Racing to a Better Design

Dassault Systemes helps Evernham Motorsports make fast cars faster.

Kasey Kahne started the recent Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway ahead of the pack, in the pole position, and finished right where he started, notching his third victory of the 2006 NASCAR racing season. It was a sweet victory for Kahne, given the bragging rights that come with winning what is not only the longest race of the year, but one that runs close to Charlotte, N.C., the home base for many NASCAR teams. But the win was just as sweet for the engineering team that had literally put together Kahne's car with the help of some sophisticated modeling tools from Dassault Systemes.

Dassault is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner that sells 3-D and product lifecycle management software to customers in 80 countries, including major automotive and aerospace companies that use the tools to design, simulate and manufacture parts for their cars and planes.

Evernham Motorsports, the Statesville, N.C.-based NASCAR team to which Kahne belongs, is a Dassault customer that credits the ISV's tools with helping it create the cars that have Kahne among the leaders in NASCAR points.

In NASCAR racing, the difference between first and last place can be as little as two-tenths of a second per lap, according to Eric Warren, technical director of Evernham Motorsports. In that environment, it becomes crucial to wring every ounce of performance out of a car. That translates to a constant search for lighter, stronger materials, better aerodynamics and increased performance from each component. And speed is just as crucial in the shop as it is on the track, given that the engineering team must comply with constantly changing NASCAR rules and track conditions.

The track at Lowe's Motor Speedway, for example, was resurfaced shortly before the Coca-Cola 600, held last May 28. While a smooth new surface may seem like a welcome development, it also presented a challenge: new tires.

Evernham was part of a small group of teams selected to help Goodyear develop a new tire that all teams would use -- a nod to Evernham's engineering prowess, which would give it a distinct edge in the 400-lap race. Armed with Windows-based computers running Dassault's CATIA V5 design software, along with a number of simulation programs developed in-house, Warren's engineering team went out to the track with counterparts from Goodyear to gather data and run tests aimed at developing tires specifically engineered for the new surface. "We were basically able to determine an optimum setup for that track and that surface," Warren says. The process, which started roughly two months before the race, was largely complete a month later, when the speedway let the entire NASCAR field test the new surface.

"We had new tires and a new racetrack, and we pretty much dominated the race the whole weekend. We sat on the pole and won the race," Warren says. "The whole basis of an engineering approach is that as changes happen we can respond quicker, understand them quicker. The races in Charlotte certainly demonstrated that capability."

Dassault Systemes

Headquarters: Suresnes, France
Chairman: Charles Edelstenne
President and CEO: Bernard Charles
Founded: 1981
Line of Business: Provider of software and services in the 3-D and product lifecycle management markets, enabling businesses to digitally define and simulate products, as well as the processes and resources required to manufacture and maintain them.
Microsoft Partner Program Level: Gold Certified
Microsoft Competencies: ISV
Annual Revenue: $1.12B
Growth Rate: 18% annually since 1997
Employees: 5,693 in 120 offices in 25 countries
Customer Base: Manufacturing, including automotive and aerospace companies, industrial products, consumer goods, high tech, plant and shipbuilding
Clients: Toyota Motor Corp., DaimlerChrysler Corp., Ford Motor Co., The Boeing Co., Airbus SAS, Lockheed Martin Corp., Pratt & Whitney, Nokia, Nikon Corp., Sony Corp., IBM Corp., Bosch Group, Hydro-Quebec International Inc., Northrop Grumman Corp.
Web site: www.3ds.com

Geeks Leading Gearheads
That "engineering approach" to which Warren refers dates back to Evernham's founding in 1999 by Ray Evernham, former crew chief for NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon. Evernham's theory was that superior engineering was the key to giving his team a competitive edge in the NASCAR world. In 2002, he hired Warren, whose background is in aerospace engineering, and appointed him to oversee car construction -- a job historically performed by the crew chief or team director rather than an engineer.

Warren was greeted by an array of design, analysis and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) packages. "It was kind of a mess," especially when it came to translating data between packages, he recalls. "We needed to get into a more uniform environment."

One of the packages was CATIA V4, which ran on a UNIX workstation tied to Evernham sponsor DaimlerChrysler Corp. Warren was adamant that he wanted all his design tools to run on Microsoft Windows so that he could bring mobile units with him to tracks for testing. Another reason: All the company's other software, including financial packages, maintenance programs and tools developed in-house, was Windows-based. Warren felt that, in addition to providing uniformity, "a Windows-based approach was going to be cheaper, with the laptops and the different infrastructure at the racetrack."

Warren knew that Dassault's CATIA V5 would run on Windows and worked with Dassault reseller and service provider RAND Worldwide (also a Microsoft Registered Partner, based in Mississauga, Ontario) to decide which modules made the most sense for Evernham, and to get training. Through a number of discussions and demos in early 2003, a Charlotte-based RAND team helped assuage fears that the new tool would be difficult to learn -- a key concern for Evernham, which had only about 80 employees at the time (although it has since grown to more than 330) and thus limited time to spend in training.

Warren was also concerned about whether RAND personnel would be available to him at all hours. "If I have a problem in the middle of the night and we're going to the racetrack the next day, I need somebody I can talk to," he explains. Warren says that his primary RAND contact was comfortable with the idea of Warren waking him up to ask for help -- "and I have, several times."

Design, Simulate, Manufacture
Dassault tools are now deeply engrained in Evernham's design, testing and manufacturing process. The company -- which Warren describes as a low-volume car manufacturer -- is now essentially building its cars from scratch, right down to the chassis, which is made of a tube frame designed in CATIA V5. The design is sent to a third-party manufacturer, which bends and cuts the tubes to the specifications defined in CATIA.

The body is likewise designed in 3-D using CATIA, which kicks out templates that workers on the shop floor use to cut and shape the sheet metal, Kevlar and other body components. As with the chassis, everything must be exactly the right gauge and stiffness. Every fourth or fifth car is scanned to create a computer image that engineers can compare with the original design to ensure that quality is on target.

CATIA also helps Evernham create aerodynamically sound car bodies and conduct simulation tests. Once those tests are done, the company creates 40 percent scale models from the CATIA designs and conducts further wind-tunnel tests.

All other components are likewise designed using the 3-D visualization capabilities of CATIA, including suspension parts, brackets and other accessories, with simulations providing detailed guidance on factors such as load and clearance. Warren says that those simulations have proven to be remarkably accurate in actual testing on the track, with failures coming exactly where predicted.

Component designs are sent to numeric control (NC) manufacturing tools, which cut machine parts to the exact specs defined in CATIA. "It's all included, integrated and directly connected, so there's no data translation problem with different systems," notes Peter Schmitt, Dassault's vice president of marketing for the Americas.

Another crucial tool for Evernham is Dassault's SMARTEAM software, which is a data management program that allows multiple engineers, designers and manufacturers to easily share data and collaborate on projects, and to learn from past designs. In addition to accepting data from CATIA and other Dassault applications, SMARTEAM integrates well with software that Evernham developed in-house using .NET, including programs that track part history and inventory.

SMARTEAM also complements the mobility inherent in Evernham's Windows-based systems, making it simple for teams working at race tracks to pull information from the central database and send data to others. "[Mobility] makes a huge difference. We're constantly testing," Warren says. To prove his point, he noted that he was speaking by phone from the Arizona desert while passing files back and forth with team members in Daytona, Fla., to test a car for a race there. "We're sometimes testing in four or five places at the same time," he says.

Speed, Speed, Speed
Taken together, the Dassault tools have enabled Evernham to develop and manufacture engine and other car components in half the time it used to take with its previous mish-mash of systems. And the tools have enabled the team to take chassis design in-house, a function that was previously performed by a third party.

"Time cycles in our sport are extreme. Most car manufacturers spend six months or a year or longer designing new models. We're changing designs every few weeks," Warren says. "Every amount of time we can save means more things we can develop and test to make the cars go faster."

As Evernham continues to grow and achieve success at the track, its needs are likewise evolving. As demands for technical assistance grew deeper, Warren and his team became more directly involved with Dassault, engaging in discussions with high-level executives, including Schmitt. For example, the two companies are now discussing how Evernham might employ another Dassault tool, DELMIA, which is used to help define how best to set up factory floors, define processes and use advanced tools such as robotics.

"It's very difficult for a small business like us to try to take on something like that," Warren says. "It's good to have that relationship with the company that develops the package because you get a good idea of what other industries are using it and what the pitfalls are. It's worked out well so far."

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