Manufacturing for Motorsports Supplement: Climbing Into the Winner's Circle
It takes a manufacturing team to compete at the highest levels of racing
By Jim Lorincz
Few of us will ever have the experience of taking a checkered flag, breaking the tape after a heart-straining run, or leaving a competitor behind to eat our dust. That certainly doesn't mean that there is anyone of us who isn't interested in trying to grab a little share of the spotlight that shines on the chosen few.
For suppliers of advanced technology, sponsorships and business partnerships offer a well-traveled route to important exposure of their brands and manufacturing capability—and an entrée for their customers to the motorsports racing teams that make it all happen out on the track.
It wasn't that long ago that Kevin V. G. Bevan, president of GBI Cincinnati Inc. (Cincinnati), arranged one of the most successful promotions ever carried out for the Cincinnati Machine brand commodity machining centers and lathes. He entered into a partnership with Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI; Mooresville, NC) to supply VMCs and CNC lathes for DEI's new facility.
"One of things we wanted to do was establish a presence for the Cincinnati Machine brand in the NASCAR racing circuit. The machines are being used by DEI for manufacturing chassis components, engine components, blocks, and for porting heads," says Bevan. The relationship with DEI has continued after Bevan formed GBI Cincinnati to handle all the distributorships throughout North and South America for the UK-produced Cincinnati-brand VMCs, traveling-column VMCs, and CNC lathes.
"We get a lot of advertising exposure within NASCAR. The typical fan is a brand-loyal person, and our logo can even end up on the cover of some magazine like TV Guide with Dale Earnhardt Jr, a place where we wouldn't normally get exposure," says Bevan. "Of course, what many in our industry remember is the appearance that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. made at IMTS on behalf of the Cincinnati Machinebrand machines. We gave out tickets that went like those for rock stars."
GBI Cincinnati customers benefit because they get hot passes to the track, get to go into the pit area where all the action is, and tour the haulers that bring cars to the track. GBI Cincinnati has held a distributor sales conference at the DEI facility where distributor staff were able to see how cars are put together. The CNC room is called the Cincinnati Machine room.
Bevan is a believer in the benefits of racing sponsorships and for his Feeler line of machine tools, GBI Cincinnati is sponsoring Doran Racing (Cincinnati) in the Grand American Rolex Series Daytona Prototype sports car racing circuit, next to NASCAR, one of the fastest growing segments in the racing industry.
Mazak Corp. (Florence, KY) has been a sponsor of Penske Racing South, Penske's NASCAR racing organization since it was founded in 1991. Penske Racing is undergoing its own manufacturing growth.
"Having our own production facility means we've gone from shooting for the best combination of parts to having the best-made parts," says Penske Racing South President Don Miller. In 2004, Penske Racing acquired two buildings totaling almost a half million square feet on 105 acres in Mooresville, NC, formerly operated by the Matsushita Compressor Corp. of America.
Within six months, the main building's interior was gutted and a major facelift was begun to make it a state-of-the-art manufacturing complex and a destination for NASCAR fans, complete with a gift shop. More than a quarter of a million squares of Italian floor tile were laid in the office and shop areas. Other interior and exterior details include nine conference rooms, a 150-seat auditorium, a 138-seat cafeteria, a 330-ft (100.6-m) elevated viewing area in the shop for fan walkthroughs, a 4900 ft2 (4565 m2) gift shop, a training room with weights and exercise equipment, men's and women's locker rooms and showers, two lighted baseball fields, and a one-mile (1.6-km) nature trail.
The heart of the complex is Penske Racing South's three NASCAR teams—two NEXTEL Cup teams and one Busch series team—occupying almost a quarter of a million square feet, or more than 8 acres (32,375 m2) under one roof. Separate buildings within the shop area house engineering and support operations for each team. Also contained in the NASCAR section are 17 surface plates, three paint booths, three body prep stations, a rapid prototyping department, and an aeroscale model shop.
In a separate building in Mooresville, the Penske Technology Group has an open-jet, 16-ton rolling road wind tunnel to optimize the shape of virtually any object. The rolling road is adjustable for yaw to ±8° and the 500-hp (374-kW) main fan can generate wind to a velocity of 50 m/sec.
Today, in addition to the NASCAR teams, the American Le Mans Series team and its Porsche RS Spyders are housed in the facility, and with the Indy Marlboro Team Penske based in the facility, Penske has become the first owner competing in three separate major racing series to place all of his teams under one roof in North Carolina.
When Mazak Corp. (Florence, KY) exhibited full five-axis high-speed machining on a Dodge Motorsports/Penske Jasper Engines cylinder head at the Performance Racing Industry Show in December in Orlando, FL, it demonstrated its advanced manufacturing capability for the NASCAR racing circuit. The Integrex e-410HS multitasking machining center was demonstrating porting cylinder heads—fine-tuning the interior shapes of the engine's curving channels that direct airflow to and from the cylinders—in a single setup.
"Where other machines typically run this kind of work in the 60–80 ipm [1524–2032 mm/min] range, we programmed the machine at 120 ipm [3048 mm/min] and ran it very successfully at 100% override," explains Mazak's Jack Halenkamp. "Although a cylinder head can take anywhere from 4 to 7 hr to complete, we were finish machining them in just over 2 hr," he says.
This is possible because Mazak's Integrex e-410HS II permits full five-axis milling. The high-speed milling spindle can tilt to 240°, and the second spindle has the same C-axis rotational functions as the main spindle. Control is supplied by the Mazatrol Matrix CNC, which includes internal computing speed to support 16 million pulse-per-revolution encoders on each linear axis for high-accuracy, sub-micron resolution in both EIA/ISO programs, and Mazak's Mazatrol conversational programming.
Precision-parts machining is not a problem for Joe Gibbs Racing's shop (JGR; Huntersville, NC), which uses Mitsubishi EDM/Laser machines for what seems like a fairly conventional part. The small shim varies from 0.003 to 0.008" (0.07–0.20-mm) thick with several slots ranging from 0.010 to 0.080" (0.3–2.0-mm) wide. What makes the part different, of course, is that it is designed to travel at speeds exceeding 190 mph (306 km/hr) in a race car, with a driver's life riding on its performance.
The small bleed shim for a shock absorber housing is typical, and perhaps symbolic, of the changes that have taken place in modern stock-car racing. The popular image of a race team's headquarters used to be five or six guys in a small garage working mostly with hammers and large wrenches. That image may still hold true for the small 1/3 mile (0.53-km) tracks around the country, but it's not true at the level of Nextel Cup and Busch Series competition.
Joe Gibbs Racing looks more like a well-financed aerospace manufacturing operation. The organization employs about 435 people all together, with 265 of them working in Huntersville. The 250,000 ft2 (23,225 m2) facility houses JGR's headquarters, the three Nextel Cup teams, general fabrication and manufacturing operations, Metrology/Quality Control Department, and the engine shop for five race teams. The latter employs 45 people assembling about 400 race engines in a season, at a finished cost/engine of more than $60,000.
Another 20 people work in Joe Gibbs Racing's Manufacturing Department, which runs two shifts and houses 15 CNC milling and turning machines, a waterjet cutter, a CO2 laser, and two EDM machines running 22 hr/day. Joe Gibbs Racing designs and builds in-house over 500 part components that go into its race cars and engines.
There are two good reasons for producing these parts in-house: security and quality. Explains Mark Bringle, manufacturing director for Joe Gibbs Racing: "If we go to outside suppliers to make these parts for us, we risk having competitors learn what we're doing. Sometimes we have to outsource because we don't have the necessary manufacturing capabilities here, but we prefer to build our own parts if we can."
Quality is the other essential in racing. Parts must be right the first time—one minor failure can put a car out of a race, or even into a concrete wall. Joe Gibbs Racing has set up a $2.5 million Metrology/Quality Control Department. Every part or material that comes into JGR's shop is carefully measured, weighed, checked for hardness, surface finish, appropriate material and other criteria, and then has a JGR part number burned into it with a laser. This means that in the event of a problem, even one causing a crash, every individual component can be traced back to its origin during the failure analysis.
"It might seem like we're a little overboard with this Metrology/QC effort," notes Bringle. "But a couple of years ago we had Tony Stewart's engine blow up two laps into the Daytona 500 because of a supplier's part that was 0.004" [0.10 mm] off its nominal measurement. There's just no room for error at this level of racing."
Joe Gibbs Racing selected Mitsubishi EDM (from MC Machinery Inc., Wood Dale, IL) for precision machining of the shock housing shim previously described. The final product had to be perfectly flat, absolutely without burrs, and the slots were too small to machine. "It was a perfect application for EDM," Bringle says.
"On everything we build, we are trying to make parts lighter but stronger, to reduce weight on the car and make it faster," Bringle adds. "Many of these parts could be cast, but we've had porosity problems, so we're staying away from casting. EDM was the best way to go." Bringle ordered two Mitsubishi EDM machines, an FA20 wire machine and an EA12E die sinker. "They've been running continuously, 24 hours a day ever since 2003, without missing a single beat. The need for the wire machine has been especially heavy—we have eight to 10 parts backed up on it right now."
Both of the EDM machines were updated to the latest models, the FA20S wire and EA12V sinker EDMs, in December of 2004, providing Bringle and JGR with an even higher level of machining performance.
For security reasons, Bringle will not go into much detail on most of the parts being machined by EDM at Joe Gibbs Racing. But he admits that many of them involve exotic materials, especially where the parts have to be very light and very hard at the same time. The Mitsubishi EDM machines also come into play where there must be openings too small for conventional machining, where there are sharp internal edges, or where edges must be precise and burr-free. Many times the blank is turned on a lathe, and the wire or sinker EDM finishes the job. Most of the parts involve short runs, 50 of one thing, 300 of another, so the operators are constantly changing setups.
"The most important contribution to our team is that these parts weren't converted to EDM from other processes—we simply weren't making them before," Bringle declares. "They were ideas, but we couldn't do them. The Mitsubishi EDM machines have let us move ahead and stay competitive with the other top teams in the Nextel Cup Series. They make us run better; they make the cars faster and more reliable. That's the bottom line."
Mitusbishi EDM has also added flexibility in manufacturing. Bringle notes that the Mitsubishi machines' controls are very similar to those used on the other CNC equipment in the shop, which speeds setups. The monetary value of this was demonstrated by Bringle, who reported that they occasionally receive last-minute rule changes from NASCAR. One particular rule required fabrication changes on certain parts. "Normal turnaround for our outside suppliers is six to eight days on jobs like these. Our trucks were leaving for the Daytona 500 sooner than that—we didn't have six to eight days. The only way we could get the job done was with our in-house equipment."
Fred Carrillo has spent a substantial amount of his life in the world of competitive racing. With several decades of experience competing in motorcycle, dragster, straightaway, and championship-car racing, he identified the importance of and need for more dependable connecting rods in the engines of these high-performance vehicles. He combined his aerospace background with his years of experience in competitive racing, and started Carrillo Industries (San Clemente, CA) in 1963.
Ever since, Carrillo Industries has been designing and manufacturing the most durable, long-lasting connecting rods in the industry. Carrillo Industries manufactures connecting rods in a multitude of configurations and sells them for aftermarket distribution, and to individual end users' needs. The company is recognized as The Official Connecting Rod Manufacturer for NASCAR.
Connecting rods transfer energy from the engine to the crankshaft, and ultimately to the final drive mechanisms of these high-performance vehicles. The connecting rod is one of the engine parts most commonly linked to engine failure. For this reason, Carrillo has remained dedicated to manufacturing rods with superior precision and top-quality construction.
Because fatigue is the major cause of connecting rod failure, Carrillo's connecting rods are designed to maximize strength and durability while minimizing weight. Manufactured from proprietary steel and under a strict series of stringent strength and durability requirements, they are designed to endure even the most severe conditions produced during high-performance competition.
Carrillo manufactures two main styles of connecting rods: the more traditional and well-known "HBeam," and a modified version, the "A-Beam." All connecting rods go through multiple processes, including roughing, milling, deburring, buffing, assembly, boring, balancing, and finishing. Additionally, multiple accuracy checks and inspections are performed to ensure optimum performance from every part the company manufactures.
Carrillo Industries is known for producing the most precise, high-strength connecting rods in the industry. The company's Production Manager, Jeff Kuecker, oversees the entire production process, identifying new ways to strengthen processes, speed production, and achieve top accuracies to preserve the company's reputation.
"As technology advances, it is crucial that we stay in tune with manufacturing trends and the industry's evolution," explains Kuecker. "To maintain our position in the marketplace, we depend on our manufacturing partners to help us meet our goals in the most efficient, productive, and cost-effective ways possible."
Kuecker determined finish boring to be one of the most crucial yet time-consuming steps in the manufacturing process. Finish boring is the step in which every part is measured for accuracy and final tolerances at bore and center-to-center are established. He found the prep-time being invested on trial-cutting and measuring was costing the company valuable machining time.
To manufacture with the level of precision the racing industry demands, Carrillo Industries now relies exclusively on boring heads from BIG Kaiser (Elk Grove Village, IL) during finish boring. "When you are making thousands of rods per week, every bit of productivity helps," Kuecker explains.
Prior to transitioning solely to Kaiser boring heads in this finishing step, Carrillo had a substantial inventory of heads in stock that varied in size, brand, and style. With Kaiser's precision and accuracy, Carrillo was able to minimize its stock to only ten different-sized Kaiser boring heads.
"Kaiser boring heads have the accuracy and precision to achieve tolerances of ±0.0001" [0.0025 mm]. This was exactly the level of precision we needed to achieve the high finish-qualities Carrillo is known for. Kaiser heads allow us to take out as much or as little material as we need to and finish a part in only one pass," says Kuecker. When dealing with tolerances on bores down to ±0.0001", Carrillo can now simply adjust the Kaiser head by 0.0001 or 0.0002" (0.005 mm) to get the exact measurement needed.
"Now, once the tool is set and cutting to size, we can be confident in the adjustments we make," he adds. By using only Kaiser boring heads during finish boring, Carrillo has reduced the amount of time being spent on setting up tooling, minimizing machine down-time, and greatly improving overall production times.
This article was first published in the January 2007 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.