Toyota may have only been racing in NASCAR for the last decade or so, but the principles of the Toyota Production System have been in the sport since its inception. Here are some examples of lean thinking in NASCAR, that uniquely American form of motorsport:
Single-Minute Exchange of Die (SMED). A pit stop is the NASCAR equivalent of a die change in manufacturing. Quite a bit gets done in only a few seconds: tires are changed, gasoline is dumped in, and chassis adjustments are made. A number of lean thinking techniques are utilized in a NASCAR pit stop:
(1) Separate Internal from External Setup Operations. Most of the work performed in a NASCAR pit stop is actually done while the car is on the track: tires are mounted, balanced, and set to the right inflation pressure; gas cans are filled up; adjustments are discussed over the radio; and everything (and everyone) is organized along the pit wall.
(2) Convert Internal to External Setup. Lug nuts are glued to the wheels so that they do not have to be positioned before being secured. Special tools have been designed for things that are frequently adjusted for changing track conditions (track bar, wedge, etc).
(3) Adopt Parallel Operations. One person could perform all the operations in a pit stop…but a carefully coordinated team can do it much faster. Everyone in a NASCAR pit stop has a job to do…and does it with very little wasted motion.
Countermeasures for Zero Breakdowns. Mechanical reliability in NASCAR is excellent. With the exception of a few cars too damaged in wrecks to continue, almost all the cars that start are running at the finish. All five Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) countermeasures for breakdowns are readily evident:
(1) Cleaning, lubricating, and bolting. The cars are meticulously assembled and then receive lavish amounts of attention during a race weekend. A small fluid leak will only get worse. Brake dust could be hiding a problem.
(2) Adhering to proper operating procedures. Detailed checklists coordinate and control everyone and everything that touches the car.
(3) Restoring deterioration. Virtually all parts are inspected between races. Many, like engines, are replaced after every race.
(4) Improving weaknesses in design. NASCAR teams have rigorous engine dyno programs to improve engine reliability. Redundancy is provided for systems with less than 100% reliability: electronic ignitions, batteries, etc.
(5) Improving operations and maintenance skills. This is self evident…the cars get faster and more reliable every year. A very high level of organization is required to run a NASCAR team.
Shigeo Shingo and Junior Johnson would have had a common language in lean thinking…
Here are two books from my library on TPS and TPM:
“A Study of the Toyota Production System” by Shigeo Shingo (the famous green book)
“Introduction to TPM” by Seiichi Nakajima
Addendum – February 18, 2022
While watching a bit of last night’s Daytona 500 twin qualifying races, I noticed another example of Lean Thinking in NASCAR…centerlock wheels. The new “mono lug” forged aluminum wheel is example of another common SMED technique: Use Functional Clamps or Eliminate Fasteners Altogether.
Centerlock wheels are nothing new in motorsports but NASCAR has always raced on 5 lug steel wheels. The rules change to forged aluminum centerlock wheels reduces the number of fasteners (and time) required to remove and reinstall a wheel.
Dumping in fuel may now be the “bottleneck” in a NASCAR pit stop (pun unintended). It will be interesting to see how pit strategies are affected.