Until recently, Evernham Motor-sports LLC in Statesville, N.C., built its team race cars and R&D vehicles mostly by hand. But this made it difficult to respond quickly to NASCAR engine and body-specification rules, which often change with little notice.
For a competitive edge, the firm began using a product-lifecycle-management (PLM) system from Dassault Systemes in Woodland Hills, Calif. The system includes components of Catia V5, Delmia, and Enovia SmarTeam. It lets Evernham efficiently manage multiple engine, suspension, body, and chassis systems for its NASCAR Nextel, Busch, Truck, and ARCA Series race cars. More recently, the software has played a role in the new NASCAR Car of Tomorrow, a larger, safer, next-generation race car.
"Initially, our design process was segmented, and we had little revision control," says Evernham Motorsports Technical Director Eric Warren. "For some parts we used 2D drawings, and 3D models for others. We hand-programmed the CNC machines. And reverse engineering was difficult because our old software couldn't handle the large point clouds generated from scanning an entire car body. We didn't even use a design package for the chassis, but built it by hand from prefabricated weldment fixtures."
The company first designed a new Evernham chassis from scratch using Catia V5, and eventually included engine and body systems as well. Along with design, the software provides free-form surfacing, FE analysis, and NC programming. SmarTeam stores all the vehicle design data on the company network, with information including the date parts were built or retired, dimensions, materials, and toolpaths. To build a chassis, the machine shop now downloads the part models by Ethernet, generates toolpaths in Delmia, then sends models of the tubing structures to suppliers to CNC bend and laser trim the tubing.
"For body design, Catia easily imports large point clouds, and it lets users build surfaces on them without using a third-party application," says Warren. "We cross section the surfaces to make digital templates, which the machine shop then downloads to manufacture metal templates. These serve as measuring tools that fit a car's body to make sure it meets NASCAR height and shape specs. Problems translating to STEP or IGES are eliminated because designing and machining are in the same package."
Warren says the PLM system also comes in handy for communicating between the shop and the racetrack. "R&D might be track testing a car and see a component is hitting or binding. They pass lightweight 3D XML models of the part marked up with clearances back and forth until they pinpoint dimensions that need changing."
Evernham expects that Delmia will prove especially useful as the firm looks to use robotics to build the NASCAR Car of Tomorrow. The vehicle focuses on driver safety, so it is taller and wider and contains multiple new structural components to make it more crashworthy than previous race cars.
"This got us thinking about using mass production for pieces that don't vary much, especially since we will be racing the Car of Tomorrow 16 times next year, with a total of about 30 cars for all the teams," says Warren. "So instead of making, for instance, five pieces, we plan on using Delmia to program a robot cell to make 50. It takes a human about 1.5 days to build parts such as lower-control arms, and robotics will speed this up considerably. A CAD-based approach lets us control details such as molding the ergonomics of the new carbon-fiber seats to specific drivers. A PLM system is necessary to manage the large amounts of data and processes involved with such advanced manufacturing techniques."