Eliminating Performance Variability

By Doug Bartholomew  |  Posted 2006-06-07 Print this article Print

The company, which fields six NASCAR teams, turned to product life-cycle management software to improve performance and reliability of its race cars.

Eliminating Performance Variability

Probably the most vexing business problem Hendrick's engine department faced was the significant discrepancies in output among the engines they rebuilt—a longtime sore spot among its family of drivers.

The racing firm was experiencing differences in horsepower of up to 20% for both types of NASCAR engines: the less powerful "restrictor plate" units, which limit the car's air intake and horsepower rating; as well as the more powerful "open" engines that have no air restriction. The variation translates to variances among engines of up to 80 horsepower for restrictor plate units, and up to 160 horsepower for open units.

Obviously, each of Hendrick's driving teams wanted the fastest car in its category. "The teams were not happy," Wall says. "They wanted more uniform performance." PLM enabled the engine overhaul team to ensure that each engine was rebuilt identically and tuned for almost exactly the same output.

"We had to find ways to reproduce engine components to a closer tolerance," Wall explains. With parts produced by subcontractors, Hendrick had no control. For in-house parts, the company did its best to try to get mechanics to repeat jobs the same way. "But human performance is not perfect," Wall says.

That's where UGS' solid-modeling and analysis capabilities came into play. By feeding this design data into a machine tool for manufacturing, "We could reproduce parts accurately," Wall says. "This enabled us to reduce the variability in engine assembly and achieve repeat performance within 1%. All our teams now are within a very narrow range of performance. These gains have been driven by the software."

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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