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NASCAR Is All About Teamwork

Okuma partners with Richard Childress Racing

By Jim Lorincz
Senior Editor 


It's one thing to watch a NASCAR race on TV. It's another thing to brave the crush of 100,000 or more fans at one of the speedways to watch the race in person. And it's still another to get the whole NASCAR experience by visiting a race team headquarters, such as Richard Childress Racing (RCR; Welcome, NC), just south of Winston-Salem and an hour from downtown Charlotte.

NASCAR folks call them campuses for very good reason. They feature clusters of buildings that celebrate the history of the team and its heroes (owners and drivers), their wins and trophies, and all the gear that a NASCAR fanatic could want to buy in the gift shop. Spectator galleries give visitors a chance to get a feel for the work that goes on inside to produce race cars that can reach speeds of 200 mph (322 km/hr), and run for hundreds of miles. Outside, visitors are likely to hear the roar of an engine on a test dynamometer.
RCR's Number 29 car driven by Kevin Harvick gets prepped for race day. Note the multiples of team cars in various stages of readiness. Two cars, a primary and a backup, are sent to each race.

RCR's campus includes 13 buildings encompassing more than 500,000 ft2 (46,451 m2) located on nearly 50 acres (20 hectares). Manufacturing in the RCR Cup Shop includes fabrication of chassis to specifications required by NASCAR's CoT (Car of Tomorrow/Today) design, which was developed as a safer and hopefully more competitive ride for drivers. (The Car of Tomorrow became the Car of Today when it was introduced in all Sprint Cup Series races for 2008, one year ahead of schedule).

Precision-engineered components for both chassis and engines, as well as suspension, brake system, and engineering components, are manufactured in the Okuma Technology Center (OTC) located at the RCR campus. RCR and Okuma America Corp. (Charlotte) have been partners in this manufacturing technology center since 2000.

"The OTC is a manufacturing organization that supports RCR from the standpoint of race car components," explains Rick Grimes, RCR manufacturing manager for the Okuma Technology Center. RCR manufactured its first CNC parts in 1995 and, to date, more than 500 part numbers are manufactured there.

The Okuma's Technology Center at Richard Childress Racing produces a full range of precision-engineered parts for engine and chassis. Occasionally, Okuma will bring customers into the OTC to demonstrate how their parts can be manufactured on its CNC machines.

"We design and manufacture parts for eight different organizations within RCR. We are the manufacturing arm for RCR, supporting all five race teams [three Sprint Cup Series and two Nationwide Series teams], as well as for our sister company, Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines [ECR]," says Grimes. RCR is able to manufacture engineered parts such as pistons, camshafts, cylinder heads, and engine blocks on the latest Okuma CNC milling, turning, and multitasking machines.

To get an idea of the scope of manufacturing required, consider these numbers:

  • Each of RCR's three Sprint Cup Series race teams has 10–12 cars in some stage of build, repair, or testing. Each week, race teams load two cars, a primary and a backup, as well as enough parts and the tools to build an additional car, into a double-deck transporter/hauler that travels to the next stop on the NASCAR circuit. The previous weeks' models are in various stages of teardown, repair, and rebuild, and a couple of cars are out undergoing performance testing at upcoming track sites.
  • ECR Engines, an affiliated RCR company, builds some 500 engines each year for the RCR and Dale Earnhardt Inc. teams and for leased-engine programs.
  • "In 2006–07, we produced 28,000 pieces out of this building in a one-shift operation," says Grimes. "By July 1 of this year, we had surpassed that number, doubling the number of motor parts. We produce parts for ECR Engines, and about 60% of the parts we produce are for engines in the ECR program and 40% for the rest of our RCR customers."

In the Okuma Technology Center, which has a full array of Okuma's CNC technology, components for suspension parts and shocks, the chassis, and parts for the engine side including all cylinder heads, cam cores, pistons, and manifolds are machined to tight tolerances.

"Whatever we can manufacture internally, we do. That way we have control over all aspects of sourcing and manufacturing of our components. Our turnaround time, for example, can be a matter of hours or days rather than the days and weeks that an outside supplier might require," Grimes says.

For Okuma's part, the Technology Center has proven to be an excellent working demonstration site for its various CNC machines, which include some of its most advanced concepts. For example, the OTC has two parallel kinematic PM-600 Cosmos five-axis machining centers that are operating in a cell with an HMC. Filling out the roster of Okuma machines are three MCV 4020 VMCs, two L370MW Captain CNC lathes, one MX 55VA VMC, one LU 300 MY CNC turning center, one GC 34 NH grinder, and two MA 500 HB HMCs, one with a P200 control.

It isn't uncommon for Okuma to schedule some time with RCR to bring customers to the OTC so they can see their parts run on an Okuma machine before they make a decision to buy. "The relationship with Okuma is a mutual one," says Grimes. "They provide some equipment out here as part of the sponsorship. We've actually run parts for them to help them sell machines. It's not that unusual for Okuma to schedule a machine for a day and a half because a customer wanted to see a part made on that machine before he bought it."

In one respect, the CoT design has standardized car bodies, but in the process it is challenging race teams to deal with a series of unintended consequences. Engineering changes that were expected and normal before the advent of the CoT have multiplied in importance. "One of the biggest challenges for the CoT was the shock mounts because of the orientation in the chassis," says Grimes.

Shock mount adjustments are required to handle the different conditions of tracks that can range from virtually flat (road courses) to tracks that may be banked more than 30°. "One broke at Daytona and we had to scramble to redesign it and make it for the next race. We now make about eight different versions, depending on where it's located on the car, and which track we're running on," says Grimes.

Generally speaking, the CoT has a taller, wider, less aerodynamic profile, with a higher center of gravity and greater wind resistance than former models supplied by the auto companies. One template fits all in the new CoT race world. A tale of the tape indicates just how much:

  • Drivers' seats have been moved 4" (101.6 mm) to the right for safety.
  • Car is 2" (50.8-mm) taller and 4" (101.6-mm) wider.
  • The exhaust runs through the car body and is shielded from the driver.
  • Windshield is more upright.
  • A splitter, which is a piece of fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP), replaces the valence on front end for downdraft.
  • Side protection is enhanced with larger fabricated tubing and additional metal plates to protect the driver.


Some of these CoT design changes, such as the exhaust and side plates, require additional machined parts. The suspension with springs and shocks, one of the critical elements that can be "set up" and adjusted for improved performance on the track, is even more critical. Spring sets must be machined and matched to track conditions on a week-to-week basis.

For machining engine components, which comprise 60% of its machining mix, RCR has explored options and obtained some innovative solutions. "All of the cylinder heads are machined on our two PM600 Cosmos parallel kinematic machines," says Grimes. The machines both feature full width of 34" (864 mm) in X and Y travels, and have spindles that are held by six ballscrews.

"When the number of our race teams increased to seven, we needed additional machining capacity to do manifolds and cylinder heads," Grimes explains. RCR, like Okuma, is a big believer in the power of partnership. "In October 2003 we, RCR and Okuma, determined the PM-600 Cosmo best fit our requirements. Then in January 2004, we sat down with a team consisting of our partners, Kennametal, Nikken, Pro/E, and Unigraphics/NX. The group established the process development plan for cutting the cylinder heads on the PM-600. We successfully completed the implementation one month ahead of schedule. Now we have two of them, numTypical precision-engineered components manufactured in the OTC.bers seven and eight in the world."

"The Cosmos machines have proven to be reliable and versatile machines capable of machining seat rings as readily as new engine components that require five-axis work, such as oil-pan dividers," Grimes says. "The Space Center has a proprietary head that allows 25 or 30° tilt maximum. One operator is running three machines, two Cosmos and one MA500H HMC. Operators are cross-trained on all machines in the shop," says Grimes.

To handle the increased engine requirement for its teams, RCR dedicated one of its four VMCs to machining pistons, Okuma's MX55VA. "We dedicated the 55 to the pistons since our requirements have increased from about eight piston sets a week to a total of 15–20 sets. The additional three VMCs, MCV-4020s, are the real versatile workhorses," Grimes says. "They handle other components such as chassis parts, oiling system, and brake and suspension components, and are available for quick-turnaround jobs."

A partnership between RCR, Okuma, and COMP Cams (Memphis, TN) was established to develop the process for a grinding a cam shaft for a NASCAR engine, with an Okuma GC34NH cylindrical grinder. "The first grinder developed is at COMP Cams and the second one is here at RCR," says Grimes. "Engine R&D is the primary user of the grinder. It allows us to test a new grind in hours rather than days."

The Center also has several new non-Okuma machines, including two Sodick AQ537L linear wire EDM machines and an Omax 55100 waterjet machine. "One of the EDMs is being used on an R&D project, and the other will be used for production of engine parts. We've been running them solid since they came in last December," says Grimes.

The Omax Jet Machining Center 55100 waterjet has enabled RCR to bring back in-house a number of parts, saving the cost of shipping and reducing its cost for those parts. "The waterjet has paid for itself just as quickly as we thought it would," says Grimes. "We are able to cut product from sheet or plate material rather than flat bar stock, in some cases reducing our cost by a factor of ten."

During the off-season, the Okuma Technology Center will be busy in preparation for the next season's racing. Off-season starts just after the Sprint Cup Series ends; it began with the Daytona 500 in mid-February and will end with the Ford 400 in Miami-Homestead in mid-November.

To top off their visit to RCR, tourists and NASCAR fans can make the short drive to the Childress Vineyards, a winery founded in 2004 by Richard Childress. It's located at the crossroads of US 52 and US 64, where grapes are grown on 65 acres (26.3 hectares) of farmland at the gateway to the Yadkin Valley. There's a gift shop that features wines of every flavor awaiting them, and a fine restaurant.

That's NASCAR country at its best.


Streamlining Motorsports Logistics

Energy drink creator Red Bull Racing is no stranger to Formula One racing, owning two F1 teams and a NASCAR team.

"Although the worlds of Formula One and NASCAR are very different, many of the same considerations regarding parts manufacturing and logistics overlap," explains Andrew Cumbers, MRP manager for Red Bull Racing. "We see the Epicor Manufacturing system as an important element in giving us an edge when it comes to getting prepared for race day."

Red Bull Racing has streamlined its parts tracking and logistics, even at trackside, with an Epicor Manufacturing system that is integrated into its SAP ERP system.The Red Bull Racing Formula One team initially deployed the Epicor Manufacturing software solution to replace an aging custom-built, in-house manufacturing and parts system. Epicor Manufacturing is well-suited to the environment at Red Bull Racing, providing the scalability and customization to tie together all aspects of the operation, from just-intime manufacturing procedures to supply chain management and logistics.

The Epicor solution at Red Bull Racing was heavily modified by the engineering team. "Our system travels with us to races and tests all over the world, and is used trackside on a portable server to manage the parts tracking and logistics operation," explains Ian Prior, senior manufacturing systems manager for Red Bull Racing.

Before each race, the primary Epicor Manufacturing system at the Red Bull HQ in Milton Keynes, UK, is duplicated to a special transportable server that accompanies the race team. If new parts are required during a race, the primary system back at HQ manages the process and creates a data entry that updates the remote system either via a conventional data connection, if available, or uses a data storage device that accompanies any air freight or hand baggage to the race site.

At the track, race technicians use the system for parts management. If a data connection is available, the local manufacturing system is then synchronized with the main system back in Milton Keynes. If no connection is available, the systems are synchronized when the race crew returns to base.

Red Bull uses SAP as its global ERP. IT took two months to integrate Epicor Manufacturing for seamless reporting and account control between Red Bull HQ in Austria and its racing team.

The success of the Epicor solution and its tight integration with SAP has allowed team owner Red Bull to use the solution at its other motor racing enterprises, including the Italian-based Formula One racing team, Scuderia Toro Rosso, and the NASCAR Red Bull Racing team.

"Each implementation of the Epicor manufacturing system at a Red Bull racing team is completely independent and secure," says Prior. "However, financial data are passed back to Red Bull for accounting and cost control purposes, which provides a substantial saving in management overhead."

Using a full-blown ERP system is relatively new to the world of NASCAR, and has helped Red Bull Racing better manage the logistics behind the grueling race season, which is spread over ten months. "NASCAR is a fusion of man and machine, and the technology off the track is as important as the driver and machine on the circuit," Cumbers concludes.


This article was first published in the September 2008 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 9/1/2008

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