RFK's blueprint for a better operation: The final lap
August 29, 2023
By the Blue Print Editorial Team
By the Blue Print Editorial Team
'It's a fundamental shift'
Change can be … tricky. Change on an organization-wide scale can be … demanding. And the change required to shift from familiar workflows to cutting-edge processes … well, there may not be a word for that.
“In terms of changes to the NASCAR industry, this was a complete 180-shift from how we had sourced parts and built cars in the past,” said Jeremy Thompson, RFK Racing Team Director. “Throughout the history of NASCAR, teams either took raw materials and built a car or they took a car off the showroom floor and built it. This model is a 180 from that, where you’ve engaged numerous vendors that provide a part that’s within their specialty and then the teams assemble and service that. It’s a fundamental shift in how we provide a vehicle to go race.”
Making the move
Part of why going to the NextGen car is such a divergence is how the cars literally come together.
NextGen cars are based on a platform where a collection of single-source providers each create a component of the car. Then, each team assembles and races the car. Compare that to the Gen Six car, which had a completely hand-fabricated sheet metal body. Plus, the front suspension was under a geometry that was based on a ’60s-model passenger vehicle.
“The NextGen car has a composite body, rack and pinion steering, independent rear suspension, and single-lug wheels,” said Thompson. “It’s a vast departure from the platform of our old-style car. The whole basis of it is to give the drivers and teams a vehicle that they can go out and put on a competitive race, in a more sustainable economic business model than the previous car had provided.”
Supply chain strikes again
As teams were working to get the car to the track last year, there were several design changes that came about late in the process. When you add in the global shortage of raw materials (like metal, plastics, and carbon), Thompson said it created “extreme challenges throughout the entire supply chain that made the start of last season pretty difficult.”
Now, if you think Fastenal is the sponsor for RFK Racing’s No. 17 … well, you’re correct. But that isn’t the end of the story!
“Having a partner like Fastenal that has global visibility to the entire supply chain, to the manufacturing and service sector, it’s given us a great resource to lean on,” said Thompson. “They’ve given us some best practices on how to navigate these waters, and that paid huge dividends as we’ve managed this situation and produced some good results along the way.”
Adjusting the workflow
As so many organizations learned, a raw material shortage will mess up the best-laid plans. For RFK, Thompson said that it caused them to race with “a more conservative mindset around the utilization of our cars.”
In other words: The game had changed.
With the old-style car, RFK brought raw materials into the facility and then passed them through different stages of the shop to be turned into components.
As each piece was completed, it was moved through the building to another station. With this new-style car, they bring in parts that are already completed and, once QC checks are passed, they assemble in one general area. This way the workforce rotates through that area to build and assemble the car and time isn’t spent moving the car around the facility.
Reducing vulnerability in the supply chain requires RFK to be extremely ‘buttoned-up’ as far as how many parts they have. They need to walk the inventory line of planning for every potential contingency that could damage a part or take it out of service all while not running too thin.
“We can’t have an abundance of these parts because the supplier hasn’t quite got to the point where we could stock up to the ceiling,” said Thompson. “It really requires us to stay vigilant and on top of where we are with each one of our components.”
Asked where the supply chain will be in a year, Thompson chuckles.
“Hopefully, it’s in a whole lot better spot, right? Our suppliers who are producing these parts are doing a fantastic job, and I think if all of that gets cleaned up and the world can get back on its feet and actually produce raw materials again in a timely fashion, then I think that this becomes a discussion that was in our history.”
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