Charlotte, NC--You think you have little time to design a product and get it out the door? How does a time-to-market of one week sound? That's the task often facing lead engineer Jim Wall and the NASCAR stock-car design team at Hendrick Motorsports.
"We key on durability," Wall highlights. "If a part fails, it's our job to come back with analysis and implement a fix by the next race--the following week." And such parts end up being mutilated as well, so you often can't get a definite conclusion. "We do a design, development, and manufacturing cycle in a week," he says. And it's modern CAD software that holds such a fast-paced effort together--as was needed after this year's Daytona 500. An engine component failed as team driver Jeff Gordon began a final run for the finish.
Software is a driver for many racing teams, across many classes of competition, for many applications (DN 5/4/98, p. 72). In Indy cars,Team Rahal uses Parametric Technology (Waltham, MA) Pro(reg) series for aerodynamic design and assembly optimization. CART contender Tasman Motorsports employs EDS Unigraphics (Maryland Heights, MO) codes to improve part designs to facilitate pit-stop repairs.
Hendrick Motorsports has been using CAD/CAM software since the early '90s beginning with DOS-based packages and including surfacing and five-axis machine-tool programs. Realizing the increased importance of coordinating engineering development, production, and documentation, earlier this year the team entered into a multi-year relationship with one of its software suppliers, Structural Dynamics Research Corp. (SDRC, Cincinnati). Hendrick will use SDRC I-DEAS(TM) software exclusively for design of its Winston Cup cars, NASCAR's premier class.
Win with a winner. The Hendrick organization must be doing something right, and aims to keep ahead of the pack. In the last three seasons, its teams have won the Winston Cup championship--Gordon, driving for DuPont, won in 1995 and 1997, and Terry Labonte, driving for Kellogg's, won in 1996. A third team from Budweiser has Ricky Craven as its driver.
Wall says the benefits of the arrangement with the software supplier will go beyond fully implementing and using the latest version of the I-DEAS Master Series with its integrated design, documentation, manufacturing, and analysis tools. "What's so nice about having a relationship is we can provide feedback and they will listen. SDRC does not have such an arrangement with any other NASCAR teams." He also notes the key role that the software plays in keeping the design team organized, "from an initial design concept, to the race, and into the database."
"Software allows optimizing the car by looking at it as a complete system, and interpreting a design within the strict limits imposed by NASCAR," adds Wall (see sidebar). CAD/CAM is obviously used in designing parts, but he highlights that the change from earlier wireframe models to fully contoured solid surfaces, enclosing bound volumes, also allows applying materials properties directly into the computerized design process. "Also the latest SDRC Master Series tool does many tasks in one, from parts building in software, to generating blueprints and analysis models, and formulating manufacturing parameters," he says. "By building, assembling, and analyzing in virtual space, we save on prototyping costs."
Besides parts and assemblies, Wall adds Hendrick now wants to incorporate even more of what he sees as SDRC's strength in analysis into engineering simulations. Finally, noteworthy in such a quick turnaround environment, the concurrent engineering features of the package keep everyone on the design team working with the same "blueprints" of the correct version of a design.
Solid-surface modeling also lends itself to aerodynamic flow analysis--critical for handling and drag determination. And while engineers investigate aerodynamics, reverse engineering is also possible. A portable surface coordinate measuring machine can "document" the 3D surface of a car that performs well aerodynamically for further analysis and future applications. In addition, Wall says the aero package can assess vital internal engine fluid dynamics and is being used in designing ports, cylinder heads, and induction-system components providing air to the engine.
Aero analysis, along with wind-tunnel testing, leads to a fast car that sticks to the track. But Wall notes, "One area where we can stand a lot of improvement is in analyzing a racing situation in turbulent conditions when cars are just inches away from each other."
The benefits of the SDRC/Hendrick association should flow the other way as well. Bill Weyand, SDRC president and CEO, says, "Our experience and position with racing teams helps us to develop software tools for our commercial automobile clients." For example, Ford is using such tools in its five-year computer technology implementation effort. According to Paul Blumberg, director of product development systems at the manufacturer's product development center, the company-wide program is half-way complete with goals, including reducing vehicle development time from 36 to 24 months and eventually less than 18 months.