So, instead of an engineer in a white coat standing in front of a specialized machine making Charmin, we create ads with Mr. Whipple the friendly, quirky, grocer and today, cuddly cartoon bears.

From an Engineering perspective, this can leave the impression that everyday consumable goods are ‘low tech’—when the challenges our Scientists and Engineers face everyday are very much Rocket-Science hard. You see, our job is to break engineering ‘contradictions,’ and that is quite a challenge. For rocket science, it’s controlling an explosion—something that is inherently uncontrollable.

For us, we need to make Charmin that dissolves when wet, but is strong AND soft when dry. Bounty must be absorbent, but VERY strong when wet. Pampers need to be absorbent—but fit and comfort babies like cloth. Laundry treatments need to remove stains, but protect fabrics—including cloth dyes—and be concentrated yet still easy to use. Containers should never leak, but open easily. Containers, when dropped, should not break—but use a bare minimum of plastic that also recycles. Most importantly, all these products must be a good value for improving daily life, not just affordable for use once in a while.

Tide PODS® is truly a “one-wash wonder,” enabled by sophisticated computer simulation technology. The challenge of bringing together three different liquids into one pod, separated by a film that is both able to dissolve in cold water yet not dissolve from exposure to the contents is quite complicated. We had to do sophisticated computer simulations of how the pod could be mass produced without leaking—one splash droplet in the wrong place and we have a mess.

Diapers create another technological challenge. They need to fit like pants, but keep the baby and its surroundings dry and fit almost any size and shape. While there are thousands of baby shapes, no one can provide hundreds of sizes. Instead, we offer four to six options for the first two years of life. To get this right, we have teams working with computer models and simulations to identify what stretches where; how the waist band surrounds the tummy; and how leg holes will fit for both small and larger legs alike.

Finally, think about a shaving system that removes hair close to the skin, but protects your skin. The physics of hair removal, what pulls, what cuts, how sharp or slick the blade needs to be, at what angle the blade needs to be, all is precisely evaluated and determined by computer simulation.

Thomas Edison found 1000’s of things that did not work in his search for the materials that made the light bulb possible. We even have a name for that approach: ‘Edisonian investigation.’ For our products, we too are always ‘looking for a better way.’ High Performance Computing and the Engineering and Science Modeling & Simulation that it enables make possible hundreds of thousands of iterations on the computer in less time and with less cost. That allows us to continue our brands’ promise that our great, great, great grandchildren will start their day a little better than we did today.

The Procter & Gamble Company supports a number of programs and projects aimed at putting high-tech Modeling & Simulation tools in the hands of small businesses to help accelerate innovation and U.S. manufacturing quality.

Thomas J. Lange, Director, R&D, Modeling & Simulation at Procter & Gamble Company was a keynote speaker at The Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas’ (TAMEST’s) Annual Conference, January 16-17, 2014. The conference addressed the computational revolution in medicine, engineering and science.


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