Kevin M. Kelly
The changes NASCAR is making for its “Car of Tomorrow” program won’t be just cosmetic. The way the stock cars are manufactured—currently they are hand-built and massaged to fit the sanctioning body’s templates—will go through an enormous transformation since these next-generation racers will have to follow a strict set of common rules. According to Dr. Eric Warren, Technical Director at Evernham Motorsports, this paves the way for a major change: “If the rules are stable you can automate a lot more of the manufacturing.” To test out this theory, Warren is installing a robot cell at Evernham’s shop to build lower control arms for both race cars and trucks, which should cut manufacturing time from 36 hours to less than 20 minutes. “We have modeled the entire robotics process with some of the Delmia products [www.delmia.com] and met with different robotics companies as well,” he says, and the control arm experiment will determine whether it will be beneficial for Evernham to automate the build as it switches over to the Car of Tomorrow’s common chassis and body design.
As NASCAR moves its teams to a common chassis, Evernham is investigating whether it can build a niche as a manufacturer for other teams since the additional volume would help it offset the investment in new technology. Says team owner Ray Evernham, who claims to be using the McLaren F1 team as his business model, “We are a small manufacturing company that can’t continue to build a work of art one-by-one. The rest of the motorsports world has passed us by.” Says Dr. Warren: “With the Car of Tomorrow it’s likely that the entire chassis build could be automated, and—if we can recoup the investment—the body panels would be stamped.” With every car the same except for variations in the brand identity decals, this would make it possible to single-source the body panels through a company like Evernham Motorsports.—KMK
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