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3 Lessons Manufacturers Can Learn From NASCAR Racing

Race car and checkered flag
Credit: iStock/Jerry Ballard

This blog is part of a monthly series brought to you by the America Works initiative. As a part of the MEP National Network’s goal of supporting the growth of small and medium-sized manufacturing companies, this series focuses on innovative approaches and uncovering the latest trends in manufacturing workforce development. 

“In motor sports, you get your quarterly report every weekend.”

—Roger Penske

The NASCAR pit stop – it’s exciting, intense, and can mean the difference between winning and losing a race. Accomplishing the three simultaneous necessities of moving quickly, completing each job with perfection, and having a flawlessly coordinated team seem impossible, yet it happens right in front of your eyes. The feedback is immediate: either the car gets off in less than ten seconds, and the driver can compete for a spot on the podium, or it doesn’t, and your race is over.

Outside of the racetrack, could the NASCAR pit stop be the answer to exciting young people about manufacturing? Could you use lessons from NASCAR to improve your company’s teamwork?

Lesson #1 – Get inspired by racing

The inspiration for this blog post comes from my recent trip to FABTECH 2022 in Atlanta. While there, I was privileged to hear from Brad Keselowski, a former NASCAR driver turned manufacturing company owner, about his journey from the driver’s seat to the CEO suite. In his presentation, Keselowski walked us through his personal journey that led him to found his company, Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing (KAM), in 2019.

First, Keselowski shared that race car builders are truly artisans. Racing engineers employ computerized numerical control (CNC) machining, various types of welding, and 3D printing to create their cars. They use light-weighting and supply chain optimization, and they navigate tight specifications, tolerances, and inspections. A simple look under any car’s hood shows the intricacy and complexity of modern automotive manufacturing. And when you consider the fantastic future that electric vehicles represent – faster, cleaner and smarter than their predecessors – it’s hard not to be inspired by the potential in manufacturing careers.

Lesson #2 – It’s important

To riff on a line from The Lion King, “Everything the light touches is manufactured.” Keselowski shared with us some of the critical components that KAM makes. From its 70,000-square foot space in Statesville, North Carolina, this 50-person company is developing products for uses in space, in the air, and under the ocean, enabling everything from scientific research to national defense.

From large parts to small, manufacturing powers racing – and our lives. To bring this point home, fans of the Netflix series, “F1: Drive to Survive” will remember an unfortunate situation in season two when the Williams race car was shipped to the racetrack without wheel nuts. This was not only embarrassing for the Williams team, but ended up costing the technical director his job. In manufacturing, racing, and in life, the details matter!

Lesson #3 – Racing teams are the future of work

Keselowski attributed KAM’s business success to its integrated team approach, where representatives from across the business – design, additive manufacturing, subtractive manufacturing, quality, shipping and more – all participate in the process of bringing a product to market. This integration means that the part is designed for both end use and manufacturability along the way. A 100% digital workflow ties the entire system together, ensuring that logistics, accounting, human resources, quality control and other departments are all looped in where necessary.

This approach is where work is going, regardless of your industry. Putting people at the center of purpose, problem-solving, creativity and technology is what makes manufacturing exciting. In this fast-paced industry, KAM’s teams can simulate their designs, fail virtually, and rapidly iterate to move more quickly than the company’s competition. Project members work to “lean out” the manufacturing process, creating a well-oiled machine from start to finish. Along the way, they get real time feedback, be it from the customer reviewing those digital twins remotely, or from their teammates looking over quick 3D prints. In fact, this process has been so effective that in Utah you can send your manufacturing team to get lean training via a pit crew experience [opens PDF].

If you want your company to be lightning quick and capture your own spot on the manufacturing podium, consider the value of integrated teams. And if you’re an educator working to inspire young people, consider using the racing experience as a way to excite students about the possibilities of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

About the author

Matt Fieldman

Matthew Fieldman is currently Executive Director of America Works, a nationwide initiative to coordinate the American manufacturing industry's training efforts, generating a more capable, skilled, and diverse workforce. Based at MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, Matt works across the nation's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) system to increase collaboration, efficiency, and impact of local and regional workforce development efforts.

Previously, he was Vice President of External Affairs for MAGNET, a nonprofit that helps Northeast Ohio’s small- and medium-sized manufacturers grow locally while competing globally. In this role, he launched the Ohio Manufacturing Survey; mspire, a regional startup pitch competition; helped launch manufacturing apprenticeships for inner-city youth; and is responsible for fundraising, legislative relations, media relations, and more. Concurrently, Matthew is the founding Board Chair of EDWINS Restaurant and Leadership Institute, Cleveland's first nonprofit restaurant and one of the first of its kind nationally to train formerly incarcerated individuals to work in fine dining. He raised over $600,000 to start EDWINS and was named “2014 Fundraiser of the Year” by Fundraising Success magazine for his efforts. He is also the founder of Cleveland Codes, one of the nation's first nonprofit software bootcamps devoted specifically to training low-income adults for careers in technology. Originally from Orlando, Florida, Matt earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, cum laude, from the University of Florida, a Master of Business Administration from The George Washington University, and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Case Western Reserve University. He is a former Ariane de Rothschild and American Council on Germany Transatlantic Fellow, and is currently a Civil Society Fellow at the Aspen Institute.

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