The need for speed to market

March 28, 2014
By: Dan Davis

Turnaround time matters for the fabrication shops of NASCAR teams as they try to get the latest mechanical improvements to the car down to the track as soon as possible. That "need for speed" is something all metal fabricators can identify with. Often new manufacturing technology can provide that much-needed boost.

I’m not a big NASCAR fan. Cars were never a passion in my family. They were a tool for getting people from point A to point B.

Over the past couple of years, however, I’ve gravitated to a couple of cable television shows that involved refurbishment of older cars. On “Wheeler Dealers” on Velocity and “Fast N’ Loud” on Discovery, mechanics Edd China and Aaron Kaufman, respectively, walk viewers through some of their most difficult fixes and upgrades. (The latter not as much because, like on any U.S. TV show, you’ve got to have schtick to fill up most of the hour.) These two guys are intelligent and insightful as they break down their projects for the viewers. I love the education.

So now I have a greater appreciation for cars—actually, the mechanical effort to keep them on the road and to help them perform at a greater level than previously designed. The combination of science and art in the hands of a master is something to behold, much like some master metal fabricators.

I had a chance to learn about this firsthand as Matt Gimbel, production manager for Penske Racing, presented at a Mazak open house in Schaumburg, Ill., on March 25. Gimbel was there to highlight the use of Mazak machining technology to create crucial automotive components, like caliper mounts and sway bars.

Now, typically I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to compare the metal fabricating world with that of a NASCAR garage. The two may share similar tools and individuals with similar fabricating skills, but the model is just completely different. At least I thought that way until Gimbel uttered the phrase “speed to the track equals speed on the track.” If the Penske Racing manufacturing team can squeeze time out of the production process, cars receive adjustments faster, leading to faster lap times on the track.

It’s all about turnaround time. What fabricator can’t relate to that?

For Penske Racing, manufacturing technology investments have made a huge impact on taking time out of the production process:

  • A new robotic welding cell helped the manufacturing team turn out 25 roll cages in a two-week time frame, which was a new level of manufacturing efficiency.
  • An ATOS scanner is able to conduct a full scan of the automotive body, translate that into digital data, and compare it to the original model. The enables the race team engineers to get instant feedback on how the model might perform aerodynamically, instead of having to schedule time at a wind tunnel and wait two to three days to work their way through exhaustive testing.
  • Mazak machining technology is giving the fabricators the ability to send out freshly made parts overnight to race teams on-site at the track. Engineers are also able to work on new lightweight component designs in-house, which helps to keep advancements secret from other racing teams.

In the end, modern manufacturing technology is making these expedited results possible. That’s the same lesson metal fabricators have learned in the face of global competition.

Behind the garage door, maybe a NASCAR race team isn’t that much different from a job shop.

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8281