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Since adopting NX, Joe Gibbs Racing has won the NASCAR championship three times
With expert drivers like Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch – and fast Toyota Camrys, Joe Gibbs Racing has the makings for NASCAR success. But winning involves more than sending these men and their cars out onto the track each weekend. So much work must be done on the cars between races that another type of race takes place constantly in the shop as designers and machinists work against the clock.
Before the cars are shipped to the next event (Wednesday or Thursday depending on the location), parts that have worn during the previous race must be replaced. Suspensions must be adjusted for the new track. And if a rule change has been handed down by NASCAR, the new equipment must be installed and tested before leaving. And while all this is going on, the team must also be working on future enhancements to the vehicles.
Prior to 1998, the crew had tried using CAD/CAM software to speed the production of custom components. Although this was faster than making drawings and then machining parts by hand, data translation between the two software programs caused errors that slowed the process considerably. That problem was solved with the installation of NX I-deas® software, with its fully integrated design, analysis and manufacturing environments.
Soon, parts that previously took days or weeks to manufacture were made on CNC machines and available in hours. And as familiarity with the new software grew and more components were modeled within NX, the team started using the software to evaluate new engine and suspension configurations virtually. They also began using the digital environment to optimize weight distribution. Working virtually first and then later in the shop, engineers stripped excess metal from upper components and applied the weight to areas below the centerline of the axles. This way, they were able to improve handling while maintaining NASCAR’s required vehicle weight. The software also helped the team find ways to increase engine horsepower. Performance on the track reflected the increasing use of NX, with faster times and better finishes. In 2000, just three years after installing the software, Joe Gibbs Racing won its first NASCAR championship.
Since then the team’s use of NX has expanded greatly, to the point that nearly every part and subassembly, including the entire engine, has been modeled in NX. The part library contains approximately 9,000 parts, 887 assemblies and 3,700 drawing files. “We’re running 17 CNC machines along with a laser, a waterjet and rapid prototyping capabilities. The three main reasons we built up the engineeering and manufacturing groups are concept to car as quickly as possible, quality issues and to retain, leverage and protect company knowledge,” says Mark Bringle, the team’s CNC and Quality Control Manager. About 80 percent of those are replacements for parts that are worn out during races. The rest are new parts being designed for R&D purposes.
The beauty of this approach is that almost all parts can be made in-house very quickly. Also, big tasks like grinding ports out of the manifold and cylinder heads (to increase horsepower) are completed much faster now. “When we had guys grinding ports by hand it took 70 hours to complete a set,” says Bringle. “Now, the CNC machine does it in seven hours.” The shapes of the ports, which are complex surfaces, were modeled in Imageware, then used by NX Generative Machining as the basis for the CNC toolpaths. Bringle frequently uses the toolpath simulation capability of Generative Machining to evaluate new machining processes. “By doing this on the computer, we don’t waste machine time to see how a cutting process will go,” Bringle explains.
Fast part production is just one aspect of the team’s use of NX, however. Jon Rittle, the team’s design engineer who has done most of the modeling, uses the software’s mechanism analysis functionality to test new engine configurations before metal is ever cut. “In the past, we had no way of checking internal clearances,” Rittle explains. “With NX we can visualize all the different parts of the engine as they move.” Rittle has also created a digital model of the suspension in NX. He uses this, in combination with another software program, to help the crew chief quickly tune the suspension for a particular track. That process used to take two weeks. Now it takes two hours. NX geometry is also being used in the team’s scale model program, as the basis for stereolithography and other prototypes used in wind tunnel tests.
“Since we installed NX, we are in the championship hunt every year,” says Bringle. “And we’ve won the championship three times. It’s hard to say how much the software has to do with that, but you have to admit there’s an impressive correlation.”
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Joe Gibbs Racing, owned by formerWashington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, competes in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide series.
Huntersville, North Carolina
"With NX, we have the capability and flexibility to make any part in the few days we have between races."
CNC and Quality Control Manager
Joe Gibbs Racing
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