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PLM Makes Jimmie Johnson Go Fast

By Doug Bartholomew  |  Posted 2007-11-14 Print this article Print

NASCAR frontrunner credits product lifecycle management for unbelievable winning season on the track.

Jimmie Johnson, a shoo-in with an 86-point lead, is expected to win his second consecutive NASCAR Nextel Cup Championship at the Ford 400 in Miami this Sunday. The tens of thousands of fans who attend the race, plus millions more who tune in to watch on television, will see him compete in his now famous No. 48 Chevrolet Monte Carlo with the huge LOWES logo emblazoned on the hood.

What the fans may not notice, though, is a small "Siemens PLM Software" logo on a window pillar of the car. And what they may not know is how heavily Johnson's racing team, Hendrick Motorsports, has depended on the vendor's product lifecycle management software to propel the organization—and Johnson himself—to first place in NASCAR both this season and last (see "Hendrick Gets Up to Speed," Baseline).

PLM is an extension of CAD/CAM engineering software that enables the real-time design and manipulation of complex equipment. These software packages track where and how parts are used, and allow designers and engineers to collaborate on changes, which saves time and money in making design adjustments.

Manufacturers use PLM systems for product design, engineering changes, bill of materials management, and overall tracking of products from conception to recycling. PLM software is especially useful for manufacturers launching a new product, such as a new engine and chassis for an automobile. For instance, electric-car startup Tesla Motors this week announced it had chosen Dassault Systemes' CATIA PLM Express for product development.

Throughout this season, the Hendrick team has relied on Siemens' Teamcenter software for the mechanical dependability to manage scores of race cars and hundreds of engines. Johnson, in turn, has used this newfound performance—and confidence—to achieve one of the most successful racing seasons of any NASCAR driver, with 10 wins and 20 top five finishes.

Johnson isn't the only Hendrick driver to take the winner's flag this season, with former champion Jeff Gordon also contending for the Nextel Cup title as late as the Phoenix race last weekend. Johnson's win in that race, of course, gave him a nearly insurmountable lead and lock on the championship, barring an unlikely no-finish on his part.

Going into the final Nextel Cup race at the Homestead/Miami Speedway Nov. 18, Hendrick drivers had racked up 18 wins, the racing organization's most successful season ever. Before Johnson's victory at Phoenix Nov. 11, the two Hendrick superstars had amassed 16 wins and 40 finishes in the top five.

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Doug Bartholomew is a career journalist who has covered information technology for more than 15 years. A former senior editor at IndustryWeek and InformationWeek, his freelance features have appeared in New York magazine and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. He has a B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University.
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