Nascar Lean Manufacturing Case Study

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NASCAR: Every Second Counts Helping Win From The Pits. By: Mark Appolloni: Introduction to the case: NASCAR, The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, is the largest approved body of motorsports in the United States. In 2006, after 15 years of working in NASCAR racing as an athletic director for HMS, Andy Papathanassiou (known as Papa) began searching for the next breakthrough to improve pit crew performances and times.

His innovative techniques and determination had successfully cut pit crews performance times in half because he introduced athletic training and much like chapter 3 in our book standardized (organized) practices to the process thus turning crew members into athletes. The introduction of pit crewmembers training as athletes revolutionized the motorsports industry and has made the sport what it is today. When Papa worked at HMS they were known for having one of the most intensive training programs in racing history.

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In addition to having athletic team members they also sought out motivated individuals who could transition their skills from athleticism into observation and skill under pressure in a competition. The pit crew team is much like the book we are reading in class where a cell in a manufacturing company works like this team to lean out their process and gain throughput but also cut down Muda or waste and improve cycle time. Crews have been known to train hard in the off-season over the winter.

Team members lose weight and get physically fitter in the process just to obtain their goals. Some guy’s even train in the gym continuously. Whether it was the person or the machine Papa studied ways to enhance the performance of the overall process. He introduced new improvements one after the other, one improvement might be less dramatic than the first but it may not necessarily be less important in the overall result or in the equation. In doing so, Papa created his own legacy in motorsports and transformed the sport of auto racing.

His instincts promoted the theory that within the process of assigning pit positions there existed an opportunity that would improve overall performance of the race. As you may be aware fractions of a second could determine the outcome of a race because it would give a competitive advantage of one team over the other. As the rules of the sport began to change and the sport began to evolve this way of thinking would be responsible for a breakthrough in technology. His years of experience led him to believe and promote that better ideas would come from outside the sport itself.

When it comes to professional racing, especially Nascar, all the race cars should be the same as far as technology goes and one car cannot have anything illegally different than the others to make them faster than the others so where does the difference lie as far as who wins and who doesn’t win? Well the answer is they all depend on one thing, the service they get during the race. This is where driver of the car and the race is won or lost. The members of his team called the pit crew, takes the spotlight.

The seven people that make up the crew do their best to get the driver in position to win or lose the race. It took some time but NASCAR eventually realized the benefits of a professional and athletic pit crew. In the beginning racing teams had a limited budget just like any other manufacturing company does and focused their limited resources on improving the cars mechanically rather than on the pit crew and therefore the attention was on only mechanical factors so the pit crew members had more of a mechanical background and therefore they were more mechanically trained than athletically trained.

However in the same respect as for the driver it was discovered that shaving every last fraction of a second from the race time is critical for the pit crews as well. So much to the extent that even the slightest of delays during a pit stop could again decide the outcome of a race. Pit stops in NASCAR used to be more time consuming than they are today. The reason is because they have found ways to do the things they need to do and do them even better but in the end do them quicker than ever before. At most tire shops it may take 30 minutes to change the tires on your car.

Today, most pit stops in a car race take 1% of that time and this is one example of how the race is won or lost. A few years ago 18 seconds used to be the standard time to change all four tires on a racecar’s pit stop and nowadays in 15 seconds some crews can not only change the tires but fuel the car up as well. Crews are more specialized these days as they have found more ways to lean out their process. So don’t be surprised if pit times drop even further in the future as more ways are being found to lean out the process even more. It is all part of an equation when the driver first hits the pit for his stop.

His tires have to be at a certain mark in a box and if he misses the mark he needs to get pushed back before the service can even start and he loses time for every part of this lean process or equation that he is off. The jackman and the tire changes can be over the wall separating the pit from the crew just before the driver and the car even stops. This is another part of the process that needs to be exact. The jackman gets to the right side of the car and raises the car while the tire changers loosen the lug nuts on each wheel and pull it off and put the new tire on the car (Royce, 2002).

This, is all part of a leaned out process used to gain an edge to win the race. An air impact gun is used to rapidly loosen and tighten the nuts on the wheels and all five lugs have to be tightened otherwise it’s a penalty that can force the driver or car back to the pits and can cost track positioning and cause you to lose the race. Once the right side is done the jack is lowered. To gain time the crew doesn’t have to change all four tires but if they do the process is repeated on the left side of the car also. It all depends on the track, the stage of the race, and the flag being waived at the start/finish line.

While new tires are being put on the car, it is being filled with fuel at the same time. In case of any overspill, the catch can man holds the can to collect any overflow from the fuel cell (Royce, 2002). This sounds like a simple job but even this is part of the process and it can be leaned out over time to gain time in the race. He then puts his hands in the air when refueling is complete. If a driver cannot see out of his windshield, NASCAR can permit an eighth crew member to save time and clean it, and service the driver as well.

The teams hold a special competition for the pit crews toward the end of the season before the fall race at North Carolina Speedway. Reiser’s crew won the 2001 competition in under 18 seconds but that includes time for the driver to get in and out of the stall (Royce, 2002). Some pit lane stops can be around a second slower than times that they have performed in the factory, especially given the possibility of delays because of communication factor in the race between the crew members so this is perfect example of a process issue obstacle they are trying to use Lean concepts to understand, figure out and eventually overcome.

Some of the teams have been working around this problem however some have taken different approaches and are trying to further lean out their process. For example, Ferrari has introduced a wheel nut, which features automatic triggering of its fastener, and have brought back an updated version of their ‘traffic light’ system that they ditched after 2008, in an attempt to reduce the delay in human reaction times. Meanwhile Mercedes has introduced a similar system in place of the traditional ‘lollypop’ method, while Renault designed specially adapted wheel nuts and a new front jack with a quick-release mechanism (Mesinger, 2010).

These Lean technological ideas and innovative changes will come together to save quite a bit of time and as a result can help win a big race. Whether all this hard work studying and changing the current process the full difference in new developments is still yet to be seen. Analysis of the Case Study: To analyze what makes this case so special and how it relates to Lean Technology and Lean concepts was that as a result of Papa’s way of thinking this illustrated operational process improvement methods very similar to that employed in lean technology.

The case uses the concept and illustration of knowledge brokering techniques – using old ideas to find new answers and solutions for problems and how this can be applied to improve performance. The bottom line was creating open innovative techniques can lead to improved process improvements, performance and productivity not only on the shop floor but also in a race competition scenario. This case shows how the concept of using old ideas to find new solutions to problems and how this can be applied to improve performance in most any given situation.

It is also a basis for considering different improvement approaches and helps understand how to connect time-based results in relationship to production or other service systems for example. The case also makes you wonder what will be the next breakthrough in how Lean Technology can enhance performance times and this case also promotes the discussion of the this topic even further in that what will the next phase be, a human element or a technological invention?

To illustrate another very important way this case was used to demonstrate Lean techniques to help better serve our country and help out with the war on terror. Nascar Pit Crews have actually trained Marines. Pit crews at the Twenty-nine Palms racetrack in California are working with Marine combat helicopter crews on speeding up their refueling and rearming procedures. The automobile specialists have the ideal training for this job to help Marines in the same fashion. “Every little second counts toward losing and winning, and it’s the same in battlefield,” said trainer Al Shuford.

In the world of auto racing, if a pit crew can save even hundredths of a second, it could mean a first-place finish at the racetrack. For combat helicopter crews, speed is equally critical, so they are learning efficiency tips from the very people who make their living on quickness and efficiency. “We have pit crews who service our car on the track, and everything is done for speed,” said Rob Winchester of Team Rensi Racing. “And the same thing is true here for combat helicopters for arming and refueling. Most Marine Corps helicopters have a range of 100 to 300 miles, making pit stops a necessity when in enemy territory. Every second wasted could bring helicopter crews closer to disaster, as helicopters refueling on the battlefield are literally sitting targets. While the stakes are higher for Marines, the need for speed remains the same because their helicopters pit stops are a little more critical. (McMillan, 2013) NASCAR’s Matt Kenseth’s pit crew is known as the Killer Bees because of their trademark yellow and black uniforms.

They and other pit crews are much like employees working on the shop floor in a cell at a manufacturing company. They are a team that trains together, works constantly to perfect their technique. Every pit stop is rehearsed over and over is like choreography. To have standardization in the pit they, just like in a Kaizen event on the shop floor even videotape their pit stops and analyze the tapes to find ways to operate in the pit more quickly and efficiently and then post pictures to go by until the repetition becomes habit and becomes a standard or constant process.

As we learned in the book taking pictures to illustrate the fastest most accurate way of doing things then uses those pictures to train others so everybody works in conjunction with one another as a team to do the process right over and over again in order to get the job done faster with less cost and as a result have a competitive edge. It is all part of the cost reduction environment we all now have to thrive in today’s economy. (Spaulding, 2009) Works Cited

McMillan, R. (2013, April 28). NASCAR Pit Crews Train Marines. ABC Nedws . Twentynine Palms, California, USA. Mesinger, R. (2010). The Lesser Known Race: Every Second Counts For Pit Crews. Turner Broadcasting Network. Turner Broadcasting Systems. Royce, J. (2002, Feb 16). Pit Magic – For the Pit Crew Every Second Counts. Sarasota Herald – Tribune , p. 89. Spaulding, J. (2009, Jan 1). Matt Kenseth: Nascar Driver. The Rosen Publishing Group.

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Nascar Lean Manufacturing Case Study. (2016, Nov 13). Retrieved from

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