Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

The Million Dollar Power Of Big Math

Posted by Tom Foremski - March 6, 2013

SVW KarlKemf Karl Kempf, Intel Fellow and director of decision engineering, Intel Architecture Group

By Intel Free Press

During his 25 years with Intel, Karl Kempf has helped solve problems in its manufacturing and supply chain and make product design and development decisions. He's done it using mathematics.

Over the years his work has saved the company time and money, but he's also used his math skills to help a superhero take flight and race cars win championships.

"I am an applied mathematician by training and an engineer by genetics, following in my father's and two grandfathers' footsteps," Kempf said.

An Intel Fellow and a member of the National Academy of Engineering, Kempf won the 2011 Wagner Prize with Intel colleague Evan Rash for their work using advanced analytical methods to manage resources and costs and deliver the right products at the right time for customers.

Here are four fast facts about Kempf and his work:

He helped Superman fly and with a NASA experiment

In 1979, while working at England's Pinewood Studios and years before the computer graphics we take for granted today, Kempf's computer models allowed actor Christopher Reeve to look like he was indeed flying in three "Superman" movies, using the rotation of the camera and the actor himself,  and the zoom of the camera lens. His team won an Academy Award for special effects.

After Pinewood, Kempf worked at McDonnell Douglas on workload scheduling for space station residents and experiments on NASA's Space Station.

He helped Ferrari win three Grand Prix World Championships

Before Pinewood Studios, Kempf worked for Goodyear and was "loaned" to Ferrari in Italy, where he collected data via sensors on the performance of Formula 1 cars, their suspension movement and the friction on the tires on certain curves. Soon his algorithms controlled suspension and the position of wheels around a track, eventually helping Ferrari win three world championships.

How to find the money

For 21 years, Kempf developed computer models, formulas and decision tools for Intel's manufacturing and supply chain planning. By designing and implementing decision policies for production output, equipment selection and layout, substrate ordering for processor packaging, and supply chain and transportation complexities, he contributed to savings estimated to be many millions of dollars.

Now as director of decision engineering for the Intel Architecture Group, Kempf fires up exotic mathematical models to figure out all kinds of stuff -- such as where product engineers can do us the most good, or how to manage the valuable IP blocks in system-on-a-chip (SoC) products. And Kempf helps figure out -- often amidst hundreds of competing ideas -- where budget dollars would best be spent.

Even his garden is well-engineered

Being an engineer, Kempf likes to build things. "My math work at Intel is extremely satisfying, but at the end of the day it is difficult to stand back and admire what has been built," he said. "My current building project is a hanging garden," which, he said, involves a steel and wood lattice with watering and lighting systems on top.

The idea, he added, is borrowed from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon from about 600 B.C. "using more modern technology."

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