How Racing Teams Can Help your Shop

Several lessons can be learned about efficient CNC machine tool usage from auto racing teams. Many shop people are racing fans, so the lessons should be pretty easy to drive home—even for newcomers to the shop environment.


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Imagine a future production run in terms of an auto race. For example, the shop is the race track, the CNC machine is the race car and the CNC machine setup is the preparation that must be done before and on race day. The production run is the race itself. Cyclic pauses for part loading, dull tool replacement and other tasks are pit stops during the race. The end of the production run is the finish line. With this mind-set, successful racing teams can teach manufacturers many things.
First of all, racing teams are extreme examples of how just about anything is possible with unlimited resources. While any team leader will surely tell you that they have a budget, sponsors often are willing to spend whatever it takes to ensure a winning season. For racing teams,—if they are going to compete—it is feasible to spend extreme sums of money to make even the smallest improvements. 
Think about how they have perfected the task of tire changing. What probably takes the average person about an hour takes less than 10 seconds for racing teams—and of course, they change all four tires. For normal drivers, these extreme measures are not justifiable. However, if racing teams are going to compete, they’ll spend the needed money.
For shop people, the lesson here is that feasibility determines what is possible. Said another way, anything is possible, but not everything is feasible. Given racing teams’ enormous resources, just about anything is possible. However, shop people aren’t so lucky. Chosen methods must be appropriately justified. The most successful shops have figured out how to marry possibility with feasibility in a way that works best for them. This gives them the ability to compete while still making a profit.
Another lesson we can learn from car racing teams is related to planning and preparation. Unless the car is on the track and racing, it cannot get any closer to the finish line. Race team managers know that if anything can be planned for and done in preparation of the race, then it must be done ahead of time. This will maximize the time the car is on the track and/or optimize the speed at which it will go. As an obvious example, they will bring several different tire types to the race and will decide on race day which is best for the current track conditions.
Think about the preparation that goes into manufacturing production runs. Unless a CNC machine is in cycle, it is not getting any closer to completing a production run. Do your machines ever sit idle waiting for something that could have been done prior to the job hitting the machine? 
Think about it. A race car is always at the starting line at the beginning of a race. It wouldn’t be sitting in the pits as the race begins, waiting for its tires to be mounted. Again, consider how many times your machines sit idle waiting for something just as silly.
Along the same lines, consider how many things race teams do before the race or while the car is on the track. Only absolutely essential tasks get done during a pit stop. You’d never see a car waiting in the pits while a team member fills a fuel can. Fuel is ready and available from the moment the car enters the pit area. 
By comparison, how often do your CNC machines sit idle during part loading and dull tool replacement while people do things that could be done while the machine is running? By the way, this should have nothing to do with your available resources. Only training, motivation and a change in mind-set are necessary to be truly ready to perform a task when it is required.
The last lesson I offer—and it may be the most important—is related to teaming up on tasks. You’d never see a race car in the pits being tended to by only one person. Can you imagine the car sitting in the pits while this person changed each tire, filled the fuel tank, cleaned the windshield and did other similar tasks? Such a team would be the laughingstock of the racing circuit. Even worse would be seeing one person tending to more than one car in the race.  
Yet, that’s exactly what’s going on in most CNC shops. One operator loads parts; cleans and deburrs them; checks them; reports to the statistical process control system; changes dull tools; cleans the machine; performs preventive maintenance; and does whatever else is required to get the machine back in production. Often, this operator is expected to run two or more machines. In this scenario, machines regularly sit idle waiting for operators.