The process of Life-ing parts...
The process of Life-ing parts starts with communication. The team must develop good communication skills and then follow them. One crewmember must keep the notes in whatever form that would take. It could be computer entry or simply hand written notes that can be deciphered and categorized later on.
In earlier years, each car was uniquely configured for a specific track type (i.e., speedway, intermediate, short track, road course) and driveshafts were specifically fitted for each chassis and kept with that car. As the teams grew to have dozens of cars, this system became expensive and unmanageable.
Now, with the transition to the Car of Today (COT), most teams have settled down to one or two combinations and more effort has been focused on individual driveshaft inspection and replacement. Each team's driveshaft combination is a closely held secret because the details can tell the opposition many things about the parts selection, chassis configuration, and tuning philosophies.
Driveshaft inventory management is the responsibility of a team's gear room. Each major team has dedicated gear room staff who prepare, service and coordinate the drivetrain systems for each car for each event. They maintain extensive usage records on each component, called "life-ing," so that individual parts with high mileage can be identified and removed from service before they cause a failure.
After each race, the used cars are disassembled and the drivetrain components are returned to the gear room for inspection. As driveshafts gradually accumulate mileage throughout their projected life, they are specifically designated for use in other less critical events like testing or show cars. Ultimately, when they have reached a pre-determined limit, they are rebuilt, sold, or discarded. No one ever earns a bonus for getting the last 50 miles of use out of a driveshaft before it fails.
In addition to tracking the...
In addition to tracking the life of a part, periodic visual inspections should be observed. Although a part may be designed and expected to last for X number of hours or laps, a visual inspection may reveal hidden problems with installation or alignment of parts that serve to shorten the life of the part.
At the Formula 1 level of professional motorsports, with teams constantly traveling worldwide, the parts life-ing and parts inventory management function is highly automated with elaborate computer programs, bar coding scanners and even radio frequency identification (RFID) scanners and chips. Every time each car turns a wheel, the mileage simultaneously accrues in the data record for each part being tracked on that car.
Parts location is an important element of these systems to determine if a specific part is currently installed on a primary or back-up car, somewhere on-site in a shipping container or halfway around the world back home in the shop. This operational information is continually updated by wireless links back to the factory.
The F1 parts management and life-ing programs are programmed to highlight specific parts that are approaching certain thresholds of use so that they can be scheduled for replacement, re-assigned to lower priority use or inspected more often. The parts supervisors back at the factory can see the locations and life remaining of all the replacement parts and select the best ones available to be in the right position to be used when scheduled. If new parts are needed, production orders are issued in real time to keep up with the team's needs. Massive resources of computers, communications, and personnel are required to maintain the system.
This computer technology is beginning to trickle down to the NASCAR teams, but the parts management and life-ing activity here is still done by paper record keeping and memory. The enormous number of cars and parts per NASCAR team make complete parts life-ing impractical. Most parts are considered expendable and retired from service due to crash damage before they reach their ultimate projected life. All replacement cars would be built with all new parts.
The arrival of the COT program and the current tight economic situation has changed the thinking of many teams on parts management. Each time a COT chassis is damaged or crashed, it's now often preferable to build a new chassis to better meet NASCAR's precise templates and incorporate the latest engineering updates. All of the used parts from the damaged car are transferred to the new chassis or recycled to become spare parts for other cars.