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Speed and Consistency

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

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

Speed and Consistency

A key benefit of the PLM this year and in Johnson's Nextel Cup Championship last year was Hendrick's ability to guarantee drivers that every engine the mechanics rebuilt each week was almost identical in output.

"We try to make every engine on our weekly build cycle so it does perform the same," Wall explains. "We have about a one percent performance variation, and our goal, which I think we are getting pretty close to, is to get it down to half a percent variation, which is about plus or minus four horsepower."

The consistency of the engines as well as the overall dependability of the cars fielded by the Hendrick engineering team enable Johnson and the other team drivers to not only know the exact performance capability of their cars every week of the season, but to be able to depend on them in the final laps of a nose-to-nose race.

"We rebuild the engines each week so every driver has what we call a 'fresh' engine, so their chances of making it to the end of the race are really good," Wall adds. "We completely disassemble it and replace any components that are cycled out."

PLM also allows the racing organization to unerringly track even the smallest mechanical problems—a bit of rust or a loose part—from the time they're noticed and fed into the system to the time they're fixed—either internally or by action from the parts manufacturer. Both the drivers and the engineers can log problem reports into the PLM.

"Last Sunday at Phoenix we had to make changes because a couple of components were out of specification," Wall says. "We swapped them out at the track, because we were afraid of a durability issue coming up during the race."

Each week, Wall and his engineering and mechanical staff tackle the problems reported in the system by drivers and other staff members the prior week.

"It could be a supplier's problem, with a part out of spec," he says. "Or it could be something we did wrong internally. It may require a redesign of a part, or using a different material to avoid a failure. We log in a tremendous number of problems in our database."

Typical problems logged in 2007 are an improper materials change, bent parts, out-of-specification seals, defective cables, cracked pats, components developing excessive heat, and materials flaws. Since Hendrick began using Siemens' Teamcenter three years ago, it has logged 1,500 problem reports, including 600 in 2007.

"The PLM system gives us and our drivers more confidence," Wall says. "It's our technical memory. Each car and part has a searchable, indexed history."

One problem the staff discovered was a small external retaining ring on the engine's rocker arm assembly that was just a hair too big. The four-cent part could break off and float around in the engine. Hendrick's solution was to have its supplier purchase a 10-cent part built to military specs.

"The opportunity cost in the race can be huge if you have a very costly failure," Wall says. "A four-cent part can cost you the Daytona 500 or the Brickyard 400, or even the NASCAR championship. Everybody makes mistakes, but when we have a failure, we fix it and go forward. Mr. Hendrick is not so patient if you make the same mistake twice."

Read more about product lifecycle management software:

Hendrick Gets Up to Speed

Boeing's Dream; Airbus' Nightmare

Understanding Product Lifecycle Management

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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