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Winning with teamwork

Sept. 11, 2005
One shop races to success with several NASCAR teams.

After shop personnel assemble the cars, they bond and paint them.

Joe Gibbs Racing's high-tech metrology lab houses CMMs for checking component dimensions, a profilometer for checking part form and surface finish, and an MMQ44 for checking valve roundness and concentricity.

A shop employee checks dimensions on an aluminum actuator housing.

Gibbs shop equipment includes Daewoo CNCs and Mitsubishi EDMs.

Cars are assembled on surface plates with 0.020-in.-tolerance flatness.

Personnel assemble the cars in the setup area of the facility.

Teamwork is the competitive edge at Joe Gibbs Racing. In fact, teamwork dictated its facility's design and continually plays a key role in fan loyalty, corporate sponsor satisfaction, employee motivation, crew-conditioning programs, and the team's shopmanufacturing processes. With such a focus, Gibbs Racing says it forgoes looking for one big feat, but rather concentrates on the many little accomplishments that, added together, let it win races.

The Gibbs facility, in Charlotte, N.C., builds race cars and has a shop dedicated to making parts for them. It gets certain parts, such as engine blocks and cylinder heads, from General Motors Corp., its manufacturing sponsor, through GM's motorsports program. Gibbs modifies these blocks and heads heavily and manufacturers most of the other engine components it needs.

The facility also shapes sheetmetal bodies and modifies or makes transmission, rear-end and shock and suspension parts from aluminum, steel and stainless steel; building about 80% of the car from the ground up.

Gibbs Racing cars include several NASCAR teams — three Nextel Cup, two Busch and two Late Model Series teams. Corporate sponsors include Home Depot for Tony Stewart in #20, Interstate Batteries for Bobby LaBonte in #18, and Federal Express for Jason Leffler in #11.

Bringing all into the fold
According to Mark Bringle, CNC Manager at Joe Gibbs Racing, the company's new 250,000-square-foot facility motivates employees by providing a nice place to work, and it also caters to fans and corporate sponsors. For instance, visitors can look through an 80-foot viewing window and see the cars as they go out to the race track.

"Gibbs' special philosophy is to bring everyone into the fold," says Bringle.

Bringing everyone into the fold also means everyone from floor sweepers to department heads share in the glory and bonuses when teams win. It doesn't matter if it's a Home Depot, Interstate or Fed Ex team that wins.

Putting all on the same level also holds true for the cars. Before they are painted, cars can go to any one of the three teams. All the cars and motors are manufactured identically, and it's not until drivers get to the track that the pit crews set up the car for the driver's feel — some like the car loose, some like it tight.

Communication and teamwork in this regard is important. For example, the #20 team continues to dominate because it has had the same driver, crew chief and crew members for six years. Crew members communicate and know what the driver needs, and the driver, in turn, knows the feel of the car. A lot of times, a car might not start off very well, but will work its way up through the race as crew members fine-tune it.

Teamwork also is paramount in pit-crew conditioning. For one, Gibbs Racing hired a trainer from the Carolina Panthers to head its weight-training program. In addition, the facility has a mock pit wall outback that simulates the same conditions found on race tracks.

Drivers in practice cars pull up to the wall at 55 mph. Pit crews then jump over the wall and practice quickly changing tires and filling the fuel tanks. Working as a team is critical as pit-stop time can make or break races.

Manufacturing teamwork
Especially important, teamwork pervades the shop's manufacturing processes. For instance, the shop's metrology lab works with two partners, The L.S. Starrett Co., Athol, Mass., and Mahr Federal Inc., Providence, R.I. Raw materials come in the back door and get sawed and sized, eventually moving to the different departments. Since Gibbs buys certain components from outside vendors, to be on the safe side, it first tests parts in the metrology lab.

Besides using other equipment, shop personnel check component dimensions with Starrett CMMs. They also check part form and surface finish using a Mahr profilometer, and they gage valves going in motors for roundness and concentricity on an MMQ44. The lab also features a hardness tester, which rejects parts made from the wrong material or that were heat-treated improperly.

In the fabrication room, teams of shop personnel fashion car bodies from sheetmetal, typically 24-gage steel, which is 0.024-in.thick, or from 22 gage, which is 0.032-in. thick. They cut out sheetmetal patterns and shape and finish-form them with pneumatic air hammers and English wheels. They then MIG-weld car bodies to roll cages with equipment from Lincoln Electric.

Bringle explains that there are three different body styles. With five cars per style, each team has about 15 cars. Gibbs constantly modifies body styles for better performance, with tracks determining which styles — super-speedway, speedway, road course or short track — will be used.

Shop personnel then check body construction on gantry slides, measuring the bodies in 3 axes.

Because of secrecy issues involved with proprietary components, Gibbs has separate shock absorber, cylinder head, cam, crank, motor assembly and rear end and transmission team assembly areas that are accessible only to authorized personnel.

The shop teams up with Daewoo and uses ten of the company's CNCs, two of which are 50 and 40-taper horizontals. The 40 taper handles high-speed aluminum jobs and also sports a 5th axis with a cylinder-head fixture mounted to it. The 50 taper is used for modifying cast steel GM blocks.

Gibbs dedicates some machines to certain jobs. For instance, one machine does only pistons, another cylinder heads and manifolds, and yet another blocks and rocker arms, while Mitsubishi EDMs do shock components.

Besides block, cylinder heads and manifolds, the shop currently manufacturers over 450 motor, shock and chassis parts. Typical runs are approximately 100 pieces. The shop currently is starting to manufacture its own valve covers.

Gibbs racing typically builds about 300 motors per year at an average cost of $55,000-60,000 per motor. Unfortunately, it gets only one race out of a motor because, while a typical passenger car runs at 2,000 rpm, a Gibbs race car runs at nearly 8,000 rpm. Also, while passenger cars may last about 200,000 miles, race cars last only 700 miles.

Everything comes together in the Gibbs facility's setup area. Mechanics assemble cars on surface plates with 0.020-in.-tolerance flatness. Cars weigh 3,400 pounds and depending where loads are, the mechanics redistribute weight as needed. Once cars are set up, the mechanics check them thoroughly and sign them off.

Gibbs Keeps The Latest Technology

Joe Gibbs Racing keeps the latest technology for a reason — in addition to teamwork, technology helps give the shop its competitive edge. The shop boasts a Stratasys FDM (fused deposition modeling) Titan. Shop personnel load a model file into it, and the machine builds a prototype one layer at a time from hard plastic that has the properties similar to aluminum.

"We've only had the Titan about a month. We are in a business where the minute we get an idea, the faster we get the part to the car, the better. This gives us another competitive edge. The machine has cut weeks out of our design process, and better yet, we no longer have to tie up valuable CNC time to make prototypes," says Bringle.

Gibbs Racing also uses CAD/CAM software from UGS, Plano, Texas, which also saves the company a lot of time. "Our designers draw the part from an idea. They then do FEA tests on it, make up a print, and send the print to manufacturing, where a programmer programs the part." This is all done seamlessly and quickly," says Bringle.

In addition, the shop has a Primar MX4 CMM. Bringle continues,"We are the only NASCAR team to have such a device, although several Formula 1 teams have them. With it, we check our cams and cranks, a notoriously difficult job to do with traditional measuring devices because crank journals are off-center. However, while the MX4 rotates the part, contact points remain the same, and the machine automatically moves cranks off-center for measuring."

The Primar MX4 CMM from Mahr measures off-center components such as crankshafts at Gibbs Racing.

Gibbs' Stratasys FDM Titan built an actuator housing from plastic that has properties similar to aluminum.

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